Traditional Japanese skills are kept a secret?
A very common question we get asked from foreigners is: Do you have to apprentice in Japan to learn these skills? and Why are Japanese woodworking joineries kept so secretive? From my conclusion, I can say no-one is trying to hide these skills, although many of the time, the joints are hidden behind walls and ceilings. In Japan, the reality is these joineries were assembled into a book and available for public purchase from about 150 years ago. A decent number of in-depth books are available now, diving deep into the tools, joineries, and skills. There is no need to apprentice under a master.
Then, why do people have this image? There are various reasons but I believe the biggest reason is the difficulty of explaining what one has learnt with the body, through years of experience, into words, numbers, and drawings. Furthermore, being able to comprehend what is written/drawn is no easy task.
In other words, being able to explain and understand the reason and the aim of a certain task is difficult unless it is explained during the process. This creates a very limited environment in which the skills can be passed on.
However, explaining the skills and techniques in the form of words, writing or drawings is difficult, also for the side which is trying to understand it. For this reason, the skill looks like it’s wrapped in mystery, making it look as though it’s kept a secret. Becoming an apprentice means you are able to see first hand the skills and techniques being used, thus the quickest method of gaining a deep understanding. Even so, what you have to realise is that the act of watching can only be truly effective if you have the various knowledge in your head. I believe, if you are simply watching the work with no context, it will take longer than necessary to grasp the reason for the work, or the important points. In Japan, people go into apprenticeships with no prior knowledge whatsoever, therefore taking an unnecessarily long time to become “accomplished”. I believe this is one of the reasons which gives the impression that becoming an accomplished craftsmen in Japan takes a long time.
But I wish to share the information as much as I can, allowing more people to use these skills, leading to the skills being developed more, making it even more magnificent!
Therefore, my mind is constantly thinking of ways to make it easier to understand, researching different methods of teaching to be able to communicate in the most efficient way possible.
At Suikoushya, we share traditional Japanese woodworking techniques and skills. Since it is a small group system, we will provide guidance tailored to each individual’s skills, from beginners to woodworking professionals. Please join us!
I look forward to sharing fine woodworking with you.