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Reflections on Japan Part 2




Thursday 11th June 2020 18.30 via Zoom

Speakers: Professor Neil Jackson and John East


This event is a continuation of our Reflections on Japan Part 1.


To properly understand twentieth-century architecture in Japan, one needs to understand Japanese architecture from at least the mid-seventeenth century onwards, if not earlier.  This is because, from the 1630s to the 1850s, Japan closed its doors to the outside world and entered what was called sakoku, becoming a locked or chained country.  During that time, very little changed in Japan and when it did, following the arrival in 1853 of US Commodore Perry’s black ships and the subsequent reinstatement of the Meiji Emperor some fifteen years later, the change was fast and extraordinary.  Initially, this was due to the wholesale importation of Western ideas in a mad rush to modernise the country before the imperial Western powers colonised it and latterly, after seventy-five years, in an attempt, for better or for worse, to retrieve the Japan-ness of Japanese architecture.


In September 2017, C20 Society went on a trip to Japan. Starting with three days in Tokyo, we took the bullet train to Nagoya and thence by coach, via Ichinomiya, Hashima and Gifu, to Kyoto where we stayed three nights.  The return trip took us initially west to Hiroshima, before looping back to Tokyo, with visits to nearby Yokohama and Kamakura on the final day.  We looked at buildings both old and new­, Japanese as well as Western, from the Taidai’ji at Nara (752) to the Hōō-dō at Uji (1053) and from Sakakura Junzō’s Museum of Modern Art in Kakamura (1951) to Le Corbusier’s National Museum of Western Art (1959) in Ueno, Tokyo.  To see how Western architects, such as Frank Lloyd Wright or Norman Foster, interpreted Japanese tradition or, as Rafael Viñoly did, ignore it, was fascinating, but perhaps most rewarding was the works of the Metabolists, from Tange Kenzō, in whose ‘lab’ at Tokyo University the group formed, to Maki Fumihiko and Kurakawa Kishō, whose Daikanyama Hillside Terrace (1969-92) and Nakagin Capsule Tower (1972) delved deep into the past for their very Japan-ness.  If we came away with no more than a taste of Japanese architecture, we also came away also with a taste for matcha and for sushi.


The tour was led by Neil Jackson, whose book on Japan and the West: An Architectural Dialogue (London: Lund Humphries) was published in 2019 and who contributed the two chapters on Japan post-1854 to Sir Banister Fletcher’s Global History of Architecture (London: Bloomsbury), published earlier this year.