Building blocks of history

Building blocks of history
Asakusa shrine, a Shinto shrine located in Asakusa district, Tokyo.

Japanese architecture reflects changing patterns, historical influences, and contemporary trends



By Natalia Ahmed

Published: Mon 21 Oct 2019, 4:22 PM

Last updated: Mon 21 Oct 2019, 8:10 PM

Defining Japanese architecture under one term is difficult, as it has grown over the centuries to keep up with changing trends. 
Japan is home to a number of architectural marvels, both old and new; the country continues to innovate and create new contemporary trends, while still respecting their own history.
In contemporary times, Japan has grown to reflect global influences, and many Japanese cities have tall skyscrapers, and feature Western designs. However, a lot of Japan's history is reflected in the architecture - there are a number of shrines, temples, palaces, and older houses spread across the country.
Shrines were set up in ancient Japan and pre-date the introduction of Buddhism in Japanese society. These shrines were used for Shinto ceremonies, and later shrines were influenced by Buddhist architecture. Over the years, these shrines were damaged due to natural disasters, and a few shrines remain.
They also regularly hold festivals, Shinto rituals, and other festivals. Some shrines also follow the ritual of periodic rebuilding, resulting in some shrines being well-maintained throughout the years. 
One example is the Asakusa Shrine, located in Tokyo, and is one of the most famous Shinto shrines in the city.  
Buddhist temples first popped up in Japan, with the import of Buddhism from China in the early 6th century. Early temples resembled Chinese designs, with wide courtyard, and more symmetrical layouts.
One example of this would be the Horyu-ji Buddhist temple in Nara. This temple was first built in the late 7th/early 8th century, and is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Japan. This building is unique as it reflects the Chinese influence on Japanese culture.
These temples had a profound influence on the religion in Japan, and the property consists of 48 wooden structures at two temple sites.
As time passed, temple designs changed to reflect local tastes, with less symmetrical features and more gardens within the compound. Nowadays, the remaining temples in Japan are centuries old, and are located in remote regions of the country. 
Japan is also home to a number of museums, notably the Sumida Hokusai museum, designed by Kazuyo Sejima. This four-story museum is at one end of a public park, and has an aluminium skin with no windows.
The museum features work by Katsushika Hokusai, and is a work of art in itself. Another museum is the Mori art museum, housing an installation by Shiota Chiharu, who is known for creating artwork that represents intangible aspects of human nature, like memories, dreams, anxiety, and more. 
The islands of Japan, too, are absolutely fascinating, with a number of them being deemed as 'Art Islands', and are filled with surreal art installations, museums, and architectural marvels. Naoshima is the most famous, with numerous art installations covering the surface of the island, and underground architecture running through the island.
The island's transformation began in 1987, thanks to Tadao Ando's structures and his patron, Soichiro Fukutake. The nearby islands, Inujima and Teshima, too, house continuations of the art project, and visitors can take ferries between these islands to visit the numerous installations. 

Asakusa Culture and Tourism Centre ,Tokyo, designed by Kengo Kuma.
Asakusa Culture and Tourism Centre ,Tokyo, designed by Kengo Kuma.
Yellow Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama at Naoshima Art Island.
Yellow Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama at Naoshima Art Island.
Shiota Chiharu’s exhibition at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo.
Shiota Chiharu’s exhibition at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo.

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