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Traditional Japanese House: Architecture Guide

Since the 19th century, Japan has started incorporating modern Western architectures in the design and construction of its homes. In fact, the country is currently an innovator in architectural design. Before this, however, Japan also used a traditional and heterogeneous style that was actually introduced by China and other Asian cultures. Below are some of the things you need to know about the traditional Japanese house.

General features

  • Japanese structures chiefly used natural materials, which were readily on hand: bamboo, miscanthus reed thatch, timber, plaster, tree bark, straw, clay tiles. Stones were used for foundations and podia in pagodas and temples.
  • Houses have an enormous roof with gentle slopes, supported by posts, beams and braces that are precisely linked without moulding or nails, and fastened in place like a puzzle. Interestingly, structures don’t use arches or have barrel roofs. This architectural style provided both structural integrity and flexibility to weather Japan’s many natural disasters.The roof is the most conspicuous part of the traditional house, usually comprising at least half of the entire building and is usually made of shingles or straw. They’re so large that the edges extend to cover the house’s veranda. The roof is sloped to let rainwater easily fall off it.
  • Its walls are very thin, and function mainly as ornamental dividers. They can be easily moved and removed–even the outer walls. As a result, houses are basically roofed structures that with almost non-existent walls. They’re great when the weather is hot, but are difficult during winter.Since the walls aren’t permanently set, a house’s inner spaces can easily be changed, depending on the occupant’s needs. For instance, if the household has guests, walls can be rooms can be joined to make room.
  • Elevation within the home was used to indicate one’s social status, particularly in upper-class houses. Elevated floors also served another purpose: to avoid drafts and moisture from the ground level. But unlike chairs, which limited people to sit in just one location, raised floors allowed people to sit anywhere they wish.
  • Elevated floors also improved the traditional house’s structural integrity. Here’s how it works: Each elevated floor was supported by several supporting columns, and then each of these columns are then placed on its own foundation stone. This setup allows the house to endure Japan’s earthquakes.

Examples of famous buildings

Many famous buildings employ the architecture style that is commonly used in traditional Japanese houses. These include the following:

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Aside from the Imperial Residence, the Palace Grounds have several buildings. The Shishinden (i.e. Hall for State Ceremonies) is surrounded by a long and narrow hallway called a hishashi. The Emperors Throne is placed on an octagonal platform five metres above the floor. Located on the west of the Shishinden is the Seiryoden (i.e. cool refreshing hall), which is made of cypress wood and comes with a gabled roof.

Ise Grand Shrine

As like other traditional structures, the Ise Grand Shrine, particularly its Naiku shrine, uses pillars that are set directly on the ground. Its roof is made of thatched reed and come with katsuogi (i.e. decorative logs), which is placed along the roofs ridge. The structure comes with a raised floor, and is surrounded by a veranda.

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