Japan is equally as well known for its ecologically-sensitive traditional homes as it is for cutting-edge, green technology. In the old days, the Japanese wisely employed the concept of shakkei, meaning ‘borrowed scenery’, to enlarge and enrich their rather small piece of property by taking in the neighboring vista as part of their own. Unfortunately, this practice is fast disappearing in dense urban environments where many seek privacy rather than connection.
Engawa, the corridor running around the periphery of a house, is central to traditional Japanese design. It is neither outside nor inside but is simply an interface between two worlds. In the summer, sliding partitions are removed to allow cross-ventilation and connect inside and out. In the winter, storm doors and shoji screens are returned to increase thermal insulation and minimize heat loss.
Tsukimidai is a moon-gazing terrace, an interface between heaven and earth, a nostalgic planetarium and a form of borrowed scenery on a grand scale.
Tsuboniwa is a pocket garden and interface between inside and outside. Some are as small as a square meter, but nonetheless can do wonders, allowing in natural sunlight and breezes while pleasing the soul.
Tokonoma is a stage in a tearoom, usually one tatami in size, where seasonal art, such as a floral arrangement, is displayed, thus bringing the outside in.
Irori is a hearth where not only food but, more importantly, bodies and souls are warmed.
Hisashi, or deep eaves, allow winter sun to penetrate but prevent the scorching sun and rain from entering the interior.
Shoji and kohshi, louver screens of wood, bamboo or reeds, soften harsh natural sunlight to diffuse gently inside.
Tsuufuu, or natural cross-ventilation, carries gentle breezes throughout the house by means of windows and doors to minimize use of air-conditioning and energy.
Uchimizu is literately ‘scattering water’ in front of and around a house to tame summer heat.
While Japan prides itself today in its development of futuristic high-tech innovations, it also has a vast, environmentally wisdom-rich inheritance from which future generations can benefit and prosper.