Part 3 – Architectural Features
The original Noma Dōjō hall was constructed largely in the fashion of traditional Japanese mokuzō1 construction. It therefore had predominantly pre-industrial Japanese architectural characteristics. Nevertheless, having been first erected in Taishō 14 (大正14年/1925) there were some relatively modern features as well. This post will look at a few of features, traditional, modern, on the exterior and on the interior, of this once formulative dōjō.
Genkan and Roof
As described in Part 2 of this series, the original Noma Dōjō was only approached from the north side. The South, East and West sides were bounded by various barriers. Therefore, upon arrival at Noma Dōjō one was always greeted by the genkan, which took the form of a gabled protrusion extending from the main mass of the building. This type of gable or hafu (破風) was a mukurihafu (起破風 lit. cambered barge board) due to its slightly convexed shape.
The roof or yane (屋根) of the genkan had many typical features of a traditional Japanese tiled roof. The tile was of a kind called sangawara (桟瓦). When the technology of tiled roofing was imported from China, they were made up two principle parts: the concave hiragawara (平瓦) over which overlapped the convex semi-circular marugawa (丸瓦). This type of construction, known as hongawara (本瓦) is labor intensive to install and very heavy, necessitating massive building structure to support the roof. Today it is usually found on large traditional buildings like temples and shrines. The sangawara was invented by Nishimura Hanbei (西村半兵) in Enpō 2 (延宝2年/1674)2. This Edo Period innovation combined the convex and concave shapes into a single tile that can directly overlap the previous piece. This type is lighter and quicker to install than the original hongawara type. Nokigawara (軒瓦) cap off at the eves with down standing gatō (瓦当).
The majority of sangawara have the raised convex portion on the left and the lower concave portion on the right when viewed facing the roof. There are however exceptions such as the case with Noma Dōjō’s genkan. Here the left side hafu was tiled with kakegawara (掛瓦). This means on the left side, as viewed standing from in front of the genkan, reversed tiles were needed so that the gaps between tiles were not facing upwards, which would allow rain water and other elements to more easily penetrate past the tiles. These tiles may also be called kerabagawara (螻羽瓦) as the portion of roof covering where the hafu extends past the wall is known as the keraba (螻羽).
Between the regular sangawara and the kakegawara were covering ridges called sodegawara (袖瓦). A little behind this were kudarimune (降棟), the principle descending ridges on a hafu. The top ridge along the genkan was called the mune (棟). Mune was also seen along the top ridges of the main roof of Noma Dōjō. The mune were built up from layers of ceramic tiles called noshigawara (熨斗瓦) topped with fusumagawara (伏間瓦). Along the descending corners of the roof were ridges called sumikudarimune (隅降棟).
At the ends of the ridges were ornamental end tiles called onigawara (鬼瓦). Onigawara literally means demon3 tile. While they sometimes feature a demon face, in the case of Noma Dōjō, as well as most domestic scale mokuzō buildings, this was not the case. An abstract or cloud motif was featured instead. The onigawara over the genkan in particular was an impressively large type known as namionigawara (波鬼瓦 lit. wave demon tile). This type straddled the peak of the hafu with side extensions or hire (鰭).
On the bottom side of the peak of the hafu was a wooden ornament known as a gegyo (掛魚). This gegyo also had hire. A rokuyō (六葉 lit. six petals) with its taru-no-kuchi (樽の口) also featured on the face of the gegyo.
Sangawara type roof tiles covered the majority of the rest of the building except for the roof over the keikojō. Here the roof was of a modern metal type. The metal panels were of a fixed width and ran continuously from the top of the roof plane to the bottom. Where they adjoin the next panel to the side, raised seams interlock providing both rigidity as well as prevention of rain water penetration.
As a mokuzō building, Noma Dōjō’s structure was of a timber post and lintel type construction. In other words, it was made up of a wood frame. The module of the frame had set out the subdivision spaces. Walls and openings infilled the frame. Unlike modern drywall construction in which structural elements are hidden behind the wall’s finish, Noma Dōjō’s structure was an exposed element and, at least as far as the interior was concerned, was part of the “finish.”
It is also interesting to note that the walls and openings (doors, windows, etc.) relied on this main structure for support. For the most part the structure had the dual role of holding up the whole building as well as the interior partition walls, doors and screens within. It was an economic relationship as traditionally, large free spans were expensive to achieve prior to industrial construction methods. Therefore internal subdivisions where most efficient when aligned with the main structure which appeared more frequently in the interior than with modern buildings. This relationship between internal subdivisions and the main structure exists not only with traditional Japanese timber frame construction but also in pre-industrial Western masonry construction. With the invention of new building materials and methods, Modernist architecture broke away from this relationship. The change was announced by Le Corbusier’s “plan libre” in which modern construction materials, most notably concrete, allowed for large spans within which free standing internal walls are free to be arranged without restrictions imposed by the main structure.
There was one area of Noma Dōjō with a large span. This was over the keikojō. Here the span was achieved with timber roof trusses. These were of a modern lightweight standard style of truss with extensive use of cross bracing members, which provide lateral stability. In contrast, the heavier older style of traditional roof structure as still found today in many of Japan’s oldest temples and shrines, lateral stability is provided by weight, structural multiplicity and sophisticated joinery.
Exterior Walls and Openings
While the structure was readily visible inside Noma Dōjō, on the exterior it was seen directly in some places but not others. The location of posts and lintels can be seen where the exterior wall composed of sliding doors and a type of infill plaster called shikkui (漆喰). The rest of the external envelope was covered by a wooden clapboard siding system composed of horizontal clapboards called shitami’ita (下見板) and vertical stabilizing battens called itaosae (板押). The intervals of the itaosae subdivided the intervals of the posts to which the external envelope was affixed so indirectly indicated the location of these posts.
Many traditional Japanese free standing building (e.g. not joined to another building such as the case with townhouses or extremely close to a neighbor such as with many machiya) have perimeter verandas known as engawa 縁側. Engawa can serve many functions including circulation and protection from weather as the roof may extend well beyond the engawa. This allows the walls separating the engawa from the interior rooms to be of lightweight panels such as shōji screens. With the screen located deep within the perimeter of the building, rain and snow are kept out while light can penetrate into the interior without the use of glass. The engawa can also serve as an intermediary space between the interior and exterior, such that if carefully composed, such as often found with aristocratic villas, the boundary between exterior and interior is rendered ambiguous. This effect can be exploited by rooms with an adjacent garden and can also be seen in many of Frank Lloyd Wright’s villas. Engawa can be protected at night and during storms by drawing out shutters along the external edge called amado (雨戸 lit. rain doors). When not in use amado are contained within a storage box built into the end of the engawa.
Noma Dōjō too had engawa with glass paned sliding doors along the perimeter edge to the East, West and South of the keikojō. Glass existed in Japan prior to industrialization but only in limited quantities for fine craft work. In Japan, the use of glass as an external building material only really started with industrialization. The use of glass panes for these sliding doors allows the external envelope to be pushed out to the very edge of the building rather than seek shelter deeper within the engawa. Therefore, these sliding doors demarcate the interior from the exterior somewhat more clearly than the case with an aristocratic villa. However, these can be opened so that the engawa takes on some of the ambiguous character of a semi-exterior space. Noma Dōjō also has amado not just for the engawa but also for may of the windows. Amado storage boxes were in several places on the exterior of the building.
Whereas a free standing traditional Japanese building would have sought to create light airy and often poetic spaces on its external perimeter with the use of engawa, many pre-industrial city center townhouses in Japan or machiya (町屋) did not have this luxury. The above mentioned clapboard siding system or plaster shikkui were used to protect walls against the weather. Prior to industrialization, windows and doors located on the very perimeter of the building were protected by kōshi (格子) and awnings. Kōshi can be found over the windows of Noma Dōjō’s bathrooms and toilets, helping to obscure these areas from the outside.
Another modern innovation that was to be found on Noma Dōjō exterior envelope was the use of skylights. There were six of these located over the keikojō. The above mentioned industrial development of the use of glass as an external building material allowed for this feature. The skylights had to penetrate the entire depth of the roof trusses. In order to maximize light penetration these skylights flared out into the space. Skylights are a feature also found at the new Noma Dōjō.
Noma Dōjō’s interior was representative for medium sized traditional mokuzō construction. Wooden flooring and interior finishes are found throughout the building. Tatami, traditionally a luxury, is found in the jōdan’noma, the original two bays of the hikaenoma and in the tea room. Areas with wooden flooring can be referred to as itanoma (板の間).
As mentioned above, the structure and the subdivision of the interior had a strong relationship. This was accentuated between the bays of the hikaenoma with the use of decorative kōshi-ranma (格子欄間). The use of ranma suggests and allows for separation of the spaces but does not necessarily impose it. Works of calligraphy were hung from Noma Dōjō’s ranma (omitted in the illustrations).
Noma Dōjō’s keikojō floor was both the centerpiece of the dōjō both functionally and architecturally. Functionally of course, making use of this floor was the raison d’etre for the building. The exploits of kenshi who left their blood and sweat on this floor is the stuff of kendō legend. Besides having sufficient ceiling height, the floor is the single most important part of a dōjō. The rest of the building could be considered a covering shell for the floor.
Architecturally this floor is Noma Dōjō’s most fascinating, if perhaps hidden, architectural feature. It is a sprung floor in the most literal sense as large springs were used to both support and give shock absorbing capabilities to the floor boards. Some believe the springs came from trains though there is no conclusive evidence of this. Prior to industrialization, a dōjō floor’s shock absorption capability came from the natural flexibility of timber underfloor construction such as that seen with Mito Tōbukan. Modern dōjō flooring often use layers of rubber underflooring in order to provide shock absorption without the complexity or expense of a genuine sprung system.
Akamatsu (赤松 red pine) from Kirishima (霧島) in Kyūshū’s Kagoshima Prefecture was used for the top floorboards. These were stained with a dark brown lacquer that penetrated far into the board’s fibers. These boards spanned across the central 7272mm (24 shaku4) width of the keikojō. Supporting these boards were battons running perpendicular to the direction of the board. These in turn rested on long floor beams that also spanned the same central width of the keikojō. The springs, resting on stone footings, held up these beams at two points towards the middle of the beams while the ends rested on stone anchor footings. Wire ties at the ends made sure these beams did not slide off the anchors. The last 909mm (3 shaku) to either side of the central 7.2m keikojō width was composed of separate shorter floorboards and underfloor structure but was otherwise a seamless part of the floor.
Noma Dōjō was an excellent example of Japanese vernacular architecture from late-Meiji, Taishō and early Showa periods (late 19th Century through early 20th Century). It is an evolution of traditional mokuzō construction. The basic timber framing, external cladding and roof continued construction traditions from the Edo or prior periods. The use of glass, roof lights and industrially produced springs for the sprung flooring were industrial innovations.
This post only described a few architectural details of the original Noma Dōjō. It is hoped that by understanding these details and how the structure differed from both it predecessors as well as modern examples, the reader will be able to better appreciate similar details on other older dōjō in Japan. Appreciation, be it for art, music, nihontō (Japanese blades with artistic merit) or architecture, can only be cultivated through study.
The next post will look at the afterlife of Noma Dōjō. Some parts have actually been reused both in the direct and indirect sense. Part 4 will also discuss some cultural differences between Western and Japanese perspectives on issues of conservation.
1 Mokuzō is a general term for any wood frame construction and does not specifically imply traditional Japanese methods.
3 demons is one translation for oni (鬼). Oni does not have an exact corollary in Western mythology and could also be translated as ogre, troll or goblin.
4 a shaku is an old Japanese unit of measure. At 30.3cm it is roughly the same as an Imperial foot.