Around the time when Leonardo da Vinci was developing a system of dimensions that scaled the human body for use in architecture, Japanese craftsmen standardized the dimensions of a tatami mat to 90 x 180 centimeters, which was considered adequate for a Japanese person to sleep on. Every dimension in a Japanese house relates to the module of a tatami mat. For example, the height of fusuma doors is usually 180 centimeters. The width of a structural post is usually one-tenth or one-fifth of 90 centimeters, and the post's bevel is one-seventh or one-tenth of its width. Thus, as in da Vinci's model, the proportions and scale of a traditional Japanese house can be considered to flow from the dimensions of the human body.
The houses shown in this book are a wonderful reminder that there are other alternatives to "big is beautiful," and that eternity is not about permanent materials. Living in the "condensed" world—Japan's population is half the size of the US, but it occupies a land area about 30 times smaller—the Japanese have developed a unique understanding of space. An ikebana arrangement charges the area in and around itself, and that space becomes an integral part of the design. The arrangement would not be nearly as effective without this empty space. One of the most famous buildings in Japan is the Taien tea hut built by
Sen no Rikyu, the famous I 6th century tea master. This masterpiece of Japanese architecture measures a mere one-and-three-quarters of a tatami mat, or approximately three square meters. This tiny house gives an example of how small houses do not have to take the form of the proverbial "rabbit hutches," but can be beautiful and open like the Kamikozawa home (pages 178-183) and the house owned by Toru Baba and Keiko Asou (pages 98-107) After all, how much space does a man need?
Traditional Japanese houses have a special relationship with nature. In extreme cases, the best part of a lot was given over to the garden, and the house designed on the land left over. Entire shoji walls can be pushed aside, creating an intimate unity with the garden. The cngowa corridor modulates the relationship between the house's interior and exterior. In summer, it belongs to the outdoors, while in winter and at night it is closed off to form part of the interior space as shown in the Zan Yu So villa (page 20-37).
The wood-floored engowo corridor mediates the relationship between the interior and exterior of a room. The storm shutters on the outer edge of the engowo are removed during the day so that the veranda becomes part of the garden, while at night, or during stormy weather, the shutters are closed to extend the interior space. These wooden storm shutters are a feature many newer houses in Japan do not have.
As pointed out by architect Antonin Raymond, who came to Japan to work with Frank Lloyd Wright, "The Japanese house is surprisingly free. At night and in the winter, one can shut out the world and the interior becomes a box divided up into rooms. Then in the summer, one opens up all the storm doors, the sliding screens and sliding doors and the house becomes as free as a tent through which air gently passes." Made of wood, mud and straw, the traditional house is also environmentally friendly and recyclable. Even old tatami mats can be shredded and composted.
Another facet of the Japanese house, and indeed of Japanese life, is the dichotomy between the private and the public. In narrow but deep townhouses like Kondaya Genbei (pages 38-51), public dealings were confined to the house's street side, while the rooms beyond were reserved for domestic life. The Japanese word for depth is oku, so a wife is referred to as oku-san, "the lady who inhabits a house's depths." How far into the home a guest penetrates depends on his relationship with the family. A house has a "public face," which may or may not convey anything about the
Above: Simple interior surfaces and spaces add drama to the few objects d'art displayed in a room.
Left: The unassuming beauty of a minka farmhouse comes from natural materials such as unhewn logs, mud, bamboo and straw. Traditional building methods, perfected over hundreds of years, are employed to create a building that is ecologically sustainable and completely recyclable.
hidden interior. Powerful feudal lords often chose to live in the simple, understated Sukiya-style spaces, while visitors would only see the ornate staterooms. However, the private areas allowed for little pnvacy, since mere paper screens or thin walls separated the rooms from each other. This fact has probably contributed to the deeply ingrained sociable manners in Japanese people, especially women.
This book focuses on several types of houses and interiors. Yamamoto's minka (pages 108-1 19) is a good example of Japan's rustic farmhouses, which were functional and built of sturdy local materials. Such a house can be generally divided into two distinct zones. The entrance area (about one-third of the space) is called a doma, and has a packed earthen floor. A family would cook, produce crafts and in very cold climates, also tether farm animals here at night. The farmhouse's second zone usually stands on a wooden plinth and includes the living area and bedrooms. The large hearth at the heart of the main room was the hub of family activity in such homes, the beauty of which is derived from rustic materials such as unhewn timbers and from the integrity of ancient building techniques. The heavy roof with deep eaves on these farmhouses, which often constitutes two-thirds of the elevation, makes them appear comfortably rooted in their surroundings. Frank Lloyd Wright considered
the m/nfo an appropriate symbol of domestic stability, and they became one of the several Japanese ideas that influenced his residential designs.
Most of the houses in this book were built in an urban context. The larger homes, such as the Tsai house (pages 120-131), are located in the countryside, but have a strong emphasis on formality, and are built in the Shoin or Sukiya-Shoin style like their urban counterparts. Elements of these houses have evolved from the rigid Shinden style that was borrowed and adapted from China during the eighth century. This style consisted of a central chamber reserved for the master of the house, with corridors, smaller rooms for the family and pavilions that flanked this room, all arranged around a small pond or a garden. During the Muromachi Period (1336-1572), the Shinden style evolved into the Japanese Shoin style, used for the reception rooms of the aristocracy and the samurai classes, but which was banned in the homes of common people during the Edo Period (1600-1867). This style includes four distinct elements that have been formalized over time: the decorative alcove (tokonomo) for hanging scrolls and other objects; staggered shelves (chigaidono) located next the tokonoma; decorative doors known as chodaigamac; and a built-in desk
This large country house and its garden are seen here through the perimeter fence. Built with natural materials and colors, the house nestles comfortably in the garden that attempts to mimic the great outdoors as closely as possible. The ethos is of co-existence with nature, not control over it.
(tsuke shoin) that usually juts out into the engawa, flanked by shoiji paper screens. All these features started out as pieces of loose furniture, but were built in over time, in keeping with the Japanese preference for clean, uninterrupted spaces. Tatami mats usually cover the entire floor in these formal rooms.
As the tea ceremony increased in popularity during the Muromarhi, Momoyama and Edo Periods, the ideal of the humble tea hut began to exercise a strong influence on Japanese housing design. Ostentatious Shoin-style interiors gave way to the more relaxed Sukiya-Shoin style in all but the most formal residences. Sukiya style turned all the rules of the rigid Shoin style inside out, and provided abundant opportunities for personal expression. It sought beauty in the passage of time, as seen in the decay of delicate natural materials in an interior and the growth of moss on tree trunks and stones in a garden. While the rest of the world searched for the most durable and ornate building materials, Japan's elite were scouring their forests for fragile-looking pieces of wood that would underscore the imperfection of things. The moth-eaten wood selected by Baizan Nakamura for his cabinet doors (pages 172-173) is an example of this trend. The ideal of wabi-sobi, translated loosely by Frank Lloyd Wright as "rusticity and simplicity that borders on loneliness," was considered the epitome of sophistication. For interiors, Sukiya style also favored asymmetrical arrangements, while avoiding repetition and symmetry. Posts on walls were arranged so as not to divide a wall space into equal parts. A variety of woods were used for different parts of the same structure to add interest. However, such diversity results in a satisfying whole because of the discipline of horizontal and vertical lines and muted soft colors. The goal is to please rather than impress the visitor. The owners of these houses participated in the selection of materials and playful design details such as doorknobs and nail covers.
Sukiya-Shoin rooms are often complemented by tea huts in their gardens. It was not unusual for architects and designers to make full-scale paper models (okoshiezu) of a tea hut to perfect its designs before the actual construction process began.
Above: These small tea ceremony utensils underscore the attention to detail in Japanese design. At left are two whisks referred to as chosen; one has been turned over on a stand especially designed for that purpose. The flat scoop (chashaku), is an object of art in its own right. During the Momoyama and Edo Periods, men of power often vied with each other in crafting this simple object
Right: Japanese and modern Western elements of this interior complement each other, since both aspire to the beauty of simplicity. The shoji wall on the left is completely removable.
IÉ JAPAN STYLE
Five of the houses in this book were not built with traditional materials and techniques, but have nonetheless been included because they express the dynamics of Japanese space and sensibilities. Although traditional houses are decreasing in number, traditional spatial concepts inform the work of many contemporary architects in Japan. While most Japanese now live in apartments or modern homes that are usually small but comfortable, they maintain deep pride and love for their traditional architecture. With growing awareness of the many wonderful buildings already lost to the recent development frenzy, there is now renewed interest in saving traditional structures. Several homes in this book were moved to new locations for preservation- a very encouraging sign. I hope that this book will strengthen this trend.
The houses featured in this book are important not just for the Japanese but also for all of us. They invite us to rethink the wisdom of our unsustainable lifestyles. Contrary to Le Corbusier's adage of modern architecture, a traditional Japanese house is not simply a "machine to live in," but a home for the soul.
The focus on Japanese design is not on surfaces, but on the quality of the resulting space. This modern Japanese house achieves the feeling of traditional Japanese space with modern materials and furniture.
18 JAPAN STYI.i
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