Length of time depends upon our ideas.

Size of space hangs upon our sentiments.

For one whose mind is free from care,

A day will outlast the millennium.

For one whose heart is large,

A tiny room is as the space between heaven and earth. [1]


"Immer war mir das Feld und der Wald und der Fels und die Gärten

Nur ein Raum, und du machst sie, Geliebte, zum Ort.
Raum und Zeit, ich empfind es, sind bloße Formen des Denkens," [2]


A place or space that has come alive through time. The Japanese sign 間, which is briefly pronounced as Ma, means much more than space. The concept also includes time, emptiness and changeability: THE STORIES OF PEOPLE. The word space does not tell enough when it comes to our built environment. We can not reduce the stratification of the architectural space in our language in one word. That is why the Japanese Ma is a fascinating concept. It shows that space is created by many factors and can have many meanings. Gunter Nitschke has gone into the following character in kyotojournal.org (https://kyotojournal.org/the-journal/culture-arts/ma-place-space- void):

" Place is the product of lived space and lived time, a reflection of our states of mind and heart. In the original Chinese, the above poem ends with the character 間, which in Japanese is pronounced chiefly as ma.


Originally, this character consisted of the pictorial sign for “moon” (月) — not the present-day “sun” (日) — under the sign for “gate” (門). For a Chinese or Japanese using language consciously, this ideogram, depicting a delicate moment of moonlight streaming through a chink in the entrance way, fully expresses the two simultaneous components of a sense of place: the objective, given aspect and the subjective, felt aspect. The translation of ma as “place” is my own. [3] The dictionaries say “space,” but historically the notion of place precedes our contemporary idea of space as a measurable area. Architectural theorists accept this: “In [our] understanding of nature we…recognize the origin of the concept of space as a system of places.” [4] My translation was selected in part to get away from the rendering of ma as “imaginary space” by Itoh Teiji [5]; this deals only with the subjective aspect, without doing justice to the full spectrum of use and meaning which this venerable character represents.


It must be stressed that a ‘sense of place’ does not negate an objective awareness of the static or homogenous quality of topological space. Rather, it infuses the objective space with an additional subjective awareness of lived, existential, non-homogenous space. It also incorporates a recognition of the activities which ‘take place’ in a particular space, and different meanings a place might have for various individuals or cultures. “Physical appearance, activities, and meanings are the raw material of the identity of places…” [6]

​​[1] https://kyotojournal.org/the-journal/culture-arts/ma-place-space-void/ Translated from Saikontan (Vegetable Roots Talks), Yuhodo, Tokyo, 1926

[2] Friedrich Schiller: Sämtliche Werke, Band 1, München 31962, 317.

[3] Nitschke, G. “MA — The Japanese Sense of Place,” Architectural Design, London, March 1966

[4] Norberg-Schulz, Christian. Genius Loci — Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture, Rizzoli, New York 1980.

[5] Itoh Teiji, Nihon dizain ron (Discourses on Japanese Design), Kashima Kenkyujo, Tokyo 1966. “Nihon no toshi kukan” (Japanese Urban Space), Kenchiku Bunka 12, Tokyo, 1963

[6] Ralph, Edward, Place and Placelessness, Pion Ltd, London, 1976.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Nederlands -----------------------------------------------------------------------

Een plek, oord of ruimte die door de tijd tot leven gekomen is. Het Japanse teken 間, dat kort uitgesproken wordt als Ma, betekent veel meer dan ruimte. In het begrip zit ook de tijd, de leegte en de veranderlijkheid: DE VERHALEN VAN MENSEN. In de gebouwde omgeving schiet het woord ruimte tekort. We kunnen de gelaagdheid van de architectonische ruimte in onze taal niet in een woord terugbrengen. Daarom is het Japanse Ma een fascinerend begrip. Het laat zien dat ruimte door veel factoren gemaakt wordt en veel betekenissen kan hebben. Gunter Nitschke is in kyotojournal.org (https://kyotojournal.org/the-journal/culture-arts/ma-place-space-void) zeer uitgebreid op het teken 間 ingegaan.