An example: the access-place scheme

We have seen: from a methodologically critical standpoint it becomes evident that the merely architectural outlook produces a quite mistaken image. Or rather, it projects its own patterns on the vital reality of the Japanese house. By attributing the cultic aspect to religion this approach disregards the essential characteristics of the Japanese house: the basic way in which Japanese themselves read it, feel about and celebrate it. <13> In cultic terms the Japanese dwelling is in fact a domain which is perennially occupied anew, marked in the course of cyclic rites, made one's own place in the frame of ritual traditions (Fig. 12). Psychologically, in spite of the fragile type of construction which it materially represents, it is interpreted as a domain which provides security. This is so because, in a wider frame, it is part of a generally sanctioned Shinto value system which finds its expression in the festive demarcation, in the social obligation to unite in front of the interior cultic place and by carriying out certain cultic actions. It is a domain which is spiritually and emotionally opposed to all that is uncertain and unreliable in the dweller's life, - everything "external".<14>

Let us briefly look at the festive "decorations" or signs that characterize the house when it is prepared for a celebration. The essential locations to be marked, e.g. at the New Year's festival and also at other festive occasions, are usually the outer gate and the entrance door to the house (genkan) towards the outside and, on the other hand, the interior cultic place, in general the whole kamidana or only the symbol of a particular deity at a particular festival. Paired signs or symbols usually mark accesses while singular signs mark the sacred place within the house. This type of marking thus corresponds to a polar system which we call >access-place scheme< Fig. 25-27).

It should be noted here that the access-place scheme and, more generally, the scheme of polar harmonisation are the basic spatial and formal "planning" concepts of all Shinto shrines and Shinto rites and particularly of the earliest shrines (Fig. 9).

In his admirably broadbased architectural and anthropological study of the cultic architecture of advanced Afro-Eurasian civilisations, Dagobert Frey already in 1947 <15> studied complementary spatial organisation of access path and place (>Malmotiv< and >Wegmotiv<) and worked on similar complementary relations between movement and rest (>Schreitmotiv< and >Standmotiv<) as expressed in the sculptured figures of the said cultures. Complementary relations of this type can thus be taken as a phenomenon of general relevance in cultural anthropology, which could be termed an >architectural-anthropological archetype<.

"All architecture is the forming of space by the setting-up of a monument (>Mal<) or by the arrangement of a path." A superb statement, which throws entirely new light on architecture and opens up new approaches for the designer! "Whether a profane building or a house of God, each house is an architectonic path, created by the possibilities and impulses of movement offered by the architectonic design, which allows the visitor to experience the succession of spatial elements from the entrance onwards. At the same time, as a physical form, it is a monument in relation to the surrounding space, a monument towards which we move, or from which we depart." However, there is no need to turn back to Stonehenge (as Frey suggests); each house, each apartment, each room within a house is structured according to this pattern, and thus defines our daily life.

Dagobert Frey related his two "motives" or schemes to Goethe and called them "primordial phenomena" of the art historians' "morphology" and interpreted them in terms of elementary sensory experiences of the body and of space. In a broader sense he sees them more in the psychological sense of a "debate between the self and the environment". "All artistic creation is an attempt to exorcise the demonic, to liberate the self... by setting up a symbol, an image of the internal experience". But Frey does not seem to have fully realised the general validity of his thesis, namely, that, in an anthropological sense, even the simplest house or dwelling always reproduces "primordial forms of human security", is always "original experience" within the present. Thus we do not need to search for Karl Jasper's "borderline situations" nor do we have to advance towards the "limits of our existence". The primordial experience is present in the midst of our daily life. Dwelling as "primordial motive", the "basic types of experience worldwide" are there for every human being. And, adapting some words of Rilke: Like art, [dwelling] "originates from the craving for safety, from the feeling of insecurity." Maybe dwelling today is taken so much for granted, that we are no longer consciously aware of its essential nature - except maybe at times of crisis. This shows the value of history: it allows us to reconstruct what has been buried and forgotten.


To summarize briefly: We have touched upon various complexes, which invest the phenomenon of dwelling with quite unusual qualities.

Europeans have difficulty in understanding these types of structural phenomena. Since the time of the enlightenment, European cultural history has developed on a rational basis. If something is considered to be rationally correct at a certain time, it will be reproduced at all levels in the sense of the new "Zeitgeist", even if - sooner or later - it proves to be wrong. This is particularly true of modern architecture and urbanism. Man is at the mercy of the arbitrariness of the designers. The archetypal remains submerged under the ever new, the latest craze.

In contrast to this, the human condition in Japan is not interpreted from pluralistic or individualistic concepts of freedom based on individual ideas (cogito ergo sum). Japanese rather understand themselves as social beings, whose common identity stems from a common cultural history. Thus prehistoric traditions and history are always strongly preserved in Japan. What is new is interpreted as a complement to what is old and both are harmoniously combined. In Japan nobody would think of building a Shinto shrine - in analogy to the modern concrete churches - in a modernistic way, because the shrine represents something venerable and unchanging. Shinto shrines represent the continously fixed, the primordial in the midst of profane changes. In many places they formally evoke the mysterious stimuli deriving from the tension between the present and the past. <16> Even in the most modern parts of Tokyo, Shinto shrines remain true to the archetypal design. Religion in Japan is always strongly felt as linking the past with the present and is thus strictly of an essentially conservative nature. Japan has always preserved continuity within the whirlpool of change.

It is finally clear, that it is the cultic character of the Japanese house, which has preserved the continuity of the Japanese house tradition. But cult should not be understood here in the western sense of a primary metaphysical point of view. Cult should rather be taken as a human tradition, which preserves certain orders and ways of behaviour over a long period of time. Through the many social obligations involved in cultic encounters, the individual feels socially integrated in any home where these occur. At each festive occasion, the formal element of the cult provides a respite from the routine of everyday life by a re-living of the past. <17> Socially the cultic performance relates the individual living-space of the family to the general unity of society as a whole. In a philosophical sense the organisation of the local space has spiritual qualities. Japanese life is based on a very ancient philosophy, which unites and harmonizes contradictory qualities. It embodies an ancient principle of harmony that is embedded in the spatial and social environment. The harmonious complementation of polar contradictions is a basic trait of Asian existence. Thus the Japanese dwelling house always finds itself within the nucleus of a well organised system, which exists in a state of mutual communication with the close environment, with the whole of society and finally also with heaven and earth, with the cosmos.

We can now understand why in Japan a dwelling that offers only little space can satisfy its inhabitants. The word comfort is used quite differently. Not in the sense of mere bodily wellbeing, but of spiritual harmony. "Need" is not just related to quantified space. One could not live just in terms of the number of square meters available. Quality is essential, not in a materialistic sense, but from the standpoint of historically or traditionally structured space, the archetype. This is what provides the feeling of personal wellbeing in Japan and also the consciousness of being part of a traditional, historically developed culture. Those who speak with Japanese about their culture, will soon realise that the word "we" and "our" is very often heard. This is essentially due to the Japanese house tradition. Maybe we became space waistors in central Europe because this complex understanding of the home as a socially and historically, thus spiritually related, place is often lacking.

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