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History of Traditional Japanese Architecture

Japanese architecture has a different history than the architecture of the west in how it has been divided up, the materials that were available and of course the influences which changed how architecture looked over the centuries.

Japanese architecture has an extensive history, like much of the art and culture of the Japanese, and it is also well documented. The architecture in Japan has long been heavily influenced by China, but it has also gone its separate ways in some respects, such as the availability of materials and the function of the buildings.

History of Japanese Architecture The distinct ‘look’ of Japanese architecture began early-about 57 BC, give or take. Prior to this point, homes in Japan were made from wood with dirt floors and very little differentiating them from similar homes a thousand miles away.

Architects at this point and up until around 660 AD were influenced by the Koreans; buildings were made from stone and timber and though most of these early structures are long gone, they live on in manuscripts and paintings. Wood is the most important material in Japanese architecture because the volcanic nature of the islands ensures that there is little for suitable stone work to use.

The most important buildings though were the shrines which were built in order to showcase the very best that the Japanese architects had to offer. Although they were often torn down and rebuilt every two decades or so, the rebuild was completely faithful to the original design so that they would not change too much over time. These too were made of wood and often had beautiful gardens to accompany them.

The style of these shrines also influenced the building style of domestic and even modern architecture with the tower design and the building materials. It has also influenced western architecture, with notable architects like Frank Wright using them as a basis for his own work. Japanese architecture went through several periods of innovation over the history of Japan. The early 7th century was dominated by early wooden structures such as shrines and temples built by the nobles.

This period is known as the Asuka and Nara periods of architecture, which were also periods of blossoming art and culture in Japan. The Heian period (9th century) was a continuation of this and also the period where the Chinese influence began as one of the premier architects of the time traveled and learned of design in China and brought his ideas back to Japan. Wood temples began to spring up in greater numbers, along with styles that were different, and yet reminiscent of the old at the same time.

This era was followed by the Kamakura and Muromachi eras which were characterized by far simpler design, reflecting the fact that the culture had come under the rule of the warrior class, the samurai. The major development in this era was the construction and design of the tea house which was an importance facet of noble life in this era and after. japanese zen architectureCastles began springing up in the Azuchi-Momoyama period (17th century).

These were very different from the medieval castles of Europe though-they were built in the style of the shrines with the wooden powers and out cropping roofs. They were meant to house feudal lords and their soldiers, while still retaining the elegance of the shrines that they are based upon. As Japan drew into the modern era, it had a surge of wooden materials because of the number of fires in the cities.

After World War II, Japan quickly modernized with the introduction and influence of western architecture leading to some truly awe inspiring buildings of metal and concrete like the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. japanese architecture design Japanese architecture is unique from the architecture of the west, partially because of the materials that were primarily used and then because of the style that buildings were created in.

No where in the west would one see the beautifully elegant shrines and temples that formed the blueprint for the castles and homes. Although influenced by Korean and Chinese architects, the Japanese architects took things in a different direction again with their heavy reliance on materials other than stone and the echo of their religion even in the militaristic buildings. This created a unique and beautiful style of architecture that many tourists and locals enjoy seeing whenever possible.


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Article | by Dr. Radut