Tokyo’s Must-see Modern Architecture
By Darren on 13 Feb 2018
People visit Tokyo for many reasons, but it is fair to say that historical architecture is not one of the city’s strong points. For various and sometimes complex reasons, buildings do not stay up for very long here, with even cherished and culturally significant constructions often demolished just a few decades into their existence. And so I always urge that even on the briefest of Tokyo trips, visitors get out of the city to experience somewhere as rich in historic treasures as nearby Kamakura.
The great flip side of this is that Tokyo, as a forward-thinking city that is forever being reimagined, is home to some of the world’s most breathtaking contemporary architecture. From government buildings to designer fashion stores, via sports stadiums and even private residences, architects both Japanese and foreign have created a landscape of unique, must-see buildings that hint at what the future might look like. And with major redevelopment going on as Tokyo prepares for the 2020 Olympics, new masterpieces are appearing at a faster rate than ever before.
Let loveinnJapan guide you to six unmissable architectural wonders:
Aoyama Technical College, Daikanyama
This 1990 building by architect Makoto Sei Watanabe, rather incongruously located on a quiet backstreet between Shibuya and Daikanyama, appears as if a giant, insect-like robot were perched upon the roof surveying the area and deciding where to attack next. Fans of both edgy architecture and Gundam-style anime culture will want to see this, though it is certainly a structure that polarizes opinion. Seemingly for each person who loves it, there is another who feels that it is an eyesore. The UK’s Telegraph newspaper named it as one of the world’s ugliest buildings, but love it or loathe it the Aoyama Technical College is a Tokyo design icon.
7-9 Uguisudanicho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Access: Shibuya station
Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/uz5ZfBUW15H2
Fuji TV Building, Odaiba
This highly futuristic steel building appears as the backdrop in so many couple’s selfies, as it is located in Odaiba, an artificial island in Tokyo Bay which is one of the city’s most popular date spots. Designed by foremost Japanese architect Kenzo Tange and completed in 1996, the construction features a giant sphere (reminiscent of 1960s sci-fi movies) suspended on the walkways linking two towers. This globe features an observation deck on the 25th floor, which makes a great place to hold hands and gaze out upon the Rainbow Bridge, another of Tokyo’s romantic landmarks.
2-4-8 Daiba, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Access: Daiba or Tokyo Teleport stations
Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/NET6ojwaWD22
(‘Hachitama’ observation deck admission: ¥550)
Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower, Shinjuku
A standout among the many skyscrapers dominating the skyline west of Shinjuku station, this is a more recent project ( completed 2008) by revered architect Kenzo Tange, also responsible for the Fuji TV building (see above). A cocoon-inspired shape rendered in glass and latticework-like white strips, accompanied by a giant, diamond-patterned sphere containing lobby and reception, the building houses three academic institutions (a fashion college, and schools of medicine and IT). It is the world’s second tallest educational construction, serving some 10,000 students. Tange’s concept is that the building, in a cocoon-like way, nurtures academic growth until students graduate and make their way out into the world. Campus-less colleges and universities located within towering, office-like buildings are common in space-scarce Tokyo, but Shinjuku’s Cocoon is something special among them.
1-7-2 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Access: Shinjuku station
Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/H1bqJdoir6F2
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, Shinjuku
Yet another masterwork from Kenzo Tange, the twin towers of the Tokyo city hall remain emblematic of modern Tokyo some 26 years after they appeared on the skyline. Although futuristic in appearance, its completely symmetrical design draws inspiration from Gothic cathedral such as Paris’ Notre Dame. Both north and south tower house observation decks, free of charge to enter, on their 45th floors. These offer an almost 360-degree view out over the city and far beyond, and on a clear day, you can even see Mount Fuji on the distant horizon. The north tower is open until 10:30 pm, making it an amazing (and affordable) spot to watch the sunset from.
2-8-1 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Access: Tochomae or Shinjuku stations
Prada Boutique, Aoyama
For many Tokyo design lovers this 2003 building, conceived by Switzerland’s Herzog & de Meuron, is the pinnacle of cutting-edge retail architecture. The Italian luxury label’s flagship is comprised of dozens of curved, hexagonal glass sheets which come together to form a giant, irregularly-shaped diamond on a corner of the swanky Omotesando Avenue. Tourists love popping inside then appearing framed within one of the hexagons to have their photo snapped by a friend outside on the street below. We recommend that you visit just after it gets dark (fairly early in Tokyo, even in summer), when the building is illuminated both from within by the store lights, and from outside in a variety of vivid colors.
5-2-6 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Access: Omotesando station
Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/UKYMMEjGCMs
Tokyo International Forum, Yurakucho
This major conference center is centered around a vast glass lobby, resembling a ship or leaf in shape, that is the equivalent of 11 stories high yet almost entirely an empty shell. This is refreshing in overcrowded, high-density Tokyo. Take an elevator to the seventh floor and traverse the bridge-like walkways that criss-cross the structure, for an experience that feels a little like waking up in the sky. The Tokyo International Forum was designed by Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly and opened in 1997.
3-5-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Access: Yurakucho station
Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/Nwf68r3K3Qs
Darren came to Japan to study 11 years ago, and never made it back home to the UK. Since then he’s built up a detailed ‘mental map’ of Tokyo by intentionally getting himself lost, and loves taking visiting friends way off the well-beaten tourist track. In his free time Darren can usually be found in the backstreets of Koenji or Asagaya, with camera in one hand and a yakitori stick in the other.