Architectural styles have evolved from prehistoric to modern times. Early indigenous designs were exposed to strong influences from the Asian continent, imported styles were then adapted to local tastes, and recent history has seen the introduction of Western architecture to Japan. The following is an introduction to the general types of architectural buildings in Japan :
The Jomon period lasted from about 13000 BC to 300 BC. IT WAS THE FIRST PERIOD IN THE HISTORY OF JAPAN. The inhabitants of Japan in this period were mainly gatherers, fishermen and hunters. The houses were built directly on an earthen floor with a wooden foundation and a straw thatched roof. Inside the house, the ground may have been dug out, which is why houses of the Jomon period are often called "pit houses". The Sannai Maruyama archaeological site in Aomoriis one of the best places to see an entire village of Jomon period houses. Some local history museums also display houses of the Jomon period.
After the Jomon period, the Yayoi period lasted from about 300 BC to 300 AD. This period is characterized by the beginning of large-scale rice cultivation, which led to the appearance of permanent settlements with a larger population. Communities were organized into entire villages, with demarcated areas for granaries, warehouses, and dwellings. Houses, especially granaries, were built on stilts to keep mice out. Structures such as village fences and watchtowers appeared. Yoshinogari Historical Park in Saga Prefecture is an excellent place to see a Yayoi period settlement.
In ancient times, Shinto ceremonies were held in the open air, on temporary sites without buildings. Later, temporary structures were used, which were eventually replaced by permanent shrines housing the deity. The earliest shrines predate the introduction of Buddhism and reflect the architectural styles of native Japanese.
Among the earliest styles of religious architecture are the Shinmei style, represented by the shrines of Ise, whose halls resemble ancient warehouses, and the Taisha style, represented by the shrine of Izumo, whose buildings resemble ancient residences. In addition, there is the Sumiyoshi style, represented by the Sumiyoshi Shrine in Osaka, which is also considered to be close to an indigenous Japanese shrine architecture style.
The arrival of Buddhism in the 6th century brought strong architectural influences from the mainland. The Kasuga and Usa shrines are among the first two prototypes of shrine construction that already have more distinct foreign elements. Towards the Edo period, shrines became increasingly ornate, as evidenced by the most spectacular of them, Nikko Toshogu Shrine, built in the 17th century.
Over the centuries, many shrines have been destroyed by fire or other disasters. Thus, although many shrines were founded more than a thousand years ago, the oldest existing shrine buildings are about a thousand years old, while the majority of them are only a few centuries old. In addition, many important shrines followed a unique custom of periodic reconstruction for symbolic purification. Today, Ise shrines still follow this custom every twenty years, while other important shrines undergo periodic renovations.
The Japanese temples appeared with the importation of Buddhism from China around the 6th century. In the beginning, the temples were very similar to those in China in their characteristics, such as wide courtyards and symmetrical layout. Some of the oldest surviving temples with these characteristics are in Nara, especially Horyuji (the oldest wooden structure in the world), Todaiji (the largest wooden structure in the world), Yakushiji and Kofukuji. Asukadera, located about 25 kilometers south of Nara City, is considered the oldest Buddhist institution in Japan.
Over time, the temples have been increasingly designed according to local tastes. The introduction of new sects from the mainland contributed to the appearance of new architectural styles in temples. Temples began to have less symmetrical features, and many began to incorporate gardens into their precincts. Temples were also founded in more remote locations and in the mountains, which had more varied layouts due to complex topographies. Like the shrines, the temple buildings were also lost over time, and those that exist today throughout the country are mostly a few centuries old.
Imperial palaces are the seat of the emperor. In the past, a new palace was built with the relocation of the capital each time a new emperor ascended the throne. In 710, the first permanent capital was established in Nara, and thus the first permanent palace, Heijo Palace, was built. The former site of the palace is now open to tourists and has some reconstructed structures.
The imperial capital was then moved to Kyoto, where it remained for more than a thousand years, until 1868. In addition to the Kyoto Imperial Palace, there are still several imperial villas, which have a grand and dignified style, but not too ostentatious. Kyoto Palace, Sento Palace, Katsura Villa and Shugakuin Villa are now open to the public. In addition, some temples like Ninnaji and Daikakuji in Kyoto use old palaces.
From the 14th to the 16th century, Japan experienced a period of civil war. With the arrival of peace in the Edo period, the feudal lords began to build palaces for themselves as well. These palaces were usually located inside the castles but separated from the main keep. They served as residences, offices and reception halls. Most of the palaces in the castles have been destroyed, leaving only a handful of original palaces, including Ninomaru Palace in Nijo Castle and some recent reconstructions in Nagoya, Kumamoto and Hikone castles.
The civil war also provided the impetus for the construction of castles. Initially built for the purpose of fortification, castles became the center of government and status symbols for provincial lords when the war ended and Japan was reunited in the late 1500s. Hundreds of castles once stood throughout the country, but due to wars, natural disasters, and policies of previous governments to limit their number, only twelve remnants of castles from the feudal era remain today, while a few dozen more were rebuilt in the 20th century.
The basic material for the construction of the castles was wood, but most of the reconstructed castles were built of reinforced concrete, which gives them an authentic appearance from the outside, but not from the inside. Two of the best original castles, i.e. castles which survived the post-feudal years, are Himeji Castle and Matsumoto Castle.
During the Edo period (1603 - 1867), samurai were required to reside in castle towns surrounding the castles. The size of a samurai's house was determined by his rank in the hierarchy. Strict rules had to be followed; for example, the size of the pillars and the type of doors to be used depended on status. While the higher ranking samurai lived closest to the castle in large houses with tatami halls and spacious gardens, the lower ranking samurai had more modest residences further away from the castle.
Of course, only the houses of the high ranking samurai have been preserved over time, so they do not necessarily reflect the image of the average samurai's residence. Nevertheless, they provide an interesting glimpse of what a samurai residence looked like. Nowadays, old samurai residences are more visible in cities which keep some of their samurai quarters, like Kanazawa or Hagi. Some of them date back to the Edo period.
Townhouses were once inhabited by artisans and merchants, lower on the social scale. Many townhouses had relatively narrow facades but extended widely to the rear because taxation was often based on road access. A typical townhouse had its store at the front, living quarters at the back, and a warehouse (kura) at the rear. The warehouses were insulated against fire by earthen walls to protect valuable goods from fire.
Today there are several merchant districts with well-preserved townhouses, such as those in Takayama and Kurashiki. Some of the merchant houses open to tourists may look like samurai residences. This is due to the tendency to preserve only the houses of the wealthiest merchants, who towards the end of the Edo period successfully designed their houses in a style similar to that reserved for samurai.
Farmers constituted the majority of the population in Japan during the Meiji period (1868-1912). Different styles of farmhouse construction developed in response to widely varying climatic conditions. However, architectural similarities can be observed among the country's dwellings, such as wooden facades, thatched roofs, built-in fireplaces (irori), earthen floors for the stable and kitchen, and living spaces on raised wooden floors that may have included a few pieces of tatami in the case of the wealthier families.
Farmhouses were the most numerous of the old buildings, but they were rarely preserved, so the ones we see today tend to be the most prestigious, such as those owned by village chiefs or those located in remote areas such as Shirakawago and Miyama where entire villages have been preserved to some extent. Open-air museums are also good places to see regional styles of farms.
The Meiji Restoration of 1868 saw an influx of Western concepts on almost every aspect of life, from clothing to food, from entertainment to architecture. Brick buildings are legacies of this era, and are found especially in the few port cities that were opened to international trade early on, such as Yokohama, Kobe, Nagasaki, Hakodate and Moji.
The must-see destination for those interested in Meiji period architecture, however, is the Meiji Mura, an outstanding open-air museum located in Inuyama near Nagoya, which displays more than 60 buildings of the Meiji period.
Japan is a hotbed of contemporary architecture, with many eye-catching designs, mainly in the big cities, especially in Tokyo. The growth of large cities has led to the appearance of skyscrapers and various buildings with artistic imagination.
Many Japanese architects have made their mark on the international scene. Among the star architects is Ando Tadao, who has won numerous architectural awards and designed many buildings in Japan and abroad. Many of the museums designed by Ando are located in Naoshima, an island in the Seto Inland Sea that has become famous as a site for contemporary art.