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5 architectural treats in Tokyo


Tokyo, as one of the biggest cities in the world, has a lot to offer when it comes to architecture. Some of it – as in most mega- cities worldwide- really hurts the eye or is just massive, high and ...mostly not very spectacular, unless you think, that 100 boxes on top of each other are somehow worth looking at.

But Tokyo is also a mixture between old and new, ancient and modern, with hidden shrines next to high rising sky- scrapers and small family houses, next to blocks upon block of living- space. We picked 5 gems for you, that might not catch your eye at a “rushing by”, but are very well worth a closer look.

What seems like a children's scribble, come to life, is really more a philosophical experiment with ordinary living space. Architects Shusaku Arakawa and Madeleine Gins designed their houses and rooms “challenging”, to keep people active and young. Uneven floors, no cupboards, rounded walls and windows, sockets on the ceiling...and all color- and cheerful. The Reversible Destiny Lofts are located in the Mitaka suburb and open for visitors.
Picking a church as a treat in Japanese- architecture may not be the obvious choice, but Kenzo Tange's St. Mary's Cathedral is truly spectacular. Not so much, if you favor the Cologne Dome or Paris' Notre Dame. But from standpoint of modern architecture, this Tokyo church is the Alpha and Omega. Built in 1964, this cathedral looks more futuristic, than most churches anywhere else, that have been built way after this one. The dramatic stainless steel- exterior is matched by the even more spectacular interior. With sloping and dramatically high rising walls and the soft light, this building is absolutely awe- inspiring.
Sure: nothing says “Japanese shrine” louder and clearer, than a giant, black pyramid. And yet: this is no post- modern daydream from a “Godzilla”- movie, but a real temple, built in 1925, by and for the Reiyukai- sect. The Reiyukai Shakaden Temple welcomes visitors, offers free Japanese- lessons and also serves as a 400.000 ton, drinking water- reservoir, in case Tokyo gets hit by a natural disaster.
Everything in Tokyo -and even Japan- seems to planned, mapped out, straight. There is almost no room for disorder, let alone chaos. A friend, who traveled to Tokyo numerous times, told me, how irritating all this straightness and organization can be at times. The Golden Gai Bar District in Shinjuku is one of the places, where you still can find one of the few examples for unplanned architecture. More than 200 small bars and restaurants arose from this 50's black- market area and became a popular hangout for intellectuals and artists. Each of the individually themed establishments mostly exclusively serves locals, but they sure make for some great photo- op. Beware though: the drinks and the food (if you get some) are way on the expensive side!
After WW2, not much of Tokyo's traditional architecture was left, so to find it, you have to look a little harder. One fine specimen can be found in the Edo- area. And luckily, the Fumiko Hayashi Memorial Hall is not only a nice peace of traditional architecture. The house was built in 1941 by acclaimed Japanese writer Fumiko Hayashi and today also serves as small museum, to commemorate the life and work of Mrs. Hayashi, displaying artifacts from her life and work. If you visit the Memorial Hall and the tranquil garden, you will make a little journey, back in time.

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