Burning Wood

Warming hearts and homes
Driving around the NotoPeninsula in glorious weather in June 2015, I was surprised to see stacks of firewood outside many buildings.  It was, of course, a sign of how cold and bleak the peninsula can be in winter.  And how much the locals value that resource.

Where I live on the rural boarder between England and Wales, wood burning stoves are not only common but are becoming more and more popular.  The abundance of local supplies of wood has helped, of course.

Their popularity has spread to larger urban conurbation with a somewhat  surprising result—some people in London, for example, have called for a ban on wood burning stoves in the metropolis.  There are those people who curse the smoke that a wood burner can produce while others cite the smell of burning wood as offensive.  Burning wood is also seen as a threat to the quality of the air.

Here in the country the scent of wood burning in a stove or even on an open hearth is a welcoming gesture to friends invited to an evening meal and more and more perceived as a luxury, especially if the wood being burnt is kiln dried.

Kindling, with which to start a fire, as well as small logs are sold wrapped in plastic at petrol stations and some supermarkets.  Or they can be delivered by the trailer load.  Over the past two or three years, however, the size of the load has gotten smaller and the price higher.

During the winter on the Noto Peninsula it seems as though a wood burning stove is prized as much as they are here in the Marches—the area along the boarder between England and Wales.

But, with air pollution an ever present consideration, how much longer will we be allowed the unassailable luxury of sitting by a crackling fire of scented wood to warm our hearts and homes?

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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Don’t Judge a Building by its Colour

The pine tree is as much an indicator of the age of this property as is the weathering of the timber.  Note that there is a formal entrance from the street to the garden and reception rooms.
Younger than it may look
The layout of the buildings of this saké brewery in Wajima are a little unusual.  Many traditional street-side shops and other business premises in Japan are built with there eaves toward the street.

More often than not the fronts can be opened to the street and a deep wooden beam spans the entire opening.  They are usually made of zelkova wood (Zelkova serrata), which is a figured timber similar to elm.  True lacquer is used to enhance the appearance of the grain with the purpose of “drawing customers in”.

These traditional shops with their open frontage can still be found all over Japan, many of which are over one-hundred years old.  Such shops are sometimes accompanied by a small plastered storehouse but with its gable end facing the street.

Here at the Hakuto Saké Brewery, however, it is a business block which faces the street under a tiled variation of a hipped and gabled roof.  To the right of this is a single storey building housing reception rooms and higher roofs further back.  The reception rooms face a wide shallow garden fenced off from the street.  The way a substantially “trained” pine rises over the boarded fence is a common feature of traditional urban properties, whether they are dwellings are some kind of business premises.  In this case, however, the pine is much bigger than most of its kind.

So often a “front” garden such as this becomes a buffer between private and public space—remember that the hot humid summers in Japan make it necessary to keep windows and screens open for ventilation at the expense of some privacy.

Narrow slats of wood and a setback from the edge of this building in Wajima afford some privacy to the areas behind, despite flanking a public thoroughfare.

If there is no space for a garden to provide an open air “buffer”, privacy can be preserved with a wooden grill or screen to cover openings, especially when they open directly onto a public thoroughfare.

Coming across the brewery one day when I was in Wajima, I was reminded of a conversation with a Japanese friend soon after moving to Japan in 1976.

We were driving through a suburb of Yokohama on our way to China Town.  We passed some shops that I took to be “old” simply from their appearance—dark unfinished weathered timber, fine details and ceramic tiles on their roofs.

“How old are those shop?” I asked as we drew to a halt at some traffic lights.  To my surprise my friend said “Oh, very old.  About forty years old I should think”.

In my ignorance I had imagined them to be at least one-hundred years old.  I immediately realised our perceptions of “old” were considerably different.  Also, it was wrong of me to judge the age of a building by its appearance alone.

Wood, of course, ages a good deal more quickly than other materials, especially if it is untreated or painted, but this process can be accelerated by being near the sea.  The difference between summer and winter conditions will also be a contributive factor.

The characters spelling out the name Hakuto are written in a heavily stylised manner mimicking a calligraphic rendering.
Hence buildings in Wajima can easily look much older than they are.  The present buildings of this brewery date from the early part of the twentieth-century.

This saké brewery has been in business since the later part of the 19th-century although it was a shipping company and pawnbroker before that.  Today, along with its pine tree, it is a gem of traditional urban architecture.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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.


Red for Food—A Work of Art

Art for the eyes at Miyashin, Wajima (Also see post Miyashin—A Feast for the Eyes 11/02/2016).
Burning bright
This is an iconic example of how red true lacquer can set off food.  Is it red, is it vermillion or scarlet?  It is not really a red that can be found in other cultures, except perhaps in China.

The delicacy and colour of the bowl turns a piece of tofu, some shreds of crab, shrimps, a mushroom and a twist of a boiled strip of a green stem, which I cannot identify, into a work of art, helped a good deal by an artful chef.

The black lacquer table on which the bowls stands, is flecked with mother-of-pearl providing a universe for this culinary masterpiece to inhabit.  A real feast for the eyes.

A fishmonger’s stall in a market in Valeta, Malta, 1975
The only other place in the world I have seen the colour red associated with food is in Malta, a small cluster of jewel-like islands in the Mediterranean.  But it was not cooked food.  Nevertheless, I can only suppose that the red bowls and counter were used to make the fish look more appetising.  The art of cooking comes later.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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.


Tatami Three

Ungen ribbon design, probably derived from a continental Asian original.
Borrowing from the ancients
At Fukushoji Temple we find a good example of just how the status of a guest and the spaces they use can be expressed in a number of ways.

First of all there is the progression of three spaces.  The first anteroom is comparatively plain while the second makes a statement with colour and the use of a tatami edging in black and white.  Then there is the slight step up to give, all be it subtly, a sense of a dais for the final space with its tokonoma, the wall colour and the use of two tatami edging ribbons.

The brightly coloured edging with sharp diamonds and blocks of colour adds a delicate yet highly effective hint of brilliance to the main space and helps to set it apart from the other two spaces.

This colourful edging is referred to as a Ungen.  Its style dates back to designs, which were first introduced from the Asian continent following the introduction of Buddhism late in the sixth-century.  Such motifs were initially reserved for use in rooms occupied by the Emperor and Empress, members of the royal family and other important figures at court.  Their use in temples followed and continues to the present day.  There are now many variations of these designs, which are rooted in examples held in the Shosoin store house in Nara.  This repository holds large numbers of very early examples of artefacts, many of which were from overseas, that subsequently influenced art and design in Japan

A Monberi design inspired by the Japanese anemone.
Placed in front of the tokonoma and thus further emphasising the importance of the person who sits there, the black and white Monberi design is again used here on the thin mat placed under the glowing cushion—another layer of importance and status.

Kamon, family crests based on a pine tree motif.  Japanese Design Motifs, Dover Publications, Inc. New York
Many readers will be familiar with Japanese family crests or Kamon.  They display in various degrees of abstraction and abbreviated graphic representation images of everyday objects, geometric forms as well as significant Japanese flora and fauna.

Japanese anemone from my own garden.
Similarly, the Monberi here is a very accomplished piece of design work.  It was most likely based on the Japanese anemone (Anemone hupehensis var.japonica), although no one can be sure because of its ancient origins.  While the petals do not naturally form such an orderly spiky outline, they do provide a hint towards completing this highly stylised and yet cleverly expresses flower, including its stamens, which are rendered as a collection of orderly squares.

While these motifs help to express the status of spaces and indirectly that of the person or persons using them, the ribbons in particular are also just one part of an archive of design and art originating in China and Korea.  It is just another example of how the Japanese have borrowed from the ancients, with care, reverence and respect.

Tatami Anecdotes
The word tatami is the noun form of the verb tatamu meaning to fold.  Originally mats were laid out on wooden floors for people of status to sit or sleep on—sometimes several mats were laid one on top of the other—and then they were folded up and stored when not in use.  The stiff mat combining a rice straw substrate and an igusa reed topping was a subsequent development.  They were used individually for many years before thick tatami mats were laid over an entire floor area—a gradual development extending to the end of the sixteenth-century.  Their use by common folk increased with the popularity of the Tea ceremony and became common during the eighteenth-century.

Even though the use of tatami is far less common today, just like their forebears many Japanese still treat the mats with great respect.  They are, for example, careful not to step on the ribbons edging the mats.  The Japanese seem to have an inbred sense of concern and respect for the mats and the ribbons.

While the use of some patterns was restricted in the past, designs using a family crest or kamon were aloud.

The kamon were similar to the black and white anemone inspired ribbon at Fukushoji temple.  Stepping on a family crest ribbon was considered thoroughly disrespectful to the family and its ancestors.  It would be avoided at all costs and was part of the respectful etiquette of the samurai class and something the merchant class learned from a very early age.

In addition to kamon, designs based on animal and floral subjects were common.  These too deserved respect and not treading on them expressed a compassion and tender heartedness associated with a strict training to show a general sense of sympathy and consideration towards other people as well as for things.

Made using natural materials and dyestuffs meant the ribbons were rather vulnerable—not treading on them therefore was yet another way of expressing compassion.

This “discipline” of respect is handled by the Japanese with such ease it can easily go unnoticed.  This kind of attentiveness, thoughtfulness, manner and considerate attitude can be recognised throughout Japanese life and culture and is clearly something from which we could all learn.

For those of us living in dwellings firmly attached to the ground, it would be inconceivable to think that an attack from an enemy could come from beneath the floor.

An extreme example of a raised floor at the Katsura Detached Palace outside Kyoto.
Because most traditional buildings in Japan had raised floors, however, an attack from below would be one of an assassin’s first options of stealthy attack.

The wooden boards beneath tatami matting were not necessarily close fitting to facilitate good ventilation—this is still common practice, which allows the mats to act as air filters too.

For a would-be assassin under a raised floor, the chinks of light from between the mats above would guide their sword or spear toward their prey—assuming that the target was unaware of the danger lurking below.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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.


Tatami Two

In the first anteroom at Fukushoji temple, the edging ribbons are plain.
Position, status, respect
My Mother-in-law lived in a first floor flat.  From the sitting-room window there were stunning views over the surrounding, spacious well kept gardens, which included some majestic mature trees.

In the sitting-room she usually occupied an easy chair to the right of the fireplace with the generous garden views behind her.  Living here on her own her position close to the fire with its direct view of the television to the left of the fireplace was right and proper.  She was, after all, the Mistress of the household.  Her position in the room expressed her status and was seldom challenged.

On occasions, however, it was relinquished without even a hint of unwillingness.  When my parents came to visit one day, my Mother was shown to that seat of “honour” in a gesture of respect, one woman to another.  My Farther sat happily on a chair some distance away from the fire while I and my wife occupied the sofa.

While there are no fireplaces in traditional Japanese farmhouses, there are open hearths.  The side of the hearth away from the open earth floor is where the man who is head of the household sits.

If a house has a decorative alcove called a tokonoma, the position in front of it is kept for the head of the family but more often than not reserved for an honoured guest who sits with their back to the alcovethus respect is shown and status recognised.

The second anteroom has tatami with a simple black and white ribbon but other accessories are quite decorative.  To the right there is a glimpse of the furnishings in a modern main reception room—an easy chair upholstered in velvet and a large antimacassar seem a little dated and out of character to western eyes.  But what was considered correct in the circumstances, however, was followed to the T despite how incongruous it might look.
But what part does tatami play in this manner of behaviour with its well observed and yet largely unwritten rules and customs?  At Fukushoji temple the stage is set for tatami to play its part.

This temple is in Goroku (featured in Rustic is Good 12/07/2017).  In a space away from the main worship hall, there is a sequence of connected spaces that form a suite of rooms with a theatrical air.

Although the step up here is small, it nevertheless serves to emphasise the importance of the main reception area with a fancy, multicoloured edging ribbon contrasting with the simplicity of the ribbon in the second anteroom.

The tatami mats in the first of this sequence of three spaces are plain but do have dull brownish-red, plain sewn ribbon edgings or heri.

The edgings are a good deal more decorative but simple in the next space.  Finally there is a decorating extravaganza of colour and pattern to be found in the last space, which is in fact one step up from the previous two.

The colour of the walls alone are unusual.  The slightly recessed area to the left of the alcove is a remnant of a place where someone would sit and write.  To the left of the cushion is a traditional padded armrest, or hijikake.  To the right is a grand hibachi in which charcoal bricks would smoulder to provide some warmth mainly to the hands.  Under the cushion the simple black and white patterned ribbon frames yet another level of isolation for an honoured individual in this main reception room.  This follows an ancient tradition.

In the eighth-century mats were positioned as needed on the wooden floors of palatial residences, either for sitting or sleeping on.  Such a luxury was only afforded the royal or noble.  It was not until much later that large areas were completely covered with thick tatami mats.

At Fukushoji we are seeing an enactment of customs and traditions that have been honed and refined over the centuries.  They will surely be recognised by anyone as a mark of respect and a sign of status.

Tatami Anecdotes
After some time, the igusa reed topping of a tatami mat becomes the colour of pale straw as it is exposed to the light.  It is possible, however, for it to be turned to reveal a pale green colour close to when it was first attached to the body of the mat.  Some of the wonderful aroma of this reed remains to be enjoyed until it is time to renew the igusa.

In the past it was not uncommon for tatami mats to be stood outside in the sun during the far less humid months to be thoroughly dried.

At the Nakamura residence on Okinawa, the surrounding walls of dressed and carefully assembled limestone provide protection and privacy.  Also, the two steps up here help to develop a sense of status as well as perhaps providing an escape route for torrential typhoon rains.

Okinawa is the largest of the Ryukyu Islands in the extreme south-west of the archipelago.  Typhoons regularly make land-fall here, occasionally with an amazing result.

A local resident told me that her grandfather was in hospital once when a strong typhoon swept in.  After it had passed, she thought she had better check that nothing disastrous had happened to his home in his absence.

Traditional buildings on the Ryukyu Islands are surrounded by walls of dressed limestone (coral reef) to protect them from typhoon winds.  The walls also afford residences some privacy as the screens of a dwelling are often left open to provide a breath of fresh air to ventilate the interior, especially during the summer months in this sub-tropical region.

Shutters to keep the wind and rain out of the house had been closed before the arrival of the typhoon, so she was pretty confident that all would be well.  Nevertheless, she felt it would be better to take a look.  After an initial inspection of the perimeter of the building, she opened the front door and walked into the main reception room.  To her great surprise most of the tatami mats were standing on end like giant domino pieces.  Somehow the wind had vaulted the surrounding walls of the compound, had snuck under the raised floor of the building and pushed up the tatami mats from below.  Fortunately, this was the only irregularity.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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.


FunaAsobi Gallery—Exhibition Notice, September/October 2017

An Encounter with Beauty—Part Two
The Makers, their Work
Open from 10am to 5pm from Friday 29th September to Sunday 22nd October.
(The Gallery will be closed between 10th and 12th October)

In the second half of this exhibition, we are bringing together work by makers in their 50s and 60s with the aim of expressing something of the weighty significance of crafts in Japan.  We are seeking to create a palpable sense of beauty with the combinations and arrangements of the work on display.

9/29(金)~10/22(日)10001700 (10/1010/12休廊)



Tatami ONE

Sojiji Butsuden tatami
In light and shade
I had already tried the Net but with no luck, so I turned to one of my specialist dictionaries to look up a word.  As a dictionary on architectural terms in Japanese, it deals with many traditional building techniques that are now not in common use.  As a consequence it is a hefty tome, which, although I would never use it as one, it could easily function as a door stop.

Having done a great deal of translation from Japanese into English, I have often been fortunate enough to not only find terms I was searching for in this encyclopaedic volume but I have also found other terms of great interest to me either on the same or an adjacent page. Sometimes it is an interesting illustration which has caught my eye.

That was the case with tatsu-akari (縦明り).  It is a term used by those who make tatami mats and refers to the way that light either emphasises the weave of the mat or renders it almost invisible.

As soon as I read the item I remembered a photograph I took of tatami mats in the Butsuden (main hall) of Sojiji temple in Monzen on the Noto peninsula, not far from Route 249 running between Wajima and Kanazawa.

While mats in the centre looked almost like silver, the others arranged at ninety-degrees to them appeared darker.  This was because of the way that the raised weave of the mat was casting a shadow.  It was this play of light on the mats that prompted me to take the photograph.

Although the centrally placed mats made a walkway, the others were arranged to accommodate two people per mat kneeling to receive a blessing or because they were taking part in a service facing the statue of the Buddha.

Top row from the left:  3 mat auspicious, 3 mat inauspicious, 4.5 mats auspicious, 4.5 mat tearoom in winter, 4.5 mat tearoom in summer
Bottom row from the left:  8 mat auspicious, 8 mat inauspicious, 6 mat auspicious, 6 mat inauspicious
Compilation of Japanese Interior Fittings, Gakugei Publishing
In fact tatami mats can be laid out in auspicious and inauspicious arrangements.   While a wedding or other celebration might be recognised by a more complicated alternating arrangement of mats, an inauspicious arrangement would be used for a funeral.  This would be a far less decorative arrangement in which mats are laid out in regular lines.  That at least is the theory, although in all my time living in Japan I never saw anything other that an “auspicious” arrangement in dwellings of all kinds and any “inauspicious” arrangement was in a temple or where a particular function demanded a regular alignment.

The size of rooms in Japan is traditionally expressed by how many mats there are—four and a half, six, eight etc.—and each mat is about 1,800 mm x 900 mm (about 6ft x 3ft) but there are regional differences.  Nowadays there is also a smaller modern tatami mat made for apartment blocks—although the number of mats may be the same the actual area is smaller.  The substrate is a thinner synthetic material, which produces a harder feel when walked on.

Interior of the pavilion in Ritsurien Garden, Takamatsu, Shikoku.  Auspicious or “regular” arrangement of mats.  However, because of the mixed direction of the lighting, looking along the very shallow, crisp “valleys” makes them appear dark.  At Sojiji similarly orientated mats glow with a silvery light.
Tatami mats have three main components.  The substrate is packed and stitched rice straw.  It is about 50 mm (about 2 ins ) thick and covered by a relatively thin mat of a soft reed called igusa (Juncus effusus var. decipiens).  It is woven over warp and weft strings and it is this which produces lines of soft, regular “hills” and very shallow, crisp “valleys” running the full length of the mat, with the reed itself laid across its width.  Finally, a cloth ribbon is fixed over the long side of the mat.

Although there are foreign imports, igusa is still grown in Japan. Yatsushio in Kyushu is the countries biggest producer.  The soil conditions and climate there are ideal.  Some 500 years ago the growing of igusa was promoted by the local ruling samurai, Iwasaki Tadahisa, who realised that the marshy land in particular suited the production of this soft reed.

Igusa reeds growing in Kyushu near Mt. Ichifusa.  This was a chance encounter photographed on my first visit to Japan in 1974.
It is grown through netting, which is raised as the reed lengthens, thus supporting  it and keeping it straighter.  In July when it reaches about 1,300 mm (about 4ft.), it is harvested, throughly washed and processed using, of all things, a fine mud, which helps to remove the moisture from the core of the reed when it is dried and ensures that it keeps its distinctive pale green colour.

Everybody has their own idea of luxury.  One of mine is walking on new tatami matting with its slight softness underfoot, its tasteful colour and especially its aroma.  Once experienced never forgotten.

Tatami Anecdotes
When Katsura Detached Palace on the outskirts of Kyoto was fully restored between 1976 and 1982, new tatami was laid in the rooms.  When finished, the works manager had the screens and rain shutters of the rooms closed for security reasons.  Sadly, when the rooms with their new tatami were next visited there were small crops of fungus growing from the mats.  The warmth, humidity and lack of ventilation were the cause.

Wiping over tatami with a solution of about 15 cc of rice vinegar to 500 cc of water is one way of preventing mould to grow during the hot humid summer months.  It should be a weak solution otherwise the vinegar will damage the reed.

Dictionary of Architecture published by Shokokusha Publishing
Compilation of Japanese Interior Fittings, Gakugei Publishing
The Japanese House, Heinrich Engel, Charles E. Tuttle

NHK for school nhk.or.jp

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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.


FunaAsobi Gallery—Exhibition Notice, September 2017

An Encounter with Beauty—Part One
The Makers, their Work
Open from 10am to 6pm between Friday 1st September and Sunday 24th.
(The Gallery will be closed between 11th and 24th September)

The first part of this exhibition has been set up very much with the idea of providing an opportunity to see work by a number of young makers in their 30s and 40s.  They will be exhibiting their work in meaningful settings and suggesting different  uses for the work on display.  The aim is to create a venue with a real sense of beauty.

 2017年9月1日(金)~ 9月24日(日)



Ise Jingu

History of Japanese Architecture, Edited by Architectural Institute of Japan, Published by Shokoku Co. Ltd.
New and Renew
While Izumo Taisha is famous for its enormous but ancient scale, Ise Jingu—Japan’s other main Shinto shrine—is well known for it longevity.

It is said to have first been established in the late fifty- or early sixth-century.  By the end of the seventh-century a tradition of periodic reconstruction was established.  The present style of building dates from the eighth-century.  And, apart from a period during the Sengoku-jidai (Warring States 1467-1568), the shrine has been reconstructed ever twenty years.  This means that the building standing on the site at present in 2017 is the result of the 62nd. rebuilding of the shrine.

Apart from its incredible heritage, it also represents some enduring features of traditional Japanese architecture.  As if that was not enough, it is also a manifestation of the Japanese people’s attitude toward things new.

The main Inner Shrine at Ise sits on a central axis and along with other buildings in the complex forms a symmetrical plan.  Whereas the entrance to the shrine at Izumo (this blog 12/08/2017) is under the roof gable and off centre. At Ise the building is approached under the eaves where there is a centrally placed entrance.

The Inner Shrine exhibits very ancient building techniques with the use of two ridge-bearing posts that are independent of the wall structure.  While the Inner Shrine is fairly refined in its design including the use of a raised gallery, it still reflects the assumed style of ancient grain storehouses.  The Treasury buildings on either side of it follow more faithfully ancient models and have structural post let into the ground.

There is a consummate sense of virtue about the buildings at Isetheir un-treated wood and clear-cut design gently declare their spirituality and are a glorification of newness per se.

Newly cut bamboo....
But while the Japanese people seem to extol newness, they are also resigned to the fact that things age.  In fact, in many cases they enthusiastically applaud the look of an ageing piece of lacquerware or the sense of history displayed by a silver grey bamboo fence.

...bleached bamboo and...
Timber buildings in Japan are allowed to grow old and yet still look good.  I once remarked to a Japanese friend that Horyuji Temple, which was built early in the seventh-century, might look good if it was restored using the original colours—white, dark red and green.  He replied, “you wouldn’t put make up on an old lady, would you?”

...well weathered bamboo twigs forming an elegant screen.
Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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.


Izumo Taisha

An exception and exceptional
Symmetry figures quite strongly in western design, whereas in Japan it is asymmetry and a much looser sense of composition which characterises much of the nations design thinking.

In ikebana—Japan’s own version of flower arranging—three main elements are ideally placed so as to form a balanced and yet asymmetrical arrangement.  The sense of perfection which many people find desirable in a symmetrical arrangement is nowhere to be seen.

The tokonama—the alcove of a traditional house in which a hanging scroll, flowers or a cherished art work are displayed—forms the major part of one end of a reception room.  This alcove will often overshadow the space next to it, in which an arrangement of shelves and small cupboards are artfully placed.  An abundance of space is paired with an abundance of detail.

Dating from 607, the plan of Horyuji Temple in Nara, is often cited as displaying an arrangement that was much more to the liking of the Japanese people.  Early Buddhist temples in Japan followed the strict symmetrical arrangement of buildings found in continental Asia, from where Buddhism was introduced.  It was as if the proffered model was respectfully spurned in favour of a homegrown solution.  Symmetrical arrangements were, however, sometimes honoured.

At Horyuji the overall arrangement is symmetrical but although the Pagoda and Golden Hall sit either side of a central axis, the effect is one of an harmonious juxtaposition—a tall narrow building (Pagoda) balanced by a low structure with a large footprint (Golden Hall).

At Izumo Taisha, one of Japan’s most iconic Shinto shrines, there is once again an asymmetrical arrangement, which actually may not have been intended but was accepted.

Standing close to the Sea of Japan, Izumo Taisha is even today an imposing structure.  Its original form, however, was nothing short of staggering.  At one time it is thought to have stood 48 metres (about 160 ft.) tall.  Recently the remains of massive pillars have been discovered.  Whole trees or perhaps trees shaped and banded together may well have been used to raise the building to this prestigious height.

This was not done without problems.  It seems that the building collapsed seven times during the eleventh and twelfth centuries.  Subsequently a more stable construction of reasonable dimensions was used.

The present building is a shadow of its former self and yet still of an impressive size.  It was built in 1744.  The plan is very unusual and essentially speaking is thought to maintain the layout of the original building.

History of Japanese Architecture, Edited by Architectural Institute of Japan, Published by Shokoku Co. Ltd.

With a square plan of some 11 metres (36ft.), the four corner pillars are structural—helping to raise the building off the ground—and mark the extent of the walls along with two others on a line bisecting the square laterally.  The pillars on the central axis running from the front to the back of the building are structural and also support the roof ridge.

The stairs up to the shrine are located in the bay to the right of this central axis.  This results in what would appear to be an inescapable asymmetrical arrangement, given that the building is approached from under the roof gable.  Two sets of stairs could have been located either side of the central axis but were not.  So either by design or inevitability, the ensuing asymmetrical arrangement within the building means that the approach to the object of worship facing the left-hand wall can only be achieved by making three right angled turns.  Very unusual.

All in all, Izumo Taisha is an exceptional building.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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.


Exhibition Notice—FunaAsobi Gallery

Ceramic Art Exhibition—Arata and Atsuko Anzai
Open everyday from Friday 11th August to Sunday 20th August 10 am - 6 pm

Arata and Atsuko Anzai are both potters living in Kaga City in the south of Ishikawa Prefecture.

Their taste in ceramics ranges from the pottery and porcelain of Korea as well as to pieces from much further afield.  It is from these roots that they take their inspiration to make items that fit their own particular live style.

The pieces they make might be celadon or white porcelain, ash glazed, moulded or highly decorated.  A visit to the show, therefore, will be a glimpse of the wares they surround themselves with on a daily bases.

Photo © Copyright FunaAsobi Gallery

2017.8.11(金)~ 8.20(日)会期中無休 10:00-18:00


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Sumiyoshi Shrine,Wajima

In tune with the spirit or Nature
The orientation of buildings in their environment in Japan was important from very early times.  Even simple dwellings were erected with functional considerations very much in mind.  A doorway, for example, was positioned to take advantage of summer winds from the south or south-east, while avoiding typhoons winds from the south-west and cold winter winds from the north-east.

The development of buildings to satisfy a spiritual need was also very early.  It is most likely that the earliest people to inhabit the islands, which came to be known as Japan, were animists and therefore trees, plants, animals, rocks and other natural phenomena such as seas and waterfalls were thought to have a spiritual energy.

A place of worship might be a spring where pure water could be found, a tree that was considered to have supernatural powers and, of course, mountains were kami or deities resided.

Originally the worship of mountain deities involved lining up with the mountain at a place marked by three trees or another natural feature.  This kind of engagement with “nature” was gradually rationalised and sometimes replaced by a combination of natural symbols and a built shrine.

The form of such shrines gradually made a division between deity and worshipers by using separate buildings—an Oratory and the main Shrine, which might only house a large stone or nothing at all.  It was a space for the deity.  At the very least spaces were separated from each other under one roof.

There are now a number of different types and styles of shrines in Japan and it is these which represent the Shinto religion.  What is common to almost every shrine is the existence of a torii gate. Often red in colour, sometimes made of stone and occasionally made of bare wood, they mark the entrance to the grounds of a shrine and are common to all, large or small.  They are also lined up with the main shrine building and that may also be lined up with a mountain or some other honoured or deified feature.

In Wajima at the Sumiyoshi Shrine the Oratory has been rebuilt and resembles some of the coastal buildings, which housed places of work as well as dormitories for those who were engaged to work on the boats and ships that plied the seas around the Noto peninsula.  In both case a building of volume with a prominent gable in the rear dominates the lean-to style frontage.

At this shrine in the Fugeshimachi district, the main shrine is completely hidden by the Oratory.  The open lean-to frontage and Oratory provide shelter from the rain or snow for worshipers or even for a Wedding or other celebration.

One thing for sure is the fact that all Shinto shrines seem to be invested with a feeling of peace and tranquility, a sense of spiritual energy in harmony with all about them and to many Japanese their local shrine is a focus for the whole of their lives.

Infomation on Shinto:

Coastal Architecture:  Similar pattern of lean-to building—Hamaya style

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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.