Just a hop, skip, and jump away from Shin Kobe station lays one of the most boring-sounding museums out there: Carpentry Tools. However, once you walk up the inspired garden into a very modern and chic building, it soon dawns upon you that this isn’t going to be the boring look at hammers and saws you thought it was. Oh no! It becomes an experience you never knew you needed.
History of Japanese Carpentry Tools
The exhibits here do not spare any details when it comes to the history of the tools, the culture surrounding the use of the tools, and the history these tools have come to build. It would be nearly impossible to condense all of that information into a single blog post or single video, so you’ll be getting an abridged version of what the museum contains.
First, you can see the history of axes, which leads into the history of chisels, hammers, saws, sanders smoothing planes, angles, and chalk lines. It goes from the dawn of the first stone axes and investigates the shapes of the blades and the angles at which they were affixed to the handles, complete with downed tree stumps showing the efficacy of moving from rounded blades to angles blades. Starting so early, however, proves to be a challenge, as many Japanese woodworking tools were not built to stand the test of time, and as such, have nearly disintegrated over the years. The museum was built in some respects to help collect those older tools that still exist and to preserve them so future generations can see where woodworking began and scholars can have artifacts to reference in their studies.
Wood, Wood, and Wood
With carpentry tools comes wood. There is so much wood in this museum you would think the tools were designed to work with them! There are several exhibits that show the different varieties of indigenous Japanese wood and how their shavings look and feel, as well as the characteristics of each wood and what it has been traditionally used for over the years. They even have a little area dedicated to environmental preservation, where they discuss responsible harvesting of lumber. I didn’t spend too much time there, as there were games to be had!
Japanese woodworking, for many, many years, worked mainly without any sort of screws or nails to hold the joints in place. Instead, the joints were elaborately designed to, essentially, wedge into place and maintain that hold without anything (not even adhesives). To see these joints in action, there is an entire section where you can test your skills and disassemble different types of joints used by Japanese carpenters across the centuries. They’re all very clever and reminiscent of brain teaser puzzles, each more impressive than the last. A few I couldn’t get undone, but I suspect that is due to visitors really jamming the pieces into place to assure that whatever imaginary building these joints are supposedly holding doesn’t fall apart.
The great thing about this museum is that you can request a free audio guide. FREE. Most museums will charge 500-1000 yen for an audio guide, but here, you can request one for no charge. It comes on a small iPod touch with a pair of headphones for you to use. The audio tour has tons of additional information that adds a lot more context to the displays that you might not be able to get if you can’t read Japanese.
All in all, you should go to the Takenaka Carpentry Tool Museum. It has tons of fascinating artifacts, interactive experiences, and wonderful-smelling displays for you to take part in.