In the Shosoin of Todai-ji Temple, a wooden shelf is treas- ured, which is known as Tanazushi. Crafted 1300 years ago, it features a simple and practical construction 260-cm-wide and 140-cm-high, with three shelving boards laid across six support pillars. It is the oldest extant piece of Japanese furniture, and the prototype for shelves in Japan. Crafted from solid cedar, the shelf is said to have been used to store instruments and other furnishing goods. The appearance of the shelf, assembled without nails from wooden parts through the wisdom of the craftsmen and the pareddown sensibilities of the Japanese people at a time when saws did not yet exist, conveys an imposing dignity despite the unaffected and simple construction.

This shelved stand references the structures of classical architecture, such as the Todai-ji and Yakushi-ji temples constructed 1300 years ago, and the Horyu-ji temple that is the world’s oldest extant wooden structure.

We decided to reproduce this shelved stand in the same size and structure as existed back then. With no detailed documentation left behind, we relied on limited literature and photographs and created the item while imagining what the artisans of the past would have thought as they crafted. While production utilized machining, a number of processes were finished manually, with chisel in hand.

Recreating this Tanazushi allowed us to make contact with the thoughts of woodworkers of long ago, and led to a renewed appreciation of the technical abilities and the aesthetics of ancient Japanese woodworking. Copying and learning from a classic lead to a return to the origins of crafting. The finished product immediately took on an atmosphere born of a classic, with presence enough to exist as an item all its own.

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