am 26. August 1998
In this excellent primer to the aesthetic of Japanese building design, Edward Morse casts a sympathetic and discerning eye on the constituent principles, parts, and details of traditional Japanese architecture and design. As we are led room by room through Japanese buildings of his time, we acquire an appreciation for the highly imaginitive individual expressions made by artisans of many crafts working within the standardization that gave the style longevity through many generations.
His study ranges from the historical origins of Japanese architecture to covering room floorplans, as has become a staple in introducing Japanese tatami mat rooms since he first wrote this book in the 1886, to lavishing minute attention to the details of various crafts that made the Japanese interior design accessories touchstones of excellence throughout the world. He also provides intimate vignettes of individual design principles, items, materials, and construction utilized throughout Japanese houses, rooms, and tea rooms.
His ability to translate the often fleeting impression of a space into precise identifiable elements makes him a valuable guide to this deceptively simple-looking style of interior design whose rigorous structure and aesthetic guidelines make it one of the great design styles of history. The extensive etchings included in the book provide concise, delightful, and sometimes humorous examples of the principles applied.
Because he covers the essential architectural and design elements thoroughly without becoming bogged down in mundane enumeration of tiny variances, the lively text gives the reader a very good sense of how spaces within a Japanese home are a sum of more than their constituent parts and how principles are applicable across the many disciplines that comprise the Japanese style. That he did it so sympathetically in a timeframe in which nationalistic chauvinism so predominated the world landscape makes it all the more impressive.
As an introductory volume to what makes traditional Japanese architectural design so delightful, this book is hard to beat. It's depth of understanding and comprehensive coverage of the style also make it an excellent reference volume for the more advanced student of Japanese design. That it is a standard item in bibliographies to Japanese design and on "must read" lists for Japanese design is no surprise.