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introduction Architectural art takes various meanings and is often associated with buildings, design, construction, and style. Humans of every age and location use architecture for living, eating, learning, and working, among countless other things. Its influence and purpose may vary around the world but there is no doubt that architecture plays an important role in the lives of humankind from age to age. Though it takes on many different forms, architecture, simply put, is a form of art and design that consists of creating buildings. Architecture, as a form of art and design, is unique in that it serves both a functional and an aesthetic purpose. The function of a building can be determined by its intended purpose, whether that be a home, business, school, restaurant, or place of worship, etc. This also makes architecture an interactive work of art in the sense that it is being used and is not created exclusively for appearance. Design, form, and style are also important components of architecture that can reveal its purpose in addition to providing insight about the time period and culture from which it originates. This is an important feature when studying architectural history, cultural history, and history in general, as architecture has been a foundation for societies from the earliest of times. The Japanese culture is no exception, showcasing unique style and beauty dating back to its earliest architectural structures. From the ancient temples of Nara to the towering skyscrapers of modern Tokyo, the history and culture of Japan is well-captured in its architecture.



History of Architecture: Japan

the evolution of Japanese architecture

300– 710




1336 –1573

Kofun Period

nara Period

heian Period

kamakura Period

ashikaga Period

Design Influence: respect for the ruling class Defining Features: thatched roofs, mound shaped, natural materials, burial sites surrounded by moats

Design Influence: introduction to Buddhism Defining Features: two-five stories, overlapping ceramic tiles and curved roofs, assembled posts and beams

Design Influence: peace, isolation, and nature Defining Features: structures integrated with landscapes, symmetrical design around gardens

Design Influence: simplicity and awareness Defining Features: conservative materials, tea houses, surrounding atmosphere incorporated with structure

Design Influence: power and defense Defining Features: unification, castles, building large-scale from blocks, stone and resistant materials



History of Architecture: Japan



1912 –1926



edo Period

meiji restoration

taisho period

showa Period

Contemporary japan

Design Influence: renewed classical techniques Defining Features: simple and natural materials, nature and architecture are one with each other

Design Influence: incorporation of western architecture; early modernism Defining Features: material such as stone, brick, steel, concrete, and glass

Design Influence: political and industrial progress Defining Features: geometric shapes, use of brick and stone, functional public buildings funded by government

Design Influence: Modernism and European art Defining Features: modular space, western-style architecture combined with Japanese design techniques

Design Influence: Post-Modernism; sustainability Defining Features: relationship between indoors and outdoors, geometric, utilitarian, reflect themes from nature

West Gate of Kiyomizu-Dera Temple, Buddhist, 778, Kyoto, Japan

temples and shrines The religious influence of Shinto and Buddhism in the Japanese culture has played a significant role in the architectural design of temples and shrines throughout Japan. To this day, temples and shrines that date back to the 600s remain a prominent part of the Japanese architectural landscape. The Horyuji temples, built around 607, are some of the oldest surviving temples in Japan and in 1993, it “became the first location in Japan to be registered as a World Cultural Heritage Site” (Arai). Spiritual beliefs play a dominant role in the overall design of Japanese temples. For example, the curved roofs are believed to ward off evil spirits because they can only travel in straight lines. Torii gates, seen at the entrances of Shinto and Buddhist temples and shrines, symbolize “the transition from the profane to the sacred” in crossing through them (Deusenberry). Nature is another factor that has influenced the design of Japanese temples and shrines. Japanese architect Tadao Ando said “When you look at Japanese traditional architecture, you have to look at Japanese culture and its relationship with nature. You can actually live in harmonious, close contact with nature – this is very unique in Japan.” The geometry, materials, and color used in traditional Japanese temples and shrines reveal a deep connection and respect for nature. The use of material is also a unique aspect of Japanese temples compared to temples of other cultures. “In contrast to her Asian mainland neighbors which used a combination of stone and wood materials for temple configurations, Japan almost exclusively used wood in such endeavors” (Lee).



History of Architecture: Japan



Senso-ji Temple, Buddhist, 645, Tokyo, Japan History of Architecture: Japan

Todai-ji Temple, Buddhist, 728, Nara, Japan

Byodo-in Temple, Buddhist, 998, Uji, Japan

Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine, Shinto, 711, Kyoto, Japan

The largest city and capital of Japan since 1869 is Tokyo. In terms of architecture, Tokyo is also the most contemporary city in the nation, filling the skyline with skyscrapers and modern works of architecture in addition to the added influence of westernization after the Meiji era. The development and modernization of the metropolis was partly due to the increasing population and urbanization after the capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. With catastrophes, such as the earthquake of 1923 and bombings throughout WWII, a new progressive era came about with post-war Japan. Tokyo has been rebuilt and reconstructed out of social and political necessity. “Despite the immense trauma of the catastrophe, many government bureaucrats treated it as a fortuitous urban planning opportunity to rationalize and modernize the capital” (Weisenfeld). Ancient architecture throughout Tokyo such as the Buddhist Senso-ji Temple, which dates back to 645, serves as a reminder that the traditional Japanese culture is still embedded in the heart of Tokyo. However, some of Tokyo’s buildings and



History of Architecture: Japan

structures, such as the Tokyo Tower (seen on the right), show how westernization influenced the architectural planning of the city as it modernized. At 1,092 feet, the Tokyo Tower is one of the city’s landmarks, and it was influenced by the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. “In 1958, the Eiffelesque Tokyo Tower opened, ‘fulfilling and important patriotic goal’; as in the Meiji era, ‘this particular message abroad about the onset of a new era for Japan was delivered in the language of architecture’” (White). Following the devastation of the 1923 earthquake, there is now a great deal of engineering involved in the architectural planning of structures in a country so prone to earthquakes. The Tokyo Skytree, which is the second tallest freestanding tower in the world at 2,080 feet, exemplifies this feature of modern architectural design. Built to withstand an 8.0 magnitude earthquake, “The building suffered virtually no damage in the March 2009 (9.0 magnitude) quake” during its construction (Hornyak). The design and engineering was remarkably influenced by the design of traditional pagodas, which have been standing undamaged by earthquakes for thousands of years.



Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, 1990 History of Architecture: Japan

Tokyo Skytree, 2008

Tokyo Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower, 2008

Yokohama Located on the western coast of the Tokyo Bay, Yokohama was “only a small fishing village when, in 1854, Matthew C. Perry arrived with his fleet of U.S. naval warships at the harbor of the neighboring town of Kanagawa” (Pletcher). Japan was forced to open its borders for trading, and today, Yokohama serves as an international trading port that has grown to be the second largest city in Japan after Tokyo. As reflected in the skyline, the city of Yokohama features a developed urban landscape with architecture that serves to accommodate business needs in the metropolis in addition to showcasing the culture of the area. Famous landmarks include Mitsubishi’s Landmark Tower, the Marine Tower Lighthouse, the InterContinental Yokohama Grand, Red Brick Warehouse, Yokohama Bay Bridge, and a Chinatown area that features traditional Chinese architecture, design, and culture. A large area of Yokohama was destroyed from bombings during WWII and as a result, most of the city was rebuilt from the ground up after the war. The most prominent style of architecture throughout the downtown area of Yokohama is modern, considering a majority of the construction took place after the 1950s. Landmark Tower, 1993



History of Architecture: Japan

Yokohama Marine Tower, 1961

InterContinental Yokohama Grand, 1991

Kyoto The southern city of Kyoto was the capital and residence of Japanese emperors before the capital was moved to Tokyo. Founded in 794, Kyoto is a city rooted in Japanese tradition and is home to about 1,700 temples and shrines, some of which date back to the late Nara and Heian periods of Japan. “Kyoto is one of Japan’s major cultural and commercial centers, especially for the traditional arts. It also houses the headquarters of most of Japan’s Buddhist sects and is an important place for pilgrimage and tourism. Over 1500 Buddhist temples and 200 Shinto shrines are located in the city or surrounding area” (Coats et al.).



History of Architecture: Japan

The unique aspect about Kyoto is that it is a city where traditional Japanese teahouses and ancient pagodas transition into the urban landscape of the 20 th and 21st century. For a place that encases so much history and tradition, this transition is no easy task. Implementing modern architecture in Kyoto, “where so many traditional-style structures were not only steeped in 1,200 years of history but also complemented the surrounding nature — could only have been an extra challenge. Who dared compete with the masters who created buildings such as the five-story pagoda at Toji Temple or the Imperial Villa in Katsura” (Tasmashige)?

The smooth integration of modern architecture with ancient traditional architecture in Kyoto is perhaps one of the city’s biggest controversies. The Kyoto Tower, built in 1964 (seen to the right), is “a structure so heavily criticized that it was often omitted from architectural publications, and is still a subject of debate concerning the protection of Kyoto’s skyline” (Tasmashige). While the city’s modern architecture may be a point of debate, its traditional architecture is what really sets it apart from other places in Japan. The Buddhist Kinkaku-ji Temple (page 19) remains one of the most visited places in Kyoto and one of the most iconic places in all of Japan.



History of Architecture: Japan

Kinkaku-ji Temple, Buddhist, 1955, Kyoto, Japan

Tenryu-ji Temple, 1345, Kyoto, Japan

Ginkaku-ji Temple, 1490, Kyoto, Japan

Daigo-ji Temple, 951, Kyoto, Japan

osaka Osaka is a major port city, located on the Osaka Bay just south of Kyoto, and is Japan’s third largest city after Tokyo and Yokohama. Osaka plays an important role for shipping in Japan and is also a major business district. The inner-city can be very congested, especially as it has urbanized and modernized over the past few centuries. Rapid growth and urbanization of Osaka have been a major influence for some of the modern architecture that fills the skyline of this big city. The development and building of the city has often taken precedence over the preservation of greenspace throughout the city that is often seen in other major cities of Japan. “In satellite photographs the Osaka region looks like a red sea of urbanization, and the green islands of the surrounding mountains are being washed at their feet by waves of the red tide” (Kondoh). In a culture so in-touch with nature, this is an unusual finding, but the lack of greenspace in Osaka does not mean the city has disregarded nature. Instead, it is reflected and incorporated in some of the city’s most recent works of architecture, such as the Osaka Maritime Museum. Despite the impressive modern architecture throughout the city, the Osaka Castle from the Ashikaga period remains one of its most iconic places, capturing Osaka’s cultural history.



History of Architecture: Japan

Abenobashi Terminal Building, 1983

Osaka Maritime Museum, 2000

Osaka Castle, 1597

in conclusion Japanese architecture is a unique feature of mankind’s accomplishment in the history of creating structures to serve our needs. Not only functional, overcoming tremendous natural obstacles, serving a deity, and enhanced by beauty and its landscapes, these examples show that architecture can and does transcend tumultuous history, serve useful purposes in developing world-class cosmopolitan cities while also communicating a rich unique heritage.



History of Architecture: Japan

works cited Arai, Kiyomi. “The mystery at the heart of Horyuji.” The Daily Yomiuri(Tokyo). (March 20, 2008 Thursday): 1662 words. LexisNexis Academic. Web. 03 Dec. 2016. Burges, John. “After 51 Years, a Temple Is Restored; Japan’s Finest Wooden Building Returned to Shape of A.D. 607.” The Washington Post. (December 26, 1985, Thursday, Final Ed.): 1325 words. LexisNexis Academic. Web. 03 Dec. 2016. Chen, C. Peter. “Bombing of Tokyo and Other Cities.” World War II Database. Lava Development, LLC, 2004. Web. 22 Nov. 2016. Cram, Ralph Adams. Impressions of Japanese Architecture. Singapore: Tuttle Publishing, 2010. Print. Coats, Bruce A., Wilson, Richard L., Sørensen, Henrik H., and Gratia Williams Nakahashi. “Kyoto.” Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, 1996. Web 05 Dec. 2016. Deusenberry, Sydney. “Buddhist Temples in Japan.” Anthropology of Religion. University of Alaska Anchorage, n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2016. Hornyak, Tim. “Japan Builds Tokyo Sky Tree, World’s Tallest Tower.” CNET. CNET Interactive, 01 Mar. 2012. Web. 05 Dec. 2016. Kondoh, Kimio. “Landscape Planning in the Osaka Metropolitan Region, Japan.” Ekistics, vol. 60, no. 360/361, 1993. Web. 05 Dec. 2016. Lee, Leon Z. “Association for Asia Research- Japanese Architecture & Temple Structure.” Japanese Architecture and Temple Structure. AFRA, 2007. Web. 03 Dec. 2016. Pletcher, Kenneth. “Yokohama.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 15 Dec. 2009. Web. 22 Nov. 2016. Tasmashige, Sachiko. “Making Kyoto’s Modern Architecture Part of the City’s Heritage.” The Japan Times. The Japan Times Ltd., 29 Apr. 2011. Web. 05 Dec. 2016. Vladeck, Amy. “Japanese History: A Chronological Outline.” Japanese History: A Chronological Outline. Columbia University, 2009. Web. 30 Nov. 2016. White, James W. Mirrors of Memory: Culture, Politics, and Time in Paris and Tokyo. Charlottesville: U of Virginia, 2011. Print. Weisenfeld, Gennifer. Asia: Local Studies / Global Themes: Imaging Disaster: Tokyo and the Visual Culture of Japan’s Great Earthquake of 1923 (1). Berkeley, US: University of California Press, 2012. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 4 December 2016.

by Megan Parisot

History of Architecture: Japan