Traditional Japanese architecture has this different vibe that is definitely notable among any other country. Japan has a variety of interesting buildings – from those little houses to some grand palaces that shows different architectural works.
What exactly is architecture?
Architecture is defined as a process of designing, which produces a simple or grand, small or big building. Architectural forms are considered as works of art.
Evolution of Architecture in Japan
Evolution of architectural styles from prehistoric to modern times is dominant. Traditional architecture still remains seen as a figure of antique, especially in Japan. The essence and the beauty of Japanese traditional architecture still transcend all over the country. So you can still see many buildings that have its traditional architecture style.
When you talk about Japanese traditional architecture, it is referring to those buildings earliest seen in prehistoric times. The Japanese architecture adopts its style from China and other Asian countries in the very early years. Then eventually, in the 19th century, Western influences start to incorporate into Japan’s architectural style. The 19th century was a time when a Tokugawa Shogun ruled over feudal alliances, local daimyos, and Samurai.
A big change for large-scale temples using difficult techniques in different types of woods then started in the 6th century, a time when Buddhism was born in Japan. The influence of the Tang and Sui Dynasties had a great impact and influence in the direction of architectural designs Japan had. It also became the reason for the foundation of the first capital in Nara. In south-central Honshu of Japan, Nara is the capital of Nara Prefecture. This city has Japan’s most significant temples and artworks that can be traced back to the 8th century – when it was still Japan’s capital. Fortunately, there are still some remaining historic temples and shrines that you can visit!
Here are some historic buildings in Nara that still shows Japan’s traditional architecture:
Number Eight: Tōdai-ji
Tōdai-ji is a Buddhist temple which was a former part of the powerful Seven Great Temples. There were more than 2,600,000 people in total that have worked together to build and construct the Great Buddha and its Hall. They consist of those who contributed rice, wood, metal, cloth or labor during the temple’s construction. While there were 350,000 people directly working on the statue.
Even after years of existence, there are still maps which contain the original structures created for the temple. Some of these are the two pagodas, the library, lecture hall, refectory, and the monk’s quarters behind the main hall.
Dimensions Of The Great Buddha Hall Or Daibutsu
Height: 14.98 meters (49 ft. 2 in)
Face: 5.33 meters (17ft. 6 in)
Eyes: 1.02 meters (3 ft. 4 in)
Nose: 0.5 meters (8 ft. 4 in)
Number Seven: Saidai-ji (Great Western Temple)
Saidai-ji is also a Buddhist temple acknowledged as a part of the powerful Seven Great Temples. This temple is coequal with the Tōdai-ji. It consists of three buildings namely the Main Hall or Hondō, the Shiodō-dō, and the Aizen-dō.
Number Six: Kōfuku-ji
The next Buddhist temple included as a part of the powerful Great Seven Temples is the Kōfuku-ji. It is the national headquarters of the Hossō School. The following are the buildings of the temple:
- East Golden Hall or Tokondō
- Central Golden Hall or Chū-kondō
- Five-storied pagoda or Gojū-no-tō
- Three-storied pagoda or Sanjū-no-tō
- North Octagonal Hall or Nan’endō
- South Octagonal Hall or Hoku’endō
- Bath House or Ōyūya
Number Five: Kasuga Shrine
Kasuga Shrine (Kasuga-taisha) is a Shinto Shrine. It is the shrine of the Fujiwara family. The interior of the shrine is famous for having lots of bronze and stone lanterns. The architectural style of it is from the name Kasuga-zukuri, the shrine’s main hall name. The treasure house at this shrine contains hundreds of their national treasures.
Number Four: Gangō-ji
Gangō-ji is an ancient Buddhist temple and was once a part of the powerful Seven Great Temples. Gangō-ji Gokurakubō is the best part of the temple that people always maintain through time. It belongs to the Shingon-risshū school that UNESCO chose to be part of the World Heritage Site “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara” with other temples and shrines. This temple also holds three national treasures of Nara:
- Zen Room
- Miniature of the 5.5 meters Tall Five-story Pagoda
Number Three: Yakushi-ji
Yakushi-ji is one of the famous ancient Buddhist temples in Japan and was previously acknowledged as part of the Seven Great Temples of Nanto. Yakushiji style is what they used to call the unique layout of this temple. Its layout is symmetrical, with two main halls and two three-story pagodas.
Number Two: Tōshōdai-ji
Tōshōdai-ji is a Buddhist temple of Risshū. Kondō is their Classic Golden Hall, has a single story with a hipped tiled roof and a seven bay wide exterior. It has that classical style.
Number One: Heijo Palace
Heijo Palace’s role is to manifest a centralized government. It intends to provide an appropriate setting for the emperor’s residence.
There are different parts of the palace worthy of architectural praise that would definitely give you that awesome ‘wow’ feeling when you see something cool.
Parts of the palace you might want to know about
Suzaku Gate is the main entrance to the capital. It is approximately 25 meters in width and 10 meters in depth and with 22 meters in height.
Second Street and Mibu Gate, the second street is a major fair running east-west. It is about 35 meters in width. The Mibu gate is the second main gate located on the east side of the Second Street.
Greater Palace or Daidaira has rectangular walls, extending from north to south. The palace is between the first and second east-west avenues and from west-east between the north-south avenues.
Chodō – it has an enclosure of rectangular walls directly to the north part of the Suzaku Gate. Its architectural structure is from the influence of the Chinese.
There are actually more parts of the palace that you could see if you’ll visit it! For sure you will be amazed by its traditional architectural designs!
In the field of architecture, Japan is purely competitive. That’s why they always make sure their architects are well-educated. Even though they adopted some ideas from Western and Asian countries, they still had their own taste of art.
The country’s own architects were known to express their signature style in the field. That became the main reason why Japanese traditional architecture is famous until now.
Their country’s most common structure is almost always the same – from those posts and lintels that would support a curly and large roof, to the walls that are almost paper-thin and are movable. Their gables and eaves curves are kind of gentler than in China. But if one looks at the tip of the roof from afar, sometimes, it seems like it’s the point is as sharp as the tip of the Katana!
The most visually attractive component of their architectural works is the roofs. Its size is often half the size of the whole building, especially houses. The lower border of a roof or the eaves gives the interior dimness or a little darkness. It gives a big contribution to the building’s atmosphere.
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Modifying room sizes in Japan’s traditional architecture of houses is by the use of screens or movable paper walls. There’s actually a very interesting fact about their walls: some of them are actually removable and different rooms can become one temporarily to provide a bigger space.
The Japanese always take care of their buildings and ensures it’s environmental-friendly. They even use almost the same designs in constructing different buildings. So it is very easy for them to convert a very simple home into a grand temple or vice versa.
Their main choice of material is wood in various forms such as planks, straws, tree barks, paper. The use of stone in Japan is limited unlike from both the western and Chinese architecture. Though except for certain purposes like the construction of temple podia and pagoda foundation.
The Japanese Unique Interior Design
The interior designs of Japan are from the influence of Taoism, Shinto, Zen Buddhism, other religious figures, and the west.
What is generally the true idea of a room’s beauty? A person living in the modern world would be with their room’s designs and figurines or display they have. But that is totally opposite with Japan’s tradition. For them, a room’s true beauty is in the emptiness within the roof and walls. It is from Laozi, a philosopher and the founder of Taoism. He truly believes in the “aesthetic ideals of emptiness”, stating that the mood should be within our imagination.
Definitely not with the usual heavy designs and displays present in a room. The strong basis of Japanese traditional design is on craftsmanship, beauty, elaboration, and delicacy. Their design may seem to be very simple but it is actually made with attention and still with difficulty.
They highlight minimal and natural decorations that make their interior simple and one of a kind. Traditional Japanese architecture mainly incorporates natural materials with their works. They use natural materials to keep simplicity in the space on point to connect with nature. The natural color scheme is what they usually use with natural palettes such as black, white, off-white, gray, and brown.
Japan still values its traditional architecture in today’s modern time
Many buildings in Japan still show past architectural styles that are now popular tourist sites. It is spread across the whole country. Japanese people take care of the surviving historic buildings to maintain their beauty. Others are also in open air museums in Japan.
Traditional Japanese Architecture really holds its own signature and distinct significance in the world. Its simplicity is the main thing that makes their designs notable among any other.
This should definitely go to your bucket list!