When thinking of Japanese architecture, the word ‘paper’ often comes to mind. We picture long and blemish-free white sheets of shoji on sliding doors, crisp and clean as if ironed. In the work of Akihisa Hirata we too see paper, but in his unique case, it presents as the delicately manipulated folds of origami. And the comparison with origami seems apt somehow, as what is architecture but the manipulation of forms, the manipulations of materials, the manipulation of landscape?
Rikugien Gardens, in Bunkyo-ku, are an example of the exceptional Edo period strolling gardens created in Tokyo at that time. The name of the park is derived from the Chinese system for dividing poetry into six categories. It was created based on the theme of waka poetry by the shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi's trusted confidante Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu in 1702. Sometime later this became the second residence of Yataro Iwasaki, the founder of Mitsubishi, and it was donated to the city of Tokyo in 1938. The garden is especially popular in the fall with the explosion of colorful leaves and in the spring when the vibrant cherry blossoms are in full bloom.
Rocks in Japan have long been seen as sacred. In Shinto there are ‘spirit-bodies’ made of rock which form the object of worship, the idea being that ancestral spirits descend into them and are made manifest. These special rocks, known as iwakura, are hung with rice rope and treated with reverence. In Buddhism too rocks are revered, and all over Japan are bibbed stones representing Jizo, guardian of the dead.
One person very much aware of the potency of rocks was the twentieth-century garden designer, Shigemori Mirei ((1896-1975). He was a follower of Shinto, and the house in which he lived near Kyoto University had belonged to a line of priests from nearby Yoshida Jinja. ‘Nature is a world made by the gods,’ he once wrote, and in an essay on the Japanese garden he identified nature worship as the source. Interestingly, his trademark feature is standing stones.
Giving supremacy to nature is perhaps Sou Fujimoto’s most clever subversion of the usual modern Japanese architectural principles, and his designs attempt to bring nature into an already built-up environment. For far too long the opposite has been the norm, resulting in the jumbled eyesores that are Japanese cities. He has been known to call Tokyo an artificial forest, into which he hopes to introduce elements of the true forests of his native Hokkaido, in a concept he calls “primitive future.”
In Ikuta Ryokuchi Park the city of Kawasaki has been assembling an impressive and historical collection of buildings for conservation since 1963 at the Nihon Minka-en. At present there are more than 25 buildings: a variety of Japanese style houses, a shrine, and a Kabuki stage. These impressive structures have been relocated from all over Japan and have been placed in a serene idyllic environment for public viewing. There are a number of interesting exhibitions and activities to participate in throughout the year as well. Some of the activities include: indigo dying classes, tea ceremony classes, folk story telling, and puppet shows. Some recent exhibitions included: “Wonder Folk Tools Collection” and “Jugoya (full moon viewing).”