In Japan, one of the most important aspects of a religious experience is the approach to the place of worship. This path is meant to enable the mind to shift more easily from worldly to spiritual matters as the body moves from secular to sacred space, ultimately culminating in prayer, which usually occurs at the building threshold. Tokyo-based Hiroshi Nakamura embraced this concept for a recent addition to the 17th-century Ueno Toshogu Shrine, which features a new circulation route, punctuated by two small structures that enhance its spiritual atmosphere for visitors—a Shrine Amulet Place of Conferment and a Meditation Pavilion. “It’s not object design but experience design,” he explains.
A strong contrast with Nakamura’s quiet sensibility, the Shinto shrine is a grand, golden edifice at the edge of Tokyo’s Ueno Park. It was erected in 1651 and is dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542–1616), the first military commander of the Tokugawa Shogunate, who was deified after his death. Initially, shrine officials asked the architect to create a kiosk where the faithful could receive protective amulets. Nakamura honored this request but also prioritized preserving the existing trees, a signature of his architecture, especially a 600-year-old camphor whose vulnerable roots were being trod upon and weakened by the thousands of annual visitors to the sacred site.
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