ARCHITECTURE IN JAPAN

Japan owes much of its early architectural tradition to its closest neighbor  Korea where timber farmhouses and stone structures dotted the landscape. Prior to responding to these influences from abroad, indigenous architecture in Japan exemplified the functions and roles of Shinto shrines and traditional farmhouses which served as meeting places for community. Japan is often regarded as a nation of innovators and even during much earlier times in Japan ’s history, the nation was adapting things foreign for use in their own unique context and circumstances and often improving upon the design and functionality. When one looks at these adaptations or “adjustments”, one notices that the innovations are uniquely Japanese. For example during Japan' s medieval period (1185-1600), the role of the military was dominant in society and everything revolved around war efforts and the protection of one’s domain and vassals. Japanese castles were not only designed to house and protect a lord and his family, but also to stand as a shining beacon and icon of the regions great wealth and power. In addition to the magnificent castles, another uniquely Japanese architectural design that is rooted during these feudal times was the adaptation of the shoin during this period. This unique gathering space was identified as a reception room and study where leaders often met with their supporters and on occasion entertained guests from other regions and from abroad.

During the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912), Japan looked to the great masters of the west and around the world for new styles to emulate in Japan . It was during this sudden time of openness that the nation began to incorporate a wide variety of architectural styles from around the globe in its effort to modernize. The vast destruction of Japan during WW II forced the country to rebuild literally from the ground up. Here again innovative ideas were brought into the Japanese context to answer such immediate needs a rebuilding city centers and transportation hubs linking the rails, roads and the sea. It was during this time that the importance of the skyscraper, not only in terms of its function, but also in the symbol it represented, was brought to the drawing table. The Japanese have a long history of building multi-storied structures (temple pagodas) using simple cantilever principles and here was another opportunity for Japan to use these local architectural experiences to create a new type of structure.

During Japan ’s great post- WWII “industrial revolution” of the 1950 and 60s, Japan ’s leading architects articulated what is now referred to as the Metabolist Movement where buildings were treated as actual living organisms. This movement was found in many art forms, but the Japanese and their love for nature stressed the importance of this co-existence of nature and man in architecture. Later in the 1970s, the Modernist movement led the way in terms of style and function.

It was perhaps the 1964 Summer Olympic Games held in Tokyo (the first games to be held in Asiaand televised internationally to a global audience) that put Japanese contemporary architecture on the map with master architect Kenzo Tange’s beautiful designs for the Yoyogi National Gymnasium. He would later receive the Pritzker Prize in 1984 for this design as they are considered among the most beautiful buildings of the 20th century. Tange would later complete the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Headquarters in Shinjuku during Japan ’s bubble economy (1980s) which ushered in a new wave of architecture which has never seen the likes anywhere else on planet earth. As the money flowed and flourished, so too did architects and their stories.

TOP LEFT│ Korean Farmhouse

MIDDLE RIGHT │ Himeji Castle

BOTTOM LEFT │ Imperial Hotel Tokyo


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