Kansai is the treasure house of Japanese architecture, architecture that is known for its use of wood.
Almost every type of building, be it house, Buddhist temple, Shinto shrine, or castle, uses wood as its major structural material, with bricks generally made from baked soil for roofing until the dawn of the modern era.
Forms and techniques used in wood construction reflect the climate of Japan and are deeply rooted in the evolution of the Japanese culture.
The Japanese climate features four distinct seasons, seen clearly in Kansai. In addition, Kansai, which for centuries held the nation's capital, in Kyoto, has within it a large number of objects now classified as national treasures and important cultural assets. So it stands to reason that many wooden structures still exist in the Kansai area. In particular, because they were spared major damage during World War II, a large number of wooden buildings survive today in the ancient Kansai cities of Nara and Kyoto.
It is not well understood why Japanese people chose wood, rather than stone or soil, as a major building material. One theory speculates that people came first from the south and then from the north to the Japanese archipelago to become the nation's ancestors. This theory is supported by a local custom still practiced today in Wakayama Prefecture, along the Pacific coast, found to be similar to a custom in Polynesia. The Kotai Jingu of the Ise Jingu Shrines, Mie Prefecture, is built with plain, unembellished wood, even for roofing. Almost identical wooden structures are found in an area near Lake Baikal. Wood is far less subject to weathering in cold areas, so it does not need painting. Such a structural style reminds me of houses used by people in the 2nd century or earlier who originally came from places in the north of the Asian continent. It is a characteristic of Japanese culture to introduce aspects from other cultures and then shape these into a unique culture of their own.
There is definitely no denying that wood is susceptible to fire. Japanese cities have been repeatedly devastated by wars, earthquakes, and fires. But after every such destruction, better cities were reborn. This rebirth, in a way, symbolizes the vitality of the Japanese people. The recent Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake that hit the Kobe area and the northern part of Awaji Island collapsed a huge number of wooden structures, which completely burned in the resulting fires. Detailed analysis of disaster damage reveals, however, that wooden structures designed with appropriate structural considerations are sufficiently resistant to seismic forces. This kind of knowledge may also be obtained from the traditional wisdom represented by five-storied pagodas. Thus there is a growing voice calling for the revaluing of the architectural beauty and urban grace most suited to the climate of Japan and warning of the threat posed to the global environment by modern build-and-scrap practices. Japanese people are enchanted by the life force of wood, by structures whose wooden components can resurrect themselves so as to live as parts of buildings even after being cut from trees.
Professor UEDA Atsushi, of Kyoto Seika University, says, "Wooden structures are associated with the sense of life and death lying in the heart of the Japanese." Research on the creation of new designs and technologies incorporating the use of wood is rendering excellent results. Architects in Kansai are developing proposals for future city planning, as they believe the Japanese culture finds its identity in the wooden architecture of the city. In 1995, TAKAMATSU Shin and UCHII Shozo held an exhibit in which ideas of creating a grand city using wood were proposed. Their efforts not only suggested new horizons in architectural form and technology but also caused a stir in the present mindset regarding lifestyles and laws.