Book Review – The Art of Japanese Architecture


I’m an ebook person most of the time. I like being able to download a book and start reading instantly, and I like that when I’ve finished I don’t have a book to clutter up my shelves. But I’ll make an exception for a beautifully illustrated book like The Art of Japanese Architecture.


The book has just been published by Tuttle which, as anyone interested in Japan or the East will know, is the major publisher of books on the region. It’s written by David and Michiko Young who have spent years studying Japanese aesthetics and have written two other books about Japanese architecture and gardening.

Heian Shrine
The photos, mainly taken by David Young, are truly gorgeous. Here are the familiar sights of Japan; the castles at cherry blossom time, the thatched houses in the snow, the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, and some not so familiar ones too; the interior of a traditional tea house and of a modern house built using traditional construction methods, teamed with modern furniture.

Hikone castleGolden PavilionInterior of modern house

The book gives you a comprehensive survey of the history of Japanese architecture, from the prehistoric period to the present day. It explores pre-buddhist cultures and the influence of Korea and China, Japan’s nearest neighbours. It looks at the architecture of the samurai period when the feudal government of the Shoguns ruled Japan from Edo, the old name for Tokyo. It concludes with Japanese architecture in transition as Japan embraced the influence of the west in the twentieth century.

Tea house interior

What I especially liked about it is the way it unpacks the design and construction techniques used with easy-to-follow diagrams and explanations, like this one explaining the techniques of post and beam construction. The illustrations are by Tan Hong Yew.

Post and beam construction

This is one of many giving detailed layouts of temple complexes. This one shows the layout of Muroji temple in Nara.

Layout of MurojiThe downside, for me, was that it hardly deals at all with modern Japanese architecture. Given how influential Japanese architects are today, I would have loved to have seen more about them. Scope for another book perhaps?

Umeda Sky building

The Art of Japanese architecture is available now on Amazon US but if you want it in the UK you’ll have to wait until 21 August, though it is available for pre-order. I was sent a review copy but my opinions are my own.

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