China and Japan share beautiful cultures and they are both well known for their many tourist attractions. Through they are very well known for their hundreds of attractions, not many people are aware of the beautiful background of the two countries. China became a country on October 1st of 1949 under leader Ma Zedong. Mao Zedong declared the country’s independence and introduced the creation of the People’s Republic of China (The Chinese Revolution of 1949). Japan, on the other hand, had been a country far longer than China declaring its independence in 660 BC (Masamoto, 2019). These two countries have flourished in a variety of ways and they only continue to grow as individual societies. The purpose of this paper will be comparing and contrasting the religion and architecture between China and Japan.
Chinese culture differs from Japanese culture in many ways. The main cultural difference can be seen in religion. In China, one of the two main religions in China is Chinese Taoism. Before understanding Taoism, one must know the mean and where the term “tao” comes from. There are several debates on where Taoism came from, but the main argument is that a person named Lao Tzu is the basic founder of the Tao philosophy which will be translated to the religion of Taoism (Keller, 2012). Lao Tzu was born in 604 BCE and was a government employee. At the time when he was working, China was getting close to anarchy and this drove Lao Tzu away from the country. As he reached the western passed, a gatekeeper asked him to spell out the thoughts in his head. When he finished writing down his thoughts, the writings comprised of five thousand Chinese characters in eighty-one chapters (Keller, 2012). These writings were the philosophy of Taoism and have still influenced this modern world.
Tao can be translated as “the way the universe works” and is a state of quietness where one can divest his thoughts. (Creel, 1982). With the divestment of thoughts, one can fully focus and not focus on the disorder of the world. Religious Taoism practice is more focused on health and harmony. The focus is shifted onto health and harmony because it carries on into the next life (Keller, 2012).
There are several practices that come with Taoism. In the religion of Taoism, there are gods that people worship and pray to. Similar to Hinduism, there are different gods for different functions. The main god or gods that people give offering to are deceased family members or ancestors. People make shrines in different areas in their homes in order to give their ancestors offerings to stimulate a sense of good fortune and responsibility. Other than the practice of giving offerings to ancestors many people have begun exploring other ways to find complete harmony. Many people have used gymnastics to enhance harmony in one’s body or practicing breath control in order to calm the body down and emulate an embryonic state (Keller 2012). A couple of other practices that people have used are the creation and use of elixirs and the avoidance of wine, meat, and the five grains for these are believed by Taoists to stimulate the decaying of the body (Keller, 2012). All of these practices are to reach the main goal of harmony with oneself as well as the world.
Japanese Shinto is a huge religion and belief system in Japan. Many Shinto practices and philosophies can be derived from Buddhism and Taoism. Shinto can be described as “the way of the deities” and include several practices like Taoism (Bernard, 1990). The main goal of Shinto is to take part in practices in order to stay clean of evil spirits. These practices can be through prayers, offers, and many others.
Shinto was introduced to Japan around the 6th century CE and the interesting thing about Shinto is the fact that there are no known founders of this philosophical religion (Hirai, 2019). This religion can be seen as many Japanese native’s beliefs or ethics systems. One of the main concepts that someone needs to understand in order to grasp the idea of Shinto is the understanding of Kami. Not only is Kami the higher up that ruled the seas and mountains, but Kami is the idea of growth, creation, and Judgment (Hirai, 2019).
One of the beliefs in Shinto is the preservation of the environment or where a shrine is built. A shrine is usually built near a village in order for ease of access and seasonal offerings for good fortune in agriculture (Bernard, 1990).
Another main Shinto belief is the relationship between deities, nature and human beings. These three interact with each other to prevent the world from diverging into chaos. Through certain rituals with the deities, the deities can help prevent this from happening. (Bernard, 1990.)
One of the ultimate ideas is the practice of purification. Before doing any ritualistic activities, one must purify their mind and their body for full effect. The main idea of purification before doing any ritualistic activity is to create order in deities, humans, and nature (Bernard, 1990). Something that is incredibly interesting is that Shinto is slowly becoming obsolete because of the modernization of Japan. Japan is rapidly becoming more modern with technology leaving less space for Shinto shrines. Most of the green spaces that reside in Japan are the green spaces that hold sacred and ancient Shinto shrines (Bernard, 1990). Both of these religions still have a modern-day impact on not only the ethics and practices of the people that reside in these countries, but they also have a major impact on the way their buildings were built.
Something that has always seemed like an important landmark is the buildings of China a Japan. These two countries have spent years developing the ways that their buildings are engineered and built. There are several factors and characteristics that Chinese architecture has to offer.
Chinese architecture was very much influenced by Indian buildings as well as Buddhism. Many of the ancient buildings in China are either deteriorating or destroyed. They are in this state because they are made out of plain timber. Timber is a great material to make a building in the short run, but in the long run, it is terrible due to the fact that it is susceptible to insects, moisture, rain, and fire. Though many of these buildings are beginning to deteriorate, they all had very common themes. Many of the ancient Chinese buildings were built on raised platforms faced with bricks (Cartwright, 2017). A typical building would have timber posts for supports and they usually surrounded the building allowing the building to have maximum support. In these posts, there were wooden crossbeams that would help alleviate stress in case there was a natural disaster like an earthquake.
The roof of the typical building would be tiled and made out of stone to keep rain and insects out of the buildings. One of the most common features of the roof is the curved outward ends, this feature was added in order to try and preserves the pillars of wood. The outward roofing would keep as much rain as possible from hitting the wooden posts (Cartwright, 2017). Another common feature of the roof were the colors of the tiles. The tiles were usually yellow with hints of green for decoration (Cartwright, 2017). Buddhist temples around the country of China follow the same building pattern as another building.
One of the main structures that were influenced by India was the Chinese Pagodas. Though it was certain that the Chinese got the idea of pagodas from India, the Chinese modified it dramatically and can be up to twelve stories high. These pagodas were ultimately really for show and didn’t have much of a functionality use (Cartwright, 2017). As far as what they were made out of, pagodas were typically made out of wood and brick. The wood would be the main material because of the height that could be built with it. As far as regular homes, Chinese homes were made from mud, stones, and wood. The roofs were just regular tiled and slanted roofs and the buildings were just squares (Cartwright, 2017)
Japanese architecture is known for its complexity and beautiful personality. There were many buildings that were influenced by the popular religion of Shinto. In Japan, there are thousands of Shinto shrines where people come to worship and practice their beliefs. Similar to the Chinese buildings, the shrines were typically made out of wood with the little use of nails and glue (Cartwright, 2017). There were wooden posts in the ground connected to the roof in order for good support in case of an earthquake. To protect these shrines from fires, the builders would use mud and brick as an outside layer to give the building the most protection from the outside world (Cartwright, 2017).
Temples in Japan were heavily influenced by Chinese Buddhism building designs. The temples of China and Japan share a very common theme of shape and color. For example, many Shinto shrines in Japan will have the up and outward features in the roof to protect the posts from rain. While this roofing of these is similar, the colors are very similar as well. The colors of the walls emphasize the colors of red to represent good fortune (Cartwright, 2017).
The shrines in Japan are surprisingly rebuilt and refurbished around every 20 years to maintain its vitality and function. The idea of preserving and refurbishing the buildings is the process known as “shikinen sengu”. The idea behind this process is to restore not only the building but to also restore the power of the deity that lives in the shrine (Cartwright, 2017). Interestingly enough, it is very common to see the new building built right next to the old one in order to try to replicate the shrine as much as possible. They do this because of the earlier discussed idea of purification.
Another Japanese architectural landmark is the renown red gates. These red gates that are in front of the temple or some buildings are called the “Torri”. The Torri are two posts with a crossbar connecting the two posts. They are usually painted red and made out of wood. This gate is simply to allow people that enter to know that passing the gate, they are entering the sacred space of the shrine and leaving the material world (Cartwright, 2017).
The author speaks about the most important shrine in Japan and it is the Ise Grand Shrine in the Mie Prefecture. This shrine was created for Amaterasu, the sun goddess of the Shinto religion. This shrine has a secondary shrine close to it and holds the goddess Toyouke and is the goddess of agriculture in the Shinto religion. One of the biggest traditions in Japan is the rebuilding of the Amaterasu shrine exactly every 20 years and whatever is taken down in the old building is transferred to other shrines (Cartwright, 2017).
These two countries share a rich and beautiful religion and architecture. Chinese Taoism is the way of finding complete harmony with nature in order to surpass all disorders in the world. The people of China have developed hundreds of ways to practice this religion. Japanese Shinto is one of the biggest religions in Japan. Though this was influenced by many other religions in the worlds especially Buddhism, Japan has taken its course and developed its ways of practicing and traditionalizing this religion. Chinese architecture can be seen as influenced by Indian architecture. Posts were created to provide style and strength to the main structure, while the roofs were slanted outwards to protect the posts from rain. Japanese architecture is very similar to Chinese architecture as far as style and color, but they seem to have built shrines and took greater care of their buildings. These two countries have an amazing culture and should be given more credit throughout the world. These are two countries that should be visited throughout one’s lifetime.
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- Roger R. Keller, 'Taoism,' Light and Truth: A Latter-day Saint Guide to World Religions (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2012), 144–69.
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