Shinden-Zukuri Architecture: Symmetrical Prototype, Simplified Interpretations

“As a rule, a one-cho site contains east and west tai and east and west chUmon.” According to this excerpt from ChUyUki, the diary of Heian-period courtier Fujiwara no Munetada (1062-1141), the shinden-zukuri style for a one-cho site has a central shinden hall, with east and west tainoya opposing annexes and chUmon corridors with inner gates. In other words, a one-cho, bilaterally-symmet – rical palace was the rule. It was the accepted concept, the “formula” for the prototype of shinden-zukuri.

Although the Kaoku zakko’s accuracy is sometimes ques­tioned, it does offer a description of the salient features of shinden-zukuri as the architectural style was understood in the mid-nineteenth century:

Starting with Heian-куб, all aristocratic residential architecture followed continental palatial style in the Tang tradition, known as azumaya construction. Thus palace architecture thereafter differed stylistically from the architectural traditions of previous Japanese cap­itals.

A shinden-zukuri residence has a central seiden facing south, with buildings called tainoya to the east, west, and north. The seiden is the master’s quarters, and the tainoya are the quarters for family and depen­dents. Some tens of feet in front of the seiden there is a pond with an island connected [to the shore] by a bridge. There are also corridors that run southward from the east and west tainoya. These corridors end at the edge of the pond, where a fishing pavilion and fountain pavilion are built. An open gateway cuts through each corridor at the approximate center. These gateways are called chUmon."

Formula shinden-zukuri must be complete with tai­noya, east and west corridors, chUmon, a pond with an island, a fishing pavilion, etc., in order to fulfill the old [Fleian] system.12

The pattern for shinden-zukuri did not originate in ancient Imperial Japan, but was adopted from the archi­tectural style used for palatial buildings in Tang China. These buildings had hipped roofs (in Japanese, known as azuma-zukuri or, more commonly, yosemune), which the Chinese thought added monumentality and dignity. More importantly, they were completely symmetrical, in plan and structure of the individual buildings as well as in arrange­ment of the buildings on the site. The shinden-zukuri “formula” required furnishing a seiden, or shinden, with east and west tainoya, east and west sukird, east and west chUmon, a pond, an island, a fishing pavilion, etc. It is essential to remember that the formula for shinden-zukuri emerged from an existing symmetrical pattern.