Japanese Architecture

Brief Overview of Architecture in Japan

Uniquely Developed Architecture in Japanese Islands
Japanese architecture has traditionally been typified by wooden structures, elevated slightly off the ground, with tiled or thatched roofs. Sliding doors (fusuma) were used in place of walls, allowing the internal configuration of a space to be customized for different occasions. People usually sat on cushions or otherwise on the floor, traditionally; chairs and high tables were not widely used until the 20th century. Since the 19th century, however, Japan has incorporated much of Western, modern, and post-modern architecture into construction and design, and is today a leader in cutting-edge architectural design and technology.

Positioning and Characteristics of Japanese Architecture
Japanese architecture has developed with influences from China and the Korean Peninsula. Since the modern era, western culture has also had an influence, but at the same time, a unique Japanese style of architecture has developed that is integrated with the natural environment and culture of Japan.

Japanese architecture, which mainly uses posts and beams, differs from Western architecture of bricks and stones, and traditional Japanese architecture gained attention in 20th century architectural modernism since it was ahead of its time in the use of modern architectural concepts.

History of Japanese Architecture

Japanese Architecture of Ancient Times
During the Asuka and Nara periods, Japan adopted architectural techniques from China and the Korean Peninsula. The construction of temples also began after the official introduction of Buddhism to Japan in 538. Records show that temple carpenters and makers of Buddhist images and artifacts were invited from Paekche in 577. Also known as Hoko-ji Temple or Gango-ji Temple, Asuka-dera Temple (Asuka-mura Village, Takaichi-gun, Nara Prefecture), which was built by the Asuka clan in the period from 588 to 609, and Shitenno-ji Temple (Tennoji, Tennoji-ku, Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture), which is said to have been founded by Prince Shotoku, are believed to be the oldest Japanese Buddhist temples (the original building not existing in either case). The oldest temples that exist in their original structure are Saiin Garan (Western Precinct Complex consisting of Naka-mon Gate, Five-Story Pagoda, Kon-do Hall, Dai-Ko-do Hall, etc. ) of Horyu-ji Temple and the Three-Story Pagoda of Hokki-ji Temple (both located in Ikaruga-cho, Ikoma-gun, Nara Prefecture). Saiin Garan of Horyu-ji Temple was once believed to have been built in the age of Prince Shotoku, but it is now considered, thanks to the development of research in the modern times, that the complex was destroyed by fire in 670 and rebuilt sometime between the late seventh and early eighth century. The Three-Story Pagoda of Hokki-ji Temple was built in the early eighth century. It should be noted that the building techniques and positioning of Buddhist temples at that time reflect the style of temples in Paekche. The influence of Chinese architectural style grew during the Sui and Tong Dynasties when Japanese envoys were sent to China.

During the aristocratic era of the Heian period, architectural style came to possess typically Japanese features, where rooms creating a serene atmosphere with thinner pillars and lower ceilings were preferred. During and after the Heian period, a unique Japanese style of architecture developed called Wayo Kenchiku (Japanese-style architecture).

Japanese Architecture of the Medieval Period
As trading with China increased in the Kamakura period, Chinese architectural styles were re-introduced into Japan. The style brought to Japan first was one which was utilized in the restoration of Todai-ji Temple (Daibutsu-yo or Tenjiku-yo).

Todai-ji Temple and the statue of Birushana Buddha, both built in the Tenpyo era, were destroyed by fire during the Jisho-Juei War which took place at the end of the Heian period. Chogen SHUNJOBO consecrated the newly made Great Buddha image in 1185 after overcaming numerous obstacles in its construction. The Great Buddha Hall was rebuilt in 1195. A grand memorial service was held in 1203.

The architectural style of the Great Buddha Hall and other similar reconstructions by Chogen was quite unique and is said to have commonalities with the architectural style of Fujian Province and the surrounding area of China in those days (the Sung dynasty).

Although the architectural style, incorporating rational structure and a bold design, was suitable for the Great Buddha Hall, it was incompatible with the Japanese preference for a serene space, and so Daibutsu-yo lost popularity after the death of Chogen. The craftsmen who were engaged in the restoration of the Great Buddha Hall moved to various places after that project and a new Japanese architectural style, known as Setchu-yo (cross style) was born with the influence of Daibutsu-yo.

Thereafter, Zen monks actively travelled between Japan and China, which led to the introduction of Chinese temple architecture to Japan. This is often used in the Buddha halls of Zen sect temples (Zenshu-yo or Kara-yo).

Japanese Architecture of Early Modern Times
In cultural history, the Momoyama period often refers to the time between 1573 when the Muromachi shogunate fell and 1615 when the Toyotomi family was overthrown. During this period, castle architecture was developed; castle towers were built as a symbolic representation of power and splendid paintings were drawn on partitions to represent the era of unification of the country. Tea ceremonies, which started in the Muromachi period, were developed to perfection by SEN no Rikyu and a new architectural style for chashitsu (tea room) was born.

In the Edo period, when more popular culture flourished, a clear tendency towards secularism is also observed in the field of architecture. An example of this movement is the Sukiya-zukuri style, where chashitsu features were incorporated into residential structures as well as urban entertainment facilities such as theaters and brothels. Private houses also developed gradually, adopting the features of Shoin-zukuri style in part. In the sector of temple architecture, large hondos (main halls), such as that of Zenko-ji Temple and Senso-ji Temple, were built to accommodate a large number of worshippers.

Japanese Architecture of Modern Times
Residences, trading houses and churches for foreign residents were built in the foreign settlements which were established in the final days of the Tokugawa shogunate. The Glover Mansion, standing on a high point in Nagasaki, was built by Japanese people under instruction from Glover, but there were also some structures that were constructed by visiting foreign engineers. Inspired by these new structures in the foreign settlements, Japanese builders began to construct Western-style houses and buildings (Gi-yofu Kenchiku).

In the early Meiji period, the Japanese government was making desperate attempts to acquire Western architectural technologies in order to develop the cities required to modernize the country. Thomas WALTERS and Josiah CONDER were invited to Japan as foreign specialists in government service. Conder put his efforts into training Japanese architects at the Imperial College of Engineering and was therefore referred to as 'Father of Japanese architectural studies. 'Kingo TATSUNO was one of the first graduates of the university.

With a plan to construct numerous government offices and realizing the need to develop specialists in the field of architecture, the Japanese government sought assistance from the German government, an advanced European nation that the Japanese admired. The architectural design firm of Hermann ENDE and Wilhelm BECKMANN (Baufirma Ende & Boeckmann) was selected to assist with the project, and the two men were sent to Japan. Based on Ende and Beckmann's suggestion that some delegates be sent to Germany to study and acquire the necessary techniques required for building a modern state, the Japanese government sent a learning mission to Germany consisting of 20 young Japanese people including Yorinaka TSUMAKI, Yuzuru WATANABE, Kozo KAWAI and 17 senior workmen who specialized in stonemasonry, carpentry, artificial stonemasonry, brick-laying, painting, roofing and plastering. A good deal of knowledge was gained from the three-year mission and, after returning to Japan, many of the delegates played an important part in architectural circles, some became artists, while others became the first graduates of what is now known as the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Kotaro SAKURAI deserved a special mention as the first Japanese person to obtain a licence as an authorized British architect in 1892 after studying abroad at London University.

Architecture was always considered a technology of modernization which was to be learned from the West and the concept of architecture as art has not developed in JapanA great deal of damage was caused to brick buildings during the Nobi Earthquake and the Great Kanto Earthquake, which led to the development of quake-resistant technologies which are unique to Japan. As a result, there developed a tendency to view architecture solely as an engineering concept. This view still persists today.

Meanwhile, in 1920, the mid Taisho era, the first Japanese architectural design movement was beginning with a group of graduates from the Department of Architecture of Tokyo Imperial University including Sutemi HORIGUCHI, Mamoru YAMADA, Kikuji ISHIDA, Keiichi MORITA and Mayumi TAKIZAWA; it was called Bunri-ha Kenchikukai.

Contemporary Japanese Architecture
Having taken a severe blow during the Second World War, the Japanese architectural movement found opportunities for development during the postwar restoration and periods of high economic growth. The use of ferroconcrete became common and public facilities everywhere were being built in the modern architectural style. Frequent earthquakes was a problem in Japan, but, as quake-resistant technologies improved, the height restriction of 100 shaku (31m) was eased and more high-rise buildings were constructed. Japan began to foster many internationally renowned architects such as Kenzo TANGE, Fumihiko MAKI and Tadao ANDO, and the standard of modern architecture in Japan improved.

Meanwhile, apart from some architects in the Taisho and early Showa periods, the concept of scenic beauty in cities was all but lost during wartime and the postwar restoration periods. Many of the traditional cityscapes and beautiful old buildings and structures were lost in the war or during the economic growth, and there was a growing number of cheap structures that emphasized economic rationality and repeated "scrap and build" constructions. People began to voice concerns that Japanese cities had became ugly, and so some measures were taken, such as the allocation of preservation districts for groups of historic buildings and the development of Landscape Law, which emphasizes the aesthetics of cities and land.

Representative Japanese Architecture Styles

Shinden-zukuri (寝殿造)

Shinden-zukuri is a style of architecture used in aristocratic mansions in the Heian period. The main building called shinden (seiden) is built facing a south garden with two subsidiary buildings called tainoya to the east and west of the shinden, and two corridors called wataridono connect the shinden and the two tainoya, from which the wataridono corridors extend south and end in tsuridono, or fishing pavilions.

A shinden is a house on stilts with its roofs thatched with Hiwada (bark of Japanese cypress). It has an open structure separated from outside with only shitomido (hinged plank doors). A garden was created in front with a pond and tsukiyama (small hills). The study of Sakuteiki (Treatise on Garden Making) and other materials shows that the typical style was generally for high-ranked aristocrats higher than the sani rank, and each site is one cho (120 m) square, based on Jobohocho-sei of Heiankyo (town demarcation plan of the then Capital Kyoto in the tenth century) surrounded by Tsukiji (mud walls), usually having gates other than on the south. The main gate is either on the west or on the east, called 'reimon' or 'hare mon' according to their use. The character of the gates is closely related to the allotment of the garden and the buildings, each building being connected with wataridono and together surrounding the garden called tsuboniwa. Corridors run to the south from each tainoya, east and west, with chumon (a central gate) at the halfway point, and the courtyard in front of the shinden flanked by these corridors is called nantei (south garden), where white sand was laid. This courtyard and the pond form the main part of the garden.

Shinden faced south and had a south courtyard, but had no south gate, which is different from the style of mansions in China. Many kinds of annual ceremonies took place in the courtyard.

Inside Shinden-zukuri is one room with no separating structures, so portable partitions such as kicho, byobu and tsuitate were used, but as the outer sides of the building have no walls and the interior and exterior become one space when the shitomido are raised, there is a panoramic view of the whole garden.

The view from the Shinden-zukuri consists of hills and water, and miniatures of scenic places from all over the country. The pond, depending on its size, contains several islands called nakajima reached by soribashi (a carved bridge) with red-painted railings placed at an angle on the north side, and hirabashi (a flat bridge) to the next island or on the south side. At one end of a corridor with a chumon is a tsuridono extending over the pond, which is part of the architecture of the garden and was used for boarding a pleasure boat, or for enjoying the coolness in the evening, moon viewing, or snow viewing. On the other side of the pond a gakuya (a music stage) added fun to the pleasure of a boat trip. Ponds were usually fed by a stream from the northeast of the compound following the geological shape of Kyoto, and the stream ran between the shinden and the east tsuinoya, south toward the pond. Inmyo Gogyoshiso (Yin-Yang Wu-Hsing Idea) then considered the stream a favorable current called yarimizu, and it was designed to be a shallow stream. The current was guided alongside the buildings to make waterfalls and yarimizu, and an atmosphere of fields such as at Sagano and Murasakino was created in the tsuboniwa between the shinden and the tsuinoya, with gently undulating mounds called nosuji, planted wild flowers, and insects, to make a landscape.

The paths of the yarimizu and its river walls of rocks were delicately designed to make changes in the flow, fascinating white bubbles on the rocks, and pleasant sounds.

A rich spring, if any were in the grounds, was used as the water source, also forming an important source of coolness in summer. The Higashi Sanjoden of the FUJIWARA family, known as a typical Shinden-zukuri of a very wealthy family, had a spring called 'senkan izumi,' around which rocks were arranged, and the corridors floored with boards on the north and the south sides of the spring were called izumiro.

Although there are no remains of this mansion from the Heian period, we can imagine how it was by studying records on old picture scrolls and diaries of aristocrat ministers and their retainers. Shinden-zukuri were typically depicted in picture scrolls of annual events and 'the Picture Scroll of the Tale of Genji,' and they characterized the graceful lives of aristocrats.

Being made to be full of natural beauty, these gardens were not only there to appreciate, but also to use as a space to conduct ceremonies. Records in diaries and picture scrolls mentioned above show that many kinds of important annual events took place at dignitaries' mansions at that time. The guests first stood in line at the south courtyard to greet each other, then the host beckoned them or stepped down to the garden to guide them to enter the shinden from the south. Music and dances were performed on a stage set in the garden. These events played a political role in those days. The apparatus set up in the garden varied depending on the ceremony, so the performances also varied.

Recent excavations indicate some examples of ponds placed at the side or at the back of the shinden. Kayain had ponds at all sides of the shinden, some had only yarimizu without ponds, and at Sanjoin, ponds were intentionally not built to create a noble atmosphere with the indigenous trees. Some did not have ponds because pond layout strongly depended on natural land forms. Some had only yarimizu, because they had grounds that were too small to have ponds.

The present Kyoto Imperial Palace was built in the Edo period using old architectural methods of the Heian Period following Yusokukojitsu (traditional usages or practices of the court). The buildings of the imperial palace of the Muromachi period were transferred and rebuilt at Daikaku-ji Temple (Saga gosho) and at Ninna-ji Temple (Omuro gosho) in Kyoto, so they show signs of Shinden-zukuri. Higashi Sanjoden and Kayain mentioned above, and also Horikawain are well known for their magnificent buildings and elaborately designed gardens, because they are depicted in records, such as 'Shouki,' FUJIWARA no Sanesuke's diary.

Buke-zukuri (武家造)

The Buke-zukuri style was for samurai residences in the Kamakura period. With importance placed on practicability, the simple style was considered to be fitting as residences for samurai as opposed to aristocratic culture.

Samurai Residences in the Medieval Period
According to the descriptions of the residence of the Kamakura shogun in Azuma Kagami (The Mirror of the East), the residence consisted of a shrine, Kogosho (the residence of the shogun's heir), Tsune no gosho (a room for the Shogun), Nitogosho (the main place consisting of two halls), a tsuridono (fishing pavilion) and Samurai-dokoro, which shows that it inherited the characteristics Shinden-zukuri style architecture while adding distinctive samurai aspects and the existence of a tsuridono suggests that there was Chisen garden (Japanese style garden with a central pond and spring).

In this era, the basic architecture of samurai residences was based on Shinden-zukuri style buildings, which were the main living space of nobles during the Heian period, but it seems that since the lifestyle of samurai differed from Court nobles and tenjobito (high-ranking courtiers allowed into the Imperial Palace), the style of residences was changed accordingly. The Samurai-dokoro in the big 146-m-wide residence of Kamakura shogun was the place where gokenin (an immediate vassal of the shogunate) gathered to hold ceremonies or banquets, but it is also considered that shogun and gokenin sometimes sat face to face there as a ritual characteristic to the samurai society.

Additionally, although the details of samurai residences are still not clear to this day, a typical residence consisted of the following up until the Muromachi period: In one building or a building with annexes, various rooms, such as a tosaburai (tosamurai), where samurai gathered, a shinden and taimen-jo (meeting place), where the samurai spent their days, Dei (Idei) as a guest room, Kumonjo (Office of Administration) and a living room, were placed with strong walls and moats surrounding the buildings, and the garden are was also smaller in comparison with Shinden-zukuri style, matching the smaller-sized buildings, and a front garden with a Chumon gate and entranceway was placed instead of the large garden typical of Shinden-zukuri style, and inside courtyard was divided into smaller sections mainly for viewing.

Many picture scrolls were painted towards the end of the Kamakura period, and on them, many houses of local Samurai are depicted (such as Honen Shonin Eden (illustrated biography of a Buddhist saint, Honen) and Moko Shurai Ekotoba (picture scrolls of Mongol invasion attempts against Japan)). They went to the province assigned by the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) and lived there to control the surrounding area as according to their job assignments. They lived in rural areas, conducted farm management and controlled the farmers. It is unclear how faithfully these paintings depict the actual situation of that time. In the famous "A Scroll of Warrior Obusuma Saburo", the house of Saburo OBUSUMA and his elder brother, Jiro YOSHIMI of Musashi Province are depicted, and the paintings and words on the painting tell us that even the people living in the capital knew that the residence of Jiro YOSHIMI was splendid. The painting depicts a gorgeous atmosphere with a houseboat floating in a pond showing that Jiro, who married a nyobo (lady-in-waiting) from the imperial court and enjoyed entertainment such as poems and music, made a pond and had a tsuridono built within the vast premises and had graceful trees, such as red Japanese plum, cherry and pine trees, planted in the garden. Considering from the layout and look of the buildings, the painting shows that as Shinden-zukuri style was followed, but also depicts aspects typical of a samurai residence such as earth on flat board roofs on top of mud walls, metal clasps used for the gate doors and guards placed around the residence for defence. In contrast, the style and size of the house of his younger brother Saburo itself is in the same Shinden-zukuri style as his elder brother. However, it can be seen that no samurai are practicing military arts in and out of the residence and no garden with a pond for viewing, but the flat yard is left unattended with lots of weeds growing wildly, and regarding the planting, paulownia trees are only trees planted between the gate and the chumon-ro corridor. Traditional Shinden-zukuri style could not fill the needs of the samurai of this era because of typical samurai activity such as fighting, entertaining guests and taimen events (meetings to confirm the relationship between lord and retainer).

Shuden-zukuri (主殿造)

Shuden-zukuri style is the term proposed in architectural history for indicating the architectural style of samurai residences during the Muromachi period.

Initially, samurai residences followed the Shinden-zukuri style, and the layout of the Shogun Yoshinori ASHIKAGA's residence (Hana no Gosho (literally, Flower Palace)) is centered on a shinden (main house). However, by the time of Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA's Higashiyama-dono, a Tsune no gosho (a building for living) called the Shuden was created. The Shuden was a place where all daily activities could be done with a room for conducting taimen (meeting to confirm the relations between lord and retainer) and Buddhist services and bedroom.

This architectural style is different from that of the Shinden-zukuri style, where a shinden and Tainoya (the building where family members of the residence lived) were connected with a corridor, and the Shoin-zukuri style where an entrance, a dai-shoin (a large drawing room) and a sho-shoin (a small drawing room) were connected in a row. It is considered as a distinct architectural style and called the Shuden-zukuri style.

No buildings of the Shuden-zukuri style have survived from that time and its characteristics can only be surmised from existing related documents. Although built more recently, it is said that the shoin (drawing room) at Onjo-ji Temple maintains some aspects of the Shuden-zukuri style. The floor, shelves and shoin give an impression of an old-fashioned shoin.

The Reception Hall of Kangakuin (built in 1600) and Reception Hall of Kojoin (built in 1601) at Onjo-ji Temple are National Treasures. The shoin that was once in Nikko-in of Onjo-ji Temple was dismantled and reconstructed in Tokyoto become the Gekko-den (literally, a moon light hall) at Gokoku-ji Temple (Important Cultural Property).

Shoin-zukuri (書院造)

Shoin-zukuri is one of the Japanese residential architectural styles which were established after the middle of the Muromachi Period. Shoin-zukuri has had a strong influence on Japanese residential houses since then.

Features of Shoin-zukuri
A shoin (a study built in the shoin style) is furnished with zashikikazari (a set of decorative features), such as tokonoma (alcoves for the display of art objects) (or oshi-ita), chigai-dana (shelves built into the wall), and tsukeshoin (a built-in table). Even at banquets today, seats are often designated as 'kamiza' or 'shimoza' according to their position relative to the tokonoma, which implies that distances from tokonoma once helped members to verify each other's rank and status.

Establishment of Shoin-zukuri
A shoin was originally for Zen monks to read books, with an elevated floor board as a desk extending out into the room and with akari-shoji in front to let light in. Oshi-ita (a shallow decorative alcove, a predecessor of the tokonoma) and chigai-dana were installed to display works of calligraphy, paintings and other ornaments.

A famous historical example of an architectural structure that integrates these features is Dojinsai, a study that Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA had built in the Togudo (a building that houses an image of Amida Buddha) of Ginkaku-ji Temple (Jisho-ji Temple). This is a small room of four-and-a-half tatami mats with tsukeshoin and tana, and is considered the origin of typical Japanese houses whose style survives today.

By the end of the Muromachi Period, temples with shoin, and samurai residences with oshi-ita, tana and shoin were being built, and the style of Shoin-zukuri was gradually formed.

Shoin-zukuri was established as a device to show hierarchical ranks and orders, and its pinnacle was in the architecture of castles in the Azuchi-Momoyama Period. Mural paintings by Kanoha in Azuchi-jo Castle built by Nobunaga and in Osaka-jo Castle and a luxurious mansion, Jurakudai, built by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI once represented the majestic force of those in power. However, neither of these remain today.

Ninomaru Shoin in Nijo-jo Castle, which was built by the third Shogun Iemitsu TOKUGAWA, is famous as an example of Shoin-zukuri that still exists today. It was a place where the Shogun met other feudal lords, who sat there in a strictly defined order. The Kamiza where the Shogun was seated is decorated with oshi-ita, tana, shoin and chodaigamae (a decorative door) or mushakakushi (a secret door for bodyguards), and it is on the highest of the several stages of floors arranged in ascending order from shimoza, with a high-ranked structure called oriage gotenjo.

Popularization of Shoin-zukuri
Although tokonoma were restricted as they were considered too lavish for ordinary people in the Edo Period, some influential people were allowed to build tokonoma when inviting local governors to their homes for example. This kind of Zashikikazari must have enhanced their authority in the community.

As these building restrictions based on social standing were abolished in the Meiji Period, installing tokonoma in ordinary houses became common. Yet, a zashiki with a tokonoma was a special room, so even family members were forbidden to enter the room in many families.

Sukiya-zukuri (数寄屋造)

Sukiya-zukuri is one of the Japanese architectural styles, and is characterized as a design of residential house in a sukiya (teahouse) style.

Its name comes from 'suki' which means enjoying furyu (elegant aestheticism), such as waka (31 syllable Japanese poem), tea ceremony, and Japanese flower arrangement, and 'sukiya' means 'a house built as you like,' or a teahouse.

It is a house built by sukiya carpenters using a specific method of timber-framework.

History of Sukiya-zukuri
Teahouses called sukiya first appeared in the Azuchi-Momoyama Period. Originally a sukiya was a small stand-alone teahouse (at most 4 and a half tatami mats in size) built facing a garden. At that time, shoin-zukuri, containing an impressive room furnished with an alcove, shelf, and tsukeshoin (a built-in table) were already established, with its role in maintaining hierarchy and status, but masters of ceremonial tea disliked formal designs and gorgeous decoration. They liked sukiya which were built in a light and easy style.

In the Edo Period the sukiya style spread from teahouses to residential houses. Today, many houses and fancy Japanese-style restaurants are modeled after sukiya architecture.

Experts of architectural history call it 'sukiya style shoin,' considering it not as an original style but rather as a kind of shoin-zukuri.

Design Unique to Sukiya-zukuri
Sukiya architecture is characterized by complete elimination of the status and style that shoin architecture put emphasis on. Its design is simple and sophisticated, reflecting the spirit of a tea master in rejecting superficial decoration and stressing internal self improvement to entertain guests. The following are features of Sukiya-zukuri:

The omission of nageshi (a horizontal piece of timber in a frame):Menkawabashira (bark surfaces) with round surfaces are used, usually in place of these nageshi.

Alcove:The alcove in a sukiya is small and simple compared with that of a shoin-zukuri.

Deep eaves:The eaves are wide, creating shadows and a feeling of peacefulness inside the room.

Gassho-zukuri (合掌造)

Gassho-zukuri is a Japanese architectural style with a distinct steep roof.

The group of buildings in the villages of Shirakawago and Gokayama are especially well known and are registered as a World Heritage site (Cultural Heritage) by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Features of Gassho-zukuri
The main feature is a steep, thatched kirizuma yane (gable roof). It is said that the term of Gassho-zukuri came from the fact that the shape of the roof resembles that of praying hands.

The koyagumi (roof truss or framework) of the Gassho-zukuri in Shirakawago and Gokayama has become famous, but this structure was previously widely used in Japanese private houses. Gassho-zukuri is advantageous because a steep roof is necessary to prevent rain from seeping into the house with a thatched roof. In addition, it is also well-suited for supporting the weight of snow that accumulates in heavy snowfall areas.

The gassho-zukuri houses in Shirakawa were constructed between the later years of the Edo period into the Meiji period.

Its structure is considerably different from the koyagumi (wagoya structure) such as shoin-zukuri or sukiya-zukuri, used for houses of people in higher classes. More specifically, the ridgepoles and roof purlines are supported vertically from below in the wagoya structure. However, in gassho-zukuri, materials from both sides lean against each other in the shape of the Chinese character 人 cross at the ridgepoles. This is generally called the sasu structure. It is a truss structure and ideal considering the characteristics of wooden material because it reduces bending moments and concentrates tensile strength of the beams.

Gassho-zukuri houses have a spacious area under the roof without koyazuka (vertically-placed wood materials). Around the middle of the Edo period, farmers started to place shelves for raising silkworms in this space under their roof when the sericultural industry grew. It is structurally difficult to make roofs that are not steep with Gassho-zukuri style. However, it is thought that the roof was made higher and steeper to increase the space available for shelves to raise silkworms.

Thatched roofs are re-thatched once every 30 to 40 years. When snow slides off the roof, it sometimes brings pieces of thatch with it. Therefore, the roof must be repaired once or twice a year. The work to renew or repair a thatched roof is conducted in cooperation with people in the community. This system is called 'yui' (bonding).

Kara-zukuri (唐造)

The Kara-zukuri style concerns castle buildings in Japan, the external view of tenshu (the main keep or tower of a castle) in particular. This is a style of uchimawarien (for whose structure, refer to the description of the structure item below). The Chinese character 唐 (kara, indicating China) is used because it gives a new or unusual external view.

This style is mostly provided for the uppermost floors. However, it is sometimes used for a lower floor: For example, in the tenshu of Iwakuni-jo Castle, the style is used for the third floor. In the castles of this style, their upper part is likely to become larger the lower part, with the external view giving an extremely unstable and impressive impression. Ieyasu TOKUGAWA restricted the number of floors of tenshu that could be newly built, and therefore, it is said that such a style was also used, to bypass the restriction, to reduce the externally counted number of floors of the tenshu built in the Keicho era (1596 - 1615) or later.

The Structure of Kara-zukuri
The structure is something like what is made by enclosing a protruded sotomawarien (a narrow veranda all around a room, outside the sliding storm doors, used for viewing the surrounding area) with walls or boards.

For example, when the style is used for the uppermost floor, the uchimawarien part protrudes from the room part, whose size is almost the same as that of the lower floors, as described below. The size of the room part is made almost equal to that of the lower floors.

When rain water leaks from the roof or the veranda decays, storm doors or walls from the eaves to the veranda can be erected around the veranda, making the building look like this style. However, doors or walls are sometimes erected between the eaves of the upper most floor and the roof(s) of the lower floor(s), or the veranda itself is sometimes moved. Structures made in such a way are not called Kara-zukuri.

Japanese Castles (城)

Japanese castle (城 shiro) is a fortress and samurai lord’s resident constructed with wood and stone. The first form of Japanese castle was the wooden stockade in early centuries, then evolved into their best-known form of powerful and beautiful structure in the 16th century. The structure of Japanese castle is very different not only from Western countries, but also from other Asian countries such as China. Japanese castle was uniquely developed by Samurai and it has reached the only one design in the world. According to the research, there are about 25,000 castles all around Japan including ruins and reconstructions.

Japanese Shrine Architecture (神社建築)

In ancient times, Shinto ceremonies were held outdoors at temporarily demarcated sites without buildings. Later, temporary structures were used which eventually got replaced by permanent shrine buildings housing the deity. Early shrine buildings predate the introduction of Buddhism and reflect native Japanese architecture styles.

Among the earliest shrine architecture styles are the Shinmei style as represented by the Ise Shrines whose halls resemble ancient storehouses, and the Taisha style as represented by the Izumo Shrine whose buildings resemble ancient residences. Furthermore, there is the Sumiyoshi style as represented by the Sumiyoshi Shrine in Osaka which is also considered to be close to a natively Japanese shrine architecture style.

The arrival of Buddhism in the 6th century brought along strong architectural influences from the mainland. Kasuga Shrine and Usa Shrine are among two early shrine construction prototypes which already show more distinct foreign elements. Towards the Edo Period, shrines became increasingly ornate as exemplified by the most spectacular of them all, Nikko Toshogu Shrine, which was built in the 17th century.

Over the centuries, many shrine buildings were lost to fire or other disasters. Thus, even though many shrines may have been founded more than a millennium ago, the oldest extant shrine buildings are about a thousand years old, while the majority of them are just a few centuries old. Furthermore, several major shrines used to follow a unique custom of periodic rebuilding for symbolic purification. Today, the Ise Shrines still follow this custom every twenty years, while some other major shrines undergo periodic renovations instead.

Japanese Temple Architecture (仏閣建築)

Temples came along with the import of Buddhism from China around the 6th century. At first, temples resembled those in China closely in features, such as having wide courtyards and symmetrical layouts. Some of the oldest surviving temple buildings exhibiting these features can be found in Nara, in particular at Horyuji (the world's oldest wooden structure), Todaiji (the world's largest wooden structure), Yakushiji and Kofukuji. Asukadera, located about 25 kilometers south of Nara City, is considered the oldest Buddhist institution in Japan.

As time passed, temples were increasingly designed to suit local tastes. Newly introduced sects from the mainland contributed to new temple architecture styles. Temples began to exhibit less symmetrical features, and many started to incorporate gardens in their compounds. Temples were also founded in more remote places and in the mountains, which had more varied layouts owing to complex topographies. Like shrines, temples buildings were also lost over time, and the ones that exist across the country today are mostly a few centuries old.

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Encyclopedia of Japan