Japanese Gate Typology (4)

This is a series of posts describing the many varieties of Japanese gate, or mon (門). 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. I thought that it would be a nice idea to bring more awareness to a western audience as to the tremendous diversity in forms and types of Japanese gates. This series intends to be a gateway to gates.

Previous posts in this series:

  1. Heijūmon
  2. Kabukimon
  3. Kōraimon


Yaku-i-mon (薬医門)

The physician’s (薬医) gate (門). Yakui is an old word referring to the ‘medicine man’, and this form of gate traces its development from the 14th or 15th century, initially in association (like the previous gate we looked at) to castles. While kōraimon were used as a front entrance, at the end of the bridge across the most, yakuimon were a rear entrance, originally meant for use by lower-ranking folks like doctors and their patients. Over time this gate came to be used on the mansions of nobles and at the front of samurai dwellings.

Here’s an example:

A view from the inside of the same gate:

This form of gate is a logical development from the previous forms we have looked at, which does not mean to say it was developed in some linear fashion from those other gate forms. Like the kabukimon, there is a heavy crossbeam, or kabuki, along with a pair or rear support posts, hikae-bashira, and connecting braces. Where the kabukimon lacked adequate protection from the weather, the kōraimon we looked at in the previous post are one kind of solution to that issue, involving the placing of separate roofs for the main beam and the rearward support components.

The next enhancement in structural protection would involve tossing the three separate roof structures and replacing them with one over-arching roof. Voila!, the yakuimon is born. What you will notice from the above picture of the rear of the gate is that the rear support posts are not actually carrying any of the roof- rather, the roof has been extended sufficiently fat rearward to provide coverage.

However, many yakuimon have rear support posts which do carry some portion of the roof and its load, however it is a minor portion of the load. The bulk of the weight-bearing is taken up with the main posts, and the roof ridgepole, munagi, is placed off-center from the post centers, like this:

Some scholars suggest that this framing method derived from a particular gate that used to be part of Najima Castle. This was a hilltop castle located in Fukuoka city. Around the year 1600, following the Battle of Sekigahara, Ieyasu’s loyal daimyō Kuroda, Nagamasa was granted huge chunks of land in the area in and around Fukuoka. He moved into Najima castle, however it soon proved to be too small for his clan, and, given the re-arranged political landscape, was thought unsuitable to serve as an administrative center. So a new castle was built – Fukuoka Castle, completed in 1607, and Najima Castle was largely dismantled to provide materials for the new structure.

Najima Castle is therefore long gone and only its ruins remain. Fortunately, among what does remain the main gate is still extant:



The main posts, like a kabukimon, are rectangular in section as the plan view shows:

One can readily see that the main posts are not centered within the structure.

It is thought that the yakuimon‘s asymmetrical framing for carrying the roof structure might have derived from the Najima Castle gate, as follows:


Let’s look at a few more examples of yakuimon.

Originally, yakuimon did not have doors, however most examples found today do have doors, and these are of a similar style to those found on kabukimon.

This is a fairly new one:


There is one especially large and famous yakuimon, located at Mito Castle in Ibaraki Prefecture-  which, like Najima Castle, is largely gone, with just the gate remaining:



Certainly one of the more unusual shapes of minoko on that gable – concave instead of the more usual convex shape.

Another view:


Here’s another yakuimon which associates to a castle, the Seki-yado-jō (関宿城) in Chiba Prefecture. This castle was actually pulled down in the Meiji period and what exists at the site today is a modern recreation, and is not historically accurate (concrete is used) or on original foundations – except for the rear gate, which is a classic yakuimon.



Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way. On to post 5

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