Agency for Cultural Affairs, Goverment of Japan
Haneda & Narita Airport Japanese Vision Travel

Culture is a
vision extending
from the past to the present,
and into the future.

by Paola ANTONELLI

The exhibit theme at Haneda Airport and Narita Airport is “VISION GATE.” When people from around the world visit Japan, they are often astonished to discover the many distinctive characteristics of Japanese culture. Behind the seemingly contradictory ideas of past and future lies a commonality defined as “VISION”, the inspiration behind the new forms seen in this exhibit.We hope that curious visitors to Japan may encounter a variety of these “visions” during their travels.

What is “VISION”?

Paola ANTONELLI, the exhibit curator for Haneda and Narita International Airports, expressed the uniqueness of Japanese culture as “VISION”, stating that, “Culture is a vision extending from the past to the present, and into the future.”

Ms. ANTONELLI notes that when people from abroad visit Japan, they are often surprised that seemingly conflicting concepts coexist through mysterious harmony. She states that the contrasting sympathy is one of the main reasons behind Japan’s exotic attraction.

Japan is known to the world for its unique creativity, and for having both the latest technologies as well as rich traditions. Ms. Antonelli believes that in that background is an energy that connects the past and future, and the old and new, and sparks their coexistence. The energy creates innovation for the future by mixing together the power of imagination and the wisdom of the past. It is this VISION that has become the impetus for the “tradition and innovation” that is the strength of the Japanese culture.

Such VISION can be sensed everywhere while traveling in Japan. Here we’ll introduce examples through which you can perceive ideas that penetrate the old and new, including ancient and modern buildings from the three perspectives of nature, Zen ideology, and technology.

LOCATION

Okunoin Nageire-do Hall, Sanbutsu-ji Temple
Japan National Stadium
Copyright:JAPAN SPORT COUNCIL

Okunoin Nageire-do Hall at Sanbutsu-ji Temple, a national treasure, is a wooden building constructed in the recess of a precipitous cliff. It is said to have been constructed in the early 8th century, based on the legend that says En no Gyoja threw the temple into the cliff using the power of Buddhism. However, the details remain a mystery. In the West, many legends say mountains are where evil spirits live. However, in Japan mountains are where Shinto and Buddhist deities are found, and this has produced mountain worship. This is true for Okunoin Nageire-do Hall at Sanbutsu-ji Temple. Deities were found on the sheer mountain precipice and a building was constructed that blends with nature.

Let’s go back to the present. Japan National Stadium is the main venue for the Tokyo Olympics. The international architect, Kengo Kuma was involved in the design of the stadium, which was created to blend harmoniously with nature.

The "losing architecture" advocated by Mr. Kuma refers to architecture that takes advantage of the land and setting in an effort to refrain from taking center stage. Close by Japan National Stadium is Meiji-jingu Shrine, and Mr. Kuma has said the low‐rise stadium was designed out of respect for the shrine since the stadium sits at the edge of that sacred ground.

Japanese cedar from the 47 prefectures is used for the louvers on the eaves of the stadium (Okinawa pine is sourced from Okinawa). It was constructed with the desire to unify the spirit of all of Japan.

Ryoan-ji Temple Rock Garden
Taken in August 2012
Zen Museum and Gardens (KOHTEI), Shinsho-ji Temple

A “karesansui” (dry landscape garden) is a type of Japanese garden that presents the landscape using rocks and sand, without using water. It is said to have been created around the 14th century, primarily at Zen temples in Japan.

The rock garden at Ryoan-ji Temple in Kyoto is particularly famous. It became globally well known after Queen Elizabeth spoke highly of the garden after touring it in 1975. There are 15 stones in the garden, but they can’t be viewed all at once from any vantage point in the garden. Since long ago, the number 15 in Japan has had the meaning of “complete,” and the fact that the 15 stones can’t be viewed at once (incomplete) is important. This Zen-like concept may be represented in the rock garden.

On the other hand, a garden that expresses modern-day Zen opened at the Zen Museum and Gardens (KOHTEI) at Shinsho-ji Temple in the city of Fukuyama in Hiroshima Prefecture. It is situated facing the islands on the Seto Inland Sea, which were ranked 7th in the 2019 New York Times’ list of global destinations to visit. The ship-shaped building features traditional “kokerabuki” (wooden shingles) on the exterior that softly envelope the entire artwork in wood. It is an art pavilion that floats atop a stony landscape.

Pass through the sea of stones, walk up a gentle slope, and enter the ship from a small entryway. Inside, an ocean spreads out deep within the darkness and glimmers of light are reflected in the ripples. The design of this construction was created by Sandwich, a studio in Kyoto led by Kohei Nawa, an exemplary Japanese sculptor. The installation inside this art pavilion is a collaborative endeavor between Nawa, the visual design studio, WOW that is also garnering global attention, and the composer, Marihiko Hara. Light within total darkness. Incomplete and abstract. It can be said this hands-on experience leveraging modern art and technology is artwork that expresses avant-garde Zen in present day.

Five-Story Pagoda, Horyu-ji Temple
Tokyo SKYTREE
©TOKYO-SKYTREE

The Five-Story Pagoda at Horyu-ji Temple in Japan’s ancient city of Nara was built at the start of the 7th century, and is registered as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage as one of the world’s oldest surviving wooden buildings.

There are five-story and three-story wooden pagodas built in the same architectural style at temples in various places throughout Japan, but you rarely hear of them having collapsed due to an earthquake. While that mystery has yet to be solved, the central pillar in the middle is constructed differently from the tower. It is believed the swaying of each construction counters the other to provide a structure that is resistant to tremors. The reasons the pagoda is still standing today are attributed to the ingenuity and advanced techniques of carpenters over 1,300 years ago that enabled this multistoried wooden construction.

Moreover, the construction of the Five-Story Pagoda is closely resembled in the world’s highest free-standing broadcasting tower, Tokyo SKYTREE which opened in 2012. A cross-sectional view showing the construction of Tokyo SKYTREE bears a strong likeness to the central pillar structure of the Five-Story Pagoda. The vibration control structure of Tokyo SKYTREE has been named central pillar vibration control after the Five-Story Pagoda. This is truly an example that allows visitors to experience how Japan is a country overflowing with historical wisdom, as well as its sustainability.

There are many other places where you can feel VISION while traveling Japan. Why not visit Japan and encounter this “VISION” for yourself?

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