In Japan, Modernism Has No Chance In The Face Of Change

The NY Times ran this piece a while back and my dad pointed it out to me, knowing my interest in Japan.

Apparently the author is upset that the Hotel Okura is rebuilding. Apparently a lot of people are.

Hotel Okura Tokyo: A last look


The New York Times article acts as if this a loss of history and as if the Japanese never preserve anything.  Well I don’t consider modern buildings built in the 1960’s historical, and it isn’t hard to find all sorts of old buildings in Japan or Tokyo, for that matter. Still Japan doesn’t have the sense of permanence in structures that many nations do.  If you look at even the oldest structures in Japan  they tend to have a sort of temporary feel to them. It’s the difference between elegance and simplicity of a Budhist temple and bulk and majesty of the pantheon or a gothic cathederal.

I’ve posted about Tokyo Before. It’s a city of contrasts. Of course you have to get out and explore the city, something the New York Times seems have a problem with.


And sometimes it rushes a bit to much and tears away the old to make way for the new.

Still there’s the problem that the old just doesn’t want to go away, no matter how abandoned it is.


There’s also the fact that Tokyo especially, has been knocked around hard by one conflagration or another.

These photos show how Japanese architecture has changed over the last 100 years

What Japan does have is a sense of sameness when construction is sound and a lot of experimentation. Like this small building for instance.

Look for one of the weirdest looking buildings in Tokyo to find some very delicious pineapple cake

Or the Ghibli Museum.

Which is hardly the only strange building in Mitaka

Tokyo certainly doesn’t lack for architectural diversity.  Including some very strange ideas.

Even if the businesses that occupy them have a sleazy reputation.

Still, even the most solid businesses can go to the strange.

Even is some of the decisions seem to have been rather strange.

In Tokyo, even the city government gets a classy building.

True, people looking for Frank LLoyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel in Tokyo will be disappointed, because the hotel was demolished and the lobby is at the Meiji Mura Museum in Nagoya, but there is the girl’s school in Ikebukuro.

Going even further back there are preserved buildings in parks

Considering Japan’s downright strange address system you would think that having lots of buildings easily distinguishable would be considered a necessary part of the city.

Japan Unwrapped #6: Landmark love

Though some things can be overdone

though being creative is never a bad thing.

Of course there are those who reach for the truly weird, and achieve it.

And it’s not to say that Tokyo has had a total loss.

There are old buildings in the Ginza

And railroad stations.


Still, Tokyo is one of the best places to see what’s current in architecture.

The really strange thing is that even right next to the shiny towers of Tokyo, you can find bits and pieces of old Tokyo it you know where to look, tucked away in narrow streets and alleys, building and shops from The Showa era and earlier. Still, Tokyo is a living city and that means change.  Which sometime means that a structure, no matter how beloved has to and be replaced by the next structure.

Anyway here’s a flikr album of Tokyo and Japanese architecture, the large and the small.






  1. MadRocketSci · April 17, 2016

    I thought the lightly built temporary aesthetic of Japan was a consequence of a few things:

    1. Throughout most of their history, they had no resources – they were very poor in terms of any resource that didn’t grow on their maximally developed land. Almost no metals. So poor that they calculated the value of land in terms of the amount of rice, and therefore people, it could support.
    2. They get regularly bulldozed by violent earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, etc. Much worse than Florida and the biannual hurricane of doom.

    I’ve noticed it too: Japanese interior design is very sparse. Ikea has nothing on those guys. It’s like they could pack everything into a crate and move at any moment: And maybe it’s because historically, they’ve had to.


    • jccarlton · April 17, 2016

      I’m also starting to get concerned that there hasn’t been a hurricane to hit the country since Katrina. Sandy doesn’t count because it wasn’t a hurricane and the problems associated with it were caused by, A.) hitting land right at a neap tide and B.) the snow storm we had a week earlier that weakened a bunch of trees. Snowstorms in October are not good things for trees.


  2. jccarlton · April 17, 2016

    Have you seen Princess Kagura? That plays a big part in the story.


    • madrocketsci · April 17, 2016

      Nope. I do need to watch more Miyazaki stuff. Howl’s moving castle and Castle in the sky were both awesome.

      I don’t have a blueray player, and I don’t have any TV accounts, so I suppose I’ll have to look up a DVD somewhere.


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