Greek and Japanese Architecture
For a great many years, architecture has been a breaking point for different artistic
eras in history. Some of the most famous “works of art” have been chapels, temples, and
tombs. Among the most dominant and influential eras of great architecture are the
sophisticated, stoic Greeco-Roman periods and the more mystical, elemental Japanese
eras. These two very distinct and very different eras have more in common than you may
When work began on the Parthenon in 447 BC, the Athenian Empire was at the
height of its power. Work on the temple continued until 432; the Parthenon, then,
represents the tangible and visible blossoming of Athenian imperial power, impaired by the
damages of the Peloponnesian War. Likewise, it symbolizes the power and influence of the
Athenian politician, Perkiness, who championed its construction (Stokstad).
Using a great number of different means of architectural development, i.e. groin
vaults, barrel vaults, pedestals and the like, the Greeks dramatized their buildings and filled
them with magnificent images. Using the great artistry of the times, they sculpted, painted
and decorated the monuments with great fervor and passion, all for the love of design,
composition, and dynamic proportions. The graceful, smooth lines and elegant “sculpture
of the round,” are reminiscent of another era of excellent architecture, the Japanese era.
From the beginning of this century, Japanese architecture has influenced many
western architects, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Bruno Taut, and Walter Gropius. Its
landscape architecture has long inspired park and garden designers on every continent.
Currently, Japan's modern architecture is having a striking influence on global architecture.
Japanese architecture is an inherent part of Japanese culture, and even Tokyo's
most modern "high-tech" buildings draw their inspiration from old Japanese design.
Japan's ancient castles and palaces, timber houses, tatami-mat tea rooms and Zen gardens,
Shinto shrines, and Buddhist temples, as well as the latest shopping centers, sports
facilities, residential complexes, office towers, department stores, and high-tech structures
are some excellent examples of Japanese Architecture (hkuhist2.hku.hk).
Japan is described as a country of wood, and the reverence of natural materials.
The depths of the love and admiration that the Japanese people have for wood are famous,
which is similar to the Greek love of pristine marble and its smooth surfaces. This can be
seen in an old Japanese expression "plants and trees all have something to say", Japanese
believe that trees have a soul and say they can sense spirits, or "kami", within them. It is
trees that form the core which nurtures the sensibilities about nature held by the Japanese
people. It is thus natural for architecture in Japan to be based on wood. Many structures
are made of wood, ranging from shrines and temples to palaces and homes, and in doing
so grand structures have been created (Stokstad).
Castles and palaces dating from the end of the 16th century, including Oda
Nobunaga's Azuchi Castle and Toyotomi Hideyoshi's Osaka Castle and Jurakudai Palace,
are tall castle towers that rise into the sky at the center of groups of magnificent buildings
executed in the Shoin style, decorated with carvings and wall paintings done on gold
backgrounds. In some of these castles, tea rooms with plain thatched roofs were favored,
with the rooms made as small as could be built. These two elements of magnificence and
plainness jointly formed the tastefulness of the Momoyama period (1568-1600).
However, these two factors by no means contradict one another: the basic
principles are the same, and in a sense what developed was a double-layered structure
where the inside and outside were one and the same (www.greatbuildings.com).
Similar to the Greeks, the Japanese artisans stressed the importance of both
functionality and beauty in there designs for buildings. Each culture, although completely
different, both inherited a great deal of respect for design.
The Greeks used intricate sculpture and carvings to enhance the look and texture
of their architecture, as the Japanese. As seen in the Byodo-in of the Heian period of
Japan, also called the Phoenix Hall for it’s adoration the mystical bird, gracefulness and
detail play a major part in the design and implementation.
Built for the Fujimara family in the eleventh century, this palace converted to a
temple, houses a great deal of “sculpture of the round” like that of the Greek Parthenon.
Every angle and curve has been handled with diamond like precision. The dramatic
redirection of the lines in the roof and crisp ninety degree angles of the pillars and
doorways mirror the smooth lines and elegant curves in the columns and the exaggerated
proportions of the Parthenon.
As with all eras in history, architecture (among other things) is a representative of
the cultural heritage of the time period. The Greeks stressed the importance of their gods
and goddesses where the Japanese valued not only their deities, but their leaders and
teachers as well. Both time periods using ornate and decorative skills to not only open up
the buildings enclosures to give them a more airy, natural feel, but the take the viewer’s
emotion to the point where they admire and respect the buildings and it’s heritage as much
as the original architects and artisans.
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