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National Theatre of Japan : Addendum

Following my previous post, an old friend has been in touch : Seiichi Kuraoka, an architect who worked for many years on major projects with Taisei, another of the Big Five construction companies noted in my post dated May 1, 2017. He recalls the design competition for the National Theatre of Japan, which took place while he was still a student, and his disappointment at the result. In particular he is critical of the issue raised in my post regarding the reproduction of timber detailing in concrete. He notes that azekura-zukuri (the interlocking log construction style adopted at Shõsõ-in : see right) was developed as a technical response to the issue of timber expansion and contraction.

Most of mainland Japan experiences climatic swings from warm-moist air to cold-dry air, and so timber will expand and contract significantly. The azekura-zukuri technique allows this to happen whilst avoiding the development of structural stresses. As Kuraoka points out, its reproduction in concrete is technically and functionally meaningless and so he sees it as an inappropriate and purely decorative device that has been pasted onto the National Theatre like wallpaper (my term, not his).

National Theatre of Japan, Tokyo : Hiroyuki Iwamoto : 1967

Application of timber detailing to concrete construction, where it is technically and functionally unnecessary

Meanwhile he has sent a link to the Yachiyoza theatre, which was built in 1910 but adopted the architectural style of the Edo Period (1603-1867). Here the style reflected the building's function as a traditional theatre for the performance of Kabuki (Kabuki first appeared during the Edo period), a bit like the Elizabethan reproduction Globe Theatre built in London in 1997 in order to stage Shakespeare in its original format. The Yachiyoza has been restored in recent years and still stages Kabuki performances today.

The female performers that can be seen in some of the images on the above website are dressed in costume for the Dance of a Thousand Women that takes place each year during the Yamaga Lantern Festival (Yamaga is the town where the Yachiyoza theatre is located).

Yachiyoza theatre, Yamaga City, Kumamoto Prefecture

(image from )

Yachiyoza theatre, Yamaga City, Kumamoto Prefecture

(image from

Yachiyoza theatre, Yamaga City, Kumamoto Prefecture

Yachiyoza theatre, Yamaga City, Kumamoto Prefecture

All images by John Barr unless otherwise noted

© John Barr 2021


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