Human being has searched from always to relate his activities and emotions through signs that can communicate with their peers, and it is from their learning of natural phenomena, such as gifts and adventures offered by nature itself, which starts its creative participation in all corners of the Earth. In what we know today by the Japanese archipelago there is a special reference to the presence of nature in their creative manifestations, even in the most daily and trivial, since life of the Japanese is closely linked to the emotions that arise from the contemplation of the natural world. Consequently their architectural contribution carries clear references of the effects observed in their natural environment. Their architecture is the participation of the Japanese in the world as a clear reflection of nature.
The sign for the Japanese
The sign plays a decisive role in the universe of Japan, where everything moves from meanings and symbolic contents, from the simplest of their writing characters until the representation of the early morning sun, which gives shape to their flag.
Within the important literary contribution of Barthes, he choose Japan because it is '' the only one that has found the closest sign work to his convictions ... the furthest from dislikes, irritation and the negotiations aroused on him by the Western mediocrity"(Barthes, p.3). We westerners are not used to decipher the signs of nature.
The sign is for the Japanese the origin of his dialectic and assimilation of things. In Japan "the Empire of the signifiers is so vast, so exceeds the word, that the exchange of signs is still a wealth, of a mobility, a fascinating subtlety, in spite of the language opacity, sometimes even thanks to this opacity" (Barthes, p.18).
For Japanese artist perception and interpretation of the observer is a fundamental part of his works, particularly of the graphic works, that is why the messages suggested after the signs acquire such importance that they are, even, over the explicit messages. The artistic concept of the Japanese is an intimate dialogue with nature, not to copy or make use of it in the Western way, but to live with her and cohabit in their bowels. It is the sign, in addition to what can commonly be found in painting, music, dance, theatre, etc., an everyday item included in the architectural elements that make up the neighborhood, and their meanings are an essential part of everyday life. “Endless examples could be mentioned to show that the storehouse was one of the most important status symbols in pre-modern Japan, if not the most important. The fact is that the wealth of the village or town, as well as the number of better-off people who lived in it, could be accurately judged by the number of white-plaster storehouse units.” (Teiji, p.39). Through the signs they get to express beyond what construction materials may say: the poetics of the meta-architecture.
Parallelism of the Japanese with the original American
I find much affinity in the artistic concept of the Japanese and that of the pre-Columbian America inhabitant, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. The native American also spoke with nature, was afraid of it, respected it, but basically he had a profound filial love for it from which emerge a series of attitudes before his life and death, as if these don't belong to him, as nor belonged to him the gifts received from the natural environment.
The famous Chief Seattle, from one of the tribes in the North of what is now the United States, manifests in his words "the earth does not belong to man, but it is man that belongs to the Earth", who is not the owner of the creation, is not even its author, since he adds: "the man has not woven the fabric of life: he is only a strand of it".
On the other hand, in the Mexican high plateau, the great Nezahualcoyotl, King of Texcoco from 1431 to 1472 was, mainly, a prodigious poet given his high sensitivity and love for nature. A good part of his literature goes to thank the gift of life and the undeservedly goods received from her. He is spokesman of a people who, conscious of their smallness, live in a borrowed territory and to it they will return when they meet death. Here is one of his poems, originally in Nahuatl, which I find delicately similar to the Japanese Haiku:
With flowers you write, giver of life.
With songs you give color,
with songs you shadow
those who have to live on Earth.
Then you will destroy eagles and tigers,
only in your book of paintings we live,
here on Earth.
With black ink you will delete
which the brotherhood was,
the community, the nobility.
You shadow those who have to live on Earth.
The true relationship with nature is a mystical, and somehow every true artist is strongly linked to it. We can find it as a source of inspiration and life as a parallel way both in Japanese and in the original American. Kenkoo Hooshi says bluntly in his Tsurezuregura that "real poets are not those who do not experience a charm impression at the sight of deflowered cherry trees".
Architecture that favors the relationship with nature
Several architectural elements are directly involved in the Japanese relationship with nature. First, Japanese traditional buildings have a construction system based on pillars and beams, free of walls, that encloses through sliding panels, offering the possibility of opening a continuity between the inside and the outside as a single area that flows. In the relation of the Japanese with nature there are directly involved several architectural elements. The Engawa is "everything that functions as a transit zone that leads from inside to outside... that allows conceiving space as a continuous flow between two opposites: interior and exterior" (Ruiz de la Puerta, p.57). Normally the Engawa is a porch or covered walkway that is prepended to the entry of an indoor enclosure. The Shoji, or paper walls, establish a lighting link between the interior and exterior, making the latter always present during the day and the first, with night lighting, appearing as a flashlight to the outside during the night. They also have what is known as Shakkei, or technique of the borrowed landscape, which is a framing, from doors and windows, of views to the outside, usually the garden, to add it to the charms of the livable interior spaces. The Michiyuki is a concept of movement along the way; the space is sequential and depends on the passing of time. It is usually present in the routes towards access to the tea house.
The Ma concept defines the relationship between space and time, a place at a certain time. Ma "manifests itself in the design of the road as the element that organizes the movement from one place to another...Ma divides the world and with this meaning was expressed in classical architecture with the image of the bridge or Hashi... the arched bridge symbolizes the transition from the world of reality to the world of illusion"(idem, p.88). The relationship of light and shadows that it produces are paramount in the architectural composition for Japanese, Tanizaki does a very complete description in his book In Praise of Shadows. The Haiku, as a system, has also place in architectural composition as "we can associate that pace to Ando's certain architectures" (Ruiz de la Puerta, p.12), those in which he is particularly careful to incorporate Japan's millenary spirit. Finally, the concept of vacuum for Japanese plays a fundamental role in his artistic creation, "not in the sense of opposition to the full, but from an oncological point of view" (idem, p.93). The vacuum is the canvas, the Fund involving the various elements of a composition and can be as much a divider sliding panel, the fabric that gives shape to a kimono, the dish where it is presented a culinary work, the sheet of paper which is written with a brush, but where we find a masterly representation is in dry gardens, as of the known Ryoan-Ji Temple, where the white gravel masterfully plays the role of vacuum.
If there is something characteristically synthetic in Japan culture, that is the affinity of its presence with the natural environment that contains it. It is no coincidence that its artistic manifestations, where the architecture are of course included, they are so alive and at the same time so gentle, so full of harmony, as if they had been created by nature itself.
For the Japanese being in contact with nature is an integral part of their way of life. His development of sensitivity goes very hand in hand with this, and throughout his life keeps present that art excites and leads to reflection, that art goes beyond perception and understanding, goes towards the encounter with the senses.
Nature for the Japanese is not a universe immense and overwhelming, an oppressive mass that minimizes his creatures. Nature is in each and every one of its details, in his smallest corners. For the inhabitant of a Japanese village all in his context has a meaning, the physical world, and with it the space constructed by man, is a paradise full of signs where take place the activities that give life to the existence of the human being. The architecture of the Japan is primarily a reflection of nature.
•Barthes, R. Empire of Signs, 1991.
•Ruiz de la Puerta, F. The sacred and the profane in Tadao Ando, 1995.
•Tanizaki, J. In Praise of Shadows, 1996.
•Teiji, I. Kura, design and tradition of the Japanese storehouse, 1980.