Hi everyone! Long time no see!
As I near the end of the “Traditional Japanese Woodworking” phase of my research project, I thought I would summarize my findings so far in case anyone is interested! This first post will be centered on where exactly the Japanese design mindset came from, while future posts will go on to talk about outside influences on Japanese design and characteristics of Japanese furniture design today.
Origins of Japanese Style
Shinto: Japan’s native religion
Japan’s native religion, Shinto, has had a tremendous influence on the country’s design style. Shinto is a polytheistic religion in which people revere and worship nature and all things that proceed from nature. In Shinto, it is said that there exist eight million gods. This number is less literal and more conceptual; basically, there are so many gods that a god must exist in every person, place, or thing. In contrast to other world religions, however, Shinto’s “gods” are not actually thought of as sentient beings. Instead, they are more like shapeless forces or energies that exist in all things, even people.
With the religion of Shinto comes a profound focus on the divinity of nature. As a result, the Japanese people have always had an extraordinary respect for natural materials and, by extension, material things. In Shinto, trees are considered especially sacred, and Shinto shrine sites are almost always chosen for their proximity to a very old and large tree.
Since trees are considered sacred, it is only natural that Japanese craftsmen would take particular care when fashioning objects out of wood, a material that is invariably acquired from trees many centuries old. In Japan, a particular focus is placed on preserving the natural beauty of wood in any wooden product.