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IT would be an extremely interesting line of research to follow out the history of the development of the house in Japan. The material for such a study may possibly be in existence, but unfortunately there are few scholars accomplished enough to read the early Japanese records. Thanks to the labors of Mr. Chamberlain, and to Mr. Satow, Mr. Aston, Mr. McClatchie, and other members of the English legation in Japan,1 students of Ethnology are enabled to catch a glimpse of the character of the early house in that country.

From the translations of ancient Japanese Rituals,2 by Ernest Satow, Esq.; of the Kojiki, or "Records of Ancient Matters,"3 by Basil Hall Chamberlain, Esq.; and an ancient Japanese Classic,4 by W. G. Aston, Esq., — we get a glimpse of the Japanese house as it was a thousand years or more ago.

Mr. Satow claims that the ancient Japanese Rituals are "the oldest specimens of ancient indigenous Japanese literature extant, excepting only perhaps the poetry contained in the 'Kojiki' and 'Nihongi;' " and Mr. Chamberlain says the "Kojiki" is "the earliest authentic connected literary product of that large division of the human race which has been variously denominated Turanian, Scythian, and Altaic, and it even precedes by at least a century the most ancient extant literary compositions of non-Aryan India."

The allusions to house-structure in the "Kojiki," though brief, are suggestive, and carry us back without question to the condition of the Japanese house in the seventh and eighth centuries.

Mr. Satow, in his translation of the Rituals, says that the period when this service was first instituted was certainly before the tenth century, and probably earlier. From these records he ascertains that "the palace of the Japanese sovereign was a wooden hut, with its pillars planted in the ground, instead of being erected upon broad, flat stones, as in modern buildings. The whole frame-work, consisting of posts, beams, rafters, door-posts, and window-frames, was tied together with cords, made by twisting the long fibrous stems of climbing plants, — such as Pueraria Thunbergiana (kuzu) and Wistaria Sinensis (fuji). The floor must have been low down, so that the occupants of the building, as they squatted or lay on their mats, were exposed to the stealthy attacks of venomous snakes, which were probably far more numerous in the earliest ages when the country was for the most part uncultivated than at the present day. . . . There seems some reason to think that the yuka, here translated floor, was originally nothing but a couch which ran around the sides of the hut, the rest of the space being simply a mud-floor; and that the size of the couch was gradually increased until it occupied the whole interior. The rafters projected upward beyond the ridge-pole, crossing each other as is seen in the roofs of modern Shin-tau temples, whether their architecture be in conformity with early traditions (in which case all the rafters are so crossed), or modified in accordance with more advanced principles of construction, and the crossed rafters retained only as ornaments at the two ends of the ridge. The roof was thatched, and perhaps had a gable at each end, with a hole to allow the smoke of the wood-fire to escape, — so that it was possible for birds flying in and perching on the beams overhead, to defile the food, or the fire with which it was cooked."

From the "Kojiki" we learn that even in those early days the house was sufficiently differentiated to present forms referred to as temples or palaces, houses of the people, storehouses, and rude huts. That the temples or palaces were more than rude huts is shown by references to the verandah, the great roof, stout pillars, and high cross-beams. They were at least two stories high, as we read of people gazing from an upper story. The peasants were not allowed to build a house with a raised roof frame, — that is, a roof the upper portion or ridge of which was raised above the roof proper, and having a different structure. This indicates the existence at that time of different kinds of roofs, or ridges. Fire-places were in the middle of the floor, and the smoke-outlet was in the gable end of the roof protected by a lattice, — as seen in the Japanese country houses of to-day. The posts or pillars of the house were buried deep in the ground, and not, as in the present house, resting on a stone foundation.

The allusions in the "Kojiki," where it says, "and if thou goest in a boat along that road there will appear a palace built like fish-scales," and again, "the ill-omened crew were shattered like tiles," show the existence of tiles at that time. A curious reference is also made to using cormorants' feathers for thatch. There were front doors and back doors, doors to be raised, and windows and openings.

It is mentioned that through the awkwardness of the carpenter the farther "fin" of the great roof is bent down at the corner, — probably indicating wide over-hanging eaves, the corners of which might easily be called "fins." Within the house were mats of sedge, skin, and silk, and ornamental screens to protect the sleepers from draughts of air.5 The castles had back gates, side gates, and other gates. Some of these gates, at least, had a roof-like structure above, as we read in the "Kojiki," "Come under the metal gate; we will stand till the rain stops."

Fences are also alluded to. The latrine is mentioned several times as being away from the house, and having been placed over running water, — "whence doubtless the name Kaha-ya; that is, river-house." This feature is specially characteristic of the latrine, from Siam to Java. This suggestion of early affinities with the Malay people is seen in an ancient Japanese Classic, dating from the tenth century, entitled Monogatari, or "Tales of Japan," translated by Mr. Chamberlain,6 in which we read, "Now, in olden days the people dwelt in houses raised on platforms built out in the river Ikuta." In the "Kojiki" we also read, "They made in the middle of the river Hi a black plaited bridge, and respectfully offered a temporary palace to dwell in." The translator says the significance of this passage is: "They built as a temporary abode for the prince a house in the river Hi (whether with its foundations actually in the water or on an island is left undetermined), connecting it with the main-land by a bridge made of branches of trees twisted together, and with their bark left on them (this is here the import of the word black)."

The "Kojiki" mentions a two-forked boat: may this not be some kind of a catamaran? Mention is also made of eating from leaf-platters: this is a marked Malay feature.

These various statements — particularly those concerning the latrine, and building houses over the water — are significant indications of the marked southern affinities of the Japanese. Other features of similarity with southern people are seen in the general structure of the house.

The principal references which have been made to the "Kojiki" are quoted here for the convenience of the reader. For the history of the origin of this ancient record, methods of translation, etc., the reader is referred to Mr. Chamberlain's Introduction accompanying the translation.

"And the ill-omened crew were shattered like tiles" (p. 8).

"So when from the palace she raised the door and came out to meet him" (p. 34).

"Taking him into the house, and calling him into an eight-foot-spaced large room" (p. 73).

"Do thou make stout the temple-pillars at the foot of Mount Uka in the nethermost rock-bottom, and make high the cross-beams to the Plain-of-High-Heaven" (p. 74).

"I push back the plank-door shut by the maiden" (p. 76).

"Beneath the fluttering of the ornamented fence, beneath the softness of the warm coverlets, beneath the rustling of the cloth coverlet" (p. 81).

The translator says "the 'ornamented fence' is supposed to mean 'a curtain round the sleeping-place.' "

"The soot on the heavenly new lattice of the gable," etc. (p. 105).7

"Using cormorants' feathers for thatch" (p. 126).

"The manner in which I will send this sword down will be to perforate the ridge of [the roof of] Takakurazhi's store-house, and drop it through!" (p. 135).

"In a damp hut on the reed-moor, having ' spread layer upon layer of sedge mats, we two slept!' " (p. 149).

"When she was about to enter the sea, she spread eight thicknesses of sedge rugs, eight thicknesses of skin rugs, and eight thicknesses of silk rugs on top of the waves" (p. 212).

"So when the grandee of Kuchiko was repeating this august Song [to the Empress], it was raining heavily. Then upon his, without avoiding the rain, coming and prostrating himself at the front door of the palace, she on the contrary went out at the back door; and on his coming and prostrating himself at the back door of the palace, she on the contrary went out at the front door" (p. 278).

"Then the Heavenly Sovereign, going straight to the place where Queen Medori dwelt, stood on the door-sill of the palace" (p. 281).

" 'Had I known that I should sleep on the

Moor of Tajihi, Oh! I would have brought

My dividing matting."

(P. 288.)

"Then, on climbing to the top of the mountain and gazing on the interior of the country, [he perceived that] there was a house built with a raised roof-frame. The Heavenly Sovereign sent to ask [concerning] that house, saying, 'Whose roof with a raised frame is that?' The answer was: 'It is the house of the great Departmental Lord of Shiki.' Then the Heavenly Sovereign said: 'What! a slave builds his own house in imitation of the august abode of the Heavenly Sovereign!' — and forthwith he sent men to burn the house [down]" (p. 311).

"Thereupon the grandee Shibi sang, saying, —

'The further fin of the roof of the great

Palace is bent down at the corner.'

When he had thus sung, and requested the conclusion of the Song, His Augustness Woke sang, saying, —

'It is on account of the great carpenter's

Awkwardness that it is bent down at the Corner.' "

(p. 330.)

In the ancient Japanese Rituals, Mr. Satow finds that the rafters projected upward beyond the ridge-pole of the roof crossing each other, — as is seen in the roofs of modern Shin-W temples. A curious feature is often seen on the gable ends of the roofs of the Malay houses near Singapore, consisting of projecting pieces crossing each other at the two ends of the roof; and these are ornamented by being cut in odd sweeps and curves (fig. 303). Survivals of these crossing rafters are seen in the modern Japanese dwelling; that is, if we are to regard as such the wooden X's which straddle the roof at intervals, as shown in figs. 45 (page 62) and 85 (page 98). A precisely similar feature is seen on the roofs of houses along the river approaching Saigon, and on the road leading from Saigon to Cholon, in Anam (fig. 304).

It has been customary to regard the tokonoma, or bed-place, in the Japanese house as being derived from the Aino house. The suggestion of such a derivation seems to me to have no foundation. In the Aino house the solid ground is the floor; sometimes, but not always, a rush mat is spread along the side of the fireplace, which is in the centre of the hut. The slightest attention to comfort would lead the Ainos to erect a platform of boards, — and such a platform is generally found next to the wall in the Aino hut. This platform not only serves as a sleeping place, but holds also boxes and household goods, as well as such objects as were not suspended to the sides of the houses or from poles stretched across. In no case did I see a raised platform protected by a partition, or one utilized solely for a sleeping-place. If it were safe to venture upon any conjecture as to the origin of the tokonoma, or if external resemblances had any weight in affinities of structure, one might see the prototype of this feature in the Malay house. In the Malay villages near Singapore, one may see not only a slightly raised place for the bed exclusively, but also a narrow partition jutting out from the side of the wall, not unlike that which separates the tokonoma from its companion recess (fig. 305).


Whether these various relations pointed out between the Japanese house and similar features in the Malay house are of any weight or not, they must be recognized in any attempt to trace the origin of those features in house-structure which have originated outside of Japan. From all that we can gather relating to the ancient house of the Japanese, it would seem that certain important resemblances must be sought for among the southern nations of Anam, Cochin China, and particularly those of the Malay peninsula.



Ernest Satow, Esq., in an article on the Shin-to temples of Ise,8 which, as the author says, "rank first among all the Shin-to temples in Japan in point of sanctity, though not the most ancient," has some interesting matter concerning the character of the ancient house. He says: —

"Japanese antiquarians tell us that in early times, before carpenters' tools had been invented, the dwellings of the people who inhabited these islands were constructed of young trees with the bark on, fastened together with ropes made of the rush (suge, — Scirpus maritimus), or perhaps with the tough shoots of the wistaria (fuji), and thatched with the grass called kaya. In modern buildings the uprights of a house stand upon large stones laid on the surface of the earth; but this precaution against decay had not occurred to the ancients, who planted the uprights in holes dug in the ground.

The ground-plan of the hut was oblong, with four corner uprights, and one in the middle of each of the four sides, — those in the sides which formed the ends being long enough to support the ridge-pole. Other trees were fastened horizontally from corner to corner, — one set near the ground, one near the top, and one set on the top, the latter of which formed what we call the wall-plates. Two large rafters, whose upper ends crossed each other, were laid from the wall-plates to the heads of the taller uprights. The ridge-pole rested in the fork formed by the upper ends of the rafters crossing each other. Horizontal poles were then laid along each slope of the roof, one pair being fastened close up to the exterior angle of the fork. The rafters were slender poles, or bamboos, passed over the ridge-pole and fastened down on each end to the wall-plates. Next followed the process of putting on the thatch. In order to keep this in its place, two trees were laid along the top resting in the forks; and across these two trees were placed short logs at equal distances, which being fastened to the poles in the exterior angle of the forks by ropes passed through the thatch, bound the ridge of the roof firmly together.

"The walls and doors were constructed of rough matting. It is evident that some tool must have been used to cut the trees to the required length; and for this purpose a sharpened stone was probably employed. Such stone implements have been found imbedded in the earth in various parts of Japan, in company with stone arrow-heads and clubs. Specimens of the ancient style of building may even yet be seen in remote parts of the country, — not perhaps so much in the habitations of the peasantry, as in sheds erected to serve a temporary purpose.

"The architecture of the Shin-to temples is derived from the primeval hut, with more or less modification in proportion to the influence of Buddhism in each particular case. Those of the purest style retain the thatched roof; others are covered with the thick shingling called hiwada-buki, while others have tiled and even coppered roofs. The projecting ends of the rafters called chigi have been somewhat lengthened, and carved more or less elaborately. At the new temple at Kudanzaka in Yedo they are shown in the proper position, projecting from the inside of the shingling; but in the majority of cases they merely consist of two pieces of wood in the form of the letter X, which rest on the ridge of the roof like a packsaddle on a horse's back, to make use of a Japanese writer's comparison. The logs which kept the two trees laid on the ridge in their place have taken the form of short cylindrical pieces of timber tapering towards each extremity, which have been compared by foreigners to cigars. In Japanese they are called katsuo-gi, from their resemblance to the pieces of dried bonito sold under the name of katsuo-bushi. The two trees laid along the roof over the thatch are represented by a single beam, called Munaosac, or "roof-presser." Planking has taken the place of the mats with which the sides of the building were originally closed, and the entrance is closed by a pair of folding doors, turning not on hinges, but on what are, I believe, technically called 'journals.' The primeval hut had no flooring; but we find that the shrine has a wooden floor raised some feet above the ground, which arrangement necessitates a sort of balcony all round, and a flight of steps up to the entrance. The transformation is completed in some cases by the addition of a quantity of ornamental metal-work in brass."

Coming down to somewhat later times, we find a charming bit of description of the house in an ancient Japanese Classic9 entitled Tosa Nikki, or "Tosa Diary," translated by W. G. Aston. This Diary was written in the middle of the tenth century, and is the record of a court noble who lived in Kioto, but who was absent from his home five or six years as Prefect of Tosa. The Diary was a record of his journey home, and the first entry in it was in the fourth year of Shohei, which according to our reckoning must have been in the early part of 935 A.D., or nearly one thousand years ago. During his absence from home, news had come to him of the death of his little daughter nine years old; and he says, "With the joyful thought, 'Home to Kioto!' there mingles the bitter reflection that there is one who never will return."

The journey home was mostly by sea; and finally, having entered the Osaka River, and spent several days in struggling against the strong current, he reaches Yamazaki, from which place he starts for Kioto. He expresses great delight in recognizing the old familiar landmarks as he rides along. "He mentions the children's playthings and sweetmeats in the shops as looking exactly as when he went away, and wonders whether he will find as little change in the hearts of his friends. He had purposely left Yamazaki in the evening in order that it might be night when he reached his own dwelling." Mr. Aston translates his account of the state in which he found it: —

"The moon was shining brightly when I reached my house and entered the gate, so that its condition was plainly to be seen. It was decayed and ruined beyond all description, — worse even than I had been told. The house10 of the man in whose charge I left it was in an equally dilapidated condition. The fence between the two houses had been broken down, so that both seemed but one, and he appeared to have fulfilled his charge by looking in through the gaps. And yet I had supplied him, by every opportunity, with the means of keeping it in repair. To-night, however, I would not allow him to be told this in an angry tone, but in spite of my vexation offered him an acknowledgment for his trouble. There was in one place something like a pond, where water had collected in a hollow, by the side of which grew a fir-tree. It had lost half its branches, and looked as if a thousand years had passed during the five or six years of my absence. Younger trees had grown up round it, and the whole place was in a most neglectful condition, so that every one said that it was pitiful to see. Among other sad thoughts that rose spontaneously to my mind was the memory — ah! how sorrowful of one who was born in this house, but who did not return here along with me. My fellow-passengers were chatting merrily with their children in their arms, but I meanwhile, still unable to contain my grief, privately repeated these lines to one who knew my heart."

In this pathetic account one gets a glimpse of the house as it appeared nearly a thousand years ago. The broken fence between the houses; the gateway, probably a conspicuous structure then as it is to-day, in a dilapidated condition; and the neglected garden with a tangle of young trees growing up, — all show the existence in those early days of features similar to those which exist to-day.

The history of house development in Japan, if it should ever be revealed, will probably show a slow but steady progress from the rude hut of the past to the curious and artistic house of to-day, — a house as thoroughly a product of Japan as is that of the Chinese, Korean, or Malay a product of those respective peoples, and differing from all quite as much as they differ from one another. A few features have been introduced from abroad, but these have been trifling as compared to the wholesale imitation of foreign styles of architecture by our ancestors, the English; and until within a few years we have followed England's example in perpetuating the legacy it left us, in the shape of badly imitated foreign architecture, classical and otherwise. As a result, we have scattered over the land, among a few public buildings of good taste, a countless number of ill-proportioned, ugly, and entirely inappropriate buildings for public use. Had the exuberant fancies of the village architect revelled in woodsheds or one-storied buildings, the harm would have been trifling; but the desire for pretentious show, which seems to characterize the average American, has led to the erection of these architectural horrors on the most conspicuous sites, — and thus the public taste is vitiated.

The Japanese, while developing an original type of house, have adopted the serviceable tile from Korea, and probably also the economical transverse framing and vertical struts from China, and bits of temple architecture for external adornments. As to their temple architecture, which came in with one of their religions, they had the good sense to leave it comparatively as it was brought to them. Indeed, the temples seem in perfect harmony with the country and its people. What shall we say, however, to the taste displayed by the English, who in the most servile manner have copied foreign styles of architecture utterly unsuited to their climate and people! In the space of an English block one may see not only Grecian, Roman, Italian, and Egyptian, as well as other styles of architecture, but audaciously attempted crosses between some of these; and the resulting hybrids have in consequence rendered the modern English town the most unpicturesque muddle of buildings in Christendom outside our own country.11


1 Owing to the sensible civil service of England. scholars and diplomats are appointed to these duties in the East; and as a natural result all the honors, — political, commercial, and literary. — have, with few exceptions, been won by Englishmen.

2 Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, vol. ix. part ii. p. 191.

3 Ibid., vol. x. Supplement.

4 Ibid., vol. iii. part ii. p. 121.

5 In Anam I noticed that the bed-rooms were indicated by hanging cloth partitions as well as by those made of matting.

6 Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, vol. vi. part i. p. 109.

7 Satow gives quite a different rendering of this passage.

8 Translations of the Asiatic Society of Japan, vol. ii. p. 119.

9 Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, vol. iii part ii.

10 In Mr. Aston's translation this word is printed "heart," but evidently this must be a misprint.

11 "It is lamentable to reflect how many monstrous designs have been perpetrated under the general name of Gothic, which have neither in spirit nor letter realized the character of Mediζval art. In London these extraordinary ebullitions of uneducated taste generally appear in the form of meeting-houses, music-halls, and similar places of popular resort. Showy in their general effect, and usually overloaded with meretricious ornament, they are likely enough to impose upon an uninformed judgment, which is incapable of discriminating between what Mr. Ruskin has called the 'Lamp of Sacrifice,' — one of the glories of ancient art, — and the lust of profusion which is the bane of modern design." — Eastlake's Hints on Household Taste, p. 21.

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