Tradition VS. Modernism
Architectural debate in postwar Japan focuses on aesthetic and historic identity. At stake is the core notion of Japanese-ness, made urgent by the influx of American culture during 1945-52 American occupation. Tange becomes a central figure in the debate between a purely Japanese tradition and the International Style arriving from the West and the Soviet Union since the 1920s. In 1955 he publishes the essay “How to understand modern architecture in Japan today-for the creation of tradition” in Shinkenchiku (edited by future Metabolost Noboru Kawazoe). Tange opposes the prevalent use of modernist style as mere patina - placing white tiles over a simple box, which he calls “white sanitary ware” - and the fudging of modernism with traditional touches like a pitched roof. Instead, he insists on exploiting tradition as a means of innovation. While building prolifically in a modern mode and strategizing the high-tech avant-garde of Metabolism, Tange is still nourished by Japan’s tradition: in 1960 he writes a book with Walter Gropius on the 17th-century Katsura Detached palace; in 1961, with Kawazoe, he writes a book on the seventh-century Ise Shrine - the main references points of imperialist and Shintoist history respectively. Ise, which provided Tange with a prototype for his Greater East Asion Co-Prosperity Sphere Monument proposal in 1942, continues to inspire him for the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park Museum (also on pilotis, but with Ise’s pitched roof taken off). For Tange and the future Metaboloists, there is no conflict in their simultaneous study of tradition and modernism. Ise Shrine, rebuilt every 20 years with new materials, and Katsura Detached Palace, extended in a modular fashion and adapted to changing royal needs over the centuries, are inspirational in the nightly gatherings with Takashi Asada and Noboru Kawazoe in the late 1950s that give birth to Metabolism.
Tange, effusive over tradition: “Ise Shrine manifests primitive yet powerful, simple yet noble, and serene yet ecliptic qualities, which cannot help moving us.” Ise Shrine, 690 CE, photographed for Kawazoe’s Shinkenchiku in 1955