Taishakuten Temple Beam Ends and Corbels
One of the most interesting details when it comes to traditional Japanese architecture (or indeed worldwide traditional architecture) are the highly decorated and carved wooden beam ends and corbels at temples and shrines. At the Taishakuten Temple in Katsushika Ward, which is famous specifically for its wooden carvings (more on that in a post later this week) I found these excellent lion (shish) and dragon’s head carvings. Usually these are painted in bright colors or even gold laminated, but in this temple they are bare wood, and it is easy to see the craft that is necessary to form these carvings!
All Japanese structures were traditionally made of wooden beams, and it is the end of the wooden beams sticking out of the wall that makes these beam ends, a perfect place to add some extra decoration. Corbels are solid pieces of material that are designed to rest on the base wall, supporting weights and structures jutting out of or from the wall (such as roof overhang, second floors, statuary etc.). Sometimes corbels are made to look like beam ends for the purpose of symmetry. In most modern western architecture beam ends are hidden inside the walls or undecorated altogether even if left visible. As Japanese temple architecture often has very heavy roofs (to protect against typhoons and rain) it was necessary to create several layers of wooden beams, and you can see beam end carvings on top of beam end carvings (or corbels) in some places. At corners the crossing beams will create a perfect opportunity to have two carvings at right angles sticking out from the wall!