Japanese architecture a standout feature when taking in Japan’s surroundings. The country exhibits a variety of interesting buildings, houses, palaces, temples and shrines, each with their own unique styles. Japanese architecture has evolved vastly from ancient to modern times as early native designs were exposed to strong influences from the Asian mainland. Over time, styles have changed to suit more local tastes and recent history even shows the introduction of Western architecture into Japan.
Traditionally, Japanese architecture saw buildings built from wood due to an abundance of timber and the material’s relatively good resistance to earthquakes. Unfortunately, many buildings were lost over the years from Japan’s natural disasters, humid climates, fires and conflict. Given this, a lot of effort has gone into protecting and preserving Japanese architecture, including monumental buildings such as shrines, temples, palaces and castles. Japan is continuing to make efforts to reconstruct and renovate lost buildings of importance all across the country. Today, Japanese architecture has become quite a popular tourist attraction with beautiful pieces that can be seen all across the country.
The distinct look of Japanese architecture dates back to around early 57BC. Before this point, Japanese architecture consisted of wood and dirt floors with very little features differentiating them from homes across the globe. Architects up to this point and until 660AD were influenced by Korea, where buildings were made from stone and timber, however, there are very few remains of these early structures left.
The most important pieces of Japanese architecture are that of shrines, which showcased the very best skills that Japanese architects had to offer. Although shrines were often torn down and rebuilt, newer versions always remained faithful to the original design. The style of shrines heavily influences that of domestic and modern Japanese architecture in terms of its tower design and building materials. Japanese architecture went through several periods of innovation during the history of Japan, with the early 7th Century being dominated by early wooden structures. As Japan entered the Heian Period, in the 9th century, Chinese influences made their mark in Japanese architecture. Wooden temples began to emerge in greater numbers in new styles that were different yet still reminiscent of traditional Japanese design.
As Japan entered into the Kamakura and Muromachi eras, Japanese architecture was characterised by a far simpler design. The major development and design of tea houses became an important cultural statement in Japan. Shortly, Japanese zen architecture, Japanese Buddhist architectural style derived from Chinese Song Dynasty architecture, allowed for the building of castles during the 17th century. These castles were built in a similar style to that of shrines, with wooden structures and contrasting protruding roofs that retained elegance.
After World War II, Japan quickly modernized with the introduction and influence of Western architecture leading to some new and freshly designed buildings made from metal and concrete. Now, Japanese architecture continues to use new materials and different designs whilst still emphasising traditional, religious influences for building and homes that are elegant and unique.
When we think about Japanese architecture, we usually overlook that of the inside aesthetic. Many Japanese buildings boast beautiful exteriors, however, the indoor architecture and aesthetics are just as important and intricate. The most typical feature you will find in Japanese architecture is wood. In old Japanese houses, wood was given great respect and was not concealed by paint or other coatings; it was used in its natural form so that the grain could be appreciated. Influences from Shinto and Buddhism influences come through in the naturalness of Japanese architecture. Both religions have strong connections with nature, amplifying the use of natural light and raw wood.
Another traditional aesthetic feature of Japanese architecture is that of screens and sliding doors. These natural and light screens tend to be constructed of paper and are often handpainted. They are designed to divide and re-divide rooms whilst still allowing for the flow of light and shadows. These features of Japanese architecture and aesthetics have become very common amongst Western countries, who have been inspired by Japanese design and translated into their own aesthetic.
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