Japanese Architecture: A Short History

4.0 out of 5 stars Japanese architecture over the years

Japanese Architecture: A Short History (Tuttle Classics)

A.L. Sadler’s 1941 book “Japanese Architecture: A Short History” is one of several books Sadler wrote to help introduce the West to the then-unknown culture of Japan. More than just a textbook or academic exercise, Sadler infuses his description of Japanese architecture with short lessons on Japanese culture and society. One cannot separate the building from the people, after all.

“Japanese Architecture” goes through each period a chapter at a time, from the Early Period (660 BC – 540 AD) up to the Edo Period (1616 – 1860 AD). He then discusses some of the special features of Japanese architecture, such as the shoji screens, the bathroom, and the ceilings. He goes into some depth of the building regulations of the Tokugawa period, which prescribed what kind of house you could live in by what class you were born into.

By “short history,” Sadler isn’t kidding. Each period gets only a few pages to cover several hundred years, which makes for quick and easy reading. Fully a third of the book is illustrations. Unfortunately, the illustrations are not spread throughout the text but collected in the back as an appendix. That means you have to do a lot of flipping back and forth as you read the book to look at the picture that Sadler is describing.

I enjoyed “Japanese Architecture: A Short History” even though the writing was a bit dry. I was happy for the short chapters, and I wish the pictures had been published next to the text instead of in the back. I don’t know if this is how the book originally appeared in 1941 or not, but that is likely. When I lived in Japan I was curious about the different types of buildings, particularly in the shrines and temples that appear everywhere but are often stylistically different. Thanks to Sadler’s book I have a better grasp of the architecture and can better place when a particular building was made by what style it is in.


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