2015/03/06 09:55 Hiroshi Nakano, “Japanese Spirituality and Pattern Language”, AsianPLoP

Hiroshi Nakano, Center for Environmental Structure

Keynote presentation at the 4th Asian Conference on Pattern Languages of Programs, Waseda University, Tokyo

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker’s presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship, posted on the web by David Ing.


Call him super-Hiro (as opposed to normal Hiro, the conference chair)

An architect, not a software developer

Not an expert on explaining Japanese spirituality, it’s part of being Japanese

Gauguin painting:  From where do we come from?  Where are we?  To where are we going?

Taisetsu Suzuki, Buddhist philospoher, book:  Japanese Spirituality

  • Every object either organic or non-organic, has its own life in itself
  • Some are clearly visible, others are hidden it only show up when some indicators effects upon it


  • Patterns
  • Centering

Zen teaching:

  • A is not A, therefore A is A
  • When A is denied, you have to reflect about why it is not A
  • Look for another way to look at A
  • Get a new paradigm
  • See A from a new paradigm
  • Then you know what is A

You have to look for the new way of looking at things

Christopher Alexander:

  • Seeking the answer to:  What is beauty? What is good?

Kurosawa movie (pre-war)

  • Two men come to shrine, see lady praying at shrine
  • Master asks:  what makes the beauty?
  • There’s nothing more beautiful
  • Where does that beauty come from?
  • It’s from her ego
  • She’s praying, giving up herself, throwing away her ego, concentrating on her praying, then the beauty comes out

You may not have religion, but praying for something, concentrating on it, without thinking yourself in it, then beauty comes automatically

By concentrating on the process, then beauty comes automatically

What Alexander found was patterns

  • First started (at Notes on the Synthesis of Form) with mathematical logical processes through hierarchical decomposition
  • At this point, patterns was rational
  • Divided pattern into tiny elements, combined them to solve problems
  • Later, he added semi-lattice of real world, changed to illustrate as A Pattern Language
  • Each pattern in itself has almost a completely presently shared patterns
  • Each pattern shows a different seeing world
  • A story that gives motivation, why to use this pattern language

Patterns are a simple structure that everyone can use and learn them

  • Context:  Forces hidden in the related field, not just inside the pattern but also from outside the pattern (could be human) as well as internal
  • Form:  By what kind of geometry of relations
  • Conflict between forces:  How to set forces equilibrium
  • So each pattern is combined or fused by the aid of forces context indicates.  here patterns funcdtoin are integrated

Now call project language rather than pattern language:  a specific goal

  • Project languages add up to become a history of pattern languages

Not simple

  • #197 is Thick Walls — not just Walls
  • Thick means to change the way you think about walls
  • Pattern gives the motive to see the world differently
  • Without such force, patterns are weak


  • Not a dent in the wall
  • Private work in a small room with community work on the large room
  • Doesn’t separate out the private from the community
  • Presented as visual
  • All have visual forms
  • Patterns came from how to build buildings, but can use in human world
  • To make a pattern language, have to use technical stuff

Language is a complex way of expression

  • Pattern language makes a story
  • Selected good patterns give a motivation to move
  • A collection of patterns give strong motives, with a narrative story

Idea of repair, fixing a broken system

  • From Oregon Experiment:  an injury healing system as an example
  • When have an injury in the hand, will have automatic fix, but don’t know how it works
  • An injury is monitored by the whole body
  • Skin injury has contact with the brain, order will come on how fix it
  • Before injury, have a scheme to fix
  • This is a healing process
  • All processes in the pattern language are healing processes: we must fix something, change something
  • The whole process is changing the world
  • A repair system is a centering process in the nature of order

2011.3.11 had a disaster

  • How to fix?
  • Four years have passed, nothing has changed
  • Problems are the same as before it happened
  • These villages were already dead end villages
  • They lived in dead end houses
  • People don’t have have funeral ceremonies in the temporary houses

Story:  young mother threw newly born baby over the top of the hill, as tsunami chased right after her

  • She survived, the grandmother and father died in car
  • How to get a new recovery of human life should be the first thing in the morning
  • Photography of concentration camp train in WWII, sending Jewish prisoners, where mother threw baby out of train
  • Auschwitz tragedy similar to Japanese tragedy
  • Have to change the situation
  • Global situation, people are suffering, how to live on?

Pattern language is how to solve conflicting forces into the balanced situation

  • Make good stories to change the world
  • Step by step of generating the pattern language is critical to change

Patterns are found through direct people’s communications

  • Sometimes can be found in local culture, traditions, history, daily lives, and sometimes through logics
  • Real good patterns are extracted from strong visions
  • A is not A, then can see what A is A

Two perspectives:

  • Disaster victims (landowners) and office bureaucrats (who have procedures, seeking written applications)
  • People are dying, most people are over 70 years old
  • Some officials are also victims, they know what the disaster victims are saying, but they are following the bureaucratic red tape

Made a plan after 3 months, but bureaucrats said no.

  • Road first, then houses
  • Have to figure out how to pay
  • Why do the bureaucrats keep giving some terrible answers to a mother who threw her baby to the hill?

Bureaucratic response:  flatten the mountain, work against nature

AsianPLoP Day 1 plenary

The relations of a human network has a visual form configuration:  sub-symmetry

  • Landowners <–> Intermediate Aid Organization <–> Disaster Victims
  • Proposed 6 months after disaster
  • Said okay
  • Just formal organization didn’t work

They lack a vision

  • They lack a whole
  • They lack to get back a life.

What is important is how to repair a life

  • Get a house

Proposing a project language, as an intermediate aid organization doesn’t work, what should we do

First, need a clear, healthy vision

  • Where is a healthy body, then will know how to repair
  • Japanese spirituality clearly insists how to see this vision
  • Only though this spirituality we may have be able to grasp this vision
  • We tend to see the world based on dualism, in a Cartesian way of thinking, from philosopher Descartes
  • Hard to deny Descartes these days
  • Today, schools are based on dualism:  subjects, objects
  • Make things as far away from emotions
  • Cool attitudes
  • We must stop this

In order to understand this idea, the center is useful

  • In the Nature of Order, it’s described in a complicated way
  • Could read again and again, won’t get it.
  • Easier way:  a center has properties
  • e.g. hand is connected the body, not isolated
  • Center is not isolated, it’s connected to the other world
  • Connected, the hand is alive
  • The center is alive
  • At the same time, it’s the one whole
  • Hand and fingers come together as a whole
  • This is a way of synthesizing parts all together as a whole
  • A is not A
  • Each hand is a center

This idea of center is different from Cartesian

  • Have to see the whole and part at the same time
  • In the development of the world, this emerges
  • A pattern itself can become a center, but the pattern is a repetitive entity
  • Can generate a process of centering, so that get objects with life
  • Everything has life in it
  • Have to create or generate life with the aid of a centering process
  • Can we give life?  Be a Frankenstein?

Diagram of plant

  • Every pattern is a leaf
  • Forces comes from the outside
  • Some leaves gather in a same place
  • Context is an outside forces with push each pattern towards a certain direction

Centering process:  (a manual for a centering process)

  • First episode is ambiguous
  • Second episode is connect with the first, and then enhances the first
  • This can be repeated endlessly, aggregation goes on — which is the timeless way

Good movies are made of several chapters or stories, but they are all correlated with each other

  • This is a process
  • Try this

Each centering episode can be a project language

  • It has life

Patterns are selected for a certain vision, aiming at repairing the existing world to a world with life

  • Could be a paradigm shift

In the book Battle for Life and Beauty, everything is a fight

  • Such battles may not be necessary, if have piecemeal growth
  • Create a project language
  • Helping a lady on a bus, or homeless people into a shelter
  • Small acts will add up to a whole world

Another diagram:  project language for goals

From the side of Process From the side of Form
Centering process
Pattern language
Project language

Eight houses in Okayama prefecture

  • Hot springs
  • Ocean view
  • Had preserved trees, didn’t cut one pine
  • Shape of the house is strange, as it avoids the trees
  • Designed bath house for community
  • All designed with pattern language
  • This group was succeeded through interesting media
  • After making pattern language for homes and shops, wrote an imaginary future letter, as if sent 10 years after the project:  a whole story of a town in the future
  • Not just form, can appreciate the town
  • Read this imaginary letter to the future town at a meeting, and they understood the story made of patterns, without understanding a pattern language
  • Dream letter became a great motive to move on, make a new town
  • 12 years ago, this town was deserted in the summer, and even in the winter despite being a hot spring center
  • Made walkways around town, to visit many hot springs
  • Now, the town is active, can’t make an appointment at a hotel, so busy

Centering process and making vision sounds difficult, but can imagine a reality with a strong message to change people’s motives

Photographs of houses and shops

  • Pension hotel
  • Houses have similarity, but different:  roofs, windows, facades in hidden order coming out
  • Each house has a different pattern language

In order to change the stream, it’s like a big river

  • One small stream will branch off
  • Then can have another breakthrough
  • Will have more branches off the main stream
  • This is what I want you to demonstrate
  • The world is full of tragedy, each person should make some effort to create a strong message with life in it
  • Have to know what is life in an object:  can read a difficult book

Whole world, whole nature, whole human

  • We are all connected together
  • We should seek order, peaceful life
  • Change the world with beauty, step by step
  • Some day you can change the whole world


Repairing the world requires effort.  How can we make bureaucrats see?

  • Taking pictures of town
  • Which ones have life?

Make something that makes me feel?

Changing bureaucrats?

  • Pattern language as a strong tool
  • First, have to change own awareness
  • Now getting old, next year may not be able to see you, so want to see you take action now
  • Read Oregon Experiment and Nature of Order
  • Some artists know which ones are alive:  this town is dead, this hotel is dead
  • Intuitively know, but not at a continuous level

Where can find more material on centers?

  • From workshops
  • When you see the hand, how do you organize the hand?  By vision, by hand, by wisdom, by knowledge?  My hand is alive, it’s connected
  • A center is a way of looking at the world
  • When someone speaks, how can you tell it’s her voice?  It’s by looking at her as a whole.

In the Battle for Life and Beauty of the Earth, would you describe that as a project language rather than a pattern language?

  • Yes.
  • Have been working on this for 50 years.
  • Christopher Alexander is old now, he can’t work
  • Feel repeating the same thing.

#asianplop2015, #christopher-alexander, #pattern-language