5-Banded Walls

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Matthew Stavros

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May 31, 2008, 3:41:45 AM5/31/08
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Dear Colleagues,

I have stumbled across something of a mystery that I am hoping some of you might help me solve.

Recently, I was showing a slide show of Japanese temples to my class when one student asked why some temple walls had five horizontal bands and others did not. Although I had noticed the bands myself in the past, frankly, I was stumped. Since then, I have scoured the usual books on architectural design and gardens in search of an answer but have yet to find any reliable reference to the 5 bands or their implications. With respect to Ninnaji temple, David and Michiko Young's _The Art of the Japanese Garden_ (p. 76) mentions that the "five white lines on the wall surrounding the compound indicate the temple's former imperial status." That is it. That's all I've been able to find. My architectural historian colleagues in Japan have had similar luck, explaining that it's related to some kind of  "special" relationship with the imperial estate. What, precisely, is unclear.

I have gone through my photos of scores of temples in search of a pattern and this has merely raised more questions. In fact, there appears to be no obvious pattern at all. Yes, the bands are present at the Kyoto imperial palace itself and several of the major esoteric sectarian temples that had functioned as imperial residences such as Shoren-in and Ninnaji. But they're also present at temples that, as far as I know, never served to house an emperor, including, for example, Toji-in, Ryoanji, and several sub-temples at Myoshinji. Please see the slide show I've posted here:

http://sites.google.com/site/mstavros/teaching-1/five-banded-walls

Based on a review of my photos, about the only major patterns I think I might have discovered are these:
Besides the Kyoto imperial palace, they are found only at temples, not shrines, and only temples in or very near Kyoto.
Other than esoteric sectarian temples, I find them only at Zen temples, both Rinzai and Soto.

Asking the temples themselves for an explanation might seem like the obvious best way to find an answer but if my experience getting correct answers about temple architecture from temple abbots is any indication, I think sticking with the texts is the best course of action for now.

What do you think? Any ideas? And while I'm writing, can anyone think of the broader potential symbolic implications of 5 lines, as opposed to 3 or 8, for example?

I look forward to your input.

Matthew Stavros





Richard Bowring

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May 31, 2008, 4:59:20 AM5/31/08
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Matthew.
These lines may be superimposed on plaster now but I presume that in
earlier times they were actually necessitated by the building
materials and techniques; in other words you built one layer, let it
dry, and then built another layer, and so on, until you had reached
the required height. This then turned into decoration at a later
stage. Is there any difference in height between walls that have 5
stripes and walls that have more? Or is 5 the rule?
Richard Bowring

Michael Pye

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May 31, 2008, 5:29:35 AM5/31/08
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Matthew,
Yes, I was just on the point of writing along the same lines as
Richard Bowring. Structural, then stylised structural, rather than
symbolic. The bands might also check runs of vertical or diagonal
surface cracking which would disfigure the wall prematurely.
If there are any interpretations in terms of "five", five elements,
five precepts or what have you, they are probably just later
romanticisations. If it were Buddhist symbolism it probably wouldn't
be so evident on the Gosho.
The reason why there are five (but perhaps not always) is that
walls of that kind, made with those materials, usually end up being
about the same height. So it the order goes out to make a roofed wall
round a temple etc., then that's what you inevitably get from the
specialised builders.
To test this view we have to find examples where the spacing is
greatly varied to maintain the number five or examples with only four
or six. But that might be difficult simply because the height of wall
which naturally gives five layers is probably the most effective for
the purpose, and is also optically pleasing with the horizontal styling.
The slide show ran through too quickly for me, but on one picture
I thought I spotted a sixth line just under the tiles. And in another
I thought there were only four... That could just be optical tricks,
for you'd have noticed that yourself.

Michael Pye
Professor of the Study of Religions
University of Marburg, Germany (retired)
Visiting Professor, Otani University, Kyoto, Japan


Zitat von Richard Bowring <rb...@cam.ac.uk>:

Christopher MAYO

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May 31, 2008, 7:04:53 AM5/31/08
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Dear Matthew,

 

Two old guidebooks to Kyoto have some interesting theories.  The Kamo River flood level one sounds unlikely to me.  The other two theories associate them somehow with the imperial family.  Unfortunately, the guidebooks do not seem like especially reliable sources. 

 

According to one, “The Palace grounds, containing an area of about 26 acres, are surrounded by a high wall of earth and plaster covered with a tile roof.  This wall is marked with five horizontal white stripes whose origin is uncertain.  According to some they at first showed the heights reached by the Kamo River in some of its inundations; while others say that the lines represent five straw ropes that in ancient times were stretched about the place where an Emperor was encamped.  The same ornament is used on the walls of temples that have been intimately associated with the Imperial Family.”

M. Ichihara, Official Guide-Book to Kyoto and the Allied Prefectures (Nara: Meishinsha, 1895), 76-77.

 

About Daigo-ji, another had this to say in passing: “The white wall with its five Imperial stripes borders the road at the left…”

Thomas Philip Terry, Terry’s Japanese Empire: With Chapters on Manchuria, the Trans-Siberian Railway, and the Chief Ocean Routes to Japan (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), 507.

 

I wonder if we could find those stripes in old emaki.

 

Chris Mayo

Ph.D. student

EAS Department, Princeton University

Michael Pye

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May 31, 2008, 8:14:28 AM5/31/08
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Dear Everybody,

I'm just looking at an excellent photograph of the sanmon of Joruriji,
which has roofed walls to right and left with...three bands. The
spacing seems to be the key, rather than the number, so it's more
likely to be just the way to build a certain kind of wall.

In that particular case, the bands seem to be just slightly let in
rather than stuck on. I'll be passing through Shokokuji and the Gosho
tomorrow morning and will take a very close look at the precise way in
which these bands are worked there.

I'm curious, having built a few walls myself (though not that kind!).
There are different styles of pointing both for brick walls and stone
walls (in England), sometimes it's firmed in leaving a little groove,
and sometimes the cement is made to protrude in clean lines, giving a
distinctive surface profile, and sometimes it's made to slant so that
the rain drips off well to the front.

Michael

Michael Pye
Professor of the Study of Religions
University of Marburg, Germany (retired)
Visiting Professor, Otani University, Kyoto, Japan


Zitat von Christopher MAYO <cm...@Princeton.EDU>:

> Dear Matthew,
>
>
>
> Two old guidebooks to Kyoto have some interesting theories. The Kamo River
> flood level one sounds unlikely to me. The other two theories associate
> them somehow with the imperial family. Unfortunately, the guidebooks do not
> seem like especially reliable sources.
>
>
>
> According to one, "The Palace grounds, containing an area of about 26 acres,
> are surrounded by a high wall of earth and plaster covered with a tile roof.
> This wall is marked with five horizontal white stripes whose origin is
> uncertain. According to some they at first showed the heights reached by
> the Kamo River in some of its inundations; while others say that the lines
> represent five straw ropes that in ancient times were stretched about the
> place where an Emperor was encamped. The same ornament is used on the walls
> of temples that have been intimately associated with the Imperial Family."
>
> M. Ichihara, Official Guide-Book to Kyoto and the Allied Prefectures (Nara:
> Meishinsha, 1895), 76-77.
>
>
>
> About Daigo-ji, another had this to say in passing: "The white wall with its

> five Imperial stripes borders the road at the left."

Matthew Stavros

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May 31, 2008, 9:00:05 AM5/31/08
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Dear Colleagues,

I'm intrigued by the comments so far and look forward to more. Let me make a few additions here:

I'm a little skeptical about the theory of a structural trait evolving into a stylistic flourish. I myself do not focus on such things in my own work but my Japanese colleagues certainly do. They would have picked up on this. Moreover, if, in fact, the phenomenon is isolated to the capital, about which I have little confidence, then the structural argument becomes even weaker, it would seem. Also, among those who have commented on the topic, past and present, there is almost universal agreement about there being some symbolic relationship to the palace (禁裏).

But there are also clues that make me think otherwise:

Christopher's comment led me to examine several Rakuchu-rakugaizu-byobu, including 歴博本・上杉本・勝興寺本. In all but the Shokoji case, it seems almost all elite residences and temples are surrounded by walls that have 2 bands. In Shokoji, I find universal depiction of 4 bands. Uniformity within each set of screens leads me to believe the number of lines did not have symbolic significance, at least not enough for a skilled and well informed artist to care much about. More important, we find the lines around ALL non-commoner compounds except for castles and dedicated shrines: temples, homes of the nobility, imperial palace, and shogunal palace.

I must admit that I'm somewhat hoping that it's not merely a structural matter because that would quash what might just be a rich material clue for elucidating the complex relations between the palace and other interest groups.

Your thoughts?

Matthew Stavros
--
[The user of the account <mstavros@ gmail.com> is a citizen of the United States. He expects that any US government monitoring, storage, or conveyance of communications to or from this account adhere to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).]

David Pollack

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May 31, 2008, 9:08:10 AM5/31/08
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The structural explanation for the bands certainly sounds occam's-razorish, as does the function-to-ritual idea. But I'm wondering about what appear, at least from these photos, to be varying bandwidths. That is, from these photos it looks as if the bands are farther apart at Ryōanji and Shōkokuji and closer together at Kenninji and Tōjiin - all Rinzaishū, I think. I believe that in Kyoto (and no doubt elsewhere) various shaku lengths were used by different guilds. One might expect builders to have established a unified shaku, but different builder-families could well have had proprietary measures that wouldn't matter in their own discrete projects, whether teahouses or entire monasteries, and these would have served to keep their monopolies on repair and rebuilding over time. If, as suggested, there was a separate guild of wall-builders, various wall-building families could well have used their own proprietary measures. It would be fascinating project for an enterprising doctoral candidate (with obsessive-compulsive disorder and no desire for an academic position) to go around kyoto with a standardized modern ruler and investigate this. 

David Pollack

guel...@waseda.jp

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May 31, 2008, 9:27:29 AM5/31/08
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I can't remember an example in other regions, so I suppose it is a kind of
"kyou-kabe", masonry restricted to the Kyoto area.

Niels Guelberg

Michael Pye

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May 31, 2008, 10:00:38 AM5/31/08
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Dear Everybody,

Just a couple more facts to keep you going, in fact two examples from Nara:

a) Next to the eastern gate of Shinyakushiji there is a wall with six
bands, the uppermost being only just under the tiles and thus scarcely
a symbolic statement. In the good quality photo I have here (but in a
book, so can't attach it) these bands seem very clearly to be inset,
as a strip of cement would be.
b) Next to the eastern gate of Gankoji is a wall with three visible
bands, but the wall surface has partly come away, being a layer of not
more than a couple of centimetres (modern ruler!) and the cement in
some places has come away too. Or rather, it has come out leaving a
deeper slit, so we can tell that it's definitely a pointing and
holding material and not just decoration. Since quite a bit of the
wall surface has come away, we can surmise from the proportions of
what remains that there were originally four bands in this case.
So, three, four, five, six. I can't really imagine that there's any
fancy symbolism here. It's just a well tried way to finish off mud
walls with a secure surface, anyway for a good long time. And
buildings of similar proportions have (or had) similar sized walls.

best wishes,

Michael Pye
Professor of the Study of Religions
University of Marburg, Germany (retired)
Visiting Professor, Otani University, Kyoto, Japan


Zitat von guel...@waseda.jp:

guel...@waseda.jp

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May 31, 2008, 10:57:44 AM5/31/08
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I checked some photographs and found examples of the 5 (or 4) striped walls
at other places, so in Toyama and in Shikoku.
Like your examples, most of these walls can be found together with gates for
the imperial messenger (chokushimon).
The wall of the chokushimon at Zentsuuji in Shikoku is an interesting example:
the stripes are not ornamental, but a type of "yoroikabe" to cut off the rain drops (see the photograph at http://www.zentsuji.com/sanpai/shokushimon.html).

"Yoroikabe" is a common technic among masons of Shikoku, as f.e. by using Tosa
shikkui. So it would be a functional trait which envolved in a stylistic one.

Niels Guelberg

>Dear Colleagues,
>
>I'm intrigued by the comments so far and look forward to more. Let me make a
>few additions here:
>
>I'm a little skeptical about the theory of a structural trait evolving into
>a stylistic flourish. I myself do not focus on such things in my own work
>but my Japanese colleagues certainly do. They would have picked up on this.
>Moreover, if, in fact, the phenomenon is isolated to the capital, about
>which I have little confidence, then the structural argument becomes even
>weaker, it would seem. Also, among those who have commented on the topic,
>past and present, there is almost universal agreement about there being some
>symbolic relationship to the palace (禁裏).
>
>But there are also clues that make me think otherwise:
>

>Christopher's comment led me to examine several *Rakuchu-rakugaizu-byobu*,

>> M. Ichihara, *Official Guide-Book to Kyoto and the Allied Prefectures*(Nara: Meishinsha, 1895), 76-77.


>>
>>
>>
>> About Daigo-ji, another had this to say in passing: "The white wall with
>> its five Imperial stripes borders the road at the left…"
>>

>> Thomas Philip Terry, *Terry's Japanese Empire: With Chapters on Manchuria,
>> the Trans-Siberian Railway, and the Chief Ocean Routes to Japan* (Boston:

guel...@waseda.jp

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May 31, 2008, 11:50:29 AM5/31/08
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P.S.

The striped walls are called "sujibei" (筋塀): Most explanations say that the stripes stand for the grade (the fifth is the highest) of the inhabitant.
Formerly used by the nobility; the temples received permission to use the stripes from the imperial house or other aristocratic families.

robin d. gill

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May 31, 2008, 11:58:33 AM5/31/08
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As soon as i read about those "stripes" i imagined them scratched by a five talonned imperial dragon but I tried googling in japanese and kept finding the word 「筋塀(すじべい)
and the same description of the five sugi as 最高格式 
or some other superlative. Vague answers to a question about the same at Goo (not google)have amateur answers about the symbolic value of 5 in Buddhism. One site has something that might be useful as it suggests a Tendai shuu connection and I guess a such a temple might have an E-mail

青蓮院は土塀の五本の筋が示す通り平安時代から続く天台宗京都三門跡の一つで境内全域が国の史跡に指定され江戸時代には筆頭門跡であった格式の高い寺院です。

 
敬愚
 
2008/5/31 <guel...@waseda.jp>:

Michael Pye

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May 31, 2008, 4:44:03 PM5/31/08
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Re Robin Gill's Tendai connection...

But what about the other temples which have them?
土塀の五本の筋が示す通り平安時代から続く....sounds plausible, but then Shokokuji wasn't
built until 1382.

There is a tendency in Tendai or Tendai-related statements for people
just to make up anything. The quotation went on to refer to the
monzeki, as if there is a connection, but other temples which have the
bands in their walls are not monzeki. So methinks it's a question of
pride, positioning and story-telling.

But of coure it's interesting that the number of bands, though varied,
was often five. This was evidently a satisfactory number for the
height of the intended wall, for which no doubt permission was
required. Competing with the Gosho was not a good idea, until it
eventually came even to that....

Was there anything in pre-modern Japan for which one didn't need
permission? :)...

Michael Pye
Professor of the Study of Religions
University of Marburg, Germany (retired)
Visiting Professor, Otani University, Kyoto, Japan


Zitat von "robin d. gill" <robin...@gmail.com>:

> --
> "Rise, Ye Sea Slugs!"
>
> >
>

Stephen Forrest

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May 31, 2008, 8:07:41 PM5/31/08
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I remember hearing an explanation just like the one Niels lists when I first encountered this architectural feature (at a large temple in Hakodate, far from Kyoto, but probably a branch temple?).

A propos, I wanted to pass on a handy reference site to any who've not encountered it before.  It's called JAANUS -- Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System, and you can find an entry that mentions these walls here:

http://www.aisf.or.jp/~jaanus/deta/t/tsuiji.htm   

The explanation offered 

 Five parallel white plaster lines signify nobility and monzeki 門跡 temples, monzeki ji-in 門跡寺院, temples to which a member of the imperial family has retired.

perhaps helps explain the somewhat random distribution.  
Cheers,

Steve Forrest 

______________________________________________________________

Stephen M. FORREST,  Ph. D. 
Exchange Program Director (Japan) and Assistant Undergraduate Advisor
Japanese Language and Literature
Dept. of Languages, Literatures and Cultures
University of Massachusetts Amherst 

office: Herter Hall 441              phone: (413) 545-4950

         * Classical and Manuscript Japanese at UMass Amherst *
______________________________________________________________


Greve Gabi

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May 31, 2008, 8:32:52 PM5/31/08
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some japanese googeling

いわゆる「筋塀」と言われる土塀。
白い三本の横筋は、寺の格を表す。

京都などで多く見かける有名な寺(門跡寺院など)は五本。
五本が最高の格式。

五本以外の横筋(定規筋と言う)は珍しい。
http://hkangawa.web.infoseek.co.jp/newpage32.html

塀のお話
http://www.eonet.ne.jp/~kotonara/heinoohanasi.htm

But I guess you have seen all this already.

Very interesting thread. Maybe best ask a shakansan in Kyoto who is
involved in constructing and upkeeping these walls.

GABI

> http://www.aisf.or.jp/~jaanus/deta/t/tsuiji.htm
>
>
> The explanation offered
>
>
> Five parallel white plaster lines signify nobility and monzeki 門跡 temples,
> monzeki ji-in 門跡寺院, temples to which a member of the imperial family has
> retired.
>
> perhaps helps explain the somewhat random distribution.
> Cheers,
>
> Steve Forrest
>

snip the rest

Matthew Stavros

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May 31, 2008, 10:12:54 PM5/31/08
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Dear Colleagues,

Word from an authoritative source has only raised more questions. A former class mate of mine from the graduate program in architectural history at Kyodai went on to become a "traditional architecture preservation and repair engineer" (古建築保存修理技術者) with an institute that advises the reconstruction and repair of temples and shrines mainly in Kyoto. His answer, while informative, is striking for its lack of conviction. He says that the extent of his knowledge on this topic is limited to hearsay from traditional carpenters. Also, he can offer no explanation for the existence of the lines at the imperial palace. Rather than impugning an old friend, I mention this only to emphasize the degree of vagueness even among people who "should" know.

He writes (my abbreviated translation):
The number of stripes on a temple wall is an indicator of that temple's status, it's 寺格. It is said that the use of 5 lines is reserves for use at sectarian headquarter temples. Those temples with fewer lines have a lower status.

In the past, there were strict rules about the number of lines a temple could use in their walls. From Meiji, however, the rules began to break down and it became such that temples were free to do what they wanted. That said, even today, many temples are aware of the tradition and the number of lines they use reflects this. Sometimes, when a provincial sub-temples [that have no inherent status?] builds walls with 5 lines, they are scorned by those around them for their lack of common sense.

As an aside, I have heard that there is a sectarian headquarter temple somewhere in Kyoto that boasts 7 lines in their walls. I'll have to get back to you on this, however, because I've forgotten which one it is.

Getting back to the point of about the lines potentially being a stylistic remnant of what might be called cold joints, I came to the realization that the practical (structural) element and symbolic element might not be mutual exclusive.

A review of my images reveals that Shokokuji might have just 4 lines. Another wrench in the works? If this is the case, I'm really confused because Shokokuji is of the very highest status: headquarters of its sect faction, built by Grand Chancellor of State, the highest  member of the imperial court, and having hosted numerous imperial visits. It is not, however, the highest temple in the Gozan hierarchy.

The central ceremonial structure of an imperial residences (the shinden) was almost always 5 bays wide. Those of retired emperors were 7 bays wide. Any relevance? Not sure.

Thanks for the continued input. This is really gratifying for me.

Matthew Stavros





2008/6/1 Greve Gabi <gokurakua...@gmail.com>:

Michael Pye

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Jun 1, 2008, 12:14:43 AM6/1/08
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Dear colleagues,

I went to Shokokuji and the Gosho this morning as promised, passing
some other temples on Teramachi. Two or three of the latter have
stripes on their walls. They are stuck on, evidently being in
prefabricated strips, which also tend to peel off again. The
structural function which I still think is probably the origin (i.e.
applying the outer wall coating in strips) no longer applies. They
even use these thin strips at the Gosho now. They're only about 2 mm
thick. When you go up close for a photo an alarm bell goes and a voice
warns you that this is a national treasure and we should take care of
it...

At Shokokuji I noticed that practically all the walls have no stripes.
Only the walls around the southern gate (towards the Gosho) have the
stripes. There are five, with rather big spaces between them. To the
left of the south gate is the gate known as the Chokushimon, and the
walls to left and right of this have the stripes. In other words they
are there to welcome the chokushi.

There is an extremely courteous and knowledgeable porter on duty, and
he said it's only for the Chokushimon (not quite true, because of the
short stretch of wall to the right of the southern gate. The spaces,
he said, are rather large because of the height of the wall. When the
wall is less high, the spaces are smaller. I.e. it should still be five.

Some modern temple buildings (nearby) step their walls in a manner
reminiscent of the banded ones, - a bit like having a plastic bamboo
fence.

So looking at it from here:
(a) a useful structural feature became stylised
(b) the pattern on the palace walls was adopted elsewhere as a compliment
(c) this reflects a hierarchical relation to the imperial household
(d) further afield, variations occurred, with or without permission.

So I'm not sure that it's all that mysterious really....

I don't think there's much point speculating about the "five". Once
established it was copied (as usual in Japan). The very fact that it
wasn't always five shows the relative insignificance of the number,
beyond the initially established convention.

But of course if anybody finds prior evidence to the contrary, as
opposed to speculation a posteriori, OK.


Michael Pye
Professor of the Study of Religions
University of Marburg, Germany (retired)
Visiting Professor, Otani University, Kyoto, Japan


Zitat von Matthew Stavros <msta...@gmail.com>:

>> http://www.eonet.ne.jp/~kotonara/heinoohanasi.htm<http://www.eonet.ne.jp/%7Ekotonara/heinoohanasi.htm>


>>
>> But I guess you have seen all this already.
>>
>> Very interesting thread. Maybe best ask a shakansan in Kyoto who is
>> involved in constructing and upkeeping these walls.
>>
>> GABI
>>
>>
>>
>> >

>> http://www.aisf.or.jp/~jaanus/deta/t/tsuiji.htm<http://www.aisf.or.jp/%7Ejaanus/deta/t/tsuiji.htm>

Karin Löfgren

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Jun 1, 2008, 2:54:31 AM6/1/08
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Dear all,

 

I do not have the "Coaldrake´s Architecture and Authority in Japan" at hand for the moment but he might very well have mentioned something on this. I am pretty convinced that the bands are marks of status and class most probably in relation to the imperial order. There is no use to examine how the plaster cover of the today walls is made in order to get any clues about the origin and technique. On its surface, almost all architectural traces standing today depart in almost all detailed aspects from its "origin" or, as the case with all monuments all over the world also Japanese architectural works mirror the present time or at least the period since its last renovation, fire, owner or shift in use. Matthew Stavros, you mentioned Ryoanji in your first posting as an example of a temple that was not an imperial temple but I am sure you know that before it became a temple the grounds belonged to an estate of the Imperial Fujiwara family. For a visitor to the newly erected Heiankyo in 1000th century the only thing to be seen were the endless walls in its huge grid system. These walls and their porticoes told the visitor everything they needed to know about the inhibitor on the other side. The wall together with its portico was indeed of highest importance in all early capitals in Japan.  I would truly be surprised if this has not been a subject for thorough Japanese research. I am very interested in your question in the answers. It is an exiting thread to follow.

 

Sincerely

 

Karin Löfgren

Ph.D. Architect SAR/MSA

 




Barbara Nostrand

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Jun 1, 2008, 12:16:55 PM6/1/08
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Dear Colleagues.

Many years ago, I was staying with a host family in Kyoto. As I
recall, a member of the host family pointed out the five banded walls
and claimed that they indicated an imperial connection. However, also
recall seeing five banded walls other places where there is unlikely
to be any imperial connection.

However, there is another rather obvious possible explanation:
Japanese have for a rather long time standardized building components
just as loom widths have been somewhat standardized.
Japanese also have a well known architectural objective to inclose
space with the best rooms being innermost.
Japanese also have a well known aversion to the number four.
Combining a standard width section, the need to avoid the number
four, and a desire to enclose space with a wall about five shaku high
you can easily obtain the observed architectural feature.

If you are looking for esoteric explanations, then the five elements
one is probably it. Other symbolic numbers appear in the gasho
gesture which unifies the six undesirable and the four desirable
rebirths.

Barbara Nostrand

Michael Pye

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Jun 1, 2008, 6:58:42 PM6/1/08
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Colleagues,

Some further responses.

Karin Löfgren's observation "I am pretty convinced that the bands are

marks of status and class most probably in relation to the imperial

order" would be approved of by a thoughtful temple priest at Enjoji,
an independent Tendai-like temple on Teramachi, just to the east of
the Gosho, who yesterday told me exactly the same. Five shows the
highest status and reflects the imperial connection, for whatever
reason. Temples with lower status have less bands, he said. There
doesn't seem any reason to doubt this as a valid, central answer to
the question as originally posed.

About: "There is no use to examine how the plaster cover of the today

walls is made in order to get any clues about the origin and

technique." No doubt (as KL says) "On its surface, almost all

architectural traces standing today depart in almost all detailed

aspects from its "origin"...."

This isn't always quite true in Japan, where some traditional
structures are rebuilt meticulously using the existing (i.e.
traditional techniques). This is only partly the case in the mud and
tiled walls, even though they are still made of mud and tiles (and
surface plaster).

But apart from that (as a mere lay person in building matters, if
sometimes hands-on) I can't quite agree that there is simply no use in
examing the technique, even if it has changed. We can see from a
careful look today that whereas there apparently used to be real
grooves in the mud, separating manageable panels of surface plaster,
there is now just a stuck on band. This it "originally" was not,
agreed, but this very knowledge about the grooves tells us that the
bands earlier very likely had something to do with the construction,
as well as being a statement of status. It would be interesting to
know just when the structure-based design gave way to the design only
(including for the Gosho!), but we probably never will...

By the way, I noticed another variation on some bands yesterday,
namely a raised "pointing" which separated the panels of surface
plaster, and this may also be a late reminsicence of the
constructional funtion.

As to shaku (c.f. Barbara Nostrand) the spacing presumably began with
a standard measurement, but the fact that there later came to be a
considerable difference in the spaces in some cases (as in the very
big ones at Shokokuji) shows again that priority came to be given to
the number rather than the technique, at least from some stage
onwards. In general, while there are very fixed measurements for all
kinds of things, there is an astonishing variety of supposedly
standard measurements. Think of tatami. Or think of the differing
Hertz cycles used in Kanto and Kansai electricity...

Returning to the concept of "origin", surely the "origin" in this case
lies in the combination of a construction and the meaning initially
assigned to it. So there need be no great cause for disagreement.

When it comes to "explanation" on the other hand, we have to be very
much aware that some later explanations reflect various positioning by
the players. We already saw this in one contemporary Tendai quotation
(Robin Gill) which was evidently pulling rank with the help of an
inaccurate historical statement (i.e. that the five bands show the
Heian period origin of the temple - they may do, but not necessarily).
Similarly, unless there is some early textual evidence for a link to
"five elements", the five levels in a stupa, etc. there isn't much
point in thinking about it. Later, even if pre-modern references to
any "explanations" like that would be just as speculative as modern
guesswork.
It's well known that in general odd numbers are preferred in Japanese
designs of any kind and that the number four is avoided. However it is
not always completely avoided. Again, this can't really be used in
explanation in this particular case, unless there is an early
documentation for it.

So it's: how to build a wall - plus - who are you trying to impress....

best wishes,

Greve Gabi

unread,
Jun 2, 2008, 2:49:08 AM6/2/08
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Dear friends of Japanese temple walls ...


Just for the fun of it, from my last visit to Temple Town, Teramachi in Yonago,
here are photos of the gate walls.

Most walls had been destroyed during the earthquake in 2001.
Many walls have wooden boards now, some seem sujibei 筋塀.

It was great to read all your comments on the wall structures !

http://traveloguegokuraku.blogspot.com/2008/05/temple-walls.html


Gabi

here is the full thread
http://groups.google.com/group/pmjs/browse_thread/thread/680213ff87e94ead?hl=en


.

Thomas Conlan

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Jun 5, 2008, 10:32:32 PM6/5/08
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Colleagues,
Belatedly I have some more information to add about five banded
walls, which I obtained from a Kyoto master mason (sakan) who makes
them. They are now only stylistic and have no structural importance
whatsoever. Some variation exists through time as to how the bands
were made.

The bands are markers of several different statuses, which is why it
is so difficult to ascertain their function. The imperial connection
accounts for some cases of their use. Temples of monzeki status had
them as well but so too do the walls of temples that are the top of a
particular shuha or sect. (This would, incidentally, explain why
Shokokuji now has the five banded walls). Such emphasis on shuha
suggests that this other use of the five bands as a marker arose in
the Tokugawa period (admittedly this is my assumption. Further
research should clarify, but the Rakuchu Rakugai byobu's depiction of
Shokokuji with four bands may indicate an earlier ranking system).
More recently, however, the five banded walls designate structures
that are national treasures (kokuho)--such as Ryoanji--while three
bands denote prefectural treasures (bunkazai). Branch temples
(mastuji) would not have them, unless they were more recently
designated as a kokuho or juyo bunkazai. I hope this explanation
clarifies.

Best wishes,

Tom Conlan
Associate Professor of Japanese History
Bowdoin College


Matthew Stavros

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Jun 6, 2008, 1:11:23 AM6/6/08
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Dear Colleagues,

I have enjoyed this discussion on walls very much and am grateful for the breath of participation and depth of consideration.

Further exploration and enquiry has led me to conclusions very similar to those of Thomas (I only wish he hadn't beaten me to it!). Indeed, the symbolic significance of the lines belong to the repertoire of overlapping hierarchies. It is this fundamental problem that obscures any clear taxonomy, particularly from the vantage point of today when the lines can apparently be used without consequence.

If we make the assumption that there was an early orthodoxy regulating the use of the lines – a grammar of performative pageantry, as I like to call it -- further investigation would need to pay particular attention to the chronology of the breakdown. Based on my exploration of Rakuchu-rakugai-zu byobu, where I find both uniformity and ubiquity, I am inclined to think the breakdown was largely completed prior to the 16th century.

Let me briefly explain and qualify my justification for thinking there was, indeed, an orthodoxy. Throughout most of the premodern era, architectural forms and styles were unambiguous markers of rank and status. This, I believe, was increasingly true the closer you get to the center in Kyoto. The styles of gates, the number of bays in a main shinden, and the kinds of tiles used, just to name a few factors, were all indicative of the builder's place in society. But the relationship between status and form was not always binary. To be sure, many people toyed with the custom-based prescriptions as a means for insinuating themselves into certain power structures. The extent to which one was able to get away with such moves was often the true measure of their real authority.

In this light, I can't help but think the styles of walls, which, as Karin suggests, were perhaps the first line of status-based performative pageantry, were an essential element of status symbolism. A key question, however, is to what status system one was performing or, if you'll allow me to toss around my own jargon with impunity, what grammar was being used. The reason this last point is significant is because I think  there was a reciprocal relationship between the fragmentation of power accompanying the rise of private authority (kenmon) and a disintegration in customs and codes dictating what, where, and how people built things. The emergence of alternate sources of legitimacy-- whether they be warriors, a sect, or even a sub-sect (shuha) -- likely contributed to the appearance of overlapping and conflicting notions of performative pageantry.

Clearly, there is much more work to be done on this topic but for now I am satisfied with the sense that the implications of some simple lines on a wall might indeed be profound.

My thanks to all who contributed to this discussion. It has been very rewarding for me both because of its content and because it was a useful test of the new PMJS system, which I am proud to administer.

Matthew Stavros
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