Learning by Doing – Ise Shrine

Architecture is an important carrier of history. Not only do the buildings around us tell a story, but they serve as a marker of a particular time.

The story of the Ise Shrine in Japan is particularly inspiring in the way it captures history but also propels an ancient narrative from generation to generation.

Since the year 630, this shrine has been rebuilt every 20 years. Part of this is the belief in the importance of renewal, but another significant element of this is that the average time between generations is 20 years. This means that the carpenter who built the current shrine at any one time is still around to teach the next generation of carpenters the skills to build the shrine again.

Together, they make an identical copy of the shrine right next door before demolishing the older building. This act of periodic reconstruction is known as Shikinen sengu and also includes the rebuilding of important artefacts such as ceremonial swords and lacquered boxes.

So often we lament the loss of skills and crafts as technology and society changes and adapts. Learning from the Ise Shrine could be a way forward where we can preserve important skills throughout history, as well as create a community that is built on mutual respect for shared knowledge.