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from observation to observed

August 4, 2009

[Economist]  What is it about Japanese pagodas that makes them so different from their ancestors in India and later China? All were religious monuments of one sort or another. In India, mounds of stone called “stupas” were used to house religious relics and writings. As Buddhism spread to China, the stone-built structures became taller and more elaborate. But with the introduction of Buddhism into Japan in the sixth century, the pagoda underwent a fundamental change in design.

For a start, the Japanese version is built entirely from wood rather than stone. Curiously, it has no internal staircase. Unlike its equivalents elsewhere in Asia, which were used as lookout posts as well as for storing religious objects, the Japanese pagoda serves no practical purpose. According to Atsushi Ueda, an architect, “the Japanese pagoda evolved from an observation tower to a tower that was itself observed—a kind of object d’art.” (read)

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