Why Ise is rebuilt every 20 years

Ise Shrine

The Shinto shrines of Ise in central Japan are famous because they have been re-built every 20 years for hundreds of years (2013 is a re-building year). In an example of long term thinking, there is a special grove of cedar trees that are grown specifically so that they may be harvested in time for the next rebuilding. The same family of carpenters have been taking care of the rebuilding, each generation being trained by the one before.

But there are some even more interesting details about Ise that I only learned today. The shrine is designed in the style of old rice warehouses. One might think that any design that needs to be rebuilt every 20 years must be flawed but there is, in fact, a reason for this design.

via The Long Now blog is this quote from Junko Edahiro on why the Ise shrines are designed this way.

A great deal of rain usually falls in Japan’s early-summer monsoon, and as the thatched roof absorbs rainwater it becomes heavier. The heavy roof presses down on the walls, and this closes gaps between the wall boards, keeping the inside dry. In summer, the roof dries out and becomes lighter, allowing air to pass through the building and this also keeps it dry. Thus, the roof and pillars function together like a living organism to securely protect the seed rice from moisture and pests.

It seems to me, this harmony between form and function is uniquely Japanese, uniquely Shinto.

So now you know.

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