Japanese History Guide: The Quality of Nails in the Best Samurai Period

A room of the Meigetsuin temple in Kamakura in autumn


Kamakura samurais, strongest and bravest

Samurai governed Japan for about 700 years, from 1185 to 1867. The age of samurai is divided into some periods. According to a popular theory, samurais in the first period (the Kamakura period, from 1185 to 1333) are believed to be strongest and bravest. It is said that “You look like a Kamakura samurai” was the best praising words for samurais even in the last days of the samurai age. The same as samurais, the quality of nails in the Kamakura period is said to be best. In the age of samurai, the best quality steel (high-carbon steel) was used for sword crafting as I wrote before. In the Kamakura period, nails were made of the second best quality steel.

Building structures and nails in the Kamakura period

Japanese old buildings, like temples and shrines built several hundred years ago, didn’t use any nails. This is the myth many people (even Japanese people) still believe. In fact, people in those days used nails partially in the outer and base structure.

The quantity of the nails, however, was limited to a necessary minimum for design, sustainability, and flexibility. Ancient Japanese people tried to hide nails as much as possible for design. When used on a noticeable place, the nails were decorated. The average durable life of the Kamakura nails was designed to be about 1000 years. Surprisingly, it’s true. They can be re-used even now at the time of repair work. The high-carbon nails are hard and brittle. Buildings will become too brittle if such nails are used a lot. Japan is an earthquake country. It’s important to make structure strong yet flexible.

A dining table and four dining chairs. The wood and upholstery leather, everything is in black.

I think the spiritual core is in common with our production philosophy. Of course, Kamakura nails are not used in our furniture, but some high-tech screws and metal ware are, to a necessary minimum. They are stealthily hidden by the latest technology and craftsmanship. I’m sure you’ll have fun just to imagine how the parts of our furniture are joined.

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.