Have you ever wondered what those decorative Japanese cinder blocks are called and what they are for? If so, read on!
What Are Japanese Breeze Blocks Called, And What Are They For?
If you take a walk around any quiet residential area in Tokyo, you will see thick gray concrete walls dotted with perforated cinder blocks. The perforations form geometric patterns that vary from simple to complex. In the West we call these “breeze blocks,” while in Japan they are called 透かしブロック (“sukashi block,” see-through block) or 穴あきブロック (“ana aki block,” blocks with holes in them). Sukashi blocks keep out the sun, allow for ventilation, and stand strong against wind and weather. They also help maintain privacy, while creating a beautiful aesthetic.
(Read more about breeze blocks on The Craftsman Blog)
Where Are They?
You can find sukashi blocks around older homes in out-of-the-way neighborhoods in Tokyo, but they can be found in rural areas, too. Sadly, these old-fashioned walls are being torn down in favor of more modern styles. In 2015, a mom and son formed the Block Wall Research Association (ブロック塀研究会) in an effort to document and preserve these works of art before they go extinct.
The Block Wall Research Association
The association president (mom) and vice president (son) have since travelled all around Japan taking photos of sukashi blocks. They have compiled several photo books, created a blog, and started a YouTube channel. You can also follow them on Twitter and Instagram.
Just by taking a walk in your area (if you live in Japan), or from a quick glance through one of the association photo books (if you don’t), you can see that there are endless varieties of sukashi blocks. Some, like the Three Mountain みやま, the Twinkle キラキラ, the Diamond ひしがた, and the Rising Sun 日の出 are very common, while some are totally unique.
Here are a few of our own photos from around Nerima Ward (Tokyo).
Sukashi Block Merchandise
If you are as charmed as we are by sukashi blocks, you can download the free photo book here and learn the names for the different varieties. (Note that you do have to make an account with pixiv in order to download it).
You can also buy sukashi block cookies cutters in the online shop Sac Sac (thanks to Spoon and Tamago blog for this info!). If you use the popular Japanese messaging app, LINE, you can even get cute sukashi block LINE stamps (designed by the association vice president).
If you know what category the last two blocks in this post would fall under, please let us know, and if you have any of your own photos, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tag us #wafuuinthewest on Instagram. In the meantime, stay breezy!