Ishibatate: Traditional Japanese Construction

By Posted in - Black Pine Resources on February 22nd, 2022
What is Ishibatate?

Traditional Japanese timber frame construction set the standard for what holistic architecture could be. All materials are natural, sustainably sourced, and replenished after harvest. They are handled sustainably during all the stages of construction, until the end of their lifespan when they are either recycled or safely returned to earth.

This method of construction is not as widely practiced anymore since the introduction of more convenient – and arguably more efficient – yet unsustainable, non-recyclable, and processed materials. These are common place today and rarely thought about twice.

The traditional Japanese style of “Ishibatate” or “standing on the stones” has been perfected after centuries of trial and error. It is a framing style that is so in tune with nature that the building rests in it, rather than being alienated from it.
Ita-kura House, Big Sand Woodworking

Natural Materials

Everything in traditional Japanese framing can be removed and literally returned to the earth. Construction is done without modern day fixings such as nails, screws, glue, or electric tools. This is achieved through a process called joinery. Joinery involves the creation of interlocking joints that bind together carefully selected pieces of wood.

Bracing & Durability

This construction style can withstand earthquakes by using timber’s natural strength and flexibility, which allows the building to utilise several strategies to absorb and disperse an earthquake’s energy.

The foundations consist of columns on stone not fastened to the ground by any means. This strategy allows the building to shift as one in earthquake tremors. This is achieved by scribing timber posts to stone plinths. The premise is simple — copy the rough surface of a stone plinth to a wood post for a seamless fit.

For additional shock absorption, soil plaster walls are used with woven bamboo sub-structures.

Insect Resilience

Typical foundations make us cover everything from the elements, which usually result in damp environments for insects to thrive in – particularly in timber. Ishibatate frames, however, are raised from the ground, keeping the larger portion of timber from coming in contact with water, which is naturally absorbed from stones. Additionally, the framing allows for natural ventilation which dries the timber if it should get wet.


Ishibatate calls for ‘genuine’ materials – materials that can be cut and cut and cut while still finding the same material beneath. The owner interacts with the material and respects each patina in its own way. These imprints create character over time, that brings life to a building – letting it age as beautifully as we do.



Timber posts scribed to stone footings, Big Sand Woodworking
Huru House, WireDog Architecture, New Zealand
Timber joinery, Big Sand Woodworking
Subfloor construction, Soma Ko Sha

For more information on traditional Japanese timber framing, see the links below:

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