D.he path to the famous Meiji-Jingu is full of visitors not only on New Year’s Eve, when thousands come to Tokyo’s most popular shrine to toss five-yen coins into a wooden box, clap, and hope for good luck in the New Year. The Meiji Shrine is the most famous place in Japan’s capital. The 120,000 trees in the park were donated by citizens across Japan a hundred years ago and planted by volunteers. The Shinto shrine in its center is dedicated to the Meiji Tenno, who opened Japan to the west at the end of the 19th century and thus also enabled the influence of European architects on Japan.
Soon after the emperor’s death in 1912, an iris garden, which he frequently visited, was chosen as a memorial to him and his all-important Meiji restoration. The famous architect Ito Chuta designed the Shinto shrine in honor of the emperor in the Nagare-Zukuri style from cypress trees from Nagano and materials from all Japanese prefectures, including Korea and Taiwan, which were then part of the national territory, to make the shrine for the founder of the modern To give Japan a national identity. The 1921 building was destroyed by American bombs during World War II; its identical successor was completed in 1958.
Japan’s contemporary architecture is once again in a phase of “national” soul searching, in which it is rediscovering its roots and, above all, is reinventing its own wooden architecture. Kengo Kuma is the leading exponent of contemporary architecture in Japan, so it was natural that he would plan the Meiji Jingu Museum. The new museum shows imperial art objects from the holdings of the Homotsuden, the nearby treasure museum from 1921, as well as exhibits on the history of the shrine and its precious park. The exhibits highlight key scenes in the imperial history of Japan. The Meiji-Jingu itself and aspects of the Shinto religion are presented on the ground floor, while there is space for permanent and temporary exhibitions on the upper floor. The central artifact is the magnificent carriage in which Emperor Meiji rode the day he signed the Japanese constitution.
Known for his innovative work with natural materials such as wood, stone and clay, Kuma has created groundbreaking designs that happily combine traditional Japanese aesthetics and modernity. His Meiji Museum looks like a wooden structure, but since Tokyo fire regulations do not allow the use of wood as a load-bearing material for public buildings, it is actually a steel frame. The H-beams were clad with cypress planks between the flanges, “to balance out the sharpness of the structure and the warm, gentle atmosphere in the room,” as the architect puts it. All rooms offer wonderful panoramic views of the lush Yoyogi Park. The use of wood as a fire protection material for steel skeletons is not uncommon in Japan – and not as curious as it might sound at first. Wood that burns to charcoal under the action of direct flames is considered a fireproof material. Even in Kuma’s Olympic Stadium, which will attract a lot of international attention this summer if the Tokyo Summer Games can take place, he uses wood – both for cladding and for supporting functions.
Last year was the 100th anniversary of the founding of Meiji-Jingu for Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Trees and wood have several meanings in the museum’s architecture. The trees from all over Japan that were collected after the popular regent’s death are now a hundred years old and have grown accordingly so that they form a magnificent canopy over Kuma’s building. The architect strictly limited the height of his museum and divided its roof into smaller segments with slender eaves. The roof landscape does not follow the curved shapes of the Nagare-Zukuri style of the shrine, but has the shape of traditional hipped roofs. The elegant roof overhangs resemble Kuma’s design for the nearby Nezu Museum of Buddhist Art.
Since the Meiji-Jingu is a shrine and, according to the Shinto religion, the kami, spirits, can inhabit all parts of nature including the vegetation, the architect paid special attention to “sacred nature”: the few trees that had to be felled In order to create space for the new museum, furniture and surfaces were made into the museum. Kuma did this “to emphasize the importance of reusing the precious resources of the forest” and to keep the forest spirits peaceful. The wood of the Keyaki tree is Kuma’s preferred wood anyway, because it looks good, smells good and feels nice, has moisture-absorbing properties and can be easily processed into veneer.
Tokyo’s most famous boulevard, the Omotesando, which leads to the Meiji Shrine, is lined with Keyaki trees, which is why it became the Champs-Elysées of Tokyo. It was the Meiji Emperor who once made Tokyo out of Edo so that it would also be the “father” of the largest city in the world.
#Wooden #architecture #spirit #trees