Japanese Art – Dwelling Houses

Japanese dwelling-houses in the primitive periods were simple, as will be inferred from the architecture of Shinto shrines such as Taisha-zukuri and Shimmei-zukuri which are explained elsewhere. However, a highly-refined type of dwelling-house called shinden-zukuyi developed in the Heian Period. And then two other types called buke-zukuri and shoin-zukuri developed. Among them shoin-zukuri architecture became most popular, and handsome dwelling-houses in the Momoyama and early Edo Period as residential buildings of the feudal lords and in keeping with the imposing architecture of castles. There remain two splendid examples. One is in the Nishi-Hongwan-ji monastery in Kyoto and in the precincts of Nagoya castle.

The style of shoin-zukuri dwelling houses originated in the living quarters of Buddhist priests of the Zen sect. The oldest shoin-zukuri example of this style will be seen in the tea-room of the Dojin-sai, which was built in the late 15th century in the precincts of the ” Silver Pavilion ” in Kyoto. The interior of the shoin-zukuri is divided into several rooms by sliding-screens on which are generally painted pictures in black and white. The front, left, and right sides of the interior usually open into the garden by sliding-screens pasted over with transparent paper on the upper half, and panelled on the lower half, or by windows, all allowing the light to be diffused into the rooms and to reveal the beautiful sight of the gardens when the screens are slid back. In the alcove there hangs a picture, in front of which is set an incense-burner and a flower-vase. The shoin-zukuri house was thus originally quite simple among conquered generals who sprang up to eminent positions from obscurity.

The representative examples of the shoin-zukuri dwelling houses developed in the Momoyama Period are characterized by the existence of a low elevated room or jodan-no-ma, an ornamental shelf constructed in the recess connected with the alcove and the desk ledge called shoin.

However, during a long peaceful age of about two and a half centuries under the feudal regime of the Takugawa Shogunate, this style, of architecture became popularized in the houses of commoners, and continued until the present day. Fig. 70 shows one of the examples built in the modern period by a rich business-man.

However, in contrast with such gorgeous rooms, Japanese people are inclined to have a more refined taste in the chashitsu or tea-ceremony house (Fig. 71). It expresses a rustic taste in the garden, and its interior is simple and plain thus transporting its occupants from the feverish world of activity into the reposeful seclusion of nature.