Model of the Higashi Sanjō-dono (ja), a typical shinden-zukuri architectural complex (no longer extant). ---- 1. Shinden (寝殿), 2. Kita-no-tai (北対), 3. Hosodono (細殿), 4. Higashi-no-tai 東対, 5. Higashi-kita-no-tai (東北対) 6. Samurai-dokoro (侍所), 7. Watadono (渡殿), 8. Chūmon-rō (中門廊), 9. Tsuridono (釣殿)

Shinden-zukuri (寝殿造) refers to the style of domestic architecture developed for palatial or aristocratic mansions built in Heian-kyō (平安京, today's Kyoto) in the Heian period (794-1185), especially in 10th century Japan.[1]

Shinden-zukuri developed into shoin-zukuri and sukiya-zukuri (detached teahouse type architecture). During the Kamakura era, it developed into buke-zukuri (武家造 housing for a military family).


The main characteristics of the shinden-zukuri are a special symmetry of the group of buildings and undeveloped space between them.

A mansion was usually set on a one chō ( 109.1 m) square. The main building, the shinden (寝殿 sleeping place), is on the central north-south axis and faces south on an open courtyard. Two subsidiary buildings, the tai-no-ya (對屋・対屋 lit. opposing rooms), are built to the right and left of the shinden, both running east-west. The tai-no-ya and the shinden are connected by two corridors called respectively sukiwatadono (透渡殿) and watadono (渡殿). A chūmon-rō (中門廊, central gate corridor) at the half-way points of the two corridors lead to a south courtyard, where many ceremonies were celebrated. From the watadono, narrow corridors extend south and end in tsuridono, small pavilions that travel in a U-shape around the courtyard. Wealthier aristocrats built more buildings behind the shinden and tai-no-ya.

The room at the core of the shinden (moya) is surrounded by a one ken wide roofed aisle called hisashi. The moya is one big space partitioned by portable screens. Guests and residents of the house are seated on mats. Since the shinden-zukuri-style house flourished during the Heian period, houses tended to be furnished and adorned with characteristic art of the era.

In front of the moya across the courtyard is a garden with a pond. Water runs from a stream (yarimizu 遣水) into a large pond to the south of the courtyard. The pond had islets and bridges combined with mountain shapes, trees, and rocks aimed at creating the feeling of being in the land of the Amida Buddha.

Officers and guards lived by the east gates.

Other influenced styles


The buke-zukuri was the style of houses built for military families. It was similar in structure to the regular shinden-zukuri with a few room changes to accommodate the differences between the aristocratic family and the military family. During the time when military families rose in power over the aristocrats, living quarters changed. Each lord had to build extra space in order to keep his soldiers around him at all times with their weapons within reach on the grounds in case of a sudden attack. To help guard against these attacks, a yagura or tower was built and torches were scattered around the gardens so they could be lit as quickly as possible.

With the increase of people living under the same roof, extra rooms called hiro-bisashi ("spacious room under the eaves") were built grouped around the shinden. The zensho (膳所 kitchen) was also built bigger in order to accommodate the required people needed to cook all the food for the soldiers and members of the household.

Unlike the shinden-zukuri, buke-zukuri homes were simple and practical, keeping away from the submersion into art and beauty that led to the downfall of the Heian court. Rooms characteristic of a buke-zukuri home are as follows:[2]

The buke-zukuri style changed throughout the Kamakura and Muromachi periods, and over times the rooms in a buke-zukuri style house decreased as daimyos started to use castles.


See Shoin-zukuri.

Extant examples

There are no remaining original examples of Shinden-zukuri-style homes, however some current structures follow the same styles and designs:


  1. Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan, entry for "shinden-zukuri"
  2. Perkins (1939:596-608)


External links

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