The best books on Japanese carpentry and construction

Who am I?

Azby Brown is a widely published author and authority on Japanese architecture, design, and environment, whose groundbreaking writings on traditional Japanese carpentry, compact housing, and traditional sustainable practices are recognized as having brought these fields to the awareness of Western designers and the general public. His creative work spans many media and has been widely exhibited internationally. In 2003 he founded the KIT Future Design Institute in Tokyo, focussing on cognitive and cultural issues surrounding the human hand and its use in the creative process, conducting collaborative research with neuroscientists and perceptual psychologists. A native of New Orleans, he has lived in Japan since 1985 and is currently on the sculpture faculty of Musashino Art University in Tokyo. 


I wrote...

The Genius of Japanese Carpentry: Secrets of an Ancient Woodworking Craft

By Azby Brown,

Book cover of The Genius of Japanese Carpentry: Secrets of an Ancient Woodworking Craft

What is my book about?

On my first trip to Japan in 1983, I had the extremely good fortune to meet the late Tsunekazu Nishioka, last in a hereditary line of master temple carpenters, or miyadaiku, who had maintained Horyuji temple in Nara for centuries. He was then embarked on a decades-long restoration of Yakushiji Temple. I set out to write the most detailed and complete account possible, and my book is still the only one of its kind. It presents the documentation of the temple’s three-year-long construction process in the form of text, photos, and my own detailed drawings. Like many Westerners, I was initially drawn to the form of the many wood joints and their complexity, but Master Nishioka showed me that understanding trees as living beings is what is most essential.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Complete Japanese Joinery

By Yasuo Nakahara, Hideo Sato, Koichi Paul Nii (translator)

Book cover of The Complete Japanese Joinery

Why this book?

This book, first published in 1995, is a detailed how-to guide that answers a lot of questions about how carpentry is practiced in contemporary Japan. The drawings and plans are fabulously informative. It does not focus on tool use per se, but beautifully conveys the structural logic and reasoning that lie behind the joints and connections themselves. I keep it handy as a reference.

The Complete Japanese Joinery

By Yasuo Nakahara, Hideo Sato, Koichi Paul Nii (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Complete Japanese Joinery as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book is clean, excellent condition.SHIPS USPS PRIORITY.FAST FULFILLMENT!!


Measure and Construction of the Japanese House

By Heino Engel,

Book cover of Measure and Construction of the Japanese House

Why this book?

This book is a classic and is a beautifully informative excerpt from the author’s longer and more extensive The Japanese House: A Tradition for Contemporary Architecture which is long out of print. The drawings and plans are wonderful, and illuminate the Japanese House layout, modularity, proportions, and many structural and ornamental details. I particularly love the white-on-black visual treatment used for many of the plans. 

Measure and Construction of the Japanese House

By Heino Engel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Measure and Construction of the Japanese House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A remarkable classic work on traditional Japanese architecture and its general integrative quality, the order of space and form, the flexibility of partitions and room functions and other important or unique qualities. The author describes in detail, and with numerous architectural plans and drawings, the influence of the anatomy of the Japanese human body on traditional units of measurement and on house construction. This work is not simply a description of the features of the Japanese house, but "an invitation to probe the possibilities of utilizing this architectural achievement of the Japanese ...in modern living and building," according to the…


Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit and Use

By Toshio Odate,

Book cover of Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit and Use

Why this book?

This book, initially published in 1984, was the first detailed treatment of Japanese carpentry tools and techniques available in English. Because of how effectively it conveyed such aspects as the advantages of the Japanese-style saw — cutting on the pull stroke rather than pushing allows the blade to be thinner, lending greater accuracy and a narrower kerf — I think it really opened the eyes of many Western cabinetmakers who began to adopt Japanese tools from that point on. Odate points out that it’s impossible to really learn techniques from a book, but his explanations whet our appetites.

Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit and Use

By Toshio Odate,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Japanese Woodworking Tools as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The classic work on the tools and spirit of the Japanese master craftsman.

In Japan, a woodworker spends years learning to use his tools with great speed and skill. Only after he has proved his mastery can he proudly call himself a shokunin, a master craftsman.

Japanese Woodworking Tools brings the traditions and training of the shokunin to the Western world. Calling on his own apprenticeship as a tategu-shi (sliding-door maker), and on 40 years of woodworking experience, Toshio Odate here offers a complete guide to Japanese tools: thin saws that cut on the pull stroke, laminated chisels with hollowed…


The Art of Japanese Joinery

By Kiyosi Seike,

Book cover of The Art of Japanese Joinery

Why this book?

This is the book that got me hooked on Japanese carpentry when I was in college in the late 1970s. There’s not much explanation, really, but the black-and-white photos convey the sheer beauty of Japanese joinery in an evocative and compelling way. The drawings resolve some of the mystery. 

The Art of Japanese Joinery

By Kiyosi Seike,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Art of Japanese Joinery as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This lively introduction to Japanese joinery not only delves lovingly into the unique history and development of Japanese carpentry, but also reveals many secrets of Japanese joinery. Presenting 48 joints, selected from among the several hundred known and used today, this visually exciting book will please anyone who has ever been moved by the sheer beauty of wood.

With the clear isometric projections complementing the 64 pages of stunning photographs, even the weekend carpenter can duplicate these bequests from the traditional Japanese carpenter, which can be applied to projects as large as the buildings for which most of them were…


Building the Japanese House Today

By Len Brackett, Peggy Landers Rao, Aya Brackett (photographer)

Book cover of Building the Japanese House Today

Why this book?

Len Brackett trained with superb carpenters in Japan and returned to the US West Coast to create exquisite Japanese-stye houses and other buildings. His work is in extremely high demand. This book shows how high-quality Japanese-style design and construction can be adapted to our current lifestyles without sacrificing either aesthetically or functionally. Brackett’s descriptions of his design and construction process, as well as of the wood material he uses, are enticing and provide a lot of technical and philosophical insight.

Building the Japanese House Today

By Len Brackett, Peggy Landers Rao, Aya Brackett (photographer)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Building the Japanese House Today as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Built like a piece of fine furniture, the traditional Japanese house is universally admired for its clean lines, intricate joinery, and unparalleled woodworking. Focusing primarily on a new guesthouse in California, this elegant volume shows how a classic Japanese house can be built to offer the warmth and comfort that modern homemakers require.Len Brackett, rigorously trained as a temple carpenter in Kyoto, has spent decades adapting the ancient Japanese design aesthetic to Western needs. Here he demonstrates step-by-step how both the traditional live-on-the-floor house, as well as models that accommodate furniture, can be constructed to provide such modern essentials as…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Japan, Japanese carpentry, and architecture?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Japan, Japanese carpentry, and architecture.

Japan Explore 370 books about Japan
Japanese Carpentry Explore 5 books about Japanese carpentry
Architecture Explore 47 books about architecture

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Solid-Wood Cabinet Construction, Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking, and A Cabinetmaker's Notebook if you like this list.