Japan musings 5

Where in the west, and perhaps most of the rest of the world, things are fastened and secured through a direct, center oriented, confrontational relationship between 2 objects, in Japan, those same two objects are secured through tangental, peripheral relationships.  That Japanese culture and being is grounded in notions of de-centering, favoring the peripheral over the centered, is central to understanding not only the Japanese way putting two things together, but also understanding their relationship to nature.  This pervasive and simple notion, observable throughout Japanese culture, and noted over and over in these musings, is the beauty of the place, and not to be found anywhere else in the world.

When you walk through a Japanese garden or temple or manor house, you will observe that no two objects are put together against their will (yes, objects have will).  They will instead be placed adjacent to each other such that each maintains its integrity and self, and thus exist in harmony with each other, and by extension establish harmony throughout the construct.

In these examples of Japanese fences, you can see that the members are allowed to slide by adjacent members, with each component serving its own function, but not in such a way that it becomes subservient to another.  The fences, when wood, are rarely set into the earth by digging a hole and setting in a post, but rather they are often set onto a stone wall or base, which itself is set into the earth as a stone might naturally do.  This is practical, as the wood is kept from the moist earth, but also establishes the same hierarchy held by nature, thereby ensuring the small piece is in harmony with the much larger whole.

The same phenomenon, that of component pieces passing by each other yet bound to create a new whole, can be seen in the wood framing of temple roofs, where the Japanese developed a sophisticated language of wood joinery.  Wood joinery, of course, exists all over the world, but in Japan it is consistent with a prevailing attitude toward design in general, and so takes on special significance.

The example above shows clearly wood members passing by other members in order to create a hierarchy of support and structure.  This passing doesn't occur without one member acknowledging the other; one member receives the other in such a way as to address one or more of the forces acting on the whole: compression, tension, bending, and shear.  The example above is interesting because it shows two beams that appear to be coming out of the corner post, or attached to it.  In fact, these beams are passing by the column (the beam is in fact 2 pieces), but internally their anatomy's are interlocked such that they become one being, allowing forces to be transferred from a horizontal member to a vertical one.  Notice also the diagonal beam, which is in fact two beams joined together, and how the tiny gap between them articulates the line created by the intersection of the beams below, as well as the corner of the column.  This articulates a larger truth, that of the comfort the diagonal has as in the Japanese orthogonal realm, which is nothing more than a restating of the presence of typhoon, earthquake, volcano, or other divine intervention to mans imagined ordering of the world, and the Japanese acceptance of this in their design vocabulary.  In the west in particular, the diagonal is an alien presence, and is usually only awkwardly addressed.


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