In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Architecture of Japan—General/Premodern/Modern and Contemporary

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals

Architecture Planning and Preservation Architecture of Japan—General/Premodern/Modern and Contemporary
Ken Tadashi Oshima
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0064


Japanese architecture has long had varying expressions and historical interpretations both inside and outside the geographic boundaries of the island nation. While the earliest structures date back to the Jōmon period (c. 14,000 BCE to c. 300 BCE), the profession of the architect as a specialist in designing buildings using Western building construction did not emerge until the Meiji period (b. 1868–d. 1912). Up until this time, the master carpenter was both the designer and builder, and was particularly well versed in wood-frame construction. The discipline of architectural history within Japan also developed during this time, led by Itō Chūta (b. 1867–d. 1954), whose study of Hōryūji temple in contrast to the Parthenon situated the Japanese architectural canon within an international context. While studies of Japanese architectural history have focused on the religious structures of Buddhism and Shinto, foreign observers and specialists such as Edward Morse (b. 1838–d. 1925), author of Japanese Homes and Their Surroundings (originally published in 1886), documented the vernacular built environment. Domestic architecture has subsequently been the subject of a wide range of studies in its premodern and modern incarnations. Moreover, the ravages of earthquakes, fires, wars, and developers have exacerbated the rapid transformation of the Japanese built environment from the 19th century to the present. The history of modern Japanese architecture is thus presented through the historical periods from the opening of Japan to the West, post–World War II development, and contemporary trajectories. In addition to a bibliography of individual architects, urbanism, and Japanese gardens have been included in this article to present the broader Japanese architecture integrally with the built and natural environments. The bibliography of Japanese architecture reflects this great variety through time and differing domestic and international contexts. English-language scholarship has long relied on visual interpretation, shaped by the subjectivity of historical periods and personal interests and expertise. While comprehensive in-depth English accounts covering the earliest periods to the present are limited, with most recent scholarship focusing on the modern period (1868–), the following provides a framework of themes and typologies within historical contexts that may serve as a starting point for inquiry and further research. For clarity, all names are listed following English convention, with given name first and family name second; macrons are used for long vowels. Some Japanese names have multiple spellings in English.

General Overviews

Introductory overviews of Japanese architecture have varied greatly through history, based on the interests of the authors and the spirits of their respective ages. Collectively, they provide a window onto the richness and variety of built form in Japan up to the present day. Nishi and Hozumi 1985 and Yagi 1981 provide a clear entry to the subject. Drexler 1966, Horiguchi 1955, and Ōta 1972 each present a photographic introduction. Coaldrake 1996 bridges a wide span in time through representative monuments. Following the overview of Kishida 2008 (originally published in 1935), Fujimori 1994 (cited under Modern Foundations, 1868–1945) surveys modern architecture in Japanese, while Stewart 1987 (cited under Modern and Contemporary Periods: Theory) discusses the development of the topic in English.

  • Coaldrake, William. Architecture and Authority in Japan. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

    This study examines architecture as an active expression of power, politics, and religion through focused studies of monuments from Ise Shrine to Kenzō Tange’s Tokyo City Hall.

  • Drexler, Arthur. The Architecture of Japan. New York: Arno/MoMA, 1966.

    Published in conjunction with the exhibition of a “Japanese House” at the Museum of Modern Art during the summers of 1954 and 1955 to illustrate the relevance of traditional Japanese architecture to modern Western building.

  • Edagawa, Yūichirō. Japanese Creativity: Contemplations on Japanese Architecture. Berlin: Jovis Verlag, 2018.

    Survey of Japanese architectural design from the 6th century to the present.

  • Horiguchi, Sutemi. Architectural Beauty in Japan. Tokyo: Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai, 1955.

    This book features a collection of black-and-white photographs of Japanese architecture from the 4th century through the 1950s, with traditional and modern work divided into two sections. The works are interpreted through two introductory essays and descriptive texts at the end.

  • Kishida, Hideto. Japanese Architecture. New York: Roche, 2008.

    First published in 1935, this is a small but widely used booklet published for the foreign tourist to Japan.

  • Nishi, Kazuo, and Kazuo Hozumi. What Is Japanese Architecture? Translated and adapted by H. Mack Horton. New York: Kodansha International, 1985.

    A clearly illustrated and written survey of traditional Japanese architecture, with list of sites and map. Originally published as Nihon kenchiku no katachi (Tokyo: Shokokusha, 1983).

  • Ōta, Hirotarō, ed. Traditional Japanese Architecture and Gardens. Yokohama, Japan: Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai, 1972.

    Balanced introductory text covering historical overview, technology, gardens, Shinto and Buddhist architecture, houses, and castles. Accounts by Japanese experts. Good bibliography.

  • Yagi, Koji, ed. Japan: Climate, Space, and Concept. Tokyo: Process Architecture, 1981.

    An accessible, well-illustrated introduction to the architecture of Japan through essays examining its relationship to climate, wood, culture, and spatial perception.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.