In “Japan-ness in Architecture,” architect and theorist Arata Isozaki chronicles the search for a Japanese identity through design. Isozaki begins by outlining Japan’s architectural discourse in the 20th century, in which he played a key role. He writes honestly about his contemporaries who grappled with modernization, imperialism and war. He then looks backward to examine three historically significant buildings — Ise Shrine in Mie, Todaiji Temple’s south gate in Nara and the Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto — drawing on extensive evidence to contextualize his analysis. All were “constructed amidst turmoil,” which provided space for experimentation before aesthetic norms were “restabilized by a cultural Japanization.”
The mit press, Nonfiction.
He argues that the search for “Japan-ness” has always been prompted by foreign scrutiny. Contact with other cultures — from Tang Dynasty (618-907) China to postwar America — led to self-conscious attempts to construct a national identity. After all, he explains, an “insular nation” has no need to search for the “essence of its culture.”
Isozaki believes that the search for “Japan-ness” ended around 1970, or at least changed unrecognizably in the postmodern era. “The external gaze that had long provoked Japan-ness was at last irrelevant,” he boldly claims. “The time had come when we were able to view Japanese Japan-ness from a meaningful distance.”
https://www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/2016/07/30/soccer/schweinsteiger-bows-out-of-duty-with-national-team/Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.