This weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the town of Gifu. I got to stay in a newly built Japanese farmhouse, inhabited by three generations of women. I ate a fabulous country-style home-cooked dinner, and visited the local public bath.
Here's a handrawn map, below, showing my trip. Kansai, of which Kobe, Kyoto, and Osaka are major cities, feels like a crisscrossing railroad track when compared with the more open countryside on the way to Gifu. It's rice harvesting season, so people are burning their fields, filling the air with the incense of rice husks. Gifu city is in an open plain between low hills.
Gifu's architecture seems to revolve around a single type of public building which maximizes roof span over a central cubic volume, and then amplifies that volume with a subsidiary bay around the edge. We visited the temple of the Great Buddha and a Kabuki theatre while we were there. Both used the same type, but occupied the volume in very different ways.
The Great Buddha (Gifu Sho-ho-ji Daibutsu) croaches in his space, almost too big for his shrine. This makes him seem even greater. He was made by monks from about 1790-1820. To make him, they made a bamboo latticework, and covered it in paper mache. The paper they used had prayers written on it. Then they applied thin layers of lacquer and covered the whole in gold leaf. It's one of three "great buddhas" in Japan. Architecturally, he takes up the central cubic volume, and his visitors use the exterior aisle to circulate around him.
The Kabuki theater, on the other hand, has a completely different circulation diagram. This theater has been adapted for the uses of modern Western theater, so that adds yet a third circulation diagram. The original way of viewing Kabuki had the audience outside, so the entire building was a raised stage that the audience looked into. The performers stayed mainly in the foreground, in what I referred to above as the subsidiary bay, and what here feels more like the porch. In the central cubic volume, a large ring in the floor allowed the scenery to rotate, or be changed from a room below the floor (another reason the building was raised).
I had the chance to visit the space during a performance of Djembe African drumming. O japan. you're so weird. Anyway, the modern use has the performers in the same place as in the Kabuki times, under that porch. To control entry and exit, the audience now views the performance inside the space, sitting, in this case, inside the circle in the floor (originally used for backdrops and scenery). In practice, this didn't make so much sense for this particular performance, since the building is made of wood, the people outside heard almost the same thing as the people inside, with no insulation in the way. People made the best of the open space around the structure (originally used by the audience) by having a small crafts fair.
We also made a stop at Sejima's housing project in Gifu. It was fun to see how this building, normally portrayed as empty and white like a crystallized tetris game, actually looks and feels on a typical fall afternoon.