Modernity and Carpenters: Daiku Technique and Meiji Technocracy

  • Gregory Clancey

Abstract

Carpenters are liminal figures in the history of technology, and in studies of architecture, labor, masculinity, and any other commonly recognized disciplinary cluster which might claim their story. The Anglo-American word “technology” and its Japanese translation gijutsu, both coined in the mid-nineteenth century to describe a new regime of continually reengineered devices and systems, were set more or less above (if not against) the existing world of wood and hand-tools.1 Few figures seemed more outside this new rubric than carpenters, who by definition were tied to an age-old organic material, and assigned by necessity to small, widely dispersed work-groups difficult to subject to industrial management or discipline. In both Japan and the West, the image of the carpenter surrounded by shavings still immediately evokes for most people the world of the pre-“technology” past, even if he (and it is still typically a “he”) now carries a union card, the hand-tool is electrified, and the lumber was ripped out of a rain forest by giant skidders.2

Keywords

Europe Mold Coherence Stratigraphy Defend 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Technology and gijutsu are not actually identical in usage. The English word lends itself to drawing sharper distinctions between “modern” and “premodern” or “sophisticated” and “unsophisticated” skills, objects, and infrastructures than the Japanese one. Gijutsu is easier to use interchangeably with technique. There is, on the other hand, an arguably closer fit between gi-jutsu and gi-shi, the Japanese word for engineer, than there is between engineereer and technology in English. For an introduction to the history of the English word technology see Leo Marx “The Idea of Technology and Post-Modern Pessimism,” in Does Technology Drive History?, ed. M.R. Smith and Leo Marx (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1994).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    For a reflection on this paradox from the standpoint of American history, see the introductory essay, “The Experience of Early American Technology” in Early American Technology: Making and Doing Things from the Colonial Era to 1850, ed. Judith McGaw (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994). Two scholars, one American and one Japanese, who have argued for a fuller consideration of carpentry in accounts of technology and architecture are Brooke Hindle, America’s Wooden Age (Tarrytown, N.Y.: Sleepy Hollow Press, 1985) (reprint)Google Scholar
  3. and Muramatsu Teijiro especially his Waga kuni daiku no kōsaku gijutsu ni kansuru kenkyū (Tokyo: Rōdō Kagaku Kenkyūjo Shuppanbu, 1984).Google Scholar
  4. One of the few English-language accounts of Japanese technological change to acknowledge the important role of carpenters is Tessa Morris-Suzuki, The Technological Transformation of Japan (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994), e.g., pp. 51, 90.Google Scholar
  5. Among Japanese surveys see Nakaoka Testurō, Kindai Nihon no gijutsu to gijutsu seisaku (Tokyo: Kokusai Rengō Daigaku/Tokyo Daigaku Shuppankai, 1986).Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    Zenkensōren, the largest federation of construction workers’ unions in Japan, is made up largely of carpenters and plasterers who construct wooden houses. Its membership stood at 300,000 in 1990 (Sidney Levy, Japanese Construction: An American Perspective [New York: Van Norstrand Rheinhold, 1990]). The figure for the trade as a whole is certainly larger, as not all carpenters work in housebuilding. An informal estimate made in a trade publication of 1960, a period when wooden framing still accounted for the majority of new floor space created annually in Japan, suggested there were then more than half a million building tradesmen in the country who called themselves daiku (Daiku kyōshitsu, January 1960, 52).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    For discussion of the various building trades in this period see Hatsuda Tōru, Shokunin-tachi no seiyō kenchiku (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1997).Google Scholar
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    Ibid.; Hazama notes that many Meiji-period “capitalist” firms, and not just the construction companies, made use of existing artisanal structures through subcontracting. There was also an appropriation of the term (and some aspects of the role) of oyakata (master) in new factory-based industries, as they made the transition toward foremen and wage-workers. Hazama Hiroshi, The History of Labor Management in Japan (London: Macmillan, 1997), especially chapters 2 and 3.Google Scholar
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    Cherie Wendelken, “The Tectonics of Japanese Style: Architect and Carpenter in the Late Meiji Period” in Art Journal Fall, 1996, 55 (3): 28–37.Google Scholar
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    There is a relatively large and growing literature, in English as well as Japanese, about the phenomenon of wayō setchū much of it illustrated with photographs and floorplans. The discussion below draws particularly on Fujimori Terunobu, Nihon kindai kenchiku shi, Vol. I; Suzuki Hiroyuki and Hatsuda Tōru, Zumen de miru: Toshi kenchiku no Meiji (Tokyo: Kashiwa Shobō, 1990); Hatsuda, Shokunintachi no seiyō kenchiku; Muramatsu, Nihon kindai kenchiku no rekishi, Chapters 1 and 2;Google Scholar
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  29. and Dallas Finn, Meiji Revisited (New York: Weatherhill, 1995). The term “wayō,” combining the characters for Japanese and Western, was common in the Japanese architectural world by the late Meiji period, judging from the number of style books that incorporate it into their titles. I use the term here in preference to a common synonym, gi-yōfū (imitation Western-style), which denigrates daiku efforts as derivative.Google Scholar
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    Gregory Clancey, Meiji Gakuin senkyōshi-kan (Imbry-kan) no kōzō: Kenchiku chōsa hōkoku (Tokyo: Meiji Gakuin, 1996).Google Scholar
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    In applying the linguistic concept of “pidgin” to the world of artifacts, I follow the discussion in Peter Galison, Image and Logic (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), pp. 48–51, 831–837.Google Scholar
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    For a nuanced discussion of collecting see James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988).Google Scholar
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    For the construction of The Ginza see Muramatsu, Nihon kindai kenchiku no rekishi (Tokyo: Nihon Hōso Shuppan Kyōkai, 1977), Chapter 3;Google Scholar
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    For the Meiji debate over earthquakes and their effect on architecture and modern change, see Gregory Clancey, “Foreign Knowledge: Cultures of Western Science-Making in Meiji Japan,” Historia Scientiarum March 2002, 11 (3): 245–260.Google Scholar
  36. 44.
    Meiji-period secondary education of building artisans and architectural “technicians” is dealt with at length in Shimizu Keiichi, Meiji-ki ni okeru shotō chūtō kenchiku kyōiku no shiteki kenkyū, unpublished Ph.D. diss., Nihon University, 1982; and Suzuki and Yamaguchi, Kindai, gendai kenchiku shi, pp. 271–279.Google Scholar
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    Monbushō [Ministry of Education], Futsū mokkō jutsu (Tokyo, 1899).Google Scholar

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© Gregory Clancey 2005

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  • Gregory Clancey

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