eToko Japan image

Japan Sightseeing Glossary (Detailed Explanation)


Last update August 10, 2010

Japanese Era List
Japanese Emperors
Chinese Dynasties
Sightseeing Glossary
Glossary Detailed Explanation
Decorative Doors
 (See the illustration)
 Chodai was the word for "a bed" for high-class people, and Chodai-gamae functioned as the doors to a bedroom (or sometimes a closet room). However, until the Edo Period (1603 - 1867), the function had already died out, and it only served as an interior ornament. In other words, there were only doors, often elaborately decorated, but there was no room behind them.

 A theory says that armed guards were on standby hiding behind these doors for a case of emergency, for example, when the lord's life was in danger, but the authenticity of this story has not been proved.

Decorative Nail Head Cover
 Kugi-kakushi, or a nail cover was used to hide a nail head on a pillar. The elegant design of nail covers enhance the entire room interior.

Carriage Access Entrance
 Kuruma-Yose is a roofed entrance area where a noble person can park their carriage to dismount/mount and enter/exit the building.

Decorative Transom
 Ranma, or a decorative transom dates back to the Heian Period (794 - 1192). With the purpose of letting light in, its decorative aspect was not important in those days, therefore, simple patterns such as a lattice were mostly used.

 Since the Kamakura Period (1192 - 1333), more focus was given to the ornamental aspect and in the Momoyama Period (1573 - 1600), even more laborious decorations were incoporated into the Ranma. In the Edo Period (1603 - 1867), the level of decoration reached the peak: lavishing techniques of sculpture and openwork, heavily-decorated, gorgeous items were produced. Thus, the Ranma gradually began to lose its original function.

Shoin style
Buddhist Abbot's Study Style
 The Shoin style is developed as a simplified version of the Shinden style (aristocratic residence style) in the Heian Period (794 - 1192). As the aristocrat Fujiwara clan, the defacto ruler of the era, was losing their influence, and warrior lords began to replace them, the Shoin style gained popularity to gradually become a standard architectural style.

"Shoin," literally meaning "a study or writing room," where monks had a calm and humble life worshipping buddhas, offering incense, chanting and reading Buddhist scriptures.

 The key features of the style include a Toko-no-ma or decorative alcove, a Chigai-dana or stair-step shelf, a Tsuke-shoin or attached writing table, and a Chodai-gamae or decorative doors. Defined as "decorative" elements in architectural terminology today, these units used to serve in a specific way. Monks would hang a buddha image on the alcove wall and place offerings such as flowers, incense and light on its raised floor; keep scriptures on the shelf; do reading and writing on the attached table. Chodai-gamae once was the doors to a sleeping chamber.

 Shoin style has three variations: Shin (Formal), Gyo (Casual), and So (Free). The Shin is classy, highly sophisticated design to show the prestige and authority of feudal lords. The So was developed in accordance with growing popularity of tea ceremonies. In quest of elegant simplicity, various tea masters ventured on unique and original designs, and Sukiya (Humble Cottage) style was created out of these So designs. The Gyo falls between these two variations.

Decorative Alcove
(See the illustration)
 In early times, it was simply called "Toko," "bed or a higher place" in Japanese. Toko-no-ma became an established architectural component in the Muromachi Period (1336 - 1573).

 Originally, a Toko-no-ma was devised as a seat for a person of higher class. A record says that Toyotomi Hideyoshi was such an arrogant person who didn't hesitate to move for this special seat even in presence of other important people. Only meant for warrior lords, the Toko-no-ma was not built in common people's houses. In later time, prominent merchant and farmer houses began to have one for a local feudal lord who would visit them. Hosts themselves never took the seat at Toko-no-ma, which was restricted to feudal lords.

Nightingale Floors
 The corridors from the Ninomaru Palace entrance to the Grand Chambers use specially-devised floor construction. When someone walks upon the floor, it produces squeaking noise, which is compared to bird's chirping.

 The mechanism is very unique. When the floor is stamped, the clamps underneath it move up and down caused by gravity, creating friction between the nails and clamps holding them. This friction causes the floor to squeak.

 The floors functioned as a security device, warning the residents that someone was coming in with the squeaking sound.