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The History of Japanese Architecture

In the series of articles, Kasugai Architects+  would like to offer you a journey through major milestones of Japanese architecture, from ancient times to the present day. We are going to learn about the most prominent, unique and mysterious buildings in Japan.  

The principles of Japanese architecture are based on the same worldview that defines the whole Japanese art. 

Respect for nature as a cosmic god, attention to the material textures, light and color in space, the pursuit of simple and functional forms – all these features of the Japanese vision of the world are connected with the ancient ideas of the harmonious existence of a man in a natural environment.

Традиционная архитектура Японии
Архитектура Японии

The important feature of Japanese art is the desire to make things that surround a person more ‘human-friendly’. Architecture shouldn’t dominate a person by its perfection but needs to create a feeling of adequate proportions, peace and harmony.  It is a way chosen by old masters who built living houses and sanctuaries for an ancient Shinto religion and later tea rooms and pavilions, private villas for the aristocracy, and secluded Buddhist temples.

Японский архитектурный ландшафт
Японский ландшафт

Chinese influence brought other principles of relations between a human and a surrounding world. Regular layout of towns, related to the ideas of right world order, magnificent monumental temples and palaces, striking with the splendor of their decoration, were intended to establish order around a person, and that order should have corresponded with the world order, empire and universe hierarchy. According to the traditional version, Buddhism was introduced to Japan in 552. At that time monks came from Korea and presented to the Japanese Emperor and his court scrolls with sacred texts and images of deities, temple statues, and luxury items that showed the grandeur of the Buddhist doctrine.

Традиционная архитектура Японии

In the first half of the 7th century, Buddhism was declared as a state religion and temple construction flourished. Complying with the greatness and scale of Chinese architecture, a man should recognize himself as a part of this complicated system and obey the Law. 

These two art philosophies have come together to conceive a national Japanese architecture. The difference between two worldviews has partially smoothed out over time, and some mixed religious cults emerged. The art witnessed the birth of forms that adapt Chinese standards to the Japanese taste and acquire national features.  

We can partly say that Japanese rules used the Chinese philosophy to find elevated, grand rhetoric to speak to their nation. Almost all the biggest Buddhist temples of the Nara period, Tokugawa Mausoleum, and many other famous buildings became an instrument of addressing the nation.

Традиционная архитектура
Современная традиционная архитектура

At the beginning of the 20th century, the prominent Japanese architects started to passionately study the national architecture of the previous centuries; they looked for the basis of a new Japanese tradition. Interestingly, this search was met with great enthusiasm in the West: many European artists fell under the charm of the simplicity and harmony of the Japanese architectural forms and brought the Japanese features to the philosophy of a new European architecture. 

In the next articles we would like to speak about: 

  • Asuka Period (538-645) – the Shinto shrine Ise-Jingu and Horyuji Temple 
  • Nara Period (645-710) – Todaiji Temple, the biggest wooden construction in the world 
  • Heian Period (794-1185) – the Buddhist temple Byodoin and a unique Kiyomizu-dera, ‘a Pure Water Temple’
  • Kamakura Period (1185-1333) – shrines of new capital, an ancient city of Kamakura
  • Muromachi Period (1333-1573) – the Golden and the Silver Pavilions (Kinkakuji and Ginkakuji) 
  • Momoyama Period (1573-1615) – Himeji and Osaka Castles
  • Edo Period (1615-1868) – Palaces, castles and temple complexes: Nijo Castle in Kyoto, sanctuaries, and shrines of Nikko. The establishment of landscape design and tea pavilions architecture
  • Meiji Period (1868-1912) – the end of Japan’s isolation: the influence of the Western architectural tradition. Civil architecture, new cities, new temples 
  • Taisho Period (1912 – 1926) – the Japanese architecture in the context of the Western Modernism: Constructivism 
  • Showa Period (1926-1989) – New trends in architecture: Metabolism, organic architecture
  • Heisei Period (1989-2019) – a modern Japanese architecture.
Традиционная японская архитектура
Япония архитектура

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