6 Important Characteristics for Japanese Architecture

You might already have a long list of reasons why you have to visit Japan at least once – the food, the countryside, the cityscape, cherry blossoms, anime, etc. Let’s add one more to the list – Japan’s stunning architecture.

Japanese architecture is a reflection of the country’s cultural philosophy that values simplicity, harmony, and nature’s beauty. From the wooden shrines and palaces of ancient times to Tokyo’s sleek skyscrapers, Japanese architecture has come a long way, while at the same time, maintaining its distinct character. 

Characteristics of Japanese Architecture 

  1. Simplicity
  2. Harmony
  3. Attention to Detail
  4. Flexibility
  5. Traditional Roots
  6. Innovation

1. Simplicity

The concept of simplicity is prized in Japanese architecture. 

  • Structures must be functional
  • It should blend in with the surroundings
  • The use of materials like wood, glass, paper, and stone is preferred

KOU-AN Glass Tea House By Takujin Yoshioka

KOU-AN Glass Tea House By Takujin Yoshioka
KOU-AN Glass Tea House By Takujin Yoshioka

This tea house design, made only of glass, is simple with no ornamentation or color. What makes it magnificent is that under the sunlight, changing reflections and rainbow lights are created, activating the public space.

2. Harmony

Creating harmony between the natural and built environments is the ultimate objective of Japanese architecture. There are several features observed relating to this:

  • Open areas
  • Gardens
  • Courtyards 
  • Smooth transition spaces between interior and outside 

House In Matsuyama by Okuno Takashi

House In Matsuyama by Okuno Takashi
House In Matsuyama by Okuno Takashi

An indoor garden with the sound of trickling water at the central part of the house creates a perfect transition between the interior and the exterior environment. The architect designed the house with careful precision in order to not compromise on acoustics and privacy.

3. Attention to Detail

Japanese architecture is known for its attention to detail, from precisely crafted joints to exquisite carvings and paintings.

Horyuji Kondo by Prince Shotoku

Horyuji Kondo by Prince Shotoku
Horyuji Kondo by Prince Shotoku

Although this stunning building is considered the world’s oldest wooden building, the builders of that time did not compromise on the intricate details carved in it.

4. Flexibility

Japanese structures are made responsive to evolving demands. Sliding doors and modular walls enable the creation of many rooms inside a single building.

Sankei en by Tomitaro Hara

Sankei en by Tomitaro Hara
Sankei en by Tomitaro Hara

The opaque sliding door or “Shoji” create an aesthetic frame between the indoor and outdoor space. They can also allow for more room when drawn back 

5. Traditional Roots

Japanese architecture places a high priority on heritage and tradition and aims to blend these characteristics into modern designs. This is demonstrated through the use of time-tested materials, methods, and motifs that have been handed down through the centuries.

Ishigaki City Hall by Kengo Kuma Associates

Ishigaki City Hall by Kengo Kuma Associates
Ishigaki City Hall by Kengo Kuma Associates

The building complex was built with the aim of bringing back the traditional Ishigaki landscape where a red roof made of stucco is surrounded by greenery.

6. Innovation

Japanese architecture is not hesitant to accept new technology and materials, and it is continually evolving to satisfy society’s changing requirements. 

The Sunny Hills by Kengo Kuma

The Sunny Hills by Kengo Kuma
The Sunny Hills by Kengo Kuma

Kengo Kuma, a Japanese architect, innovates with new materials, with one of his favorite ones being cross-laminated timber. He uses these materials and physics to create visually stunning architecture.

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