- The four islands that compose modern-day Japan are located off the coast of Russia, North and South Korea, and China. In Prehistoric times, this land mass was connected to the continent, and the Sea of Japan was a large lake upon which some of the earliest cultures flourished. With the end of the Ice Age, Japan was gradually transformed into a sophisticated island culture, protected by the sea from invaders and enjoying a fertile maritime society. Once agricultural communities were formed by Korean settlers who brought rice to the islands, Japanese material culture flourished, and here are found the earliest architectural remains from the Yayoi period (c. 300 BC-AD 300). Yayoi peoples lived in timber-framed and thatched wood homes with sunken floors and raised granaries. In subsequent eras, a more pronounced hierarchical society emerged, with royal tomb monuments and palace complexes, together with more ritualized religious structures. Early tombs were formed into a necropolis of earth mounds, topped by ceramic sculptures called haniwa that sometimes resembled domestic architectural structures. These unglazed ceramic forms probably symbolized aspects of the native Japanese Shinto belief system.Shinto shrines have persisted throughout Japanese history and reflect the belief that the gods inhabit aspects of nature, such as water-falls, mountains, trees, and even rocks. Often, a simple gateway called a torii signified a sacred natural site, devoid of any architectural construction. An early Shinto shrine built in the first century AD (during the Yayoi Period) is found at Ise, along the southwest coast of Japan. Rebuilt every 20 years, this shrine is a major tourist site today where pilgrims can venerate the sun goddess, the mother of the Japanese Imperial family. The unpainted cypress wood building rests on piles that raise the shrine off the ground. Only members of the royal family may enter the shrine's four-part interior through the doorway located under the porch at the ground floor. The thatched, hipped roof is held down by logs placed horizontally across the gable. The aesthetic principles seen here are consistent with the enduring characteristics of Japanese architecture in general, which include a preference for a natural setting with unfinished materials; a restrained design with a simple, harmonious layout; and careful attention paid to every aspect of construction, from the elaborate brackets joined without nails to the placement of the building on its site.Shintoism was later supplanted by the advent of Buddhism from India. Temple monuments began to be constructed in Japan during the Asuka Period (AD 552-646). This monumental architecture was entirely new in Japan, given that earlier Shinto gods were often wor-shipped directly in natural surroundings rather than in architectural settings. (The Ise shrine is one exception and can be understood as an imperial monument that honors the ancestors of the royal family.) The Buddhist temple compound at Horyuji, in the central plains of Japan, built in the 600s, is one of the few surviving Buddhist temples from this early period and is the oldest original wooden building in the world. This small compound consists of two buildings: a solid five-story pagoda and a large worship hall called a kondo. These two balanced structures are located in a rectangular courtyard surrounded by covered walkways. Outside the sacred compound are monastic buildings, including classrooms, dormitories, a library, and a bell tower. During the end of the Heian Period (794-1185), a monastic complex reflects the ideals of Pure Land Buddhism, which was more spiritually direct than the esoteric principles of the earlier forms of Buddhism and therefore more widely popular. The Byodoin, located in the Uji Mountains outside Kyoto, was originally built in the 11th century as a palace for the imperial counselor. Less austere than the Horyuji complex, this square temple faces an artificial pond and is flanked on three sides by connecting enclosed corridors elevated onto slender piles that end in elevated square rooms. The exterior walls, accented with a rich dark wood framework and reddish trim, are topped by a hipped roof with corners that tilt upward and reveal carved images of a phoenix in the corners of the gable. The tilted roof, which gives the impression of the phoenix taking flight, harks back to the earliest Chinese Buddhist temples, such as the Nanchen Temple on Mount Wutai in Central China, built in the 780s.By the late 12th century a more meditative form of Buddhism, called Zen Buddhism, appeared in Japan. The highly cultivated Zen gardens, often made of stone or gravel carefully raked smooth, accentuate several carefully selected rocks and artistically pruned trees. Small Zen gardens provide the proper meditative surroundings for a variety of religious structures and anticipate the elegant simplicity of shoin architecture. Shoin buildings appeared in the Momoyama period (1568-1603) as upper-class homes that incorporated the elegant simplicity of the tearoom into their designs. The Japanese tea ceremony is perhaps this period's most famous and enduring tradition, in which a small group of people enter into a highly ritualistic interaction of contemplation and modest discourse. Tearooms were made of wood or bamboo, with mud walls, paper-covered windows, and a floor covered with tatami mats of woven straw. Diffused light enters through the thin paper window coverings, revealing a clear spatial arrangement to the interior, which is organized into asymmetrical square or rectangular shapes. A painted scroll or flower arrangement might be the subject of muted discussion. The shoin house is a simple rectangular structure defined by square or rectangular bay units with a timber framework and timber bay divisions that incorporate the tearoom aesthetic into a livable arrangement of verandas, alcoves that can be enclosed by decorated sliding doors called fusuma, and translucent rice paper screens called shoji that can further organize the interior space. Tatami mats cover the floors, and the wooden ceiling is divided into squares.The Katsura Palace, built near the perimeter of Kyoto in the early 17th century, is perhaps the best example of this type of secular architecture. The palace is constructed as a series of buildings connected by covered walkways that harmonize with the surrounding woods. The rambling effect of the house provides ample opportunity to contemplate nature via the verandas constructed at the gable ends of the building blocks. The front of the palace contains guest rooms and the middle block is organized to entertain guests in tea ceremonies. The small block leading to the back of the house provides storage for books and musical instruments, and the back block features a series of small bedrooms and washrooms adjoining the servants' back wing. In addition to these aristocratic homes, large fortified castles were built during the Momoyama period in response to European influences in Japan. Himeji Castle, located near Osaka, dates to the first years of the 1600s and is one of the few surviving fortified imperial castles of the time. A labyrinth-like series of paths, steep stairs, guarded gates, and narrow ladders lead up the hill to the multiroofed and gabled white building complex called the White Heron. These are the complex structures of the warrior class, made famous in the history of Japanese martial arts. From this period onward, Japan was increasingly exposed to western influences that are reflected in modern Japanese architecture, yet the traditionally nature-based, austere aesthetics of earlier Japanese buildings has continued, as exemplified in Toyo Ito's Silver Hut. Constructed in Tokyo in 1984, this structure maintains a strong contact with nature through its proliferation of windows. Its rooms, organized around a courtyard, reveal an open and flexible floor plan divided with partitions much like the early shoin homes. The light aluminum roof, supported on thin columns, consists of seven barrel vaults with glass lining the upper walls and parts of the vaulting, allowing for an almost transparent quality. A model of efficient contemporary urban design, this home reflects general trends still found in the more modest two- and three-story apartment house, called an apato. These apartments often have floors and fusama sliding doors as well as rice paper walls. Traditional Japanese style can be found in the more expensive modern hotels of Tokyo and Osaka as well as in many modern government buildings. However, the challenge for modern architects is how to integrate traditional Japanese principles of harmonious town planning and a proximity to nature into the construction of these increasingly crowded and industrialized cities.Kenzo Tange's Yoyogi Gymnasium, built in Tokyo for the 1964 Olympics, reveals his desire to bring structural sophistication to Japanese architecture; it is a thoroughly modern concrete structure, yet with a sweeping, organic ceiling and a curved, asymmetrical floor plan that recalls traditional Japanese forms. Tadao Ando reveals a traditional Japanese restrained aesthetic in his Church on the Water, built in Tomamu in northern Japan in 1988 from concrete, steel, and glass, and with large windows that open directly out into its beautiful natural setting. Thus, the traditional emphasis on wood is largely replaced by concrete, but expressive qualities are retained. skyscrapers were introduced in Japan later than in other regions of the world because of the danger of earthquakes, but with more sophisticated structural practices, major cities such as Tokyo are now filled with tall, earthquake-resistant buildings. One of the most unusual skyscrapers is the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka, completed in 1993 by the architect Hara Hiroshi with 40-story twin towers joined by a series of skywalks at various upper levels and capped by a rooftop observatory. Beneath the structures is an underground market, while gardens and a walking path surround the buildings at ground level. This business and apartment complex, in a Post-Modern style, responds to the pressing needs for housing and space in modern-day Japan, while at the same time it introduces a series of unique design features to late-20th-century skyscraper design.
Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. Allison Lee Palmer. 2008.
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