My favorite books on Japanese carpentry and construction

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Complete Japanese Joinery

Azby Brown Why did I love 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.

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!!


Book cover of Measure and Construction of the Japanese House

Azby Brown Why did I love 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. 

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…


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

Azby Brown Why did I love 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.

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…


Book cover of The Art of Japanese Joinery

Azby Brown Why did I love 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. 

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…


Book cover of Building the Japanese House Today

Azby Brown Why did I love 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.

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…


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Kanazawa

By David Joiner,

Book cover of Kanazawa

David Joiner Author Of Kanazawa

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

My book recommendations reflect an abiding passion for Japanese literature, which has unquestionably influenced my own writing. My latest literary interest involves Japanese poetry—I’ve recently started a project that combines haiku and prose narration to describe my experiences as a part-time resident in a 1300-year-old Japanese hot spring town that Bashō helped make famous in The Narrow Road to the Deep North. But as a writer, my main focus remains novels. In late 2023 the second in a planned series of novels set in Ishikawa prefecture will be published. I currently live in Kanazawa, but have also been lucky to call Sapporo, Akita, Tokyo, and Fukui home at different times.

David's book list on Japanese settings not named Tokyo or Kyoto

What is my book about?

Emmitt’s plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of purchasing their dream home. Disappointed, he’s surprised to discover her subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo.

In his search for a meaningful life in Japan, and after quitting his job, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa’s most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English. He becomes drawn into the mysterious death of a friend of Mirai’s parents, leading him and his father-in-law to climb the mountain where the man died. There, he learns the somber truth and discovers what the future holds for him and his wife.

Packed with subtle literary allusion and closely observed nuance, Kanazawa reflects the mood of Japanese fiction in a fresh, modern incarnation.

Kanazawa

By David Joiner,

What is this book about?

In Kanazawa, the first literary novel in English to be set in this storied Japanese city, Emmitt's future plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of negotiations to purchase their dream home. Disappointed, he's surprised to discover Mirai's subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo, a city he dislikes.

Harmony is further disrupted when Emmitt's search for a more meaningful life in Japan leads him to quit an unsatisfying job at a local university. In the fallout, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa's most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English.

While continually resisting Mirai's…


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