Architecture Column ④: Nagatsuka Monastery for Jesuits
This monastery of the Jesuits (a Catholic religious order) is located on a small hill in Nagatsuka of Asaminami-ku in Hiroshima City, north of the Hiroshima Delta. Built in 1938, it was originally a training facility for Jesuits called a novitiate. The not very Christian-like, Japanese-style exterior is said to have been designed to blend in with the surrounding houses.
The building is characterized by the converging of Japanese and Western styles to create a space suitable for a novitiate. Although the exterior is essentially Japanese in style, the floor plan is mostly symmetrical, similar to the shape of a Western building. Also, when you look at the details, you can see that the building shows subtle indications of being a Christian structure. There is a cross on the gable decoration that adorns the gable and another on the bell tower that is shaped like a Buddhist pagoda.
A cross on the Japanese-style building
The sanctuary on the first floor has tatami flooring, and round pillars divide the room into three sections: small, then large, then small again. This layout is similar to that of a three-aisled basilica found in Western church architecture, and the ceilings are somewhat high to accommodate foreign monks, giving the impression that the space is different from that of Buddhist temples or other Japanese buildings. However, each element of the space is Japanese in style: the ceiling is a “gotenjo” (lattice ceiling), the pillars are topped with “funahijiki” (boat–shaped bracket arms), the walls are “shinkabe” (walls with exposed timber pillars) that have “nageshi” (a horizontal piece of timber to connect the pillars), and the inner sanctuary has “tokonoma” (raised alcoves). There are many examples of Japanese-style buildings that have been converted into churches, but this is a rare and precious example of a church that has been constructed from the ground up using only Japanese elements.
Sanctuary with tatami flooring
Example of a “three-aisled basilica” with three spaces in a row (Memorial Cathedral for World Peace ◆Interior of the cathedral photographed with permission)
The left and right sides of inner sanctuary are “tokonoma” (raised alcoves)
Upon entering the attic, you can see that the structure supporting the roof is not a traditional “wagoya” (Japanese roof structure), but trusses (Western roof structure) originating from Western Europe. The strength of trusses lies in their ability to support a wide roof using thin beams. Even though the roof of this building is not that wide, the trusses are made of thicker beams, which suggests a design intended to make the building sturdier.
The intense blast of the atomic bomb even reached here, far from the city center, resulting in broken glass, warped ceilings, and broken pillars on the side of the explosion hypocenter. Father Pedro Arrupe, the rector at the time, had a background in medicine, and he engaged in relief efforts by opening the sanctuary to the many evacuees who had been injured. Father Hugo Lassalle, who had been exposed to the atomic bombing at Noboricho Church and worked on the construction of the World Peace Memorial Cathedral after the war, was also treated here.
Statue of Father Arrupe
While there are various A-bombed buildings remaining in Hiroshima, this building still retains its original appearance from exterior to interior, allowing visitors to experience its unique design and structure. Damaged by the atomic bombing but restored and used for many years, this building has lots of stories to tell.
*The photographs in this article were taken by the author, with some exceptions.
・Location: 2-1-36 Nagatsuka-nishi, Asaminami-ku, Hiroshima City, Hiroshima
◆Visits are allowed with prior notice and permission. Please be quiet inside the facility.
Stories from Hiroshima’s A-bombed Buildings, Hiroshima City + A-bombed Buildings Study Group, 1996
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