The History of Japanese Architecture

The Architecture of Japan

A society is defined by its culture, and there are many components of culture. Japanese culture includes unique traditions, music, food, art, and religion. Another major aspect of Japanese culture that is the most visible is the architecture. Japanese architecture has evolved from traditional simplicity to ultra-modern ugliness. The architecture of Japan has reflected the political, social, and religious situations in some situations. Three periods can be used as examples of this: the Heian Period, the Tokugawa Period, and the Modern Period. The changes that Japanese architecture goes through during these three phases is interesting, and it says a lot about the society that created it.

The Heian Period is divided into two main parts: the Konin era, from 780 AD to 897 AD, and the Fujiwara era, from 898 AD to 1192 AD. Buddhism played a major part in the architectural design of the Konin era. Japanese Buddhists adopted the Indian idea of the stupa as a worship place, but modified it. The Indian stupas were domed, while the Japanese ones of the Konin era had pyramidal roofs. However, a new kind of pagoda developed that combined the styles developed during that time. The pyramidal roof was present, but a domed roof was superimposed upon it. On top of that was another roof, with a spire and pillars. The Indian Buddhist roots are there, but the Japanese already had begun to make their impact on Buddhist architecture. Eventually, the Japanese would form new Buddhist architecture styles, just as they would form new Buddhist sects.

In 794, Emperor Kammu moved the Japanese capital from Nagako to Uda , mostly because the emperor did not like the atmosphere of the monasteries at the old capital, Nara. It was after this move that Shinto places of worship began to undergo changes. They began to adopt many characteristics usually associated with Buddhism, including intricately designed gates, elaborate carvings, and pagodas. This combination of religions was brought about by the belief that Shinto gods were incarnations of Buddha.

Many groups of Buddhist temples were built during the Konin era, but Nobunaga burned almost all to the ground during the 16th century. However, one survived. Koya San survived and is a good example of these large groups. Although its main pagoda was burned down, fifty temples still stand. These contain apartments and chapels for the religious pilgrims that frequented the site. These apartment complexes utilize quadrangles, which are used in modern American architecture. All the buildings are covered with thick, heavy tiles that are colored to blend with the trees that surround the area.

More architectural advances were made during the Fujiwara era. One new idea was the Shinden style of residential buildings that were constructed around the Imperial Palace. The main chamber faced south, and on each side were covered hallways that led to smaller buildings. Two more corridors stemmed off of the auxiliary buildings, enclosing the residence and forming a courtyard that was used as a garden.

The buildings of the noblemen during the Fujiwara era did were not overly fancy or luxurious. They consisted of one building, without pavilions or auxiliary buildings. They were open to the fresh air, and the inside was furnished with simple mats. These buildings, although built in the tenth century, were not much different from modern day Japanese houses. The lowest class Japanese lived in simple thatched huts.

The Tokugawa era ran from 1616 to 1860, and was a period of peace. It was also a period of isolation for the Japanese people. No one was allowed to enter or leave the country, and trade was heavily restricted. As a result, the Japanese were given the chance to develop a truly unique style of architecture. The capital during this period was Edo, the centerpiece of which was a giant castle, surrounded by monstrous walls and a moat. Inside these fortifications were many small castles that were home to the Shogun and other important officials. The Shogun's apartment was very elaborate and beautiful. It was composed of a living suite, two reception suites, a guest suite, a living room suite, and a bathroom. One example of the Shogun's luxurious style of life is his bathroom. It was made of pure white hinoki wood, with black lacquered stands that held containers of water.

Religion once again shaped the way the Japanese designed their buildings. The most piece of architecture that came out of the Tokugawa era was Tokugawa's tomb, built in Nikko. The Gongen style combined elements of the Buddhist and Shinto temples, along with the original stupa design. The three types were literally stacked on top of each other to form a huge monument. Inside, large courts were added to house the many treasures that he was buried with. In an interesting contrast, the actual tomb room is not decorated with anything at all. The grandeur of the exterior and interior shows the reverence and respect the Japanese people had for Tokugawa. The building of his tomb was also a move away from the tradition of burying rulers in mountainsides.

Tokugawa's tomb was not the only monument or temple built in Nikko. Many others were built to honor other rulers of the Tokugawa period. All of them were built in the same style of Tokugawa's tomb, and all were lacquered and painted red. Although the red is rather bright, the temples have been set against a green forest, making them appear understated. Because the temples are intricately carved, they require constant upkeep. Originally, this was paid for by the Daimyos, but now the government pays for the work.

Since the end of World War II, Japanese architecture has become more and more Westernized and modern. Steel and glass have replaced the traditional material, wood. Part of this change has come from the growing number of corporations building large office buildings. These buildings are cut from the same mold as most American offices: tall, shiny, made mostly of glass, and unattractive. These offices contrast sharply with the traditional temples and palaces of the Heian and Tokugawa periods.

The National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto, built in 1986, is a perfect example of the new style of Japanese architecture. Fumihiko Maki, one of the better-known modern Japanese architects, designed it. Built mainly of stone, glass, and metal, the museum is not as gaudy or strange looking as many new Japanese buildings.

One of the odder-looking buildings in Japan is the Inscription House in Tsukuba. Designed by Yasumitsu Matsunaga, this ultra-modern residence was built in 1987. The house is shaped like an isosceles triangle, with the half of the triangle jutting out over a ledge to form a balcony. Two small structures, ironically shaped like bomb shelters, are connected to the main building, and contain a bathroom and storage space. The house is located just a few hundred yards from an ancient temple, providing an amusing contrast.

Although both the National Museum of Modern Art and Inscription House would be considered outrageous even in America, they reflect the progression of Japanese society. Japan has become one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world, and its architecture reflects its modernization. The new buildings reflect the hi-tech attitude that is prevalent in almost all aspects of Japanese life.

While this type of change is good for variety, the people of Japan must be sure not to lose pride and love for the temples and palaces of old. The architecture created in all periods of Japanese history is unique and instantly recognizable, making it an important part of the country's culture. With the massive integration of Western life into Japan, one can only hope that the Japanese people do not forget their own roots.

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