Japan Woodcraft Journeys | Hugh Miller

Kicking off the first in our series of ‘Japan Woodcraft Journeys‘, we profile professional makers who’ve travelled to Japan to study and learn from master crafts men and women.

First up is UK-based designer and maker – Hugh Miller, author of ‘Japanese Wood Craftsmanship’.


Hugh Miller is an award-winning designer and maker creating bespoke wooden furniture with a sculptural, architecture-led feel. Hugh’s design principles are heavily influenced by his time researching woodcraft culture in Japan. Hugh is also a visiting lecturer at Osaka Institute of Technology in Japan.


In 2015, Hugh was awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Fellowship with funding to travel to Japan to uncover what it is that makes wood craftsmanship so special. With a remit to research, document and report back on Japan’s unique woodworking culture, Hugh spent 2 months interviewing key figures before returning to the UK to collate his research.

“My time in Japan conducting the research for this study has had a profound influence on my design and making, and has only strengthened my respect and admiration for this extraordinary craft culture.”

Hugh Miller | Designer and Maker


From academics and architects to ‘Living National Treasures’ and artists, Hugh gained a broad perspective from masters and makers at the peak of their talent.

Hugh Miller with Katsushiro Sōhō
Hugh Miller meets Katsushiro Sōhō a ‘Living National Treasure’ in bamboo arts

These blog posts, written by Hugh, about some of the key craftsmen he met on his research trip are well worth a read:

Daimon Takeshi – read the interview
Suda Kenji – read the interview


Hugh’s research in Japan resulted in a short book entitled ‘Japanese Wood Craftsmanship‘. It’s fascinating and is a must-read for anyone interested in Japanese woodwork and features on our “Recommended Reading” list.

View and download a free (thanks Hugh!) pdf of the book using the button below.

“This book is an important marker in what I expect to be a lifelong study of what make Japanese craftsmanship so special.”

Hugh Miller | Designer and Maker


Reproduced with the kind permission of Hugh Miller:

” Japanese society has developed some specific characteristics that foster craftsmanship. The necessity for craft in everyday life, and a progressive attitude to passing on the ‘flame’ of tradition, are vital to this. Just as important, however, is the veneration for the skill and experience of elders, especially males. It makes the process of passing craft skills on a duty to be honoured, rather than a convention to be resisted.

The tools of Japanese woodworking are vital to the formation of Japan’s unique carpentry aesthetic.The consequences of seemingly esoteric differences, like the use of tools on the pull-stroke, cannot be underestimated.

The extensive use of hand planes, and the modification made possible by their wooden bodies, is a fundamental aspect of how these tools encourage a rich craft culture.This is one aspect of the more widespread use of hand skills in woodwork in Japan, which seems to result in a closer connection between maker and material.

The widespread use of water and fire as tools shines a light on the depth of knowledge Japanese woodworkers have for their material.The properties of wood, such as how it expands with moisture, are positively embraced with as much enthusiasm as they seem to be avoided in western woodworking.

The making philosophies which craftspeople in Japan adhere to have the most profound effect on the work they create.The most noticeable of these philosophies are the ‘absence of noise’ and the ‘search for lightness’. Noise is reduced by keeping visible jointing spare to avoid distracting from the form of the piece or beauty of the natural wood. Lightness of weight, of touch, and of impact on surroundings is achieved through quiet, slim detailing and the use of carefully selected timbers and bamboo.

The tools, techniques and philosophies of Japanese making, and the reverence in society for the skill and experience of craftspeople, have created a ‘Japanese contemporary vernacular aesthetic’.”

Hugh Miller | Designer and Maker | Liverpool, UK


Studio address:
2nd Floor, 63 Blundell St.
Baltic Triangle
Liverpool, L1 0AJ, UK

Website: www.hughmillerfurniture.co.uk
Instagram: www.instagram.com/hughmillerfurniture/
Facebook: www.facebook.com/hughmillerfurniture
Email: studio@hughmillerfurniture.co.uk


Know anyone we can feature? For our new series ‘Japan Woodcraft Journeys‘, we’re looking for more individuals, of any nationality, who’ve travelled to Japan and met with master crafts men and women. Contact us with your tips.

NOTE: Feature image of this blog post shows Hugh Miller with Suda Kenji, read his Masters profile here.

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