When you think of custom wood homes, you probably picture Old World European timber frame structures, sprawling lodgepole log homes, or quaint Appalachian cabins. But there’s another legacy you should know about — that of Japan.
Traditional Japanese wood structures, whether private homes (minka), Buddhist temples (tera), or Shinto shrines (jinja), boast some of the most refined craftsmanship imaginable. It should come as no surprise, since wood was the primary building material for thousands of years.
In fact, Japan boasts the oldest existing wood structures in the world at the Horyuji temple complex in Nara, which dates from 607. The most ancient buildings here are absolute marvels, with massive yet intricate mortise-and-tenon construction that has stood the test of the ages.
Most in the West with an interest in Japanese architecture are drawn to these homes for several reasons — their attention to detail (seen in staggeringly precise joinery) and Zen-like simplicity that yields a lasting mood of serenity. Other factors include the ability to surround homes in glass (since walls don’t bear loads in these traditional post-and-beam structures) and the tendency to expose structural members internally rather than externally.
As lovely as Japanese wooden homes are, some might question if they can be aesthetically appropriate in America. How will they blend with our landscapes? Will they look out of place? Certainly in more developed areas, with other homes in sight, such a transplant might appear contrived.
While this largely is a matter of taste, without question a Japanese-style home can blend in beautifully in more isolated environments. Imagine it: In the solitude of an evergreen forest, or on the lonely crags of a rugged mountain, time and culture are transcended. It becomes easy to visualize a Japanese minka blending right in to a hollow in Appalachia or on some remote stretch of the Pacific Northwest coastline.
And due to the fluidity of America’s population, we’re seeing more willingness to blend regional styles — if an Adirondack-style home can fit into the Rockies, or a massive lodgepole retreat into the Southwest, there should be nothing astonishing about a Japanese-style home in an American setting.
Much more about Asian-influenced wood homes ran in the Summer 2008 issue of Custom Wood Homes magazine.