Difference between Chinese and Japanese architecture guide

Difference between Japanese and Chinese Architecture, Buildings in Japan & China, East Asia construction style guide

Difference Between Chinese and Japanese Architecture?

Key Architectural Designs: Eastern Asia Built Environment Variations

post updated 16 February 2024

What Is the Difference Between Chinese and Japanese Architecture?

Architecture in Japan and China bears a few similarities, but there are many more vast differences which tend to be overlooked. Although China influenced Japan, historically, through Buddhism; the differences lie in the details.

One of the major influences of each architectural style is that the Chinese lifestyle included chairs while the Japanese lifestyle did not as it was customary to sit on the floor. However, this custom changed in the Meiji period (1868-1912).

Often times, the two types of architectural structures are confused, mainly because of China’s influence on Japanese tradition. China’s architectural style has been developed for over a million years giving rise to dominance.

Difference Between Chinese and Japanese Architecture?
building photo courtesy of article provider

26 July 2019

Difference Between Chinese and Japanese Architecture Advice

Structural Differences

Japanese architecture consists of wooden structures which are slightly elevated above the ground. Japanese roofs are also characterized by either tiles or thatched roofs.

Meanwhile, Chinese architecture is characterized by bilateral symmetry, enclosed open spaces, an emphasis on horizontal orientation and a range of allusion to symbolism and cosmology. An innovative aspect of Japanese architecture is replacing walls with sliding doors creating an adjustable sense of space.

Furthermore, the use of low furniture was attributed to the fact that the Japanese sat on the floor and cushions. High tables were incorporated into the designs in the 19th century.

A modern low table is a staple of every living room in Japan. They are multifunctional, able to be used for everything from putting your feet up to serving tea. Most people have seen them in their homes but do not realize their history. For centuries, the Japanese have sat on the floor at traditional tables called ‘low tables’ or Chabudai. These tables, which were the center of every home, helped families eat and live together.

Japan’s early architecture was comprised of simple pit-houses which were simply functional and catered to the needs of the hunter-gatherer population. However, the influence of the Han Dynasty introduced the notion of more complex structures. Today, visitors to Japan can still see many examples of traditional Japanese architecture, including stunning temples, shrines, and castles. If you’re interested in Japanese culture and history, be sure to check out websites where you can find authentic Japanese swords and other traditional Japanese artifacts.

Buddhism was also a catalyst in transforming architecture in Japan by introducing complicated techniques using wood. Traditionally, Chinese architecture categorizes structures according to type — these range from pagodas to palaces.

The Chinese place a great emphasis on using wood, and each structure and choice of the material varied according to the function of the building. For instance, in China, commoners and emperor’s homes were not made of the same materials and the different styles are assigned to each geographic region and ethnicity.

Learning a Chinese language such as Mandarin can be a valuable asset for travelers exploring the vast and diverse landscapes of China. Whether navigating bustling cities like Beijing and Shanghai or exploring remote villages, understanding the language allows travelers to communicate with locals, seek directions, and engage in meaningful cultural exchanges. Speaking even a few basic phrases in Chinese can elicit warm responses from locals and enhance the overall travel experience.

Moreover, as China continues to be a popular destination for business and tourism, learning Mandarin has become increasingly advantageous for professionals and enthusiasts alike. In the field of architecture, where projects often span across borders and cultures, having proficiency in Mandarin can open doors to new opportunities and facilitate collaboration with Chinese partners.

An aside:

Japanese women are known for their charm and charisma. Their culture teaches them how to take every role assigned by society with a sense of decency, how to become good daughters, wives, and mothers from early childhood.

Influences and Transformation

Japan’s architecture was transformed by two main events:

  1. The Kami and Buddhas Separation Act

This act formally disjointed Buddhism from Shinto and Buddhist temples from Shinto Shrines thus breaking a tie that had existed for thousands of years

  1. Westernization

Japan adopted a range of styles from abroad during a period of Westernization; the aim of this project was to have Japan compete with first world countries.

Many architectural styles were adopted from foreigners, architects studied abroad and introduced a modern approach to its buildings. After World War 2, Japanese architects gained international recognition leading to the international fame of architects like Kenzo Tange.

On the contrary, Chinese architectural principles remain largely unchanged, and the major changes have mostly been applied decoratively. However, movements like the Tang Dynasty influenced styles in Japan, Korea and Mongolia among other nations.

In the 20th century, Chinese architects tinkered with the traditional structures to innovate modern architectural designs with success. The major influence of this transformation is the pressure for urban development.

Urban development demanded higher structures; China’s levels were usually less than three floors. In its transformation, Chinese architecture has remained true to its traditional elements and skills including carpentry, masonry and stone masonry which are still applied in contemporary structures.

It has influenced many new architects and architecture students. Students from other countries regularly visit these architecture masterpieces to understand it better. If you are a student from engineering or architecture, you can plan a visit to China to understand the transformation.

Tradition vs. Modernism

Japanese have always been held in high regard by the west, particularly in the United States of America, in terms of architecture and interior design. As early as 1876, the Japanese partook in exhibitions such as the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia.

This resulted in a nuanced enthusiasm for Japanese work from the west. Renowned architects visited Japan and played a significant role in bringing forth Japan is a great influencer in modernism. According to cultural experts, “the west discovered the quality of space in traditional Japanese architecture through a filter of western architectural values.”

China, on the other hand, has been more influential in Asian countries, and its architecture has influenced countries like Sri Lanka, India and certain parts of Southeast Asia.

Other structures in Asian countries which tend to resemble the Chinese-style architecture are Buddhist Temples, buildings Hindu Temples in Nepal, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Cambodia and Laos.

In modern times, when considering architectural elements related to workspaces and offices, there are also noticeable differences between Chinese and Japanese approaches. The design of office desks and work environments reflects cultural and functional preferences.

Chinese office environments often prioritize collaboration and communal workspaces. Open-plan offices and shared work areas are common in Chinese workplaces, emphasizing teamwork and interaction among colleagues. Chinese office desks might be larger and more adaptable to accommodate group discussions and collaborative projects.

On the other hand, Japanese office design tends to focus on individual productivity and efficiency. Traditional Japanese aesthetics of simplicity, minimalism, and organization are often incorporated into office spaces. Japanese office desks are usually designed to offer personal space, with a neat and orderly arrangement to enhance concentration and individual work tasks.

These differences in office desk design reflect broader cultural values and work philosophies. Chinese work culture tends to emphasize group dynamics and collective effort, while Japanese work culture places importance on personal dedication and attention to detail. As a result, the architectural design of office spaces, including desk arrangements, reflects these cultural priorities in both countries.


Although the Japanese and Chinese architecture tend to be confused, there are clear differences between what sets each one apart. Chinese architecture was cited by Liang Sicheng in 1984, to be as old as the Chinese civilization itself, testifying to the fact that the Chinese have always excelled in creating an ingenious system of design.

Meanwhile, the Japanese structures aspire to be more modern and be able to adapt to its Western counterparts and demands. The very aesthetic of Japanese interior design is influenced by both religious figures and elements of the west. Meanwhile, the Chinese excel within their own traditional methods.

Japanese Architecture

Japanese Architects

Japanese Architecture

Japanese Architecture Designs

Japanese Architecture Developments

Japanese Building Designs

Japanese Building Developments

Japanese Buildings

Chinese Architecture

China Architecture Design – chronological list

Chinese Architect – Design Practice Listings

Chinese Buildings

Resort in Hongtong Bay Hainan Island
Design: M CO Design
Lumionous Resort
image from architect
Resort in Hongtong Bay Hainan Island

Zhejiang World Trade Center
Architects: Leigh & Orange
Zhejiang World Trade Center
image from architecture office
Zhejiang World Trade Center in Hangzhou

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