The beauty of the Kara hafu
The Chinese-style gable would easily have to be one of the more attractive elements of traditional Japanese architecture. Reliable sources inform me that the Kara gable (唐破風) has existed in Japan since the Heian Period (794 to 1185). One interesting thing worth noting is that kara (唐), while actually meaning China (specifically the Tang Dynasty), is merely used to denote elegant. Which is exactly what it is, if not actually Chinese.
Below, behind my wonderful family, is the Dazaifu Tenman-gu (shrine) in Fukuoka Prefecture. Quite prominent is its Kara-hafu. You’d have to agree that the shrine is looking pretty good considering it’s been standing since 1591.
Prior to the mid 1500′s the undulating curves of the Kara gable were most commonly found on shrines, temples, gates & palanquins. During the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573 to 1603) though, they were increasingly incorporated into the towers & gates of castles.
You’ll see there are two pictures of the Kara hafu below, and a quick glance may not reveal the subtle yet significant difference. To the left, the Kara gable sits along the edge of the roof. This is known as a Noki kara hafu. To the right, the Kara gable sits atop the roof and forms a small room. This is known as a Mukai kara hafu.
|Noki kara hafu – 軒唐破風||Mukai kara hafu – 向唐破風|
|Uwajima Castle||Matsumoto Castle|
Again, there are two examples. Are they the same? Of course not.
The first kara-mon (formerly of Najima Castle, Fukuoka) has its gable facing the way from which it is entered. The roof on the second gate (Meirin-kan, Hagi) is oriented East-West. Did you spot the difference?
|Mukai kara mon – 向唐門||Hira kara mon – 平唐門|
… and more gates
This Kara-mon is utterly spectacular. Though originally of Fushimi Momoyama castle, it is now located here at the Nishi Hongan-ji. As a side-note, there is a color photograph of this gate in the Genshoku Nihon no Bijutsu (Vol 12) that shows it completely devoid of paint. Quite a surprising sight, I assure you.
Also in Kyōto is the Kara-mon of Nijō castle. Found in large number on the gate is the 16-petal chrysanthemum; symbol of the Emperor. Prior to these being added in the latter half of the 1800′s, the heraldic crest that adorned the gate was the three-hollyhock-leaf crest of the Tokugawa clan.
So, there you have it. Everything you ever wanted to know about the Chinese-style gable. Did I miss anything?