Spiritual as well as practical needs
Already in prehistoric and classical times the roofs of Japanese houses were obviously not just a protection against climatic influences, but were symbols too. They gave the dwelling a measure of harmony according to the Asian philosophy of life. Their shape implied a polar harmony similar to the Chinese principle of Yin-Yang (jap. iny™). The original type of the house plan also shows a division into a 'high' and elaborated dwelling and sleeping part and a 'lower' part, the 'earth-space' (doma, Fig. 4a, see also Eder 1963). The floor of the higher part is covered with boards or with tatami. The lower part is the working space and kitchen. Conventionally, the floor of the doma is only of stamped earth. Often this part is also called niwa, garden, courtyard. The plan thus implies a polar unit of contrasting categories, such as above/below, artificial/ natural, costly/ simple and, in the widest sense, heaven and earth as well.
This is not just a vague supposition. This polar division is preserved as an important feature throughout the development of the Japanese farmhouse, during which it is mainly the upper part which is differentiated (Fig. 4b, c). The intimate connection with evolved tradition provides a unifying factor within the manifold forms of the Japanese house-forms Fig. 5a, b; Fig. 6). The earthen part is usually left open towards the internal roof space and thus permitting a view of the tremendous beams of the roof-structure, which are often left roughly curved and natural (Fig. 7). Most of the ancient Shinto shrines too show similar oppositions. The closed and most sacred part is elevated on piles and is contrasted sharply with an open access part which is defined by elements like "flowing" roof styles and curved stairs (Fig. 9).
Harmonious complementarities of this kind are to be found in all Japanese homes, from the inconspicuous hut to the imposing farmhouse and on to the urban dwelling house of the well-to-do middle classes. The spatial order of the seats is determined by the polar relation of the holy board (kamidana), the Buddhist ancestral altar (butsudan) and the cult niche (tokonoma) on one side and the access room of the house (genkan) on the other side (Fig. 10). <7> Certain spatial values are thus implied. They guide the behaviour of the dwellers (and guests) in the sense of the popular German notion >gute Kinderstube< (good upbringing). That is to say, this structure and its inherent value system is integrated into thought, language and behaviour. Felt daily in its elementary form from childhood onwards, it forms part of the individual's education and continues to be similarly effective on a broader scale throughout the whole of society (Fig. 11). <8>
These brief indications of important aspects of the Japanese way of life should to some extent have clarified the contrast with conventional architectural observation, which only grasps the materially constructive and the formal. On the other hand, a consideration of important aspects of the Japanese cultural tradition, insofar as they are related to the house, permits the following comments: <12>
- Before the construction of a house is started in many places, even today, a simple sanctuary is set up as part of a celebration called the >festival for the quietening of the earth (calming the earth; jijinsai). Four corners of a rectangle are marked by green bamboo poles, set up and fixed in the earth. The uppermost part of the poles is left natural, while the branches are removed from the lower part. A sacred rope (shimenawa) fixed to the four bamboo poles delimits an elementary sacred precinct. In its centre a sacred seat of gods (yorishiro) - in itself a primitively made type of Yin-Yang symbol - is set up and divides the field into two parts of different significance. Thus this bipartition is an advance indication of the future house- plan (Fig. 12).
- Many rural house-types show a cult pillar (daikokubashira) in the centre. It usually stands on the line of delimitation between the two differently evaluated parts of the house plan. It is dedicated to the gods of happiness, Daikoku and Ebisu. Their cult is supposed to bring wealth and happiness to the house. Usually the pillar does not bear loads. Its decorated upper part juts into the sacred space of the roof. Thus it marks one of the cult places of the house (see Fig. 12, central and upper part; for details of cult-pillar and cult see Eder 1963). <9>
- The hearth too and the place where the water comes in are still interpreted as seats of deities, particularly in rural areas (kama no kami, mizugami). They are regularly the centre of certain cult activities (Fig. 12, centre, earth part at the right and Fig. 13). For details see Eder (1963).
- The "board of the gods" (kamidana) is fixed on the borderline between roof and wall in the rear of the upper dwelling part, which is covered with boards and/or mats. This is the place where the Shinto deities dwell (Fig. 14). The most important are the house- or yardgod (yashikigami) and the protecting village deity (ujigami). A small shrine of the Ise cult (Ise shink™) is usually placed there too and, particularly in farming areas, the rice deity (inari) together with other symbols of regional or national cults. All these deities are venerated in small wooden shrines. They all have their regular cult festivals, each usually once or twice a year. Their cult-places are then decorated with cult signs according to the local tradition, or better, marked in very ancient ways - as in times before there were wooden temples and shrines. Rice, rice wine or salt are offered. The whole family gathers before the cult place in a traditionally regulated manner and partakes of a ritual meal. Depending on the circumstances, this domestic cult function can be very costly and lavish. In some regions the most beautifully furnished room (zashiki)<10> is occupied by a child considered to be holy (oji). It is treated royally and served for several weeks by its parents (Fig. 15, Okayama-region). At another place at New Year the whole village gathers in a particular house, newly determined each year (toya). All room division elements (shoji) have to be removed for this purpose; a large hall results which is dominated by the cult niche (tokonoma) of the best room (Fig. 16, getamatsuri on Kamishima).
- In all agrarian villages as well as in cities, the festival of the ancient village- or clan deity (ujigami) is the most important cult event. It is celebrated at the shrine of the district as well as in individual houses. The rites are often highly ecstatic. Such a festival displays the strong social cohesion that exists among families and houses of a settlement that forms a traditional territorial unit (Fig. 17, 18; for further details see Egenter 1980b, 1982a).
- In rural areas the polar structure of the cult of the field- or mountain deity (ta no kami / yama no kami) plays an important role. Before the spring sowing the figure of the deity is carried from the woods above the village to the house, where it is set up in the cult niche (tokonoma) to preside over a festive banquet (Fig. 19). Finally it is carried to a particular place in the fields, from where it will protect the growing rice. In autumn the festival procedure is reversed.
- The New Year festival (o-sh is a big festival which lasts for several days. The extended family, which nowadays lives widely scattered over the country, is united at the parental home. Before the festival the whole house is ritually cleaned. Then the cultplaces within and outside the house, particular the access gates, are decorated in a locally traditional manner (Fig. 20-22; for further descriptions of Japanese New Year festivals see Tadayoshi 1943).
- Similar customs are observed at the great Buddhist summer festival for the ancestors (o-bon) (Fig. 23).
- If somebody dies, the house where the deceased lived plays an important role. At the occasion of the first and most important ceremony for the dead person (o-s™shiki), the house is opened towards the street and richly decorated. An altar is erected for the deceased in front of the Buddhist- altar (butsudan). Over a period of many years ceremonies (kuy™) are performed in front of the butsudan . They are celebrated according to a special plan after 3, 7, 13, 17, 23, 35, 49 years (nenki), last: tomuraiage). All these ceremonies take place in the cult-room of the particular house in presence of the members of the family and are presided over by a Buddhist priest.
- Under the influence of Buddhism and its temple gardens, another element has developed: the Japanese garden (Fig. 24). Using characteristic arrangements of stones and plants, it defines the dwelling as a place, a durable and fixed construction, which is set in a contrasting or rather complementary relationship to the daily changes of light and atmosphere (day and night, sun and rain etc.), monthly and seasonal changes of vegetation and climate and - in general - to the dynamics of the skies, of the whole cosmos.
In this context too it is evident that the Japanese type of dwelling has preserved some very ancient space concepts. Architectural research has not reported on such circumstances, because the house, as a source of cultural aspects of human life has been ignored. It was essentially considered as something which is constructed, designed, on the highest level, something conceived as art, and, in its functions created for a type of life which one always thought to know in advance. But just this tacit assumption of "general human needs" is revealed as highly questionable in the case of Japan.
- Life in the traditional Japanese house is primarily structured by cultic needs not practical ones. Everyday life is an adaptation to, a profanised form of ritual concepts.
- The ritual orders spread through a relative network of interior cult places and outer access and entrance paths, between which the whole internal space of the house becomes hierarchically structured, as in a Shinto sanctuary or Buddhist temple (Fig. 11, 12). In other words, Japanese cult-architecture and dwelling constructions are - in spite of differing architectural forms - analogous in their spatial structure.
- This interpretation finds confirmation in the archaic type of signs set up during festive times at the house and at Shinto shrines. The marked or "decorated" locations are interior cult places and outer access gates (Fig. 12).
- The Shinto cult system is evidently rooted in Japanese prehistory. Its origins must be seen essentially in pre-Buddhistic agricultural rites (e.g. ta no kami/ yama no kami) and territorial village- or clan-cults (uji, ujigami).
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