NIPPON Kichi - 日本吉

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玄関 Genkan The Genkan

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The front entrance of any ordinary household, Zen temple, or public building is called the 'genkan'.

The term originated from one of the sayings of the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu, '玄の又玄なる衆の妙なる門', which led to its use in Japan during the Kamakura period as a Zen-Buddhist term. In Buddhism, entering a temple has the same meaning as entering Buddhist priesthood, and setting foot on the path for enlightenment, or 'gen'. Therefore any entrance to a building came to be called the 'genkan'. This was the origin of the use of the word 'genkan'.

Domestic architecture of the Heian period featured corridors, carriage porches and board doors. During this time, a low floor of wooden boards made for alighting palanquin passengers was called the 'genkan', while the area for receiving guests was called the 'shikidai'. In the early Edo period, these two spaces together came to be called the 'genkan'.

Town and village representatives were allowed to build a 'genkan' for receiving government officials, but commoners were not. By the Meiji period, though, all people of any status were free to build a genkan, but until the last world war, the formalities of the genkan deemed that only the master of the house or worthy-enough guests could use it, while family members used the inner genkan and servants used the backdoor.
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