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The Charm of Japan's Architecture In a Virtual World

The Japan Cultural Expo is a festival celebrating the lasting tradition of Japanese aesthetics and culture and the act of passing it down to future generations. The 2021 edition of the Expo features online video, images, and VR experiences, allowing visitors to enjoy their own Virtual Japan Cultural Expo.
In this article, we speak to the organizer in charge of Japanese architecture. We asked why Japanese architecture is gaining attention and how visitors can get the most out of this virtual expo.

Japan Cultural Expo VIRTUAL PLATFORM

Is the idea of sustainability in architecture drawing attention to Japanese buildings?

The Japanese Craft Expo : Natural Materials and Mature Skills that Conserve Cultural Properties

What do you think is behind the recent increase in international interest in Japanese architecture?

I believe it's because a combination of an increase in international tourists and the spread of social media has given the international community more exposure to Japanese landscapes and cityscapes. We in Japan see them all the time and don't pay any particular attention to them, but I believe that the attention they garner online allows us to appreciate them anew.

The idea of sustainability is gaining traction worldwide, and I believe that Japanese buildings are the epitome of sustainability. Many traditional buildings in Japan are built out of natural wood, which is not necessarily strong or durable. However, our culture emphasizes treasuring those materials, which means repairing and taking care of them so that we can use them for as long as possible. That is a significant appeal of Japanese architecture, and I believe it is one of the main reasons it has been gaining attention.

V&A Dundee 2018 © Ross Fraser McLean

Do you think Japanese architecture has gained attention due to the Olympics being held in Tokyo this year?

Yes, I think so. Kengo Kuma, who co-designed Japan National Stadium with construction firms Taisei Corporation and Azusa Sekkei, is renowned overseas as an architect who is conscious of the harmony between structure and nature. Kengo Kuma has said that he first wanted to become an architect himself when he saw the Yoyogi National Stadium, designed by famous architect Kenzo Tange for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. I believe this year's Tokyo Olympics contributed to the deepening interest in Japanese architecture.

I feel there has been a synergy in the past few years that has led to a surge in interest in Japanese architecture. At the same time that a series of exhibitions have been held on famous architect Tadao Ando, “Traditional skills, techniques and knowledge for the conservation and transmission of wooden architecture in Japan” have been registered to the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in December 2020.

Learning from Artisanal Traditions: Japanese Aesthetics and Obstacles for the Future

KIGUMI: Revealing the Carpentry Behind the Wood Joint

The Japan Cultural Expo Virtual Platform showcases a diverse range of examples of Japanese aesthetics. In what order should users explore this content if they want to use architecture as a jumping-off point?

Visitors may start off learning about wooden frameworks. From the panel that says, "Heritage of Kumiko crafts" on the far left, viewers can experience the delicateness and preciseness of the designs this technique bears. The next panel, labeled "A Wooden Framework House," leads to a documentary that shows the process of building a house using traditional wooden framework methods and tools. Starting with these two items will allow visitors to gain a deeper understanding of the clip titled "Japanese Craft Expo: Natural Materials and Skillful Technology that Protect Cultural Assets," and get more out of the virtual reality content about Japanese architecture. After that, I recommend that they take a look at the "Kōgei 2020" (N6) page.

Another good way to kick off a tour is with the clip " Traditional skills, techniques and knowledge (S3)." The concepts of reinforcement and repair explained provide a vocabulary to facilitate a new appreciation of Japanese Art and Craft such as the paintings on traditional room partitions, sculptures, and portraits of buildings. I'd also like visitors to check out the other expositions and art museum booths too. Viewers can take a look at some traditional skills (Selected Conservation Techniques of the Japanese government) that are used to safeguard cultural assets in the clip " Traditional skills, techniques and knowledge (S3)." This clip also explains some of the hardships these techniques face going forward, such as a lack of successors to keep these skills going.

Things Seen Through Virtual Reality

What are the advantages of experiencing these exhibits virtually?

I think being able to watch clips easily is a huge advantage. Viewers can watch the clips, visit the exhibitions' official websites, and access other related information listed in the summary guide with only a few clicks. Viewers can immerse themselves in the content without distraction and dig deeper into what interests them. I believe that's the most significant advantage of this virtual Japan Cultural Expo.

For example, the 1/10 scale wooden structures of important cultural assets or national treasures assembled by the Agency of Cultural Affairs have been put on display all at once in the Special Exhibition “Japanese Architecture” at the Tokyo National Museum. These structures have all been recreated in minute detail using architectural techniques. The online experience affords viewers a closer look at the models than is possible in person. For example, one can see the view from the models' rooftops, which would not be possible in person. Some structures, such as the Daisen-in Hondo Temple model and the Tofukuji Sammon Gate model, even offer cross-section views of the structures. Virtual reality allows visitors to experience the depth and scale of the structures, which I believe is a befitting way to enjoy and experience architecture.

Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum

Take a look at the model of the main building of Shuri Castle in the Virtual Venue 2 at the Tokyo National Museum Special Exhibition “Japanese Architecture”. The fire that occurred in October 2019 made us think about preservation and maintenance. The exhibition shows a model of the castle's main building before it was destroyed in World War II and pictures of the castle before the 2019 fire. This model was created in 1953 with the help of Chinen Choei’s memories and records from post-war rebuilding efforts before the fire. The model and pictures are not simply being displayed but also used as materials in preliminary research for restoration efforts. One of the advantages of virtual reality is that it allows people to see what can't be seen in real life yet.

We want to create and promote videos and virtual reality experiences for each section of the Japan Cultural Expo 2021.

Finding New Fascinations in the Virtual Japan Cultural Expo

Do you have a message for future visitors to the Virtual Japan Cultural Expo?

I hope that their visit provides an opportunity to take a step further in pursuing what interests them as well as to find something new and exciting to them. Architecture contains multitudes. I would encourage visitors who enjoy shrines and temples to enjoy the virtual reality content in "Japanese Architecture." If you are interested in architects, look forward to our expanding exhibition booths featuring Kengo Kuma and Kenzo Tange. Let the things that interest you now serve as a starting point to go deeper and find something new that will resonate with you.

I hope that the Virtual Japan Cultural Expo experience will motivate visitors to also visit the actual venues someday. Not just the architecture exhibits but also those for performing arts, visual arts, and cultural assets. Use this Virtual Japan Cultural Expo as a stepping stone to enrich yourself and expand your interests.

Thank you very much.
This conversation reminds us that the Japanese architecture that we see on TV, social media, and while traveling is not only a beautiful part of Japanese culture but also a part of a great tradition of craftsmanship, passed down from generation to generation. A virtual exploration of the Japan Cultural Expo is an enriching experience that makes one all the more excited to someday visit the venues in person. In the meantime, tide yourself over and prepare yourself for a visit with the virtual experience!

Japan Cultural Expo VIRTUAL PLATFORM

Japan Cultural Expo VIRTUAL PLATFORM has been launched. This platform combines “real” experiences at physical venues and “virtual” experiences through online digital content, promoting these within Japan and beyond.
Japan Cultural Expo VIRTUAL PLATFORM allows everyone to experience its art exhibitions, performing arts, nature, and art festivals in the virtual world, utilizing video, VR, and images.

Japan Cultural Expo VIRTUAL PLATFORM