What is Japanese about a Japanese House

A surprising intellectual leap in housing design took place in Japan during the 14th century. This was an idea so powerful that it resonated for the next 600 years, and still retains enough influence in Japan as shown in the houses in this book. This intellectual leap sought to "eliminate the inessential," and seek the beauty in unembellished humble things. It sought spaciousness in deliberately small spaces, and a feeling of eternity in fragile and temporary materials. A house's interior was not to be just protected from nature, but to be integrated with nature in harmony. Influential Zen Buddhist priests in the Muromachi and Momoyama Periods articulated this ideal so well that thought leaders in many fields followed it, and the entire Japanese society aspired to it. What resulted were homes that speak to the soul and seem to hold time still. They provide a quiet simple base from which to deal with the world.

Around the time that European and English homes were becoming crammed with exotic bric-a-brac collected from the newly established colonies, Japanese Zen priests were sweeping away even the furniture from their homes. Out also went any overt decorations. What was left was a simple flexible space that could be used according to the needs of the hour. At night the bedrolls were taken from deep oshirc cupboards, and during the day they were

Minimalism and simplicity are the hallmarks of Zen-inspired traditional Japanese interiors. This effect is achieved by a rhythm of vertical and horizontal surfaces paired with natural colors. Exterior wall panels and shoji screens have been removed in this room to let the summer breeze and garden view in, making it "as open as a tent."

replaced, making space for meals, work, play and entertaining. This "lightness" was in part a response to Japan's frequent earthquakes, and in part to the Buddhist teachings about the transient nature of all things. It is interesting to note that this ephemerality is not reflected in the architectural tradition in India, China or Korea, the three countries from where Buddhism arrived in Japan.

Wood is the preferred building material in Japan. The country's Shinto roots have inculcated a deep understanding of and respect for nature. Japanese carpenters have perfected techniques of drawing out the intrinsic beauty of wood. Craftsmen often feel, smell and sometimes even taste wood before purchasing it. Although stone is available in abundance in mountainous Japan, it was traditionally used for the foundations of temples, castles and, to a limited extent, for homes and warehouses. Even brick buildings, when first built in Ginza around 1870, stayed untenanted for a long time, because people preferred to live in well ventilated wooden buildings.

Traditional Japanese builders designed houses from the inside out, the way modern architects professed to do until about two decades ago. A house's exterior evolved from its plan, rather then being forced into pre-conceived symmetrical forms. Bruno Taut, a German architect trained at Bauhaus, and who came to Japan in 1933, claimed that "Japanese architecture has always been modern." The Bauhaus mantras of "form follows function" and "less is more," as well as the "modern" ideas of modular grids, préfabrication and standardization had long been part of Japanese building traditions.

What Building Drawing

Engawa Conidor

Private Entrance

Nabeshima-^ Takatori-no-no-ma ma

Hagi-no-1 Ante-ma I room







Garden for Japanese Tea Ceremony


Entrance to the Tea Garden

Entrance Hall (Genkan)

Formal Room Decorative Shelves Tokonoma Alcove i=r~n\—j_

Main Gale

Tea Arbor

Bench for resting before entering the Tea Arbor

Corridor leading to the Tea Arboi

Tlie East

Oshire Cupboard — Engawa Corridor Decorative Shelves Tokonoma Alcove

— Symbolic Gate to the Tea World"

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