Shine on

Saw this picture on a temple carpenter’s blog, showing a stage for what look to be a Nō drama (能楽殿), set up for a town festival to honor a historical event, the departure of an emperor:

Here you see some of the core elements of what makes Japanese traditional architecture beautiful, at least to me: stout pillars, wooden floor, exposed rafters, kaeru mata (frog leg struts seen at the mid-span of the beams), finely finished soffit, the kōran (lit. orchid railing) on two sides – – and look at that paneled wall that is the backdrop. Perfection! Those boards aren’t there by accident. Glassily planed, sniffing perfection in form and fit yet they convey rusticity through the swells and bulges of the nodes from where branches originated. The tension, like the point of a balance scale, between what man can achieve and what nature can achieve. The wall tells you all about the tree and at the same instant tells you all about high level carpentry – if you care to notice. A simple thing, yet redolent in deeper meaning.

The panels are uniform in their regular size and planed dead-flatness, and yet each board is clearly unique and gorgeous in its own right. And that interplay, just that, is what makes Japanese wooden architecture so wonderful. That’s what carpentry should be about – showing the beauty of nature’s gift as wonderfully as possible, and at the same time showing the art of hand/mind/heart in manipulating that material to maximum advantage- that point of balance in between the two worlds is elusive but achievable. I dream of making my own small contribution some day. If I could make one board look truly beautiful, well, then….

4 Replies to “Shine on”

  1. CHRIS;
    The wood does have a beautiful glow!Since finding Japanese architecture I would love to live in a Japanese dwelling.A dream I am trying to learn how to create.Beautiful pic,now bring on the joinery!Thanx for the shine of the shrine of Japanese living!

  2. Thanks JT. I'm not sure I would want to live in a traditional Japanese house myself. They are generally designed around the virtue of ventilation, and i live in a cold climate. They are designed for people who live their lives out mostly on the floor, while I live mostly on chairs and couches and beds. some of the parts are rather delicate and easily damaged, and that doesn't work so well with my lifestyle either.

    All that said, I think there is much in Japanese architecture that is brilliant and could be adopted and adapted to other cultures. That's always been the way I've looked at it. It has to work for where you live and how you live.


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