Journal of Architecture and Planning (Transactions of AIJ)
Online ISSN : 1881-8161
Print ISSN : 1340-4210
ISSN-L : 1340-4210
A global history of its myth-making
Hiroshi EMOTO
Author information

2021 Volume 86 Issue 781 Pages 1115-1122


 The start of the myth-making of the Katsura Imperial Villa as the acme of architectural aesthetics dates back to the early 1920s when the German-speaking world was beginning to be concerned about the pioneering nature of Japanese traditional dwelling’s wooden frame structure for its flexibility, openness, and close relationship of building and nature that preceded Western modernism. Manifestations of this line of interest involve Wasmuths Monatshefte für Baukunst’s earliest attention (1921/22) to a Japanese house being “full of inspiration for European architects,” and Bruno Taut’s reference in his Die Neue Wohnung in 1924.

 As those attempts were almost autonomous within the German-reading continent without sufficient reach to visual materials, ensuing interaction with the Japanese architectural world from the latter half of the 1920s greatly enhanced their knowledge production. The visit of the members of Bund Deutcher Architekten in Japan would result in the first introduction of Katsura as an intrinsically modern antiquity in the special issue of Die Form in July 1933. It was that the domestic modernist reevaluation of Katsura from Hideto Kishida’s mention in the end of the 1920s surreptitiously crossed an ocean to meet similar, but an even earlier search for a Japanese icon of the German-reading world of architecture.

 Bruno Taut emigrated to Japan simultaneously, and his literary propagations of Katsura’s modernity would be made from 1934 in Japanese, German, French, and English. But his words appeared to have told little to the indifferent French-reading world, and much less to German-reading world than Tetsuro Yoshida’s elaborate Das japanische Wohnhaus (1935); an influential work that met the exact demands by native professionals to a prompt number of reviews. Taut, in short, had an ephemeral effect just within Japanese audiences, however enormous it was.

 Given this circumstance, Japanese admiration of Katsura would become somewhat religiose in its reconstruction period after WWII, for it was naturally chosen as the appealing international symbol to promote Japanese modernity in line with the modern history of Euro-American architecture. The promotion, of course, firstly made towards American audiences: Ryuichi Hamaguchi in Architectural Forum (January 1953), Yoshinobu Ashihara in House+Home (June 1954), respectively stressed upon the significance of Katsura in the Western history of modern architecture; bibliographical pursuits from the Japanese architectural profession almost all followed this line at that time.

 While the postwar global Japonism starting from the U.S.-oriented, U.S-centric knowledge production would have something to tell centrifugally, the German-speaking world’s lasting interest in Japanese traditional architecture led Werner Blaser to come to Japan through Mies’s IIT, after which Blaser would publish Tempel und Teehaus in Japan (1955) that heavily relied upon Katsura and Mies that would soon be published in English and French (1956). Max Bill’s Italian Ludwig Miës van der Rohe (1955) was another witness to visually explain Mies’s aesthetic through Katsura.

 The myth of Katsura’s modernity had been thus formed well before Italian Architettura Cantiere (1960) featured Walter Gropius’s praise of Japanese architecture just before he and Kenzo Tange would publish Katsura: Tradition and Creation in Japanese Architecture in the same year. And those modernists’ interpretation of Katsura was contemporaneously rivaled by House Beautiful’s special issue on “Discover Shibui” (August 1960); Elizabeth Gordon, the anti-Miesian editor, set Katsura on the cover of the issue to deduce and trumpet yet another aesthetic from the same source as her enemy’s sympathizers.

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