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Prologue

In the course of "cultural explorations" I managed to take pictures of a great many buildings and places associated with the "Old Japan;" that is, structures which were built in the old days, as far back as a millennium--or more recently--but with traditional methods and materials. By the late 1940s, even downtown Tokyo buildings that went up in the early 1920s looked old--in part because of the war and lack of maintenance, or because the methods of construction and ornamentation were a generation or so behind the times from Western standards. At any rate, from shrines and temples, to holy edifices echoing the distant, mythological past, here are some buildings that contributed to the education of things Japanese for an Occupationaire. (Other architectural images can be found in other Portfolios.)

[Note: All photos in this Portfolio were taken by JWB, except a few of the Byodoin, taken by an unknown Japanese photographer and photos of portions of the Grand Shrines at Ise, which were obtained from the Tange and Kawazoe text on Ise Grand Shrines (1965): Tange, Kenzo, and Noboru Kawazoe, Ise, Prototype of Japanese Architecture, Photos by Yoshio Watanabe, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1965-]

a man works on the roof of a building

76. The Kinkakuji Under Early Repair
This building--the "Golden Temple" (or Pavilion) is held to be one of the most important symbols of Japanese medieval art and literature. It was used as a Zen temple after serving as a sort of audience chamber for the Ashikaga nobility, where they composed famous poems and held long literary discussions. The repair work seen in this photo is general maintenance of the roof in 1949. Kinkakuji was destroyed by arson in 1950. It was then rebuilt. It is located in a Zen-type garden, on the edge of the central pool.

an open door with a circular design on it

77. Gate of the Yasukuni Jinja
Situated in Kudanshita, in Tokyo, is a massive shrine--Yasukuni Jinja--dedicated to the fallen heros of Japan's wars--something more or less comparable to America's Arlington Cemetery. It is thought that here the spirits of the dead soldiers reside. This is the great door of the shrine, with an enormous metal chryanthemum--the crest or insignia of the Imperial Household--that is, the Emperor. This shrine was a controversial issue in the Occupation and for a time the annual ceremonies at the shrine were banned as reminiscent of Japan's militarism and aggression. In 1986, Prime Minister Nakarone Yasuhiro visited the shrine in his official capacity--the first such official visit by a prime minister since the war--a controversial action because some of the spirits in the shrine here are famous war criminals.

the porch of a 17th century villa

78. The Katsura Rikyu: Galleries
This is an angle view of the Katsura Rikyu--a 17th century villa (built in 1620) of an imperial prince, Hachioji No Miya. The building is carefully preserved as a national monument because it represents what many scholars consider the purest form of Japanese native architecture, that is, an architecture representing something other than the Chinese style. The thatched straight, not curved roofs, paper sliding panels, light-emitting walls, and straw matted rooms are the principal features. This building did indeed influence the entire tradition of Japanese domestic and hotel architecture. The image of Japanese restrained décor and use of natural material are beautifully represented here. These galleries overlook the garden, the inmates would sit on the veranda and contemplate the moon.

the interior of a bare room

79. Katsura Rikyu: Interior of Gallery
An interior view of the gallery just visible in the rear-center of the previous image. Here the shoji--the square-patterned sliding screens with paper windows, dominate, with a wooden gallery floor for walking, and to the right a raised mat covered platform or room for sitting, conversing, eating, and sleeping. The traditional-styled contemporary inn--ryokan--provides an opportunity for visitors to recapture the calm and restraint of the domestic life in such buildings.

a garden

80. Katsura Rikyu: Landscaping Detail
Part of the landscaping around the Katsura Rikyu. The building owes much of its charm to the fact that the site is uneven, although the topography is largely man-made. The picture also exhibits the delicate restraint and rusticity of traditional landscaping: the stone pathway; the lantern or ishi-doro; the mound completely clothed in mosses; the simple design of the shrubbery.

looking outside through a doorway

81. A Garden from a Mat Room in an Inn
A view from a mat room looking out over the rokka, or outdoor gallery porch into a garden. This picture was taken at a ryokan in a mountain temple in central Honshu.

interior view of a gazebo

82. A Contemporary Park Gazebo
A modern gazebo in a Tokyo city park. The style is based on traditional motifs--in this case, the structural principle of the ancient treasure houses and shrines: a central roof beam supported by posts at opposite ends of the building, plus the horizontal grill. We shall see this feature in later images.

a road leading up to an estate

83. Landowner's Estate in Tochigi Prefecture
A landowner's estate in the mountains north of Tokyo. The dark low building in the center of the structures' lineup is the original wooden and formerly thatched, now tiled-roof farmhouse; to the right is a big barn with the end pole and central beam of the roof; and on the left is a modern wood-and-cement plaster main house, in a vague Chinese style. Finally, the last building on the left is the detached kura, or fireproof storehouse or "treasure house" for valuables and mementos.

cf. photo no.254 for more information

a garden and ponds

84. A Garden in Tokyo
The garden--niwa--is an inevitable accompaniment of traditional architecture, from palaces to temples to the humblest domestic house. This one is a former samurai's garden located in the south end of Tokyo, now a city park. The original mansion has long disappeared.

looking down a stairway

85. Vista: Engakuji, Kamakura
Another view of a sloping landscaped vista--this one in Engakuji--a famous Zen Buddhist temple in Kamakura. You are looking down a stone stairway, deliberately rough, with a simple woven rush and bamboo fence on the right. At the bottom of the slope one can see the curving roof of part of the temple, Buddhist architecture is very different from the traditional "pure" Japanese forms, since it was influenced by Chinese concepts.

entrance to a temple

86. Engakuji Temple: The Zendo
The original small temple on the site--built in the style of the great Sung Dynasty (Chinese). It is now sometimes used as the zendo, or hall of contemplation.

several men meditating

87. Engakuji: Zen Devotees Contemplating
This is the zendo, or zen contemplation hall of the Engakuji temple in Kamakura. The figures in the back are of course Japanese Zen monks or at least acolytes of the sect; the figures on the left were two laymen. Elsewhere in the room were a couple of Americans, who were in Japan to participate in the detachment and self-discovery of the Zen tradition.

several men meditating

88. Zen Contemplation
Another view of the Zendo. The participants must sit quietly--if they fall asleep, or fidget, one of the monks will come down the aisle with a stick and rap the offender on the shoulder.

temple and a pond in front

89. The Byodo-in in Nara
Now for the ancient Chinese-oriented style. This is the Byodo-in, or Phoenix Hall, a Buddhist complex, formerly a private country retreat for an emperor and now a kind of national religious monument or park, near Nara. This is one of the few surviving wooden buildings in Japan--although it has naturally undergone repairs from time to time. The interior of the building is small--really only a ceremonial gallery and a number of famous carved and painted representations of Buddhist "angels" appear on the walls. Scholars think the elegant but rather exaggerated curved roofs may reflect Korean rather than Chinese forms. The name of the buildings comes from the two bronze figures of the phoenix on either end of the roof crown.

a phoenix cast in bronze

90. The Phoenix Image
The phoenix--the bronze figures at either end of the roof on the Byodo-in.

photo by a Japanese photographer, from a 1966 portfolio of photos of "The Byodo-in"

5 bodhisatvas

91. Musical Bodhisatva in the Byodo-in
Carved figures of Buddhist angels--Bodhisatva--mounted on the backing screen inside the Byodo-in central pavilion. They constitute a kind of chamber-music ensemble.

photo by a Japanese photographer, from a 1966 portfolio of photos of "The Byodo-in"

bodhisatva close-up

92. A Musical Bodhisatva
A close-up of one of these images--this one playing a flute.

photo by a Japanese photographer, from a 1966 portfolio of photos of "The Byodo-in"

exterior view of the pavilion

93. A Pavilion at the Byodo-in
The Byodo-in complex contains buildings in addition to the famous Phoenix Hall. This is one of them, in a classic Buddhist style, used for ceremonies, consultations, etc.

temple entrance

94. Entrance to the Haiden of the Izumo Taishi Shrine
The Izumo Taishi Shrine is the oldest in Japan, located in Shimane Prefecture. Its architecture reflects an ancient and very simple form--a post and roof beam shed-like building, with partial walls and a genkan porch entrance, with lighting provided by a clerestory with horizontal grillwork (see the picture of a wooden gazebo in a Tokyo park that was designed with similar features).

a bridge and torii in the forest

95. Ise: The Great Torii and Main Bridge
Ise is really a national religious park situated in the mountains southeast of Kyoto and Nara--the two towns that constitute the cultural and spiritual center of the old Japan. In the groves of enormous trees--cedar and cryptomeria--are various shrine buildings, storehouses, pavilions, and some exquisite bridges over the streams and valleys. And also, as here--the most enduring symbol of Shinto architecture: the torii, a ceremonial arch. Usually painted a kind of rusty red, it is the gateway to the home of the spirits that form the essence of the Shinto faith and ceremonial customs.

exterior view

96. The Ise Dance Pavilion
Ise: the front of the pavilion for dances and special ceremonies. Ise is not only the center of traditional religious symbolism, but also a park with carefully staged, restrained events for specially guided tours. Two objects here are noteworthy: the marvelous chrysanthemum bush in full bloom, and the boulder to the right with a basin and bamboo waterspout, for purifying ablutions.

a man in a robe holding a branch and a large ring

97. An Ise Priest-Dancer
Ise: one of the Shinto ceremonial dancers with his wand of living tree vegetation, and his magic circular pass through ring. Note the rooflines: while the archaic post and beam variety, some of the other buildings on the site reflect the Ryobu Shinto or syncretic Shinto-Buddhist style.

bird's eye view of the Ise Grand Shrine compound

98. Aerial View of the Ise Layout
The Ise Grand Shrine sacred precinct. It is double: every twenty years (supposedly!) the buildings in the enclosure in use are torn down, and the whole business is rebuilt in the vacant enclosure seen on the right. The old enclosure is then purified, the gravel raked, and left alone for the next episode.

(Photo by Yoshio Watanabe)

exterior view

99. The Main Ise Treasure House
One of the major shrine buildings--note the fresh appearance of the cedar (hinoki) timbers--the buildings had just been constructed. The architecture recapitulates the ancient end-post-and-roof beam style of prehistoric Japanese rice storehouses and shrines. These treasure houses contain historic articles and costumes, plus the Imperial regalia.

(Photo by Yoshio Watanabe)

close-up of the building's roof peak

100. The Ise Treasure House Roof Peak and Thatch
All details of this structure are symbolic, stylized, and consciously archaic.

(Photo by Yoshio Watanabe)

several smaller buildings that are part of the compound

101. Oblique View of the Enclosure
The two treasure houses in the grand shrine enclosure. The architecture is identical. The roof of the main shrine can be seen to the left. The row of stylized crown beams replicate what were timber weights holding down the archaic straw roof.

(Photo by Yoshio Watanabe)

interior view of the Kyoto Imperial Palace

102. Kyoto: Imperial Palace, Grand Audience Gallery
The grand gallery in the Imperial Palace in Kyoto. This architecture is much later than the shrine style---it is grandiose---built for display and public audiences of the Emperor and Empress.

(Photo by Yoshio Watanabe)

close-up of a temple guardian holding a sword

103. Temple Guardian
A close-up of the temple guardian figure in the entrance to the Kannon temple in Asakusa, Tokyo.

a stairway leading up to a shrine in the forest

104. Entrance to a Mountain Shrine
The shrine building was constructed on an elevated platform or hill--one must climb steep stairs to get close to the spirits. The entrance and the great cedar gates are supported by columns cut from large cedar trees, and the carpentry is strictly handwork. A particular large tree was saved, and can be seen on the right of the bottom of the stairs.

cf. photo no.258 for more information

stairway leading up to a torii

105. Stairs to Takaosan
Takaosan is a mountain near Tokyo famous for its dual Shinto-Buddhist temple complex. This is the grand entrance to the main temple, situated on a mountain shelf. Like many of these religious complexes situated near cities, it is essentially a public park, with excursions, picnics, pilgrimages, etc. The great torii, with its tiled canopy, is more elaborate than one would find for an ordinary Shinto shrine. It reflects the synthesis of Shinto and Buddhist principles.

front view

106. The Daibutsu Hall in Nara
This massive Buddhist structure in Nara houses a famous giant image of the Buddha. The building was originally much larger and has been rebuilt several times since its original construction in 749. The statue almost completely fills the building.

side view of a porch

107. An Entrance Porch to a Temple in Nikko
The great assemblage of buildings, tombs, temples, and shrines, in Nikko--a district in the mountains north of Tokyo--was created mainly by the Tokugawa family during the late feudal period. Nikko contains the mausolea of Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa Shogwate, and his grandson. Most of the buildings are various combinations of Shinto and Buddhist styles, and are particularly elaborate, especially the roofs, with their complicated bracketing systems of support.

a woman and child stand next to the gate wall

108. A Rural Mansion Gate
This picture shows an entrance porch for a large, 19th century estate near Kyoto. This illustrates the way some of the Chinese-leaning and Buddhist-inspired architecture influenced elite domestic architecture in the past.

The Great Pagoda in Nara

109. The Great Pagoda in Nara
Nara, the ancient holy city and capital of the first emperors, is full of what are, in many respects, copies of Chinese structures. The Kofukuji pagoda is an example.

a different pagoda in Nara, but viewed from higher ground

110. Another Pagoda in Nara
The Yakushiji Temple, taken from a famous hill or mound in Nara.

a shrine in the woods

111. A Local Shrine
Small locality shrines dedicated to local spirits, buildings, or physical features--like this forest and hill park area in suburban Tokyo, in the Tamagawa River valley--are ubiquitous.

several stone sculptures of dog-like animals

112. A Shrine Alcove in a Kyoto Garden
Another local shrine---this one is in the garden and entrance area of a public building in Kyoto.

a shrine hung on a wall in a power house

113. The God of the Power House
A final picture, taken in 1948, of a local shrine--this one in, of all places, the main power plant for the Oji Paper Company, in Tomakomai, Hokkaido. This shrine was dedicated to the spirits that guard the plant and the company.

an actor with wig and classic costume acting

114. An Actor on the Noh Stage
This is an actor performing in typical slow motion on a Noh theater stage, in Tokyo. Noh is an ancient dramatic form, with themes from folklore, ancient history and Buddhist religion. The architecture of the Noh stage provides another example of the elegant simple ancient building methods and materials.

a mother and daughter sitting on a porch

115. Consulting the Scriptures
A mother and daughter reading Buddhist scriptures on a bench in the entrance platform of one of the great temples in Kyoto. This particular temple--the Kiyomizu Dera-- is situated on a steep slope, and is supported by an elaborate cribwork of huge cryptomeria logs and pillars. The platform here is suspended many feet above the sloping hillside.

a building built in the Western style

116. A Christian Church
A small neighborhood Christian Church, built during the Occupation, when the vague Japanese government wartime disapproval of religions other than Buddhism and Shintoism had given way to official declarations of religious tolerance. The style, of course, is simplified Western.

JWB attended church here once; it was near the canal along the Tamagawa River.

Journal Extract: A Visit to Kamakura

May 1949

Wednesday afternoon turned out to be splendid. Kazuya Matsumiya [principal Japanese employee of PO&SR] arranged one of his mysterious excursions, asking myself, Jim Day, Cora Passin and one or two of the Japanese employees. We were told we would see some temples at Kamakura, an ancient former capital of Japan, and a small town, south of here. It turned out that we visited Engakuji, one of the major Zen Buddhist monastery-temple complexes, established about 600 years ago [founded in 1282]. Two of the original buildings are still standing--an enormous gate and the original inner temple, an exquisite little building in the Chinese Sung Dynasty style. The whole complex is built on the side of a hill, with a steep cliff at the back, the walls curving around to enclose the inner sanctum buildings in a great amphitheatre. The cliff is covered with lush cryptomeria, pine and bamboo forest, and the rock walls are hung with ferns and flowering plants. Crypts and grotto shrines in the walls. The temple grounds are beautifully landscaped in the wild garden style, and an ancient and beautiful pool lies below the plain but beautiful quarters of the head priests. Flowers and ancient trees all over the place, and mysterious old stone walls and stairways. It is all beyond description.

We were guided through the grounds by one of the chief priests, a friend of Matsumiya's, and to our surprise we were taken into the most intimate parts of the temples [actually Zen institutions are always open for inspection]. About twenty novices are being trained there, and we were able to see them walking to their meditation period, and were permitted to watch them in the zendo, or meditation hall. They sit absolutely silently on their mats, thinking out their koan, or their riddles, posed to them by the master. If they fall asleep, a guardian raps them over the back and shoulders lightly with a wooden wand. They eat no meat--only vegetables, and go on regular begging expeditions in the nearby towns and country. Their training lasts for fourteen years, after which time they can become regular priests or go back into the world and take up whatever occupation they wish, but they remain technically monks. The sect is the only truly meditative one in Japan, and on the whole it is much less drastic than any of the Indian contemplative sects. Like everything Japanese, it is not done to excess. For example, during the meditation periods there are regular breaks every hour or so to prevent the legs from getting cramped! And like other aspects of Japanese culture, it is hollow, since it scorns book learning--at least during the training period--and has no philosophical position or creed. The koan are angel-on-point-of pin stuff--no real attempt at working out a philosophy of life. Yet there is much serenity and peace about it, and the chief priests are sophisticated and charming men.

We were given tea in the quarters of the head priest, and looked out over the wonderful pool on one side, and a courtyard garden on the other. In the latter, the great botan were in bloom--botan is a tree peony, about four feet high, with a flower like nothing on earth. A gigantic single peony, eight inches across, in flaming reds, deep purples, pinks and white and reds. These flowers were descendants of the original plants put there 600 years before, and the flower is carved in the 550-year-old lacquer platform supporting the wooden image of the founder of Engakuji, which is enshrined in a little temple hidden behind the old, original one mentioned before.

After our chat with the head priest, our priest took us to the little Temple of Divorce, the Tokeiji, which is about half a mile from the Engakuji complex. It was originally a little Buddhist temple where women could get divorces granted, and has its own exquisite little garden, bamboo grove, and quarters. The priest performed a ritual for us, hitting the great bronze bell and chanting the appropriate formulae. Later we wound up in the temple quarters, sitting on the floor, of course, around a big table, where we were served tea and rice cakes, and were shown the ancient records of the temple--the old scrolls with the divorce cases and records pasted on them, going back 500 years. We also saw some of the temple's modest treasures-- some ancient and valuable pottery, paintings, and lacquer boxes.