Hiroshi Sakaguchi uses traditional Japanese architectural configurations and proportions that he learned as part of his training as a carpenter. Traditionally in Japan, the carpenter was both the architect and the builder. The specifics of design were passed down by carpenters through the centuries. Adapting Japanese architectural design to Western architecture can be complex since it is based on a post and beam system of construction Western while houses, at least in the United States, are predominantly 2×4 construction. Also, building codes can be difficult to navigate. Sakaguchi-san has had many years of experience installing Japanese interiors in both newly constructed and pre-existing homes and dealing with these dilemmas. He also understands that traditional Japanese design may not be totally suitable to Western life-style. A Westerner may have difficulty sitting cross-legged on a tatami floor. He can make modifications such as building in a “horikotatsu” or a recess in the floor under a low tea table that allows for leg room, so one can sit Western-style even though seated on the floor. Free-standing garden structures present less problems as far as integrating East and West. However, often he is asked to design a structure for a blended garden or not one that is strictly Japanese. A very traditional structure may not be suited for this kind of garden, and Sakaguchi-san takes this into account when doing a design.
Traditional Japanese structures are built with wooden posts and beams held together by an elaborate joinery system that has developed and been refined through the centuries. It is this joinery system that makes Japanese carpentry a high craft. The carpenter must not only master the numerous and often very complex joints, but also know their appropriate uses. Because joinery is hand cut with chisels, hammers, and saws, excellent sharpening skills are primary to Japanese carpentry. Indeed, the first year of Sakaguchi-san’s apprenticeship was spent learning how to sharpen. Another important skill is hand-planing. The plane is drawn towards one rather than away as in Western carpentry. The Japanese hand-plane gives wood a rich, velvety sheen unique to Japanese carpentry. In Japan, carpentry is considered the highest form of woodworking rather than the craft of furniture-making as in the West. It takes years of intense practice to become proficient at Japanese carpentry, and masters with this skill in Japan are decreasing in number. Sakaguchi-san is one of the few traditional Japanese carpenters practicing in the United States.
In Japanese construction, choosing quality lumber is essential. The primary woods, which are carefully selected by Hiroshi Sakaguchi for building a structure, are Port Orford cedar from southern Oregon (the North American wood closest to the Japanese cedar or hinoki used in Japan), Alaskan yellow cedar, and Western red cedar. It’s essential that the wood be dry, so a structure must be planned far enough in advance to assure this. When the lumber is ready, Sakaguchi-san measures, sizes, and shapes all the wood components at the Ki Arts workshop. He then marks and cuts out the joinery and hand-planes the surfaces. When all the components are prepared, they are taken to the site and assembled.
The process of constructing fine furniture is much the same as that of architectural structures. Furniture pieces have a solid wood frame held together by joinery. Sakaguchi-san both prepares and assembles the components at the Ki Arts workshop, hand-planing the surfaces and finishing them with oils or a natural lacquer.
Commissioning an Architectural Structure
The first step in commissioning a structure is to contact Ki Arts and discuss your ideas. You will be given a very general price range, and if you are interested, the design phase of the project can begin. First, there will be a minimal charge for a preliminary sketch based on your needs and Sakaguchi-san’s expertise in Japanese design. If you wish to continue after viewing this sketch and getting a more precise price range, an agreement will be made for the full design cost. He will proceed to create a detailed design and work out an exact estimate for the project. This often requires a visit to the site. Once the design and estimate are accepted, a time and payment schedule will be set up, and with procurement of materials, construction can begin.
Ordering Custom Fine Furniture and Soaking Tubs
The procedure for ordering custom fine furniture is to first contact Ki Arts. Once specifics about needs, a basic configuration, size, and wood are determined, Hiroshi Sakaguchi can provide a design and estimate. On acceptance, a time and payment schedule will be set up; the piece will be made and shipped to you.
For soaking tubs, contact Ki Arts, and tell us the size and accessories you wish. (Hiroshi Sakaguchi only constructs the rectangular Japanese-style soaking tub that is commonly known as “ofuro” in the West). You will be given a price including shipping and approximate delivery date.
Cutting out post joinery for traditional torii gate
Japanese construction is very labor intensive and requires a carpenter with extensive training. The high quality cedar needed for Japanese construction is pricey and becoming more difficult to obtain. All of this makes Japanese construction expensive. A traditional Japanese tea house can cost in the range of $2000/sqft. A Japanese-style room is competitive in price with high-end Western construction. The advantage of a Japanese room is that for those who feel comfortable with the Japanese life-style, one room can have multiple functions as a living room, dining room, bedroom, guest room, and it does not require much furniture. Japanese architecture can also be adapted to Western needs. For those with an appreciation of the art of Japanese woodworking and who desire a structure of the highest quality, then a carpenter with the experience and skill of Hiroshi Sakaguchi is essential. Sakaguchi-san’s custom furniture shares the beauty, strength, and endurance of his architecture and is competitive in price with high-end Western custom furniture.