22/03/2019

Kuromaru Residence Part TWO

A Masterpiece
Japanese carpenters who were involved in the construction of Buddhist temples after the religion was introduce into Japan were treading new ground.  They did, however, have some help from specialists who made the crossing from the Korean peninsula (See 12/02/2019 What? Roban-hakase!?).

While an elite few were skilled in the building Shinto shrines, many many more Japanese carpenters were highly skilled in the construction of dwellings of all kinds.  Skills were handed down from one generation to the next and would have become part of their DNA even before Buddhism came to Japan.

Despite being a major challenge because of its size, the building of the Kuromaru Residence was certainly within the capabilities of a seasoned carpenter. Although records are scarce it seems the history of the family dates back to the beginning of the sixteenth century and the present building dates from the second half of the seventeenth century.  As things stand, therefore, it seems likely that the house is perhaps the oldest  folk-house in the whole of the Ishikawa prefecture.

The style of the roof in particular is of ancient origins.  The gable ends are set back with vents to allow smoke from the hearths to leave the building.  In point of fact, the smoke from the fires escaping through the roof space helps to deter insects from attacking the roof members.  The roof is thatched with reeds and the deep eaves are supported by an arrangement called noki segai—a form of bracketing roughly resembling jetting but only supporting deep eaves rather than an upper floor as it would be in the UK.  The lean-to extension at the eaves is tiled.

Although the layout of the interior is somewhat conventional it may have partly mimicked houses occupied by members of the warrior classes.  So, in some respects the layout does seem to have been tinkered with to accommodate desired alterations, some of which may have been difficult to achieve.  Hence the degree of unconventional planning that can be seen in the layout and position of spaces.


The main entrance is situated in the southwest corner of the plan.  To call it a “main entrance” is perhaps a little too grand.  It is, nevertheless, the only way to access the interior for honoured guests.  Some family members and those employed by the owner way well have resisted using this wide entrance.

During the winter in particular, however, the space would have been an area where essential work could be done in relative comfort, screened from icy winds and drifting snow.

The space is framed by four posts. Scholars feel this may be further indication of the true age of the building.

Although pure conjecture, it seems likely that high ranking officials or others might have arrived at this entrance in a palanquin.  They would then have made their way to the Tokonoma Corridor.  With the shutters along the Veranda open, it would have been possible to admire the surrounding scenery from this passageway while aiming toward the small tokonowa at the end.

On the whole, the spaces to the west of the long axis of the building were for special occasions or to entertain people of high status—Local Government Officials or Priests for example.  At the northern end is the Main Reception Room, okuzashiki, with a decorative alcove—Tokonoma.  There are in fact four such alcoves (marked with a T) in the building, all helping to emphasise the importance of the spaces they adorn.

The recessed entrance provides a little extra shelter to put up or take down an umbrella, when leaving or entering the building.
It seems likely that an honoured guest would proceed from the entrance along the Tatami Corridor to reach the Main Reception Room.  The other reception rooms would be occupied by retainers or guest attending a wedding reception for example—the space in which they sat would reflect their status, making them eligible to sit in the Middle or Lower Reception Room.

What is particularly unusual about the layout is the fact that there is no dedicated entrance for a person of high status.  At the Lower Tokikuni Residence (See post 16/03/2016) a separate entrance was provided for an honoured guest leading directly to the top reception room.

The square hearths to the east of the long axis of the plan speak for themselves—an extended family lived in comparative comfort—but with little or no privacy— in a number of rooms.  But even here status within the extended family would have been determined.  Everybody would have known their place.  Some rooms would have been off-limits to some individuals.  Even positions relative to the hearths were determined by hierarchy.

The head of the family would sit in the kami-za, the Top Seat north of the hearth.  Perhaps others found their places by instinct.

All in all, the Kuromaru Residence is a stunning piece of traditional architecture:  nothing short of a Masterpiece.



Reference:  Japanese Folk Houses, Vol. 2, Farmhouses II, First Published 10th June 1980 by Gakken.

「日本民家」第2巻 農家Ⅱ、1980年6月10日出版、出版社:株式会社学習研究社。

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28/02/2019

Kuromaru Residence Part ONE



                         
A Rural Mansion
I first came across the Kuromaru residence in 2015 when I made my first visit to the Noto Peninsula.  It was early evening when I spotted the large roof of this imposing property backed by a considerable stand of cedars—both house and trees were shrouded in the light of approaching dusk.  I was anxious not to be late for another appointment, so I took a few photographs and sped off toward Wajima, while promising myself that I would return to find out more about this building on a subsequent visit to the area.


In June 2018 I made sure to allocate some time to visit the Kuromaru residence along with Shinji Takagi, an architect and resident of Wajima.

He was hoping that we would be able to see the interior of the house, which is a nationally designated Important Cultural Property dating from the second half of 17th century.  It all depended on whether or not a member of the family was there to show us around.

In a slightly untypical Japanese manner, we made no appointment.  Instead we hoped that our combined humility and professional credentials would be enough to grant us access.  Sadly we were wrong.

There was someone there, however, so we did hear something of the culture of the property.  Well, perhaps we should call it the “agricultural culture” of the property.

The lady who was there—we never did find out if she was a family member or not—was busy tending the neatly arranged vegetable garden across a narrow lane in front of the house.

Noto has severe winters.  It is not uncommon for there to be a metre of snow in such a mountainous area as Wakayama where the building stands, a short distance from Suzu in the north of the peninsula.

The debris from the reed-thatched roof has a second life on the vegetable patch.

The lady told us that the reed thatched roof of the building actually provides a nutrient for the vegetable patch she was lovingly tending.  The snow which settles on the roof breaks down small shreds of the reeds.  These fall to the ground as and when the snow thaws.  Then, when all the snow has melted this reed debris is collected and spread among the vegetables like a fertiliser.

Just being able to approach the house was in fact a welcome bonus for us.  The details of the building are special and amply made up for not being to see the interior.  After all, the main building covers some 400 sq. m. composed of more than 15 individual spaces of various sizes, most of which can be screened off from one another.  It would have been a overwhelming experience to be sure but almost too much to fully appreciate in a short time.

Reading the plan of the building, however, can provides us with an opportunity to more fully understand what is so special about this really outstanding piece of traditional Japanese rural architecture.

Reference:  Japanese Folk Houses, Vol. 2, Farmhouses II, First Published 10th June 1980 by Gakken.

「日本民家」第2巻 農家Ⅱ、1980年6月10日出版、出版社:株式会社学習研究社。

Do feel free to pass on the address of this blog to anyone you think will be interested.  Or share it on a social media site.  Should you wish to leave a comment, please do so by clicking on the comment mark at the bottom left of this or any of the other posts.   If you have found this blog interesting, why not become a follower.  Thank you.

12/02/2019

What? Roban-hakase!?

鑪盤博士
ろばんはかせ
What?  Roban-hakase!?

I first came across the word roban-hakase in a text book about Japanese architecture. I was studying to take the entrance exam to the Masters Course at Tokyo University of Art and Music (now Tokyo University of the Arts), so I needed to become familiar with some of the most important historical buildings in the country, about which there were bound to be questions in the exam.

A roban-hakase was just one of a number of the highly skilled specialists who were welcomed by the Japanese Court, and came from the Korean peninsula to pass on the skills needed to build a Buddhist temple.  Buddhism is said to have been introduced to Japan in the early part of the 6th century and the building of temples followed in its wake.

Simply speaking roban-hakase were skilled metal workers, proficient in the use of a furnace.  They were accompanied by other artisans such as roof tile makers, artists as well as others skilled in the building of temples. Much would have been unfamiliar to the Japanese as there was a need to follow precepts often symbolising the cardinal doctrines of Buddhist believes.

In time the layout and style of Buddhist temples built on the archipelago began to reflect Japanese taste and conditions.  This is particularly true of the buildings, which were constructed from the readily available resources of fine timber to be found in the country.  The pagodas were no exception. The making of the finials, however, would no doubt have been closely monitored by the roban-hakase as metalwork skills were needed.

The Pagoda and Main Hall (Kondo) of Horyuji Temple.  The asymmetrical arrangement of these two buildings within the temple compound is so unusual.  The Pagoda is thought to date from around 700.
The asymmetrical arrangement of the main buildings at Horyuji Temple in Nara is a fine example of how Japanese inclinations were perhaps satisfied, although the layout of the temple is almost unique and was hardly ever repeated.

Other than the pagoda finial, the making of a multitude of other metal fittings would most certainly have kept the roban-hakase and their apprentices fully occupied.

A glimpse of the Pagoda and finial seen from the Daikodo or lecture hall.
Even before the introduction of Buddhism, Japanese carpenters would have certainly had the skill to build what was required.  Nevertheless, they might have been fazed by the requirements of the Buddhist faith.

They would not, however, have shrunk from the challenge of constructing a residential building of any size.  On the contrary.  They were in their element when building farmhouses, palatial homes and dwellings for the common man.

But that will be dealt with in a subsequent blog post.

Tatara
The first character of the word roban-hakase is used when referring to an ancient form of furnace.  Please refer to the links below, either in English or Japanese, to find out more about the tatara furnace.

About tatara in English

About tatara in Japanese

For more information on Horyuji Temple please refer to the link below.
About Horyuji Temple in English/Japanese

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27/01/2019

2019 Ishikawa Prefecture Traditional Crafts Fair

2019 Ishikawa Prefecture Traditional Crafts Fair
Friday 8th, Saturday 9th, Sunday 10th February
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Prism Hall Tokyo Dome close to Suidobashi station.

This Fair will be an ideal opportunity to see a number of traditional Japanese crafts from Ishikawa Prefecture, especially the true lacquerware from the city of Wajima on the Sea of Japan.

Many kinds of tableware will be on show, some produced by the Shiyoyasu workshop.

The fair provides an unprecedented chance to see and handle true lacquerware, in order to gain a better understanding of the robust and yet finely finished ware from Wajima.  You will not be disappointed.





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11/01/2019

2019 i-no-shishi



Wishing you a Happy and Peaceful New Year.
My greeting is somewhat belated, for which I apologise.

Unexpected meeting
People in Japan who, for one reason or another have not been able to send New Year greetings, instead send their best wishes in a formal way by recognising January as midwinter and a time of the year that may well bring on illness.

寒中お見舞い申し上げます Kanchu Omimai Moshiagemasu

This midwinter greeting is inquiring in the hope that the recipient is in good health and that they will get through what is perhaps the beginning of the coldest time of year without any poor health.

2019 is the Year of the Wild Boar—the twelfth symbol of the Oriental Zodiac.

Here in the UK Wild Boar became extinct in the 17th century but today there are small colonies mainly across the south of England and especially in the Forest of Dean some 210 kilometres (130 miles) west of London and close to the boarder with Wales.

I had never seen a wild boar in the flesh until last June, when I was in Noto.  I was travelling with the architect Shinji Takagi on our way to see a wonderful traditional building.

We were on a narrow mountain road which threaded its way through a dark stand of cedars when, up ahead in a pool of scarce dappled sunlight, we spotted a large adult wild boar with three piglets.

With their rough hair and unforgiving stance, they really did look ‘wild’ and the tusks of the adult strengthened that impression.

Know in Japan as i-no-shishi they have also acquired the title of ‘mountain whale’—literally yama kujira.  In Japan they spend much of their time out of sight but when they emerge from the forests and begin rummaging through fields of vegetables there is no mistaking their presence.

To the Japanese the i-no-shishi  is recognised for its reckless courage and it figures strongly in literature, folklore and art.  It is even mentioned in Japan’s earliest literary work, the Kojiki, dating from A.D. 712.


I think Shinji was as surprised as I was to see a family of Wild Boar.  Perhaps I should go on an expedition to the Forest of Dean to see one on home ground.  One thing for sure,  they will look just as wild as the one I saw in Japan but quite possibly not so large.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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21/12/2018

Guardians From Beyond the Stars?


Manga Heroes?
Deep in the verdant forest-dark countryside of the Noto Peninsular is the secluded district of Mii.  Here can be found the hamlet of Honko where paddy fields occupy any level ground, while the hill- and mountain-sides are covered with trees.

On the edge of this community among tall cedars is the Ohata Kamusugi Isumu Hime Shrine.

Conventional Komainu
The walkway up to this elderly well kept shrine is straddled by a typical torii gateway beside the road.  After passing through it the path is flanked on either side by lion-dog statues, steadfast guardians of the shrine.  They follow a convention in character and form that dates back centuries.

These lion-dogs or komainu in Japanese, are a development of lion guardians found in China but, over the years, they have morphed into a hybrid creature.  The one on the left of the paved approach is male, the one opposite female.  How do we know?  Usually from a very simplified representation of genitalia.

In Okinawa a similar beast called a shisa may be found on the roof of a house above the entrance.  The mouth of the one to the left is closed and is said to be a sign that it is keeping good spirits in.  The mouth of the one opposite, however, is open and traditionally thought to be a sign that it is warding off evil spirits.

Mouth closed to the left and....
For Buddhists the open mouth represents the pronunciation of “a”, the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet.  Similarly the closed mouth is how the last letter of the alphabet, “um”, is pronounced.  Hence the beginning and ending of everything is represented.

.....to the right with open mouth.
There is, however, no mistaking the hereditary of the two lion-dogs at this shrine just a few steps beyond the torii—a fierce countenance, teeth which would certainly bite if they could, and a stern presence.  If they jumped jumped down and began snapping at your ankles it would not be a surprise.


Unusually in this case, a little further along the path to the shrine there are two more lion-dogs that are certainly different.  

Gruff looking, for sure, but if they were to jump down off their plinths it would not be a surprise if they assumed parts in a manga, ready to fight off the baddies and to make the world a better place to live in.

There is no provenience as to when they were sculpted or by whom.  In fact, they are so curious and as far as anyone knows unique, that it has been suggested they were created by a visitor from another planet.


A more likely explanation is that they were created by someone from another region of Japan or even another region of Asia in exchange for the kindness they were shown by the local community.

Manga characters or not, they are heroes of Honko.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright


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03/12/2018

Exhibition Notice


There will an exhibition of lacquerwork which is a collaboration between the artist Miwa Komatsu and Hikoju Makie as well as other pieces of contemporary art by Komatsu from Wednesday 5th to Tuesday 11th December at the Nihon Bashi branch of the Mitsukoshi Department Store in Tokyo.


三越日本橋本店美術画廊(新館)2018125日~11
今最も注目されている現代アートアーティスト小松美羽さんの個展に小松美羽×彦十蒔絵のコラボ作品を出品します予定。
Photo Courtesy of Hikoju Makie


Do feel free to pass on the address of this blog to anyone you think will be interested.  Or share it on a social media site.  Should you wish to leave a comment, please do so by clicking on the comment mark at the bottom left of this or any of the other posts.   If you have found this blog interesting, why not become a follower.  Thank you.