Ali and I were thrilled to have the chance to go to Japan this spring. For me, it was a joyful reunion with one of my favourite countries, having lived and worked there as an English teacher in the late 90’s. For Ali, an exciting first trip.
Our first stop was the city of Kobe, a beautiful port city at the foot of the Rokko mountains near Osaka where we couldn’t resist a visit to Japan’s only museum dedicated to carpentry tools, the Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum.
Japan of course is famous for its joinery, using elaborate ways of joining wood together without the need for glue or nails. The result is extremely strong and durable structures so it was great to have the chance to see some of the techniques close up.
The museum itself was purpose built using both traditional and contemporary skills and carefully laid out to enable a relaxing visit. Exhibits detailed the history of carpentry and showed how tools evolved and were made. We were blown away by the display of a standard set of carpentry tools – it took up one whole wall! Japanese tools are quite distinctive from their western counterparts with saws, called Nokogiri and planes known as Kanna designed to be pulled towards you as you work rather than pushed away.
Another memorable feature was full length logs of wood, displayed, totem pole style showing the different types of wood commonly used in construction with little boxes in front containing wood shavings which we could take out, touch and smell. The fragrance of the wood stayed with us long after our visit. Just amazing! There was also the chance to see some reconstructed temple roof joints close up and to touch and try out some of the tools.
We left in complete awe of Japan’s woodworking techniques and temple buildings.
Japan is always fun during the Cherry blossom season known as Sakura when it’s tradition to have a picnic or Hanami as it’s called, with family, friends or colleagues underneath the blossoms. There’s something quite special about these trees and it’s easy to get caught up in the appreciation of all things sakura when you’re there. I’ve always loved the value that’s placed on little details in Japan. The beauty of Cherry Blossoms is appreciated so much as they bloom for such a short time.
As well as enjoying the daytime viewing, we were lucky to enjoy a night visit in Kyoto to Kiyomizudera temple where we enjoyed the illumination of their beautiful cherry trees while admiring the woodworking techniques used to build this fabulous temple.
We had a chance to visit the main hall which was built on a steep cliff in 1633. The hall and veranda are 13 metres high and supported by a wooden framework including 18 pillars made from 400 year old Zelkova trees. Incredibly, not one single nail has been used in the construction. It is all held together by a series of elaborate joints. During the Edo period there was a belief that if you jumped off the veranda and survived the 13 metre drop your wish would come true! A bit of a gamble and no longer permitted!
In our next blog post we’ll cover the 2nd part of our trip including a visit to Yamazaki Whisky Distillery.