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History of Japanese Architecture | Immerse Yourself In the Elements of Japanese Architecture with Us

28.06.2021
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Japanese temple architecture

What Is Japanese Architecture?

Japan is a country of majestic castles, impregnable fortresses, magnificent monasteries, and fabulous palaces.

Japanese architecture is something special, unique, and unusual. The peculiarity of Japan structures lies in the interesting shape of the roofs with characteristic curved edges. It is known that this feature is peculiar only to Japan.

The whole world knows the extraordinary architecture of Japan, and indeed of Asian countries in general. The peculiarity lies in their amazing, curved upward, roofs. But it should be noted that this is not the only feature of Japanese architecture. In ancient times, castles were built in Japan, with high towers, fenced around by a wall. Such buildings were called yamajiro. They were built so long ago that they have practically not survived to this day. Firstly, because their walls were made of wood, and secondly, by building a yamadziro, simple houses began to be built around, and the territory was populated. Consequently, they were located on a plain, and it was difficult to protect these buildings.

Later, they began to build hirajiro, essentially the same as the yamadziro, only they were built on the hills. They were already fenced off with stone walls and protected more carefully. The main tower in hirajiro was called tenshu. She was taller than everyone. Such towers could still be connected by covered passages, which thereby formed a complex structure, well-protected. At the same time, such fortresses were very beautiful.

At that time, the Japanese had already learned how to make slate, which covered roofs. This slate was of various colors. But red slate has become a widespread decoration of roofs, with gold edges around the entire perimeter. During the Edo period, many hirajir served as defensive fortresses and human settlements.

It should be noted that some modern buildings are built according to the hirajiro construction principles. Including, in our time, ancient buildings have been preserved.

Japan Architecture History

japan structures

Traces of the oldest settlements in the Japanese archipelago date back to the 10th millennium BC. The first “villages” consisted of dugouts with tree branch roofs supported by poles, known as tate-ana dzyukyo (pit dwellings). Around the 3rd millennium BC, the first ancient Japanese houses with a raised floor, covered with a gable roof, appeared. Such structures were built as dwellings for tribal leaders and as storage facilities. In the IV-VI centuries. AD in Japan, huge tombs of local rulers, called “kofun”, were already being erected.

The oldest Japanese buildings are Shinto and Buddhist religious buildings – shrines, temples, monasteries.

The prototype of Japanese temple architecture is considered to be the Shinto shrine of Ise Jingu, built in the 7th century. In the Shimmei style and dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami, the progenitor of the imperial dynasty. Its main structure (honden) is raised above the ground and has steps on its wide side that lead to the inside. Two columns support the ridge of the roof, which is decorated from two ends with crossbeams intersecting above it.

Ten short logs lie horizontally across the ridge of the roof, and the entire structure is surrounded by a railed veranda. For centuries, every 20 years, a new one has been erected next to the sanctuary, and exactly copying it, the deities move from the old sanctuary to the new one. So the “short-lived” type of Japanese-style buildings has survived to this day, the main characteristic features of which are pillars dug into the ground and a thatched roof.

Traditional Japanese Architecture

japan architecture history

The advent of Buddhism in Japan influenced Shinto, and the Edo period Buddhist temple architecture influenced the architecture of Shinto shrines. Buildings began to be painted in blue, red, and other bright colors, metal, and wooden carved decorations were used, and covered rooms for worshipers and other utility rooms were added to the main structure of the sanctuary.

The use of wood as a Japanese architectural element of the main building material was determined for a number of reasons. Even today, Japan is one of the most densely forested countries in the world, and in the past, there were even more forests. To make it easier to endure the heat, the premises were made light and open, with a raised floor and a roof that had long overhangs to protect from the sun and frequent rains. The masonry did not allow for natural ventilation of the premises.

Almost all famous buildings in Japan are combinations of rectangular elements.

Beginning with the Ise temples, the art of Japanese architecture was dominated by the trend towards horizontal development of space. This was further enhanced by the characteristic roofs of the buildings. A tiled roof with wide overhangs is a distinctive feature of Chinese architecture.

Traditional Japanese Buildings

The aesthetics of ancient Japanese buildings are rooted in China, and modern buildings are the product of re-imagining Western concepts in accordance with the Japanese landscape and local requirements. Ancient Japanese architecture, from ancient temples to modern buildings, is amazing. The country has given the world many great architects: the works of Tadao Ando and Kengo Kuma are famous all over the world. Those who come here can see firsthand how Japan has left its mark on the world of modern architecture.

Wood and Simple Shapes

Japanese architecture history

The main and defining characteristic of traditional Japanese architecture is the use of wood: in the past, due to regular earthquakes, the Japanese could not afford to build stone buildings. As a sign of deference to wood, ancient architects learned to erect buildings from it without nails.

Wood in Japan was rarely painted: unpainted wood is easier to appreciate the texture. Sliding paper doors were used inside the houses. The simplicity of their removal and rearrangement made it easy to change the layout of the house. The influence of these traditions is noticeable in Japanese architecture history to this day. Simple shapes and honestly displayed materials are now trending around the world, while in Japan such concepts have been used for centuries in the aesthetics of Buddhist and Shinto buildings.

Spiritual and Religious Architecture

The original religion of Japan is Shinto. Buddhism came to the country only in the 6th century AD. Each of the trends has its Japanese architecture style. There are many Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples throughout Japan. On the first visit, they can be confused, the differences are not obvious.

Shinto shrines are reserved. They imitate nature: they do not paint or decorate bare wood. Buddhist temples are more elegant, scarlet paint often prevails in their design.

A good example of Famous Japanese architects is in the heart of Wakayama Prefecture, in the Kansai region. The Great Shrine of Kumano Hongu Taisha is one of the Japanese pilgrimage centers along the ancient Kumano-Kodo route. The wide sloping bark roof blends perfectly with the surrounding greenery. Instead of nails, the builders used sophisticated methods of joining wooden parts.

An example of Buddhist architecture is the large complex of temples and shrines of Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture. The red buildings among the hills contrast with the surrounding forest landscape. The multi-colored reliefs on the buildings depict scenes from Buddhist traditions. The Shinto and Buddhist traditions developed side by side, and their influence on architecture is noticeable today.

Why Are Japanese Roofs Curved?

Japanese buildings

Asian architecture is quite peculiar and unique in Japanese building names. When building houses in Japan, special attention is paid to roofs. The Land of the Rising Sun borrowed the architectural style of buildings from China, namely, roofs with curved edges. Hence, a completely logical question is brewing: why are curved roofs made in Japan?

In traditional Japanese architecture, simplicity has always come first. And the main building material for a long time in this country is wood. The main reason for the peculiar shape of the roof is fresh bamboo, when it dries, it hardens and curls. Wooden houses are ideal for the climate of Japan, such structures could easily be moved from one place to another.

Now we hope that after reading our information about Japanese architecture, you found out why and what are Japanese buildings called, and also wondered about the history of ancient buildings.

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