December 11, 2017

What I Realized about Architecture during my Travel in Japan

What is architecture? Here’s a list of architectural elements I saw in the town where Mt. Fuji is located where art and architecture are not only focused on buildings or structures, but also on their surroundings. Read on to know how they can be applied in your own space too.

I went to an architecture exhibit of Tandao Ando, one of the greatest and humblest architects in Japan. During the last few minutes of my stay at this exhibit, I stumbled upon a room that happens to show a video clip of him paying forward to the environment by planting cherry blossom trees every year. He also said, “If there is a place where people can live happily, this too is architecture. We ourselves create the town we live in.”

It got ingrained in my mind. I realized, well yeah, everything is architecture. The places and environment we are in is architecture. Even landscaping and nature are architecture. When he said it, that’s when I really learned the essence of architecture. That it is a place where people like to be at, where they are comfortable at, where they thrive, where they feel safe and loved.

I experienced what he said when I went to Mount Fuji for the 2nd time. I went there last year, but we were in such a rush and we barely got there in time to marvel at the beauty of that mountain so I made sure that I would have a more meaningful stay this time. And meaningful it was.

Here are a few good things to note during my trip there that might be of interest to you too.

Itchiku Kubota Art Museum

This is a museum located north of Lake Kawaguchiko. It is dedicated to a great kimono designer, Itchiku Kubota. His kimono works are of course displayed in this museum, but it is a shame that I wasn’t able to take any picture as it is prohibited.

Upon entering the detailed and very ornate gate of this museum, you will be greeted by a stoned façade building.  The walls are made up of Okinawan coral and limestone which can be readily found in the area.

Did you know that when you use materials that are abundant in the area where you are constructing instead of using materials imported from other places that you are helping the environment? This is because mobilization means you have to transport the materials from another place to yours and it costs more fuel and in turn hurts the environment while doing so.

Balinese door

Behind us is the doorway to the museum. This reminds me a lot of Balinese architecture.

Okinawan coral

They put their native construction material, Okinawan coral and limestone, to good use in this building. Aside from making a unique façade, it also serves as a good thermal insulation from extreme heat and cold weather.

Inside this museum is a tea room which showcases a few wooden pieces of art. Also, true to the Japanese way, the building is enveloped in luscious landscaping.

Japanese door

Intricate details on a door.

Japanese museum

View from the 2nd floor of the museum. Further ahead is some more souvenir shop.

Wood craftsmanship

Details in wood. Amazing craftsmanship.

Saiko Iyashi no Sato Nenba

This is a traditional Japanese village with Mt. Fuji at the backdrop. When we arrived at the foot of this village, there are a few local shops there ready for the tourists’ taking. There are grilled fish, corn on the cob, and a few Japanese traditional delicacies.

The view on this village is obviously breath-taking, but not only because of the presence of Mt. Fuji, but also because of the houses.

Japanese village

Mt. Fuji is the backdrop of this stunning traditional Japanese village. I can stay the whole day here just staring at this view.

Pictured above is one of the traditional Japanese houses in this village. You can see that the thatched roof has been weathered, but it adds to the roof’s character. Notice how it sits at the middle of luscious trees? Just looking at these makes me relaxed.

I have seen thatched roofs before especially in the rural areas of the Philippines, but I have yet to see this much of a detailed roof. The thatched roof is so thick. I think it can withstand any kind of weather.

thatched roof

This thick thatched roof serves as a good insulation and cover of the houses there.

thick thatched roof

This thick thatched roof amazes me.

Just how they were able to cook up this kind of detail is beyond me. Also, it doesn’t seem to be fazed by the smoke from the inside of the house.

We went to one house and the tour guide told us how it works. In a typical Japanese house in that village, you will be welcomed by an open space where you will put your shoes or slippers or any footwear on the side. This space is said to be the dirtiest place of the house as this is subjected to feet that are from the outside.

There are about 2 to 3 steps before you enter the house. On one side you will notice a fireplace. They cook and make themselves warm with this. Also, it serves as insect repellent as the smoke from this drives them away. Also it is said that it clears the house of any impure or polluted air. You would have noticed that the ceiling is blackened because of the smoke, but it is not burnt.

Japan fireplace

They use this fireplace to cook their food, make some tea and keep them warm.

Of course the traditional tatami mat serves as flooring, seating and sleeping spaces. I was amazed to witness that a house like this is still in existence and used.

Japanese house Japanese home

I felt like I was in sucked in by a time machine when I saw this interior of one of the traditional Japanese houses. The owner of the house is indeed old, but you would not notice by the way she moves. She even prepared tea for me and my mom while we were there.

Japanese house interior

Also in one of the traditional houses is this display obviously not of the olden day, but blends quite well with interior of the house.

Another true trait of Japan, this village is engulfed with trees hundreds of years old. So when we were there you can feel that the air is clean and our lungs are thanking us for bringing them there.

Traditional Japanese house

One of the traditional Japanese houses in this village.

You can see that the thatched roof has been weathered, but it adds to the roof’s character. Notice how it sits at the middle of luscious trees? Just looking at these makes me relaxed.

Mt. Fuji’s 5th Station

We rode a ropeway that led us to the top of Mt. Fuji’s 5th station in this stop. With an elevation of 2,300 meters above sea level, we had great views of the surrounding Hakone National Park. We also tried out the famous grape ice cream and Tanuki Dumpling. The shops where they sell those also sell souvenir items and a few other food to take back home.

grape ice cream

Trying out the famous grape ice cream with a view.

Tanuki Dumpling

About to have a bite of this Tanuki Dumpling glazed in sweet soy sauce.

It is amazing how tourists were not very rowdy considering that the view is spectacular and there are a bunch of us there. Sometimes it makes me wonder that a place and the culture in it can define how the others behave. It amazes me.

It is much like architecture whereby, we as architects, imagine how the places we design can affect the users. We just do not draw out of whim. There is psychology behind how we draw and design certain spaces.

Mt. Fuji

You wouldn’t consider yourself a traveller in Japan if you have not seen or been in the area of Mt. Fuji. It is also luck and good weather that determines if you will be able to get a glimpse of it. In our case, during my 2nd visit at this natural wonder, I was blessed to see it clearly the whole day that we were there.

This mountain is so special and unique, because its symmetry and shape is almost a perfect cone. People flock and climb this mountain at a certain time of the year. Locals climb it along with the tourists.

mt. fuji

This picture needs not any caption. It speaks for itself.

So is architecture limited to buildings or spaces that are designed and drawn by an architect?  As what Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma, said, “We sense the natural in things that form a happy link with their surroundings. A natural architecture is architecture that creates this propitious connection.”

Once again Japanese architects did it right. Architecture and the environment go hand in hand. The building should not be a snob to its environment. Great architecture can be characterized by having the building and its environment assimilate and converge in to one place where its users can freely move around without getting suffocated.

As for me, architecture is designing and planning of spaces that create a meaningful avenue for its users to explore, innovate and express themselves freely and responsibly.

Ready to have your own great combination of space and environment? Contact us today and get an appointment to get that dream of yours started!

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