August 1, 2016

Architectural details of the Sapporo Japan Temple

The new Sapporo Japan temple is one of the more culturally unique temples built by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The temple beautifully incorporates Japanese architecture with numerous motifs and symbols that not only convey Japanese history and culture, but help connote a sacred setting.

To give the exterior a uniquely Japanese feel, the architects used a very similar design to the Tokyo capital building, called the Diet building. Both buildings have a single large stepped tower in the center, with four smaller towers, one on each corner of the larger tower. Both buildings include in the center tower three rows of five windows, the top row being the smallest set of windows. The temple also includes roof eve corners that are slightly turned up, typical of Japanese traditional architecture.

Japanese Design
Before taking a look at the inside of the temple, it will be helpful to learn a little bit about traditional Japanese interior design. First, unlike western design, Japanese "inner space divisions are fluid, and [the] room size can be modified through the use of screens or movable paper walls." [1] These partitions generally are made of wooden frames in a lattice pattern covered with opaque paper. Wooden transoms above the doors are also typically added to increase airflow and light in between rooms. In more important rooms, ceilings are not flat, but instead decorated with wooden beams, paintings, or coffered ceilings. [2]

A traditional Japanese interior design
The interior of the new Sapporo Japan temple has incorporated, to at least some degree, all of these design aspects throughout the entire temple.

One of the first, uniquely Japanese design features is the use of latticework, transoms, and coffered ceilings. Though most of the walls in the temple are stationary, the woodwork seeks to replicate the feel of the traditional movable paper walls and sliding doors. For example, in the first instruction room, the doorways are designed with intricate latticework, to imitate the feel of the traditional shoji sliding doors. Above the doorways are included beautifully carved wooden transoms, again typical of Japanese design. In most other temples of the church, the doorway leading from the Terrestrial room to the Celestial room is separated by a large curtain. However, in the Sapporo Japan temple, this doorway instead uses a unique sliding latticework door covered with an opaque material, reminiscent of the paper doors so common to Japan. This doorway also includes metal transoms around the opening, giving this movable wall, a uniquely Japanese feel.

Door leading from the Terrestrial to the Celestial room
In addition to the doorways, the chairs, recommend desk, chapel woodwork, altars, and stained-glass windows seek to replicate similar latticework motifs. The baptistry also uses these same designs on the stonework on the font and within the woodwork of the walls and doors. As an interesting side note, the design of the latticework on the altar in both instruction rooms, is partially replicated within the sides of the chairs, perhaps suggesting to those sitting, that they are at least symbolically at the altar.

The temple also integrates the Japanese design of coffered and wood beam ceilings, including in the large dome above the baptistry, in the ceiling of both the first and second instruction rooms, in the sealing rooms, and in the beautiful woodwork of the celestial room dome.

Patterns and Motifs
Several traditional Japanese patterns or motifs are used throughout the temple. [3] One of the most popular Japanese symbols, the seigaiha or wave pattern, is used on the exterior stonework. Another wave pattern depicts a central circle with emanating waves, and can be located on the exterior stonework as well as on the ceilings of the celestial and sealing rooms. The wave, in Japanese culture, symbolizes power and resilience, [4] both attributes that can be obtained through making and keeping temple covenants. In addition, a cloud pattern can be found as part of the wallpaper design in the instruction room, and in the Celestial room ceiling dome.

Two, very popular Japanese traditional patterns used in the temple are the asanoha and shippo pattern. Both patterns are used in the beautiful frosted stained-glass windows of the temple. The shippo pattern is also incorporated into the wood paneling on and around the doors, on the recommend desk, the chapel pulpit, within the carpet design in both instruction rooms, and in the stencil work in various rooms.

The lilac in a square and circle motif
The lilac flower, also found throughout the temple, is very popular in Sapporo, in part because of the highly anticipated annual lilac festival. The lilac flower can be located everywhere from the baptistry font railing, to the instruction room woodwork. The lilac is also incorporated within a circle and square motif, as seen in the sealing rooms and in the celestial room woodwork. This motif is reminiscent of Japanese family crests, or mon, which were "used to decorate and identify an individual or family." [5]

The chandeliers of the sealing rooms and of the Celestial room, and the center table of the Celestial room also incorporate a merged circle and square design. The circle can represent eternity, and the square the earth, or the four corners of the earth, thus symbolically representing how heaven and earth combine within the walls of the temple.

The temple also includes several traditional plants within the carpet and interior design, including bamboo leafs in the entry and waiting area carpet, and beautiful blossoms in the bride's dressing room. The first instruction room also incorporates the common gingko leaf in the fabric of the seats.

Japanese Gardens
Perhaps, one of the most unique aspects of the Sapporo Japan temple is the use of the very traditional Japanese raked stone garden. These stone gardens can be found outside the temple in the beautiful gardens, and also in the main waiting area beneath the grand staircase. These gardens are designed to "imitate the intimate essence of nature" through the placement of large protruding rocks in a bed of raked white gravel. The large rocks generally represent islands or mountains, while the sand, raked in wavelike patterns emanating from the larger stones, represent the ocean waves. Japanese styled gardens were first incorporated into ancient Japanese Buddhist temples, for the purpose of helping the temple monks to receive enlightenment through contemplation, and through the delicate time consuming work of raking the gardens.

Japanese stone garden below the grand staircase
As part of the endowment ceremony, participants learn about the plan of salvation, and how to return back to the presence of God through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Much of the design in the instruction rooms symbolically convey the concept of moving from an earthly existence to that of heaven. When you begin the endowment, you start in the first instruction room, which depicts creation through several beautiful murals around the room. These murals are very reminiscent of plants and traditional gardens common in the Sapporo area. The front corner mural interestingly includes a depiction of the well known Ezo no Fuji mountain.

As you move from this first instruction room, to the second, and on into the Celestial room, the ceiling height, size of the room, amount of light, and ornate woodwork increases with each new room. Again, this design aspect is to show our symbolic progress moving back into the presence of God. Of particular interest, in the Celestial room, is the two murals of pine trees. In Japan, the pine tree is one of the most popular trees, and represents steadfastness, long life, and happiness, [8] an appropriate image found within the Celestial room. In addition, the design of the temple, as seen from above, with the Celestial room under the center tower, also conveys the concept of the sacred center between the four corners of the earth, a common design among Asian temples.

First instruction room of the Sapporo Japan temple
Traditional Vases
As a final note, several beautiful traditional style vases can be found throughout the temple, including two particularly elegant vases in the Celestial room, a vase style popular in Japan originating from the Tang dynasty in China.

The new Sapporo Japan temple is a beautiful edifice, that elegantly reflects the culture and history of the nation of Japan. This sacred house of the Lord, will be a place where the saints will be able to come closer to their Lord and Master, even Jesus Christ, on their journey heavenward, back to the presence of God.

[1] Japanese Architecture, Wikipedia
[2] Traditional Japanese style rooms
[3] Japanese Patterns and Motifs
[4] Japanese Art and Design Themes
[5] Mon (emblem), Wikipedia
[6] Zen Rock Garden - History, Philosophy and How-To Guide
[7] Symbology in Japanese Culture, see "Pine Tree"


  1. Well Done. Excellent description of a beautiful work of art.

  2. Lovely lovely video. Your explanations of the spiritual blessings and our relationships with God were so touching. Thank you for this effort. On the Philadelphia and Mexico temples, the music is lovely but I so hope you will be able to create this same type of script for them as well. I would love to know of the cultural aspects for them as well. Thanks you again.

  3. Lovely lovely video. Your explanations of the spiritual blessings and our relationships with God were so touching. Thank you for this effort. On the Philadelphia and Mexico temples, the music is lovely but I so hope you will be able to create this same type of script for them as well. I would love to know of the cultural aspects for them as well. Thanks you again.

    1. Lisa, glad you enjoyed the video! I do hope to do more videos like this, so check back. Hopefully I will have one with the Philadelphia temple in the next few weeks.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Thannk you for writing this


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