Time Traveling, Art Historian Book Chapters

Chapter 1: Japan in the 6th Century

The earliest known culture to inhabit the Japanese islands was the Jomon people. They primarily built pit dwellings, which were holes dug into the ground covered with wooden post and lintel frames. Following the Jomon were the Yayoi people, whose architecture forms the historical base for traditional Japanese architecture (Figgins, 2011). During my time travel in Japan, I identified significant differences in architecture from one period to the other.

There were varieties of buildings in Japan that were made in different architectural designs, different materials and different shapes. The native designs were as a result of the influence from Asian mainland. However, new styles have been adopted from the local states, with the modern design being borrowed from Western architecture. Most of the traditional buildings in Japan were made of wood, and some of them have been preserved up to date. Examples of architectural designs and forms in early Japan include shrines, temples, palaces and castles (Myungkee, 1999).

I realized that religion and spirituality played a major role in the traditional architecture of Japan. Shinto, Japan’s native form of spirituality, is closely tied to nature and natural phenomena. Obviously where the gods would be, became places of early Shinto worship. Eventually, shrines were built on some of these places of worship.  One major Japanese art that stood out in the 6th Century is the Shinto shrine. Shinto shrines consist of a series of concentric spaces enclosed by fences. Spaces become more sacred as they near the centre, with the most centre point being where the kami resides. The term ma refers to physical spatial distance, but also the gap between the physical and the spiritual. Space becomes the most important aspect of a shrine, as it relates to the spiritual state of the mind. There are two confines: one, Naigu, or the inner shrine that is dedicated to the Sun Goddess Amaterasu-o-mi-kami, and the other, Gegu, or the outer shrine that is dedicated to the Goddess of Cereals, Toyo-uke-bime-no-kami (Figgins, 2011).

Japanese designs during the 6th century were based strongly on craftsmanship, beauty, elaboration, and delicacy. The designs of interiors were very simple but made with attention to detail and intricacy. Impermanence was a strong theme in traditional Japanese dwellings. The size of rooms could be altered by interior sliding walls or screens. The versatility of these dwellings became more apparent with changes of seasons. The Japanese aesthetic developed further with the celebration of imperfection and insufficiency, characteristics resulting from the natural ageing process or darkening effect.  Shinto, the indigenous religious tradition of Japan, provided a basis for the appreciation of these qualities, holding to a philosophy of appreciation of life and the world. The Japanese shrines have little value in modern day culture to the influence of civilization.

Chapter 2: Japan during the Meiji Period (the 7th Century)

This was the era of civilization in Japan. It is during the Meiji period that the Japanese architects began to use architectural designs borrowed from the Western architecture. With the restoration of Imperial rule, the Emperor had the task of reforming both domestic and foreign policy. Internationally, Japan opened up relations with Western nations. Meiji architecture took much of its inspiration from European sources. Elements of styles like Neoclassical, Italianate, and Victorian Gothic were apparent, though were not always accurate in the execution of these styles. More interesting is the use of purely Japanese techniques and ideas to mimic European styles.

During this period, some American architects found particular forms in Japanese architecture intriguing aesthetically, functionally or structurally, they simply borrowed and juxtaposed them with their own Western elements in their buildings or gardens. This type of Japanese influence was apparent during the early years of Japanese/American cultural exchange, when American architects such as McKim, Mead and White adopted the Japanese  ramma  motif in the living room of the Queen Anne style Victor Newcomb house. Also were adopted in Cram’s Knapp house and Greene and Greene’s bungalows. The use of Japanese garden paraphernalia like stone lanterns and stepping stones in Western-style gardens also represents this type of Japanese influence

Giyofu structures, designed by Sato Yoshiaki, were the most prominent architectural designs in Japan that I identified during the Meiji period. These were wooden structures built by master carpenters, with the unique feature of carving exteriors to mimic masonry. Coloration was very important to replicate other materials. They incorporated Japanese tiled roofs and carvings inspired by shrines. Interestingly, Chinese-inspired ornamentation usually found its way onto these buildings as well. Stylized clouds and dragons adorned doorways, in an odd mix of East meets West (Figgins, 2011).

In response to the climate of Japan, Western materials were substantial enough to withstand the harsher aspects of the external conditions of the country. More stable structures that were constructed with stone and concrete had stronger foundations that could help protect buildings from the earthquake forces that were known to occur in Japan. Also engineering factors such as loads from people occupying buildings and snow accumulating on roofs made architects lean more towards the seemingly sturdier Western forms of architecture with Roman arches which could withstand great compression from weight applied to the building. In regard to structural safety, Japanese use of more natural materials such as wood, which was abundant in their country, was deemed by Westerners as weaker in comparison to the apparent sturdiness of solid stone and concrete.

Chapter 3: Japan in the 20th Century

In the 20th Century, the architecture of Japan was  a symbol of their innovation, their culture, and history, so with the influence of Western ideas affecting their architecture, the Japanese who had significant interaction with Westerners and their technology had to deal with adjusting what represented them in order to keep up with the expanding Western trend. Changing from traditional wood and brick design to the uses of steel and glass and other modern materials marked a metamorphosis in the look and meaning of Japanese architecture as the Japanese people moved into a more modern society and adjusted to increasing international relations

Church of the Light is an example of Ando Tadao’s architectural work and it embraced the architect’s philosophical framework between construction and nature. This is palpable in the way Ando Tadao used light to create and define new spatial perceptions with a lot of uniformity. The Church of light was made in figurative architecture of duality, that is, the dual nature of coexistence. For instance, Ando Tadao used the duality forms of light/dark, solid/ void and serene/ stark. The intersection of solid and void leaves the church with a lot of space while that of light and darkness raises feelings of secularity and spirituality among the occupants. The natural design employed in creating the Church of the Light in Japan is distinctively different from the simple designs used in the 6th an 7th centuries (Kroll, 2014).

In addition, Ando Tadao employed simplistic materials in reinforcing the duality of nature in the whole space. The church was made of concrete shell that created a more humble place of worship.  This is an authentication of minimalist architecture, with the crosses void being the only outstanding religious symbol in the church. The Church of the Light constructed by Ando Tadao reduced and minimized the religious paraphernalia into simple cruciform extrusion that is composed of only six walls and a roof. These walls were built of simple concrete, whose joints were fixed with precision and care to give the church a figurative shape. Ando Tadao therefore ensured that the Church surface is immaculately smooth with joints that are accurately aligned (Kroll, 2014).

The concrete construction of the Church of the Light in Japan largely focused on minimalist and simplicity. Quality was however enhanced by the design of the concrete walls, especially when they are exposed to light. The simplicity of Ando’s approach to the Church of the Light enhanced changes in perception from dark into light, material to immaterial, and light into space. When comparing the works of Ando Tadao of Japan with those of ancient architects, it is right for one to conclude that Tadao’s work was of higher complex design (Kroll, 2014).

The dilemma of abandoning the traditional architectural styles for the new technological and Western advances created a similar consensus among the future architects of Japan. Japanese architects felt that it would be beneficial to combine the best aspects of both worlds. The compromise between the two could create a better form of building design to benefit the Japanese and ease their struggle with choosing one or the other.

Generally, Japanese architecture during the three periods had common characteristics. First, they were primarily made of wood. In addition, there was versatile use if interior space. Japanese architects used movable partitions to change the nature of spaces. These partitions were made of thin wood lathe on which rice paper is glued to diffuse light into the space. Permanent exterior walls were usually plank and splash, with the exterior surface usually strips of wood, bark, or plaster. They had sliding partitions on the exterior, with the paper faces of these partitions often decorated, and could be great works of art in their own right (Figgins, 2011). Again, materials used in Traditional Japanese Architecture majorly consisted of natural wood and timber. These are different from modern structures that that are made of metal and steel due to the influence of civilization and industrialization.

Modern Japan architecture is a hotbed for contemporary architecture with lots of eye-catching creations mainly in the leading cities, especially Tokyo. The growth of big cities has led to the appearances of skyscrapers and a variety of buildings exhibiting artistic imagination. Japan has  adopted a lot  of  architectural  styles  from  the  American  architecture  like  skyscrapers  and  use  of  brick  and cement  but  the  basic  style has  not  changed  much  only  adopted  to the  changing needs.

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