The “GATE”  Exhibition at Hakone Gardens

The “GATE”  Exhibition at Hakone Gardens, Saratoga CA.

The Importance of Roof Bracketry in Asian Architecture 

Traditional Japanese Carpentry: Tools and Techniques Exhibition
January through June 2024

Call Hakone Gardens to see if the exhibit will be open on the day of your visit. (sometimes private events are taking place in the CEC).

Hakone Gardens Visitor Info


Jason Forster’s experience of the exhibition event on February 11th

I was asked to prepare an o-ganna demonstration for the opening of “Traditional Japanese Carpentry: Tools and Techniques”, an exhibit devoted to the lives and work of the Nishiura family, working in the San Jose area of California from the early 1900s. Jay van Arsdale, my woodworking teacher and mentor, loaned me a 4-sun (about 4-3/4″) o-ganna for the event. The blade of this particular o-ganna is one of the most beautiful pieces of steel I have had the pleasure to hold. I also had the privilege of performing uradashi (“tapping out” the blade to make the cutting edge as consistent as possible) and more than a couple hours of sharpening.

Karl Bareis’s opening remarks included a retelling of words his teacher said to him with instructions for what to think about and consider while sharpening one’s tools. It was a long list, but, having just spent about 4 hours at my water stones with that o-ganna, it was clear to me that there is enough time to ponder quite a range of topics.

Part of what I love so much about working in this tradition of carpentry and wood is the very strong connection I feel to the craftspeople that have kept this tradition alive and relevant for so many generations before me. It is with a deep sense of gratitude that I give public demonstrations of Japanese style woodworking: for my generous teacher, Jay van Arsdale, willing to entrust me with an invaluable tool, for being invited to show that traditional Japanese woodworking is alive and well today, and for the descendants of those Nishiura carpenters for sharing their family’s history and traditions.

Bracketry Examples and Animation of Assembly

The exhibit focuses on the contributions of two San Francisco bay area Japanese Carpenters. The NIshiuras helped design and build the Japanese Exhibit at the 1915 PanPacific EXPO, and the next one in 1939, as well as building several important structures. One of the most iconic is the central gate at Hakone Gardens. The gate was recently refurbished with a historic preservation grant, and the Garden’s Cultural Exchange Center has been set aside for the next six months to highlight the work of Shinzaburo Nishiura, (1879-1958).

His family has shared their heritage tools and historic photos, and we added a small collection of Richard Wiborg’s temple bracketry to focus on the technical skills of traditional joinery – used in the gate. There will also be a demonstration at the opening.

Nishura Carpentry Exhibit – Hakone Gardens, Photos by JP Li