2) It would be completely wrong to regard these characteristics as an expression of Far Eastern exoticism. Japan's culture is only superficially one "in which everything is so different"; rather it can be seen as a kind of cultural conservation. For various reasons (island archipelago, 200 years of seclusion, practically no Christianisation until recently, relatively late influence of western rationalism) things have survived in Japan which disappeared long ago in our latitudes. On the other hand, those who have had the occasion to become familiar with the structure of Japanese dwellings will soon discover similar architectural "archetypes" in our own cultural domain (see Egenter 1989b, Magritte as Architecturologist).
3) Those modernists who emphasised the simple construction and furnishings of the Japanese house did not understand that this is conditioned by the contrast, to the colourful, vitally ecstatic interpretation of architectural and environmental spaces during the periods of cult festivals. Further, Japanese architecture was paradoxically considered as modern though, in fact, it is extremely conservative and true to tradition.
4) In the west too, particularly in elite and conservative households, the kitchen is usually modern, whereas living- room, drawing room and sleeping room(s) are furnished with stylish furniture and accessories. In Japan this contrast is more explicit and is related to the fact that space is not conceived homogeneously but in terms of polarity.
5) The polar or complementary concept of space in Japan is therefore a reason for the ease with which quite different cultural elements very easily can be combined. Many Japanese villages show a clear spatial distinction between what is ancient and what is new. But at the same time they are integrated into the settlement in complementary ways. Thus modern buildings are mostly planned in specific outer zones of traditional residential districts (in rural areas: modern shops, etc. along the national highways).
6) The European Renaissance ideal of the architect and artist as a profane world-creator has only recently found its way into Japanese culture, along with the recently famous names.
7) The well-known "tokonoma" is not just a room-decoration in which the Japanese "love of nature" is expressed in beautiful flower-arrangements. At rural festivals its basic character as cult-niche is still clearly evident to this today. At the time of festivals "sacred seats of the gods" (yorishiro), made of plant materials (reed, bamboo), are placed there. On the other hand, the urban middle-class type of flower-arrangement (ike-bana), shows clearly, by its designation as "life-flower" and by the strict aesthetic and cosmological rules which regulate for its design, that not just nature is involved, but rather, that it is related to the original type of Shinto art, found in the cult centre of rural Shinto-festivals (yorishiro). With some justification the tokonoma can thus be interpreted as an originally sacred place which - in some remote past - entered the domestic sphere. Its primary sacred character is preserved in the way it hierarchically structures the space in front of it.
8) In our modern neutral concept of the value of space, honorific expressions like "coming up" in Japanese for coming into the house have lost their meaning.
9) In his book on the cultural history of the Japanese farm- house, Matthias Eder deals with the traditional house in terms of the cults and rites which are still part of its essential meaning. Though his questionable outlook on religion and his dubious terminology often convey a somehow distorted view (primitive creed!), his descriptions, if interpreted objectively, without value judgements and with some understanding for the spatial and temporal conditions of prehistorical and traditional agricultural existence, his book is very valuable, because it shows the traditional Japanese house and its development in the context of its cultic meaning.
10) Zashiki, literally "seat-room". Za, seat, has a clearly ceremonial meaning, implying a seat in the seating order of a ceremony.
11) Japanese cities still show much of their original village character in their distribution of Shinto-shrines and in the related cults.
12) Here too it is important not to interpret this in terms of "Far Eastern" exoticism. Japanese folklore research has found very striking structural similarities between Japanese and European agricultural rites. The Japanese situation is ideal for the reconstruction of their meaning, mainly due to the absence of Christian influence. The relation between imported Buddhism and autochthonous Shinto seems unclear to many, but we would have a similar situation if Germanic pre-Christian local cults had been preserved until today in central and northern Europe alongside a very tolerant Christian superstructure with educated clergy, creed and liturgy based on history and a developed and refined church-architecture. Under Christian influence these local cults have totally degenerated to the level of "primitive and irrational" customs. In Japan they are still preserved as relevant local institutions rooted in prehistoric farming cultures. Even today the nucleus of these ecstatic rites would consist in the cyclic renewal of the local system of territorial demarcation. Most astonishingly such cults are not at all as primitive as the Christian history of proselytism has tried to make us believe. They are based on a traditional philosophical concept which essentially aims at the harmonisation of contrasting categories of the local environment.
13) With their preconceived methods (family as basic social unit, dominance of economy), the social sciences also overlook the ritual conditions of the Japanese dwelling, and thus remain restricted to usual everyday life. Ritual behaviour would be attributed purely to religion. But religion would interpret it metaphysically from the absolutely spiritual, showing no understanding for the practical implications of the cults. In traditional Japan the spheres of social organisation, economy, religion and esthetics are closely interwoven in the ideological and practical sense. It is we in the West who terminologically separate these spheres on the basis of our Eurocentric concept of disciplines. And, unfortunately, architectural research has not yet understood the extent to which - with building and dwelling - it holds in its hands the knot of a complex network which we call culture.
14) Similarly, territorial elements of the village such as cultivated fields, water-sources, places where water is tapped, all form part of the basic scenario of agricultural existence and are periodically marked according to ancient traditions.
15) Remarkably, this eminently important work of architectural theory was scarcely noticed.
16) Only recently have architects dared to modernise Japanese shrines.
17) The cult-festival brings into the house a kind of dramatic experience quite different from that offered by modern television: "once upon a time" in terms of traditional customs breaks into the "here and now", creating a strange irrational tension which is difficult to describe. Maybe it can best be compared to poetry, where the use of very ancient words and expressions creates strange feelings.