Japanese Art – Shinto Architecture

Shinto architecture embodies the Japanese national spirit, the ancestor worship of Japan. The oldest primitive style of Shinto shrine is the Taisha-zukuri (the Great Shrine style). The main shrine of the Izumo Taisha in the province of Izumo still preserves this style of Shinto architecture (Fig. 60), developing out of dwelling-houses in the age of primitive Shinto. This shrine is dedicated to Okuninushino-Mikoto, one of the earthly deities in the Japanese pantheon. On the other hand there developed a more advanced style of Shinto architecture which originated from the primitive palace building. It is called Shimmei-zukuri. The best example of this style is that of the Ise Daijingu. Here is enshrined the Great Sun Goddess Amaterasu O-mikami, the ancestor of Japanese Emperors.

Both styles are simple and archaic ; but their extensive environments give visitors a sacred and inspired feeling. Especially is the Ise Daijingu the symbol of the Japanese spirit and faith. Both styles will be found in many districts over the whole Empire.

In Nara, the old capital of Japan, stands the Kasuga shrine (Fig. 61). Its two-storied tall red gate in front of the main shrine which is also colored red and green, differ greatly from those simple and plain styles of the Taisha-zukuri and of the Shimmei-zukuri. The shrine was founded in the 8th century by the Fujiwara families as their tutelary god. Here in this Shinto shrine we see that the Buddhist style of architecture crept into the colorful style of the Kasuga shrine.

The Kitano shrine in Kyoto, and the Osaki Hachiman shrine in Sendai, represent another remarkable style of Shinto architecture called Gongen-zukuri. This style developed in the Momoyama Period and was subjected to much influence from Buddhist architecture. It has a main hall and an oratory, connected by an intermediate room called ai-no-ma. This is a characteristic feature of the Gongen-zukuri style. The construction and decoration of the outside and inside are elaborate. This is also a special feature of the Gongen zukuri architecture.

Nikko shrine, so famous throughout the world, belongs also to this style of Shinto architecture. But it is too elaborate in construction and too ornate in rich colors, and thereby greatly opposed to the simple style of the early Shinto shrine, which is most aptly expressed in the Shimmei-zukuri style of Shinto architecture.