I have always admired the Japanese for their use of wood and a recent visit to Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara and Hakone served to remind me of the relevance today. Just when professionals globally are coming round to appreciate both the environmental credentials and the performance potential of wood, one is reminded that the Japanese have long been ahead of the game.
The craftsmanship and appreciation of the beauty of wood knows no bounds in Japan. Whether looking inside out or outside in, wood is always a focus. For centuries the largest buildings constructed of wood in Japan have demonstrated its durability when well designed – and design is what it is all about. The Todai-ji Temple in Nara – the largest wooden structure in the world – first completed in 752 AD and rebuilt in 1709 only 2/3rds of its original size with fascinating bracketing, still stands as evidence. Perhaps only now will it be overtaken by the multi-story timber-frame buildings appearing in Australia, Canada, France and the UK.
The use of cedar, cypress and pine in structures, maple and oak in interiors and a multitude of species in other uses, is not the end of Japan’s love for wood. Its forests too are impressive in a country where only one third of the land is habitable. Its city streets are planted with Gingko trees that shimmer golden in the fall and now planted with Tulipwood saplings maturing to grow tall and shady. In almost every aspect of Japanese life, from chopsticks to fans, screens and sushi bars, not forgetting flooring and furniture, wood plays a central role in a country that can teach us all more about the importance of wood.