Thursday, January 3, 2013

Japanese Gate Typology (3)

This is a series of posts describing the many varieties of Japanese gate, or mon (). If you look at the preceding kanji more closely,  you can think of it as a picture of a pair of swinging doors, reminiscent of saloon doors in a wild west movie. I thought that it would be a nice idea to bring more awareness to a western audience as to the tremendous diversity in forms and types of Japanese gates. This series intends to be a gateway to gates.

Previous posts in this series:
  1. Heijūmon 
  2. Kabukimon

Kōraimon (高麗門)

Literally the tall () deer () gate (). Nothing to do with deer however, as Kōrai is an old Japanese name for Korea. So, this is really a 'Korea Gate'. Nothing much to do with Korea however! Whether one could find similar gates in Korea is a bit misleading and besides the point - the use of the word 'Korea' in this context is likely akin to using the word 'exotic' in English, or may perhaps derive from a perceived similarity in the gate's roof form to Korean roofs of antiquity.

The kōraimon type is a logical development from the gate featured in the preceding post, the kabukimon. The big 'problem' with a kabukimon is that the structure is largely out in the weather and hence does not prove to be especially durable. Towards the end of protecting the structure from the elements, copper cladding and a small narrow pair of roof boards have been incorporated in many examples.

Taking that theme further, if one were to put a framed roof over the main beam, and then a pair of short framed roofs crosswise, out the back, to cover the outrigger posts and their braces, one would have a structure which is called - you guessed it - kōraimon:

The above elevation shows the front of the gate, where the similarity to the kabukimon is pretty obvious. Looking at the bate from the inside on out however, and the appearance is quite different, as you will see.

Here's a fairly recently-constructed example, two views:

This is a fairly common form of gate, used on castles, temples, and in front of feudal lord (dai-myō) residences. The tiled, gable roof, or kirizuma-yane, is typical, with a copper shingled roof (as in the above example) being in the minority it would appear.

Here's a kōraimon at a castle:

Note the use of diagonal bracing in lieu of nuki. Unlike the preceding example, this gate, being part of a fortification, has doors. The doors, by the way, are called tobira (). That character comprises the radical door () atop an element (非 - originally a pictograph of a pair of curved wings) meaning spread left and right.

When used at a castle, the kōraimon is generally found at the front, at the castle-end of a bridge across the moat - here's a perfect example, a gate at:

The same gate, from the inside:

Note the use of scissor bracing, which, according to some 'experts' is not a part of Japanese traditional framing practice.

Another castle gate example:

Here's the kōraimon at Edo Castle (江戸城), usually referred to as the Shimizumon, the view being from outside the compound, Shimizu moat to the left:

And from the inside, same gate:

This next kōraimon is from a (former) dai-myō residence:

 And one more, for good measure:

As you can see, the gate need not be part of a wall, although surrounding vegetation does tend to encourage transit up the established pathway!  On to post 4


  1. This comment came from Mike Laine:

    "So glad to see this post series on gates, a subject dear to my heart. I have done a bit of research, looking for publications with drawings and examples of the various gate types, but with little success. Kinokunya in SF has an occasional magazine, but not much else. Any chance you could make available the bibliography for this series? Or at least make a few suggestions on good publication options. This is a great education for me...thanks, Mike"

    1. Mike,

      thanks for your comment! I already replied to you via email in regards to your questions, so I'll not repeat myself here.


  2. Hi Chris,
    I find it interesting that the function of a gateway continues even when the initial purpose has been extinguished. Most of the examples you posted probably don't "keep people out" anymore yet they still fill some need.
    I also noticed there doesn't seem to be an exact rule to determine the height at which the rear gables intersect the main gable. I guess that variable is left to the creativity of the builder.
    Harlan Barnhart


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