my review of houses and gardens in kyoto is an introduction to a visual trip. join photographer akihiko seki and architect thomas daniell for a wonderful tour of japan’s traditional cultural scenery. kyoto was the japanese capital for over 1,000 years. its beautiful world heritage sites spared it the fate of being the first target of an atom bombing back in 1944.
the book has 6 chapters covering the types of dwellings: aristocratic villas, temple residencies, merchant town houses, traditional inns, private retreats and tea houses.
expect a crossection of culture and tradition, a lesson of architecture and history. the book will plunge you into a complex world of well-organized traditional architecture and serene natural settings. you will learn the subtleties and secrets behind some of kyoto’s most remarkable houses and gardens. you will visit temples and ryokans and enjoy the changing seasons of their environment.
i visited a few of the sites mentioned in the book and i realize now just how much more there was to be discovered about each.
i cannot tell you everything but i can give you some new concepts i learned.
1. the fragility of the structures and the forces of nature lead to repeated mending, replacement and re-building. no matter how often that happened, the japanese will not see the building as any less authentic.
2. the residential architecure in kyoto has 3 main stylistic sub-divisions:
shinden zukuri – palace style,
shoin zukuri – study style and
sukiya zukuri – tea house style.
3. there are four types of gardens.
tsuboniwa is the condensed, courtyard garden.
kaiyushiki teien is the picturesque stroll garden.
karesansui is the dry landscape, the stone garden.
shakkei is the borrowed scenary of distant elements.
4. do not expect grass in the gardens. they are covered in moss and that is a nice change.
5. garden designers were considered artists, even hundreds of years ago
6. i have never known it but ceramic pillows exist!
7. the tatami is used as a measurement unit for areas.
8. emperors used to retire or become buddhist priests. depending on the case, they were called retired or cloistered emperors. their sons were enthroned instead, sometimes at 7-8 years of age.
9. there are gates that are only ever used by emperors!
the book is a great reference for kyoto lovers as well as an enticing introduction for first-time visitors. i enjoyed learning so much and admiring the quiet beauty of the pictures!
review courtesy of tuttle publishing – the very kind, biggest-in-the-world publisher of books about asia. thank you!
photo credits: akihiko seki