Gozanoishi, Like Tazawa

Yesterday’s New York Times included a stunning picture taken by Raymond Meier of the Gozanoishi Shrine gate on Lake Tazawa, Japan.

Gozanoishi Gate

Part of the beauty of that image, there are so many parts, but one part of is the clear view of the joinery of that massive gate. Horizontal cross pieces projecting tenons, locked by wedges through the uprights. I love this type of joint. In this case the visual image says massive beams locked through stout uprights. I can almost hear the mallets pounding the wedges home, the joints setting into their matching cuts, locking everything tight.

I’m not sure if the joints were cut with tapers to form locking dovetails as is common in a wedged, through tenon joint used in many woodworking traditions but I suspect that is the case. I once built a bed, designed as a Shaker style bed, and used this method to join the side rails to the bed posts of the head and foot boards.

Shaker Bed

If you look in the lower right corner of this picture (a “snap shot” that appears grossly ugly in comparison to the other images in this post, for which I apologize) you can see one of the wedges locking the joint.

Both the Shaker and traditional Japanese woodworking traditions valued the beauty of showing well cut joinery

The Gozanoishi Shrine gate also struck me by the use of the small roofs on top of the posts. This is both a visually pleasing way of topping off a vertical line and an immensely practical way of preserving the posts from damage caused by rain infiltrating the ends of the wood grain creating a perfect opportunity for rot to take hold. This roof image is carried up to the sweeping top beam creating a beautiful feeling of shelter and movement at the same time. It is too bad that the online version of this image crops this sweeping top beam.


In looking for other images of this magnificent gate I came across this image of a woodblock print by Kawase Hasui dated 1926.


A couple of differences are visible. The first one I noticed was that Lake Tazawa was higher when Hasui saw it. I have no idea whether level of Lake Tazawa normally fluctuates or whether we can see once again signs of global warming. The next obvious difference is the color of the gate and we can see as well that the little roof tops of the posts are of a different style and I notice that the wedges locking the through tenons are located on the insides of the posts instead of the outside. This gate was likely rebuilt, maybe after World War II.

One other element of the original image draws my attention. That is the draped rope with the tassels. I wonder if the tassels are strands from the rope itself, cut and allowed to drape decoratively. As a sailor I have done a fair share of rope work including various types of splices that often entail a similar sectioning and cutting of the rope strands.

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