Compared to western architecture, Japanese architecture has a different background in how it has
been divided up, the materials that were available, and of course the influences over the centuries.
Japanese architecture has an extensive and well documented history, like much of the art and culture of the Japanese. Japan’s architecture has long been influenced by China, but it also has its own distinctions, respectably. For instance, the availability of materials and the function of the buildings.
The prominent ‘look’ of Japanese architecture began early around 57 BC. Prior to this point, homes in Japan were made from wood with dirt floors and there was very little to differentiate from similar homes a thousand miles away.
From this point and up until 660 AD, architects of Japan were influenced by the Koreans. Buildings were made from stone and timber, although, most of these early structures live in manuscripts and paintings.
The most important buildings were the shrines, built in order to showcase the very best that the Japanese architects had to offer. While they were generally torn down and rebuilt every two decades or so, the rebuild stayed true to the original design so that they would not change too much over time. These were also made of wood and were often accompanied by beautiful gardens.
The style of the shrines also influenced domestic and even modern architecture with the tower design and the building materials. It influenced western architecture as well, with notable architects like Frank Wright using them as a basis for his own work. Japanese architecture went through several stages of innovation over the rich history of Japan.
Early wooden structures such as shrines and temples built by the nobles dominated the early 7th century. This era is known as the Asuka and Nara periods, which were times of blossoming art and culture in Japan as well.
There was a continuation of these kind of structures in the Heian period (9th century). This was also the period where foremost architects learned of design in China and brought back ideas to Japan. Wooden temples began to spring up in greater numbers, along with different, yet reminiscent styles of construction.
Followed by the Kamakura and Muromachi eras, designs were characterized as far simpler, reflecting the fact that the culture had come under the rule of the warrior class, the samurai. The construction and design of the tea house, an important facet of noble life in this era and after, was a major development of this period.
Castles began to emerge in the Azuchi-Momoyama period (17th century). However, these were very different from the medieval castles of Europe. They were built in the style of the shrines with the wooden powers and outcropping roofs. Castles of this time were meant to house feudal lords and soldiers, while still retaining the elegance of the shrines that they are based upon.
Japan quickly modernized after WWII with the introduction and influence of western architecture, leading to some truly magnificent and monumental buildings of metal and concrete like the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
The style the buildings were created in along with the primary materials used makes Japanese architecture unique from architecture from the west.
The beautifully elegant shrines and temples that formed the blueprint for the castles and homes cannot be seen anywhere in the west. Although having influence by the Korean and Chinese, the Japanese architects took things in a different and individual direction with heavy reliance on available materials along with the echo of their religion. Provided that, this created a distinctive and exquisite style of architecture that many tourists and locals enjoy seeing whenever possible.