The Symmetry In Japanese Architecture

Why you will often seen the common grid design on door in Japan

I step over the deep, brown aged gate step into the temple's welcome garden. To my left is a preparation space for visitors to this tiny, ancient temple and cemetery tucked far into the hills near Kanazawa Bunko station on the Keikyu train line. After gathering up a broom, some shears for the chrysanthemum flowers, and filling the water jugs to clean the graves, regular visitors will walk back to the burial area, carefully remove fallen leaves from the gravesite, dress the stones with bright flowers, light some incense and say a prayer for the souls of ancestors in thanks for bringing us to this point in our life and keeping an eye on us during our busy days outside. For many Japanese, these shrine and temple visits come several times a year and offer a moment of reflection and thanks to all those before us who make our current life possible. More than worship at these moments, I think the over-riding feeling is thanks and respect.

You can find these moments during your visit as well. Like a sudden dose of calm, these quiet and uncrowded spaces of quiet can be a gift of respite during your busy stay in Japan. Stroll down any street (usually residential neighborhoods are best) and you might discover a temple gate. It is okay to take a look inside and share the experience of regular rejuvenation many Japanese people savor on visits to family burial sites at their local temple or shrine. The feeling I receive from the carefully attended garden and temple building, is similar to the mysterious peace I feel when happening upon an ancient Heiau during a mountain hike at home in Hawaii. This feeling of closeness and balance can strengthen your connection with creation and actually add perspective to your own personal spiritual side.

Make sure to take note of the grid design used in these shrines, and all through architecture you see during your visit. Under your feet in the tatami room, on the sliding Fusuma door, all around and everywhere, we feel a sense of "Wa" or harmony unconsciously as our eyes take in the light, shadows, reflections and texture offered by these grids. Most gardens will have a bench and a washing area so take a moment to wash your hands then sit down to observe the meticulous care taken to produce such simplicity and balance. These moments of respite and peace of mind are a true part of traditional Japan.


Former Deep Japan Writer