The charm and vitality of Japan's historic buidings

The charm and vitality of Japan's historic buidings
The Mieido pavilion of the Takada Honzan Senjuji temple in Tsu houses a wooden statue of revered Buddhist monk Shinran. It is one of the largest wooden structures designated by the government as important cultural assets.

TSU - In Japanese, a building is called "tatemono" (erected object) or "kenchikubutsu" (architectural object). The odd-looking structure I gazed at here is definitely an object, too, but I clearly felt it breathing. It was calm, warm and somewhat stern.

The Chitose Bunko storage house in the Mie prefectural capital of Tsu was built by Handeishi Kawakita (1878-1963) to store the vast number of antiquities and other artifacts passed down in his family for generations.

Kawakita was a cultured man on par with Rosanjin Kitaoji (1883-1959). People at that time used to say, "Higashi no Rosanjin, Nishi no Handeishi" (Rosanjin in the east, Handeishi in the west). Even when looked at from a distance, the unusual beauty of the form and style of the storage house makes one imagine that life and consciousness dwell in this object.

On the building's front, there is a semicircular tower standing tall on the right side. Balconies jut out from large windows of the brick-covered tower's third and fourth floor rooms. The entrance is on the building's front left side, a slim, rectangular column that contains a staircase.

The elegant Western-style building was completed in 1930 and causes visitors to feel just the right amount of tension with its tall foundation, deep structure and elaborate motifs on the windows and roof.

So it's extremely disappointing that the storage house, a government-designated tangible cultural asset, is not open to the public and cannot be approached.

Although adjacent to the Sekisui Museum, where Kawakita's pottery works and his family's art collection are on display, the storage house stands on land owned by the city of Tsu and is off-limits.

The building, which also serves as the museum's archives, can only be viewed from a slope to the museum or through the museum's glass windows.

I wish there was an opportunity to see the storage house up close a few times a year, if not all the time. Having caught glimpses of the imposing building, thickly surrounded by the trees of Mt. Chitose, I think it's a shame we can't fully relish the sight of the object that symbolizes the well-rounded spirituality in this place.

I also felt as if the Takada Honzan Senjuji temple, which looked blurred through the steady spring rain, was breathing. The temple of the Takada school of Buddhism's Shinshu sect is said to protect the ashes of revered Buddhist monk Shinran (1173-1263), along with the Honji Senjuji temple in Mooka, Tochigi Prefecture.

The temple in Tsu is known for its huge Mieido pavilion, where 725 tatami mats are placed on the floor. Its roof is covered by tiles meticulously arranged in the traditional hongawara-buki style, alternating between concave and convex tiles.

The grand building in the style of irimoya - a traditional house with one big roof - boasts a lively, dark sheen after going through extensive repair work in 2007. Its dynamic presence is mesmerizing. True simplicity is the most imposing - I could see that clearly.

If I follow the old saying that names and nature often agree, the cityscape of Tsu is very simple. There is the Tsu Kannon temple, one of the country's three major kannon temples, which used to be favoured by the 16th-century warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

In the same neighborhood are Shitennoji temple, which was reportedly built by Prince Shotoku (574-622); the Daimon O-dori shopping street, which retains the atmosphere of a temple city; and the tranquil areas surrounding the ruins of Tsu Castle, which is connected to the 16th- to 17th-century warlord Todo Takatora.

Each has its own charms, but it all felt plain to me as well in my position as a tourist.

But that simplicity is a natural feature of this part of Japan. It's not a coincidence that Tsu is the birthplace of Baby Star Ramen (Baby Star Crispy Noodle Snack), a simple snack food loved by people for more than half a century. I spouted this reasoning to myself while nibbling on that old familiar snack food that somehow had an aroma of the sea.

Travel tips

It is 100 minutes from JR Tokyo Station to JR Nagoya Station on the Nozomi Shinkansen bullet train.

From Nagoya Station, take the JR rapid train Mie to Tsu Station, which takes 50 minutes, or take a Kintetsu Urban Liner train from Kintestu Nagoya Station to Tsu Station, which takes 43 minutes at the fastest. Visit for more information.


More about

Purchase this article for republication.



Your daily good stuff - AsiaOne stories delivered straight to your inbox
By signing up, you agree to our Privacy policy and Terms and Conditions.