Monday, March 7, 2011

"Frozen Music" at Yakushi-ji Temple

 One of Two Deva Guardian Kings (1991) at Inner Gate (1984), Cloister, and East Pagoda (730)
 Yakushi-ji temple (founded in 698, World Heritage, Nara City) is famous for its twin pagodas.  East Pagoda is the original structure built in 730, while West Pagoda was destroyed by fire and was rebuilt in 1981.  All the other original buildings were destroyed by domestic wars or natural disasters over the time and were reconstructed quite recently.

Frozen Music, East Pagoda
Earnest F. Fenolosa described East Pagoda as “Frozen Music” for pagoda’s beauty of rhythmical appearance and openwork of “suien” on the roof top.  This three-story pagoda looks like six-story due to its unique design: each story has a large roof and an extra ornamental small roof, which create architectural harmony and rhythm. The roof ornament “suien” is made of bronze openwork where celestial musicians are playing the lute as they descend from the heaven.  "Sorin" is fitted with a lightening rod and "suien"  (meaning "spray of water") serves as a charm against fire.


the pagoda's finial "sorin"
zoomed up "suien":
This is a photography of a post card.
This ancient high-rise has survived the test of many earthquakes and storms, which owes to ancient people’s wisdom and skills and people's constant efforts of each period.
Noticeable fact is its seismic base isolation (免震) as well as its earthquake-resistance (耐震). The secrets are...
1.  The structure is made of wood which is flexible and absorbs seismic forces, for wood may bend or warp but does not break easily by force and when force is ceased it returns to the former shape. 
2. The tall center pillar made of single Japanese cypress log is freely suspended at a top  and is set up on a foundation stone loosely for flexibility. It undergoes pendular vibration to avoid damage.
3.  Each floor is structured so that each moves alternately in the opposite direction.    (More details in NIPPONIA No.33)

It is said modern architects of skyscrapers came to learn this ancient secret. Isn't it interesting that the construction method of modern skyscrapers is similar to the techniques fostered in Japan's long history of wooden "high-rise" ?

West Pagoda

West Pagoda was rebuilt in 1981 using  the same technology used in the construction of East Pagoda.  The painted colors of this pagoda and those of other recent restorations  give us the image how they looked like when they were first completed.  In Japanese way, old wooden structures have been re-enforced or repaired but never repainted leaving natural fading.

wear and tear of East Pagoda (right)

The timbers are fastened together without a nail at all.

Recent x-ray and endoscope examination revealed a huge hollow in the center pillar.  East Pagoda might not be able to survive another huge earthquakes, so full scale repairment was decided to deal with not only hollow but also cracks, peels, and other damages.

For the first time in 1300 years, the first floor of East Pagoda is open to the public till March 21st.  I was so imprssed to see paintings of “hosoge” (mythical flower) on the ceiling which still retain clear colors and was delighted to touch the pillars.  It seems to me that the center pillar symbolizes a person's spirit soaring high and never breakable by forces. Photography is prohibited inside.

The pagoda is going through 8-year full scale renovation so that this treasure could be handed down securely to future generations.  

West Pagoda, Sough Gate, and East Pagoda

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  1. What wonderful treasures... They are like musical architecture! Superb.

  2. The more I learn of historical structures, the more I learn few are truly original. Thank goodness people take it upon themselves to restore and restructure these treasures. But most impressive is the Pagoda that is original and so wisely built to withstand natural disasters. Thankfully, Frozen Music is also frozen in time. :)

  3. beautiful temple - and I like the idea of frozen music!!

  4. Japan deals with earthquakes so well, nice to know the ancient secrets are understood. Hopefully the modern architects will learn fruitful lessons from these. Great pictures.

  5. Your ancient treasures have withstood the test of time! How lucky that the public can still come close to and even go inside these structures. I find it amazing that no nails were used in the fitting together of timbers. Thank you for your tour and commentary.

  6. What a treasure! Thanks for the interestng information..

  7. Hello, Stardust.
    I am hoping that I will be able to see our treasure “pagoda” again, after its full scale renovation finished! I am serious!!

  8. I love the concept of "frozen music' - it's great. As probably I wrote earlier I'm fascinated with Japanese culture, and your posts are so interesting for me! Pagodas are simply beautiful.
    Thanks for showing:)

  9. Not only great photos but an excellent essay. Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  10. When I opened my old photo album, I found quite a few photos of Five-story-pagoda; overall, close-up of "sorin" and around. These were taken during my school trip to Nara. If I have a chance, I would love to sniff around the first floor of East pagoda!
    Have a wonderful day.

  11. Many thanks for this beautiful and interesting series photos with Pagoda !!!
    Japan has elegand beauty !!!
    Warm regards

  12. These are wonderful images. Fascinating places. You are fortunate for living in such a beautiful setting.

  13. Awesome photography, and your commentary is excellent. What a wonderful history lesson you ace us. You roost is like a beautiful picture book except the pictures and the accompanying text tell us a wonderful story about some amazing architecture. I really enjoyed this.

  14. I thought woods that are used to build Japanese house are easy to decay and it's not very good for material of house. Of course it's good for Japanese weather. But reading your blog, I reconfirm its goodness.

  15. Just beautiful... So colorful and such a rich heritage! Loved your description as well, good that they are being renovated...
    Have a great day:)

  16. Amazing! You know many Japanese traditional architecture and technology.

  17. Wonderful post! I'm amazed that the East pagoda has stood firm for 13 centuries! Thank goodness the centre pillar is being repaired. How brilliant of the original designers to create an earthquake-safe building!

  18. Magique cette pagode, j'adore cette architecture

    Publicity ;o) Every Friday (and the Weekend), The Challenge "Walk In The Street Photography"

  19. What beautiful photos of the pagoda--it is such an unusual and beautiful building. It is interesting to note how stable the structure is and how they have used that knowledge today to make structures durable. Yes, Picnik was a new "toy" for a day or two--fun to "play" around with. Have a nice weekend. Mickie

  20. Μυ beloved friend, are you okay? your family? We heard on television that became a terrible earthquake.
    God be with you. My thoughts are with you.
    With love

  21. Magda, have you heard the news already? It happened about 2 hours ago. Yes, very massive earthquake. I’m watching TV: terrible aftershocks and tsunami is warned. Fortunately I’m not affected by it, I live far from the epicenter. I’m concerned those who are damaged and affected.

    Thank you for your inquiry.

  22. I hope that you are safe and that these treasures will be. I am watching TV and am shocked to see how Sendai is destroyed.I will think of you and your people.

  23. Thank you for telling me that you are safe yourself. I read in your post that the pagodas have seismic base isolation and is earthquake resistant. I am glad that the buildings are so strong. They are so beautiful. But I hope all the world will help and pray now.

  24. Hope you are safe. Take care.
    Prayers and wishes.

  25. So glad to hear you are safe. I've been watching the news and thinking about you and all the people in Japan. My thoughts are with you.

  26. Thank God you're all well.
    I wish all people to be well in Japan.
    Greetings and wishes....

  27. Seismically isolated and earthquake resistant pagodas stand in the land prone to the earthquakes. However, we actually can't control huge energy of nature...for example, tsunami.

    Thank you all of you for the nice comments and warm concerning inquiries after the earthquake.


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