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Architecture of Japan

Japanese Architecture - Otorii Gate
Otorii Gate

Few early Japanese structures have survived to the modern day as most early times only built from wood and over time these buildings have collapsed or been destroyed.

Among the earliest Japanese structures comes from the Asuka Dynasty (645-710), who were Buddhists and heavily built temples. Among the finest temples from this time are the Asuka Temple in Asuka, the Shitenno Temple in Osaka, and the Wakakusa Temple near Nara, however all are nothing more than archeological ruins today. They did establish a design that later temples copied though and have become quite influential in Japan's architectural history. The best examples from this time period that exists today are the Yakushi Temple replica (730s) in Nara and the Horyu Temple (680).

The next dynasty, the Nara Dynasty (710-794) left few architectural remains outside the Kofuku Temple in Nara. The Heian Dynasty (794-1185) also left few remains; they moved away from Buddhism, but Buddhist temples and monasteries were allowed in the mountains, creating an architectural form that required improved engineering and creativity in design.

The Kamukaru Dynasty (ruled until 1333) brought back significant architectural movements and advances. This began with the rebuilding of Todai Temple (rebuilt in the 1100s) and added numerous foreign techniques, most commonly from China, which the Japanese adopted in some forms and altered in others.

Under the Azuchi Dynasty (1568-1600) and the early years of the Tokugawa Dynasty (1600-1868) the movement away from temples continued as castles and palaces gained greater importance. These military structures were built in order to protect the royal family and other wealthy individuals from the warring people; the first major stone castles in Japan was built in the 1530s, but they peaked in the early 1600s and most of the castles in Japan today are from Tokugawa rulers.

The Tokugawas also built numerous other structures, beginning with the Mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1630s) in Nikko and the Katsura Imperial Villa (1620-1624) in Kyoto, a city which flourished under these rulers as their capital city for much of their rule.

After the Tokugawa Dynasty, the Meiji Dynasty (1868-1912) made numerous changes as they adopted European architecture in materials, techniques, and to a lesser degree designs. This led to numerous massive buildings being constructed in a short time as bricks became common. The buildings from this time tend to have British and German undertones as architects from these countries arrived and their students continued their traditions. Among the most interesting of these buildings, are the Tokyo Stadium (1914), Bank of Japan (1890-1896) in Tokyo, and the Kabuki Theater (1924) in Tokyo, all of which have aspects of both western and Japanese styles.

In the 1930s the style was altered again as nationalism was heavily favored as is seen in the Tokyo National Museum (1937).

During World War II (1939-1945) much of Japan's architecture was destroyed by bombings, including the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were both leveled from atomic bombs. This led to the growth of new buildings in the latter half of the twentieth century. Since this time many new buildings have been very modern and similar to buildings that can be found in nearly every major world city. However, Japan has maintained traditional aspects to these modern buildings, although at first glance modern cities, like Tokyo, closely resemble any other large modern city.

This page was last updated: March, 2013