Arts Practiced: various
Location: adjacent to Heian-Jingū, Sakyō-ku, Kyōto City, Kyōto Prefecture
Construction Type: large scale timber frame
Completion Date: Meiji/明治 32 (1899)
Summary: A large scale dōjō that borrowed from past formal precedent to set the new formal precedent for all butokuden to follow.
The Kyōto Butokuden was originally constructed as a demonstration hall for the Dai-Nippon Butokukai, a prewar quasi-governmental organization whose aim was the preservation and dissemination of Japanese martial arts. This organization was disbanded by the Allied occupation authorities after the Second World War due to its association with Japan’s militarism. Before the war the Kyōto Butokuden was the first of many butokuden halls to be erected throughout the Empire of Japan including some in overseas territories like Taiwan and in China. Before the war every prefecture in Japan had a butokuden, several of these surviving to this day.
After the war the Kyōto Butokuden was used by Kyōto police and later by Kyōto City University of Arts. Preservation efforts initiated in 1980 resulted in it’s current restored status as a martial arts hall as well as designation as a Municipal Tangible Cultural Property. In addition to daily practice of various martial arts the Butokuden hosts the annual Kyōto Taikai, a prestigious gathering of kendō and iaidō kodansha.
Chinese Geomancy, Site Orientation and Typology
The Kyōto Butokuden and the city of Kyōto exhibit many of the formal principles of Fūsui (風水), better known in the West as Feng-Shui, the system of Chinese geomancy. This system places a strong emphasis on alignment with cardinal orientation. Each of these coordinates are associated with certain characteristics and symbols1.
The North is associated with Winter, Midnight, Terror, Water and the Kidneys. The symbol of Genbu (玄武) the Black Turtle is associated with North.
The South is associated with Summer, Midday, Joy, Fire and the Heart. Suzaku (朱雀) the Red Bird or Phoenix symbolizes South.
The East is associated with Spring, Morning, Rage, Wood and the Liver. East is symbolized by Seiryū (青龍) the Blue Dragon2.
The West is associated with Autumn, Evening, Grief, Metal and the Lungs. Byakko (白虎) the White Tiger is the symbol of West.
At the center of these four coordinates is Earth (土), which together with the four above mentioned coordinates compose the Gogyō (五行 lit. five directions) elements of Wood/Moku (木), Fire/Ka (火), Earth/Do (土), Metal/Kin (金) and Water/Sui (水).
Fūsui is not only an esoteric system of inter-related symbols. It contains the wisdom of environmental planning as distilled for a per-scientific society based in the temperate zone of the Northern Hemisphere. The sun is to the south while bitter winter winds generally come from the north. The system therefore advocates locating the door or gate to the south to allow warmth to penetrate into the interior. To the north it is advised to have mountains to shield against the northern winter winds. The location of water courses, fields, roads and other elements are also prescribed. Nevertheless, in absence of an empirical methodology, Fūsui relied extensively on intuition developed over many years of study and practice.This system not only informs how the built environment is set out, it is used as a framework for theorizing many other disciplines. Indeed, the Gogyō informs various koryū kenjutsu practices such as the Gogyō kata of Ittō-ryū3 as well as the five basic stances or kamae of kendo. There are numerous other complimentary systems in Fūsui’s diverse set of traditions. However, it is beyond the scope of this article to investigate further. The cardinal system of Gogyō is nevertheless common to these traditions.
The precedent for Kyōto Butokuden’s architectural adherence to the principles of Gogyō extend back to its use for the layout of the ancient Chinese city of Xi’an (西安). Xi’an was the capital of the Tang Dynasty at the time of the founding of Heian-Kyō (平安京), as Kyōto was originally named. As the newly established capital of the Yamato (Imperial Japanese ) Court, Heian-Kyō was the epicenter of Japan’s emulation of Tang Dynasty culture from the layout and architecture of the capital to the adoption of the Chinese writing system and way of dress. Xi’an was laid out according to the principles of Gogyō and so too would the city of Heian-Kyō. Streets were aligned North to South and East to West. The Imperial Palace, taking it’s place as the Earth, stood either at the center of the city or slightly to the north. Both the Chinese and Japanese emperors were considered to have the Mandate of Heaven (by their respective populace) and the emperor’s placement at the central position of Earth allowed him to emit life force to the rest of the world as transmitted through him by Heaven. The environmental rules of Fūsui are also adhered to in the location of both Imperial cities with mountains to the north, and in the case of Kyōto also to the East and West, and an opening to the South.The formal principles of Fūsui are not the only principles to have define Japanese physical culture. Prior to the Yamato Court’s enthusiastic adoption of all things Tang Dynasty, Japan had its own indigenous system of geomancy known as Shinden (神田 lit. divine fields), which is still seen in many aspects of Shintō1. With the decline of the Yamato Court heralding the end of the Heian Period (794-1185) and the rise of the system of military dictatorship known as the shogunate or bakufu (幕府), other principles eventually appeared. Perhaps the most notable of these is the austere aesthetic of wabi (侘), which started its enormous influence on Japanese aesthetic culture due to its patronage by the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436-1490) as the Kamakura bakufu crumbled around him4. It is perhaps this more informal aesthetic which is now more closely associated with Japanese culture. Nevertheless, in 1895, as part of the celebration of 1100 years since the founding of Kyōto, a partial reproduction of the Heian Palace was planned as the Heian-Jingū. It was only appropriate to return to the principles of Fūsui in the planning. As the Kyōto Butokuden was to be part of this project and as the Dai-Nippon Butokukai wanted to establish the martial arts as an institution, the structure took on both the institutional orientation and scale dictated by Fūsui. The Kyōto Butokuden, however, has a more subdued aesthetic compared to the Heian-Jingū due to its role as a junior building to the main shrine itself. There are other buildings on the grounds including a kyūdōjō to the southeast of the Butokuden and a modern dōjō to the north of the Butokuden. Both of these are of modern construction.
The architectural typology recalls that of a jinja (神社) or Shintō shrine. Jinja come in many different forms from the very formal temple-palace form of Heian-Jingū to the indigenous rustic forms of Taisha-zukuri (大社造), Sumiyoshi-zukuri (住吉造) and Shinmei-zukuri (神明造) with their simple thatched roof form as seen at Ise Dai-Jingū. Buildings with gables can either be hirairi-zukuri (平入造 lit. enter flat side form), in which the main entrance is on the non-gabled side, or tsumairi-zukuri (妻入造 lit. enter gable side form), in which the main entrance is on the gabled side. The Kyōto Butokuden is of the hirairi-zukuri type with a dormer gable, chidori-hafu (千鳥破風) set atop the roof crossing the main ridge or ōmune (大棟). This is a feature also seen on the matoba of Ikutokudō.Layout
In adherence to Fūsui principles, the main entrance to the Kyōto Butokuden is on its south side. It has secondary entrances on the East and West sides. This is a practical configuration considering the high population of occupants during some events. These side entrances also provide a good deal of natural ventilation, which helps to keep the hall tolerable even in the worst heat and humidity of a typical Kyōto summer. There is also a VIP entrance on the north side, which is marked by a gabled portico. This entrance is normally kept shut.
The building is a single hall about 40m wide, measured from eave to eave, consisting only of the keikojō/embujō, hikaenoma and jōdan’noma. Other functions such as changing rooms, etc. are located in other buildings. As per the Fūsui system, the jōdan’noma representing the central seat of honor is located on the north side of the building with an overview of the rest. Similarly,
Nijō Castle, the former [edit: as per J’s comment below] Imperial Palace, was at the very north end of Kyōto’s original city planning. Modern Kyōto has long since extended well north of this.
The keikojō/embujō is at the center of the hall and is defined by the boundary of columns that extend up to hold the top most roof structure of the hall’s two step roof. Surrounding these columns are the hikaenoma areas, which together with the keikojō form the moya (母屋) or core of the building. Passages are kept clear to the three doorways.Architectural Elements
The Kyōto Butokuden has many traditional Japanese architectural features typically found in institutional buildings such as shrines and temples. A mon (門) marks the formal entrance to the grounds. This is located just west of the entrance to the grounds of the Heian-Jingū. There are three doorways at this gate. The two side doors would have been for daily use while the central door would have been reserved only for special visitors or special occassions. Today however, this mon is kept completely shut with entry now to the northwest of the Butokuden. It is now somewhat lost and purposeless as the area in front of the mon has been given over to tourist bus parking. No doubt the majority of tourists getting out of the buses head towards the Heian-Jingū inevitably miss the mon and the historic building behind it. Neverthless, a certain level of grandiosity was striven for with this mon as the more formal hongawara (本瓦) was used for its roof. It is also directly on axis with the Butokuden, setting a more formal relationship than many mon and torii-mon have with their main buildings. Many shrines, temples and aristocratic residences choose a more meandering or asymmetric arrangement. In contrast to the mon, the Butokuden itself is tiled with sangawara (桟瓦). Onigawara (鬼瓦) with actual faces of oni feature on the ends of the ōmune, kudarimune (降棟) and sumikudarimune (隅降棟). The main gables as well as the chidori-hafu have sodemarugawara (袖丸瓦) on drooping edges called minokō (箕甲). The gegyo are of the umebachi-gegyo (梅鉢懸魚) type.
The roof has two steps giving the impression that the Kyōto Butokuden is a two story building when in fact it is double height over the keikojō. The lower roof skirt is called a mokoshi (裳階), a term that can also apply to the intermediary roof skirts beneath the topmost main roof of a pagoda. Clerestory windows or takamado (高窓) make up the band between the main roof and the mokoshi. Under the mokoshi are located the hikaenoma and the exterior veranda. The mokoshi has a lifted portion over the central main entrance known as a jōge-hisashi (上下庇), which could also be referred to as a kiriage-yane (切り上げ屋根). This is a feature that also appears on Tōji Kondō, one of the buildings in the Tōji complex, a UNESCO protected Shingon Buddhism temple.
The jōdan’noma has its own karahafu (唐破風) with kayabuki (茅葺) or thatched roofing. It is almost a shrine within a shrine. There is no kamidana so the jōdan’noma would serve as the embodiment of the dōjō. It is divided into two chambers which can be separated by sliding door panels. The inner chamber is gilded while the outer chamber is sufficiently open as to have a wide view of the entire keikojō/embujō. A narrow passage runs around the side and back of the jōdan’noma leading to the rear VIP entrance.
The north VIP entrance is through two projections. The first projection envelops the rear portion of the jōdan’noma and surrounding corridors. It is topped with a standard concave roof, referred to as a soriyane (反屋根). This first projection is finished with the same kind of ceramic tiles as the main roof and mokoshi. From this first projection a second projection extends further to provide an open portico. This allows for vehicular drop off of important guests while sheltering from the weather. The roof of this projection, like the jōdan’noma, is of karahafu form covered in thatch with the exception of a tiled mune. It should be noted that the shape is not exactly the same as the jōdan’noma. Nevertheless, these two karahafu mark the realm of the special guest. Although tile roofs were initially associated with aristocratic dwellings while thatch roofs were more rustic, the reading of hierarchy is inverted as both the interior and exterior kayabuki gables feature more richly decorated timber work than the bulk of the rest of the building. In addition to the central omogegyo (本懸魚), this entrance portico also feature kudarigegyo (降懸魚) to either side.
The timber structure itself has a few features that are common to larger scale or institutional mokuzō. Due to the larger structural spans funahijiki (舟肘木) transfer the roof loads on the top-most beams down to the pillars. These can also be found at intermediary points on the main gables where long spans need to be supported. The traditional roof timber framing readily features on the outside as repeated heikōdaruki (平行垂木). These are painted white at the ends where they peer out from under the eaves but are otherwise left in their natural color.The doors leading into the Butokuden are double hinged bifolds. This allows for some flexibility in the size of the opening needed as well as saves space when fully open. There are service doors to either side of the main south entrance as well to the sides of the jōdan’noma. Shoes are to be removed before stepping over the threshold of any of these doors.
The ceiling under the main roof is of the coffered drop ceiling type called gōtenjō (格天井). Artificial lighting hang down from this. Takamado provide additional natural lighting.
The hikaenoma are divided into three steps that rise away from the keikojō. These are lined in tatami. From the point of view of theater or arena design, the rise is insufficient to really enable spectators to see over the heads of the row in front. The Butokuden was not, however, designed to be a stadium or sports arena in the modern sense. The hikaenoma are demarcated with low railings called kōran (高欄). These railings are not high enough to support anything and by modern standards may be considered a trip hazard. However, they serve the useful purpose of keeping separate the occupants of the hikaenoma along with their belongings from those circulating about the Butokuden.
If any building were the serve as an icon of traditional Japanese martial arts it would be the Kyōto Butokuden. It was to be the archtype of all butokuden constructed throughout the Empire of Japan including in overseas territories. The large scale mokuzō construction features many of the same building techniques found in traditionally built temple, shrines and palaces, although not all subsequent butokuden would adhere to this construction typology. The architectural logic demonstrates one stream within the many streams of influences that comprise Japanese culture.
The butokuden architectural typology as established by the Kyōto Butokuden was to be short lived. Similar butokuden were all built in between the turn of the 20th Century and the Second World War. These times coincided with Japan’s period of re-appropriating its own historic symbols following a period of wholesale copying of the West and initial withering of its own traditions. Every nation playing catchup with another nation’s lead, even today, go through this cycle. Earlier in Japan’s history, the same cycle played out when the Yamato culture copied Tang Dynasty culture to eventually establishing its own identifiable evolution. The architecture of Kyōto Butokuden and others of its typology is best understood in the context of cultural shifts during Japan’s industrialization. It is somewhat ironic that the roots that the Butokuden returned too in fact had ancient Chinese origins. After the post-war martial arts ban was lifted, large scale structures dedicated to martial arts training and demonstration would be built, but not out of wood and not adhering to the construction traditions established by shrines and temples. These post-war venues were to follow an entirely different architectural typology, that of the modern sports arena.
The group in the photographs is an aikidō group practicing koryū kenjutsu.
This article means Kyōto Butokuden when using the term Butokuden with a capital while butokuden with lower case refers to the prewar series of all buildings built as butokuden.
1 Nitschke, Günter. Japanese Gardens. Köln: Taschen, 1993.
2 The kanji 青 prior to modern times meant both green and blue as there was no distinction made between the two colors in Northeast Asia. The modern use of this kanji has diverged with it meaning blue in Japanese and green in Chinese.
3 Toshinobu, Sakai. A Bilingual Guide to the History of Kendo. Trans. Alexander Bennet. Tokyo: Skijournal, 2010.
A brief article about gogyo kata’s place in the history of kendo can be found at http://kenshi247.net/blog/2008/09/04/before-kendo-no-kata/
4 Hoffman, Michael. “What if Columbus had reached his goal: Japan?” The Japan Times [Tokyo] 27 July 2013. Online.