Comparison of Korean with Chinese and Japanese Residences

The composition of the ch’ae interior space and madang garden of traditional Korean dwellings corresponds fairly closely to the hall and courtyard composition in tradi­tional Chinese residences.

In the same way as a Korean ch’ae consists of pang and taech’dng (or шаги), with the taech’dng open to the madang garden, the halls of Chinese dwellings are com­posed of private rooms and communal living rooms, or tang., which open onto the yuanzi or tianjing courtyard. In other words, in both Korea and China, the courtyard “garden” serves as an outdoor extension of the adjoining room, and is in no way an ornamental garden for viewing from indoors.

The tang of a Beijing siheyuan has doors on its south­ern facade, with several steps leading down to the yuanzi. Throughout southern China, on the other hand, the liv­ing room is quite similar to a Korean taech’dng, in that it has an exposed beam ceiling and wooden walls on the northern, eastern, and western sides, and is completely open to the south, where the courtyard lies. The main dif­ference is that the floor of the tang is on the same level, and covered in the same material—stone or brick—as the tianjing courtyard outside. It is even more closely linked physically to the courtyard than is the taech’dng of a Korean dwelling, since the taech’dng is not only raised above the level of the adjoining madang, but may be entered only after footwear is removed. Nevertheless, the openness and simplicity of the taech’dng creates a visual link with the madang that reflects their essential unity.

The Chinese arrangement gives priority to function, while the Korean endures a certain inconvenience in order to enjoy an unobstructed view.

The woshi of a traditional Chinese dwelling and the pang of a traditional Korean dwelling are also similar, in that both are enclosed spaces. They are also of a similar size, the Chinese woshi usually being 3 meters by 6 meters (9.8 feet by 19.6 feet) and the Korean pang ranging from 2.4 meters by 4.8 meters (7.9 feet by 15.7 feet) to 3 meters by 6 meters. The main points of divergence are that the Chinese use chairs and beds while Koreans sit and sleep on the floor, and the fact that in Chinese dwellings private rooms are used exclusively for sleeping. Because they are completely private spaces, Chinese woshi are decorated in accord with the individual occupant’s taste, while the pang of a traditional Korean home are multipurpose rooms, each used by a number of people and as a result, Korean pangs are decorated in keeping not with individual preference, but with function and custom.

The rooms of traditional Korean and Japanese residences are similar in that they are multiplepurpose. But whereas a wide variety of movable furniture is used for decoration and storage in the Korean pang, one basic characteristic of the Japanese zashiki (reception room with tatami-mat flooring) is that decoration and storage are built-in. Such integral ornaments includes the tokonoma (ornamental alcove), chigaidana (staggered shelves), and tsukeshoin (desk alcove), while storage spaces include auxiliary rooms (tsugi no ma), built-in closets (oshi-ire), small storerooms (nando), and storehouses (kura). The latter were used for a kind of rotational storage, with different items being stored away or taken out seasonally, at three – or six-month intervals. Moreover, many of the items used in a tradi­tional Japanese home can be folded, rolled up, or stowed away for convenient storage when not in use. The long­term rotational storing of items in storehouses, however, is something that does not occur in either China or Korea.

One other distinctive feature of a traditional Japanese dwelling is the intimate relationship between a room’s character and the items used in it. That a room has a dis­tinctive character is a factor of the building in of decorative accoutrements, such as the tokonoma and tsukeshoin, but since the beginning of the Edo period, mansions were composed of a combination of rooms built in distinctly different styles—the formal shoin, semiformal sukiya, and rustic soan. Each of these specialized spaces has its own set of appropriate furnishings and utensils, which are also changed periodically to fit the season or the occasion (i. e., celebratory or somber), and which through their combi­nation create a vast range of decorative settings.

This essential relationship between a space and the items used in it survives in the multipurpose rooms of today’s Japanese homes. It is a feature unique to Japan, seen in neither Korea nor China.


Updated: October 11, 2015 — 2:27 pm