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Japanese Architecture - Examples

( Originally Published 1921 )


The Buddhist Temples at Horiuji, Nara, and Nikko, like other examples, underwent little change from Chinese models, but the mountainous character of the country made it possible to form natural steps and terraces to the temple sites, instead of the built-up, stepped platforms of China ; while avenues of trees and long rows of standard lanterns in stone or bronze produce a picturesque effect against a sombre wooded background. The temples consist of isolated structures, generally within three concentric enclosures, the outer with a low wall, the second utilised as a priests' promenade, and the third containing the temple, surrounded by a lofty screen-wall covered by a tile roof. The temples are raised on a stone base about five feet above the ground, and are reached by steps which lead to a verandah protected by the widely projecting roof of the temple in the centre, as at the Temple of Miyo-Jin-Kanda, Tokio (p. 823 A). The mortuary temples of the Shoguns, Tokio, count among the famous buildings of Japan.

The Buddhist Temple of Hommonji, near Tokio, has a two-storeyed gateway, and besides the main temple there is a founder's hall, reliquary, library, reception and priests' rooms, kitchens, drum-tower, and pagoda. Tiles were used for the roofing, instead of the thatch of Shinto shrines.

The Shinto Temple of Izumo is a series of simple, one-storeyed buildings which are shrines rather than temples, and therefore, like other Shinto structures,. have little architectural importance. The main shrine, within a triple enclosure, is approached through many gigantic gateways which, with the roof thatch, are distinguishing features of Shinto shrines. Other buildings include library, treasure-house, dancing-stage, great hall, and secondary shrines.

The Kurodani Temple, Kie-to (p. 824 A), is situated in the midst of a garden cemetery.


Pagodas were introduced with Buddhism from China, but those now standing mostly date from the seventeenth century, and are attached to important temples. They are square in plan, mostly five-storeyed, about 150 ft. high, and built of timber to withstand earthquakes ; the lower storey contains images and shrines, while the upper storeys serve as " belvederes " and have projecting roofs supporting bronze bells.

The Pagoda, Horiuji, near Nara, is on a concrete base, and is said to have been built by Coreans in A.D. 607. It has five storeys of gradually diminishing width and each is provided with a boldly projecting roof carried on brackets, while the whole is surmounted by a curious finial of metal rings and bells, supported by the great central post 100 ft. high and 3 ft. square at the base.

The Pagoda, Yasaka (A.D. 1618) (p. 824 B), is a fine five-storeyed typical example.

Other pagodas are at Yakushiji (A.D. 680), Bessho, and Osaka, which is a five-storeyed example with elaborate brackets, displaying dragons and unicorns (p. 823 G).


The Tomb of Ieyasu, Nikko, has a triple enclosure with three pai-lows like a Buddhist temple, and is typical of many others, with flights of steps to the mortuary chapel and tomb-chambers, and besides these chief buildings there are priests' chambers, store-houses, and a pagoda. The tombs of the Shoguns, Tokio, are famous.


Palaces were erected with each change of Emperor, as capital succeeded capital, and were of simple type and generally consisted of a principal hall, joined by corridors to three pavilions, for the Imperial family. Since the sixteenth century palaces have been surrounded by walls often of concave slope and tilted quoin stones, to resist earthquakes, and with an encircling moat.

The Mikado's Palace, Kio-to, is typical, with one storey, covered with a roof having " I'rimoya " gables, like the temples, instead of one uniform slope. The various pavilions, which overlook fancifully laid out gardens, are connected by covered corridors. The pavilions themselves are divided into rooms by sliding screens 7 ft. high, and the external verandah, as in the small houses, forms the connecting corridor to these various rooms, the size of which is governed by the number of the floor mats, which were of regulated size, those in the Imperial palaces measuring 7 ft. by 3 ft. 6 ins.


Houses are built of timber, and the consequent fear of fire has influenced the detached-pavilion treatment of the larger houses. A typical middle-class dwelling (p. 823 C, D) has entrance, ante-room, living-rooms, kitchen, scullery, store-rooms, verandah, and garden. The size and shape of the rooms depend on the number of the floor mats, varying from 4 to 15, each measuring 6 ft. by 3 ft. Walls are constructed of slight, vertical posts and horizontal beams covered with weather-boarding. Internal partitions are formed of paper slides, 6 ft. high, with plastered or wooden frieze above them, and the screen can be slid aside so as to make the interior into one room, while the partitions on to the verandah are formed of sliding shutters. This verandah is treated with greater simplicity than in China. A feature peculiar to Japanese houses is the recess reserved in the reception-room for pictures and a vase of flowers, while most of the articles of value are kept in a " go-down " with clay walls, which acts as a fireproof store.


Tea-houses (p. 823 B), which are the resort of the fashionable world, are distinctly Japanese social institutions, and not public restaurants. They are built for the tea-drinking ceremony, which is a cult in itself, and closely associated with the Japanese love of peace. Typically indigenous in style, tea-houses are on a small and dainty scale, and their size is regulated by the number of floor mats, down to a single-mat room, measuring only 6 ft. by 3 ft., but there is always the inevitable recess for pictures and a flower vase. Much architectural care is lavished on these little buildings, which are most artfully contrived ; while no detail of ventilation, light, and decoration is neglected. The guest-entrance is usually approached by stepping-stones, through pleasure-gardens with flower-borders, stone lanterns, water-courses and trees, which appeal to the sense of beauty of the guests and form a delightful setting to the tea-house, the small central lane consecrated to the tea-drinking ceremony.


Town-planning is seen in the city of Nara, which, when it became the capital in the eighth century, was laid out on the plan of Pekin, with a central avenue to the palace and four parallel streets on either side, crossed by others at right angles. When the capital was removed to Kio-to, palaces, mansions, and houses were all on a grander scale, but were still box-like in appearance, and this indeed was the "general effect of the whole town, which was laid out in a series of rectangular blocks like a modern American city. Tokio (Yedo), the present capital, is less regular in plan, and depends for its form largely on its site and on its network of water-ways ; besides which it has been repeatedly burnt down, and the city of today is the result of street widenings and modern improvements, and indeed everywhere in Japan the old order gives way to the new.

Other buildings erected in connection with town-planning are restaurants, hotels, theatres, and public baths (p. 823 E).

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