Japanese Gate Typology (1)

This is the first in a series of posts describing the many varieties of Japanese gate, or mon (). if you look at the preceding kanji more closely,  you can think of it as a picture of a pair of swinging doors, reminiscent of saloon doors in a wild west movie. There are many varieties of Japanese gate, ranging from simple to ornate, and I don’t think there is much awareness in the west of this fact. This series hopes to fill in the picture a bit, to be a gateway to gates.

Heijūmon (塀中).

One of the simplest forms of gate one can imagine is a simple interruption in a fence, where a pair of large posts bolster the ends of the fence and support a pair of hinged doors:

Also termed kabe-jū-mon (). This structure is literally the gate () in the middle of () the fence () or wall (). These gates appeared around the end of the 12th century. They are typically set within a fence which is attached to a main building in a compound.

In contrast to the example above, the gate is often constructed as an opening in a timber-framed, earthen wall fence, rather than a boarded one.

Here are a few more examples of heijūmon:

You will notice that the gate has either no sill, or a sill flush with the ground to permit the easy passage of horses or vehicles. The gates always open inward from the center – except where they are absent altogether as in the following example:

Usually these gates have doors, however they were often used on aristocratic residences behind the main gate, so that may explain the absence of doors in some cases.

Notice that the gate doors have panels decorated with a pairs of diagonal cross-pieces, termed tasuki ():

A closer look at the typical form of doors in this kind of gate; notice the stone-to-wood splices at the base of the main pillars:

The tops of the posts are often finished in a low pyramidal shape, termed tokin-gata:

In the English language the technical name for that shape would be ‘quaquaversal’.  My spell check is not liking that one!

You will often see such post tops wrapped with a copper cap or having a small board roof attached.

On to post 2

10 Replies to “Japanese Gate Typology (1)”

  1. Chris
    Great topic for a post. The Lattice panel on the top of the first fence is a perfect solution to make a fence that looks very attractive and origional….in Japanese style and design. I wonder if the latice which is almost like a ranma…was cut out of a solid panel of wood…or fabricated from individual pieces of wood???

    Hope you will discuss and show examples of covered Garden Gates.

  2. Ward,

    happy to hear from you. The lattice is composed of separate sticks joined together. As for garden gates, they will be covered in this series – thanks for asking.


  3. Dave, thanks for the comment. I'm not sure if it is clear to you or not, but an earthen-wall in Japanese architecture will likely be a timber frame structure with earthen infill, not exactly a 'berm'. Love those Kurosawa films too – if you like the gate theme, check out 'Rashomon'.


  4. I am now seeing that #2 is posted for this series. I'll be reading that tonight.

    Thank you for doing posts like this. These are wonderful inspiration, education, and so much more. Your blog along with 1 or 2 others are a continual huge influence on my love for Japanese woodworking (pressure is on).

    Please keep broadening my knowledge of Japanese architecture and woodworking! thanks again

  5. Chris this is brilliant. But where were you last month on this?? Hehe I was building gates and was looking on the web for inspiration of Japanese gates and finding NOTHING. Of course I'd end back here at the Carpentry Way!! And I was joking I'm glad I finished my more utilitarian gates before viewing this treasure trove, lest I become over-inspired. In my opinion you are ABSOLUTELY fulfilling your mission statement of these posts: I will verify there is (was) just aenimic info anywhere else on this topic. Thanks for your excellent work.


  6. Will,

    nice to hear from you and pleased to read your approval of this series. I've been considering a series on lanterns and/or bell towers as well for some future date.


  7. Adam,

    thanks for the vote. Probably not a series I'll do in the near future as I imagine some readers might be worried they might never see woodworking again on the blog! Fear not…


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