Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Japanese Raise the Roof

When one leaves the US and arrives in Japan, one of the easiest differences to notice is the architecture, and the most distinguishing feature of old Japan's buildings are the rooftops. After seeing temple after temple, memories can run together if you don't take the time to notice the subtle differences. Towards the bottom of the rooftops, there are special symbols that differ from place to place. Sometimes they are Chinese characters, sometimes you see flowers, leaves, etc. The more closely you look, the more you realize that each place is unique in its own way. Among all the symbols I've seen, the most prominent are an image of swirling dots. According to our sources, this symbol means water. These temples are primarily wood, so it's only natural that this symbol is systematically placed to protect against fire. It makes even more sense, since most of these temples have been repeatedly rebuilt due to fire by lightning. More interestingly though, are the family crests that are found on the rooftops. There seems to be a sense of family pride even in the architecture that you don’t find in America. I also found it amazing that this architecture remains even as the city of Kyoto becomes more modernized. In Nishiki market, you will even find temples and shrines with these roofs. I find it beautiful and amazing that even these minute details of buildings show how different the Western and Eastern design is. I wonder if a big city like Tokyo will still hold on to these aesthetic ideals.

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