Creator’s thoughts on Inudono

Project Leader Yoshihiro Tominaga

Inudono is a dog kennel created using techniques usually seen in traditional shrine and temple architecture. But why create a dog kennel using such techniques? There are probably more than a few people who are interested in the origins of this novel idea. What inspired the creative process and is the thinking behind the decision to sell the finished product? I would like to provide an insight into the thinking behind Inudono.

What was the inspiration to create Inudono?

Twenty years ago I was working in a design office that was creating new designs for shrine and temple architecture. I was still young and inexperienced at the time and my job was to follow instructions from the office director and other senior staff and create design drawings based on sketches provided to me. Having acquired the skill of drawing design plans I wanted to design something of my own instead of a temple, the design of which requires knowledge of rite protocols, etc., and I decided on a theme that would be more familiar to people, choosing to design a dog kennel based on my own experience of keeping a dog.

It was a work that I conceived in a half-joking manner. However, when I talked to my friends about my design, everyone I spoke to said, “Someone will definitely buy it, if it is built as per your design,” although they didn’t forget to add, “But I can’t imagine who.” For years afterwards whenever I talked about my idea I would get the same answer: “Someone will buy it.” I thought deeply about why people gave me this answer.

Firstly, it would be something completely novel to make a product available to buy based on real shrine and temple architecture.

The techniques and specialist skills utilized in religious monuments that have been under the patronage of the ruling classes, such as shrines and temples in the case of Japan, are the most sophisticated of their kind as a means of demonstrating authority. Normally for the people, therefore, a monument is something to visit, not something that we could ever think of owning. Neither is it realistic to think that we could build a majestic monument using such techniques and skills.

However, what would happen if people could acquire for themselves something created from only the very best and most authentic techniques in a very much more simple way than constructing a monument? Also, unlike a building, what if that product

could be transported to its designated place, anywhere in the world? All that is made possible by creating Inudono, which is a very new and untried initiative.

Secondly, out of the so many people who are dog lovers, there might be one such person who wants to give their dog the ultimate gift. This kennel, manufactured using the techniques of shrine and temple architecture could well be said to be of excessive quality for a dog’s residence, but that is precisely why some people may want to own it.

It would also have value as objet d’art in its own right, perhaps, for example, as a structure placed in the reception area of a pet hotel, or a pet-related company. It would probably be extremely appealing to exhibit something like Inudono that is an expression of all of Japan’s artisanal skills, instead of hanging paintings and other artworks that are often observed in reception areas.

While it was simple to imagine all these and other things, I had no clue what sort of reaction I would receive if people were to not just hear about it but actually see the finished product for themselves.

So I set about creating the first prototype with a sense of excitement and anticipation about how it would be received.

Joining forces to create something truly authentic

The purpose of this project is not just to create an approximation of a shrine or temple in looks and style, or a model of a temple, but to truly create something authentic. Neither was this a project in which we would simply utilize actual shrine and temple architectural techniques. What we create must be made using only the finest materials and the most suitable techniques that maximize the beauty of Inudono and are capable of convincing any onlooker of its value.

With this in mind I asked Koji Aoki for assistance with the design. He has almost 50 years of experience in restoring and repairing shrines and temples and other cultural assets, and has provided training to carpenters on early modern kiku-jutsu (the art of using only a traditional square ruler). He is accredited by the Agency of Cultural Affairs of Japan as a designated holder of preservation techniques, specifically relating to early modern kiku-jutsu. I was initially hesitant about asking such a person, but when I approached him he was only too willing to help.

With Koji’s participation we had acquired someone possessing an eye for value. What is it that makes shrine and temple architecture so beautiful? That Koji’s discerning eye provided the basis for the production process was important in terms of creating something that everyone would find beautiful.

For carpentry and woodwork, it was actually very difficult to ask a shrine and temple carpenter, “Would you like to build a dog kennel?” Thus, the first person who came to my mind was Toshiki Kidowaki, a master carpenter I have known for many years. His response was much more positive than expected, “This looks like the sort of thing we will get hooked on once we start.”

When Toshiki actually started work, both Koji and I were astounded at the quality of his work. Koji, who has trained many skillful carpenters had the following to say. “Various people become carpenters, but this master carpenter is really adept at the fine and detailed carpentry work. There really aren’t many people like that.”

Moreover, a good carpenter will know other good craftspeople. Tohma Sakaguchi was the sheet metal worker recommended by Toshiki to take care of the copper roofing work, and he joined the project. Tohma is a good deal younger than me and Toshiki, but even so he already has a wealth of 20 years’ experience. It was he who worked so carefully on the intricate metalwork for the roofing.

Initially we had no plans to include a hengaku (plaque) on Inudono, but now we had come so far we decided that one would be needed. Of course it would also need to be made properly and authentically. My biggest concern was who to ask to do the calligraphy, and in the end I turned to Hekiho Fujii. He was very supportive of the purpose behind our endeavor and was happy to take on my request. The plaque he drew for us features beautiful and dynamic characters.

Looking back now I realize that without even just one of us it would not have been possible to complete the project. All of us gave everything we had both in terms of energy and skill. What everyone did say to me once we had finally completed Inudono was, “When I took this project on, I never thought it would go this far.”

Even from photographs alone you can get a sense of the quality of Inudono, but I believe that anyone who sees it for themselves will really feel the power that something so authentic exudes.

Another interesting thing to see is that when a real dog enters Inudono, it immediately transforms the atmosphere of the structure. I hope people will get an opportunity to see it for themselves.

Inudono as a means of raising awareness about traditional techniques

The prototype has now been created, but that is just a start of the Inudono project. Our mission is to deliver a product to people who would like to own it.

In the process of creating our prototype, we were able to gain an understanding of various things, including technical requirements and also the costs involved. Perhaps the most important thing we realized was that we could only create one Inudono each year.

It took almost a year to complete the prototype, through a process of trial and error, but thanks to that we will probably be able to build the next one more quickly. We would also be able to increase production if we increase the number of team members.

However, we must never lower quality. While ideally we would like to pass on skills by working with young carpenters in future, at the current point there is no-one other than master carpenter Toshiki who could make another Inudono of the same quality as the prototype.

Toshiki is such a skillful master carpenter and we should not expect a man of his immense talents to concentrate only on making dog kennels. He should exert his talents in shrine and temple projects. The best way forward therefore is for him to take time when his work schedule permits and create Inudono for people.

That is the reason why we have decided to only accept one order each year. This will mean that we can only provide Inudono to a very limited number of customers. Even so, I believe by demonstrating only authentic techniques we can encourage many people both in Japan and overseas to recognize their charm, and in turn enhance the value of traditional techniques.

Today when the new construction of traditionally constructed shrines and temples is decreasing, there are many temple carpenters who possess skills, but have nowhere to showcase them. I believe that in some form the Inudono project could lead to initiatives for such people to demonstrate their skills and also for imparting knowledge about skills and techniques. I truly hope that our project will inspire various new efforts and that people will be able to demonstrate their skills to the world.

Nothing would bring me greater pleasure than if the Inudono project could help the world to recognize the value of traditional Japanese architectural techniques and also lead to new methods and approaches for expressing these techniques.