Japan, Travel

Shuiro

I have long been curious as to why Japanese architecture blends so well with nature aesthetically and how such a striking red colour can stand out so much yet seem somehow so harmonious in natural green surroundings. My simplistic view of the architecture is that any traditional building style evolved over hundreds of years is designed with a deep understanding of climate; in Japan traditional structures remain cool despite extreme summer heat for example. So certainly, there are calculated, physical reasons why a Japanese building connects with its environment.

The colour is more complex I think, perhaps it has something to do with complimentary colour theory, green being opposite to red etc… That particular Japanese shade of red, 朱色 shuiro (vermilion), blends especially well with nature though; why is that? Shuiro is obtained from safflower which is also used as an inexpensive alternative to saffron in cooking. This natural dye was used extensively in the Heian period (794-1185), not surprisingly then, Heian Jingu in Kyoto uses this colour for all main shrine buildings. This is maybe a bad example since the shrine in now in the centre of the city (!), but when I show you more pictures later of other shrines deeper in forests, you may see what I mean. Perhaps simply the fact that this colour is found naturally allows it to sit so comfortably with the green of trees. What do you think?

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7 thoughts on “Shuiro

  1. Joe, I adore that color, your photos, and the history lesson. Japanese gardens are my favorite place to rest my eye, yet only the one in Portland, Oregon I actually visited. The more reason to follow your blog…thank you!

  2. Interesting — thank you for the history lesson! 🙂
    I think part of it is that red and green are complimentary colours. Though the idea of them going so well here, because the paint is natural, is definitely intriguing. I’m sure the serenity of the temples (architecture as well as colour) has something to do with it as well.

    • Yes I think it is probably largely the complimentary colours thing, but I’ve no doubt you are completely right about temple/shrine serenity being a big factor. Red is often used as a colour for the sacred; rakan and jizo-san’s knitted bibs for example are always red, which you can see here > > > http://wp.me/pQo3s-PG

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