Tokyo Tower - Photo by Aya Yen.

Tokyo Tower – Photo by Aya Yen.

Japan – Are you ready to get lost in architecture as much as in translation? Welcome to Tokyo, most probably the most organized metropolis in the world as well as the home of over 13 million people. The Japanese capital works more like several different cities interconnected by a very efficient system of public transports

Crowd in Tokyo - Photo by Stephan Geyer, Flickr CC.

Photo by Stephan Geyer.

FEW TIPS -Remember to look up and down as many galleries, restaurants and venues are not on street level – which is called 1st floor or 1F. Don’t expect to find street names – not even in Japanese – and do not rely much on locals’ fluent English. Get a subway rechargeable Pasmo card and sharpen your Google Maps skills. Foreigners take at least a day to adjust, and then enjoy the ‘lost in translation’ mood.

Shibuya crossing – Shibuya

Shibuya Crossing - Photo by Benny Ang.

Photo by Benny Ang.

The Shibuya crossing is probably the less practical meeting point in the world. Here, just off the Hachiko exit everybody just looks at one thing: the traffic light. Every 3.3 minutes an average of 2.500 people cross the iconic zebra walk under a streetscape of constant pulsing light change. One of the best spots to look at it from above is from the top floors of the Hikarie building just one block away Shibuya station. [Map!]

D47, Hikarie building – Shibuya

D47 Hikarie - Photo via Instagra @d47_hikarie_8F.

Photo via Instagram @d47_hikarie_8F.

There are 47 prefectures in Japan, each one with great craftsmanship skills. The D47 gallery at the 8th floor at the Hikarie building in Shibuya hosts exhibitions featuring the state of the art of all the 47 Japanese regions according to one main theme. [Map!]

Omotesandō – Shibuya-Harajuku

Omotesandō Prada building by Herzog de Meuron - Photo by Jessica Spengler, CC.

Prada building by Herzog de Meuron – Photo by Jessica Spengler.

Omotesandō avenue has become one of the true meccas for international binge shopping. But architecture lovers don’t need to allocate big budgets to explore stunning architectural retail. Do not miss the Herzog & de Meuron building for Prada featuring facades with a grid of see-through prisms, Dior’s palace by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA and the Spiral by Pritzker Prize Fumihiko Maki. Other noticeable projects are the TOD’s building by Toyo Ito and Renzo Piano’s Maison Hermes palace. The Gyre Gallery by MVRDV features a MoMA design store while Norihiko Dan’s Hugo Boss building looks like a Paleolithic tower made of mammoth bones. [Map!]

Tokyo International Forum by Rafael Viñoli – Tokyo Station, Marunouchi

Tokyo International - Photo by Archipanic.

Photo by Archipanic.

The east side of this architectural wonder by Rafael Viñoli looks like a ship cutting through the waves of the financial district. Walk through it and make sure to feel dizzy watching the ship-hull shaped central space from the 7th floor. The Tokyo International Forum hosts a cultural and congress center but also concerts and events in a contemporary garden wrapped by glass facades. [Map!]

Kabuki-za theatre by Kengo Kuma – Ginza

Kabuki-za - Photo by DozoDomo, CC.

Photo by DozoDomo.

Kabuki is one of the most ancient and highest expressions of theatre world wide. Just off the Ginza shopping-spree district a brand new “ancient” architecture pays homage to Japan theater culture allowing a XXI century skyscraper to spring out from it. “We worked both with kabuki performers and others involved in the traditional art form as well as people from the Ginza shopping district” explains Kengo Kuma. The renowned architect decided to make only minor changes to the Kabuki-za theater, keeping its symbolic karahafu gable roof with an undulating curve because he found it necessary, although he knew such a design could be regarded as taboo coming from a modern architect. [Map!]

Nagakin Capsule Tower by Kisho Kurokawa – Ginza

Tokyo Capsule Hotels - Photo: Nagakin Capsule Tower, © Noritaka Minami, Courtesy Kana Kawanishi Gallery.

© Noritaka Minami, Courtesy Kana Kawanishi Gallery.

Tokyo is also famous for its capsule hotels, cheap accommodations featuring a large number of extremely small sleeping pods. The Nakagin Capsule Tower by Kisho Kurokawa is the crumbling and iconic mother of all Japan’s capsule hotels. The endangered building is composed of 140 concrete prefabricated stacked on top of each others. The building is an example of Metabolist architecture, a movement from the sixties that envisioned postwar flexible and fluid cities. [Map!]

RELATED STORY: From Nakagin Capsule Tower to luxury sleeping pods. Archipanic explores the history of Tokyo capsule hotels…

Tokyo City View, Roppongi Hills and MidTown – Roppongi

Tokyo Midtown - Photo by Hideya HAMANO, CC.

Tokyo Midtown – Photo by Hideya HAMANO.

Those who visit the Mori Art Museum in the Mori Tower have also access to a panoramic observatory offering one of the best vertigo panoramas of Tokyo. The skyscraper is part of Roppongi Hills, a giant real estate project by tycoon Mori Minoru which combines retail, residential and public art installations such as Louise Bourgeois’ giant spider sculpture. The developer has also completed the MidTown district which also hosts the Tokyo Midtown Design Museum (5F @ Midtown Tower). [Map!]

21_21 Design Sight by Tadao Ando and Issey Miyake – Roppongi

21_21 Design Sight - Courtesy of 21_21 Design Sight

Photo: courtesy of 21_21 Design Sight.

Japan’s first design museum seems almost to float at the end of a park by high-end Tokyo Midtown shopping centre. Triangular shards of concrete and glass rise from the ground revealing a large and luminous exhibition space under street level. The building was designed by Tadao Ando and was inspired by the creations of fashion designer Issey Miyake who is also one of the museum co-directors. “21_21 DESIGN SIGHT is a project proposed by a group of collaborators with the aim to promote our design culture as one of the aspects of modern Japan” explains Tadao Ando. [Map!]

National Art Center Tokyo by Kisho Kurokawa – Roppongi

NACT by Kisho Kurokawa - Photo by Archipanic

Photo by Archipanic.

At the NACT, major exhibitions from Renoir, Modigliani and Yaoy Kusama go on show in this stunning venue designed by Kisho Kurokawa. Make sure to walk through the undulate glass facade and the upside down concrete cones staging panoramic cafes. [Map!]

Tokyo Tower – Shiba-Koen

Tokyo Tower - Photo by Ben Chen, CC.

Photo by Ben Chen.

The 333 meter tall communication and observation tower is the symbol of optimism and economic boom in post-war Japan. Inspired by the Eiffel Tower, but 13 m higher, the structure is quite a tourists’ trap hosting panoramic views at 158 m and 250 m. The building was partly built using American tanks damaged during the Korean War and was completed in 1958. Every 5 years it is entirely repainted in white and orange according to air traffic regulations. [Website + Map!]

Kabuki-Cho and the red-light district – Shinjuku

“Tokyo Nights” by Richard Schneider - Flickr CC

“Tokyo Nights” by Richard Schneider – Flickr CC.

Just off the East gate of Shinjuku station, the  Kabuki-Cho district offers a Blade Runner streetscape where neons and large screens glow all night long. Pachinko slot-casinos and dodgy characters slung you in a post-modern vibe topped by a Godzilla peeking out from a skyscraper. Make sure to venture this district with a friend and pop by the kitch robot-restaurant where giant mechanical robots and girls in bikini deal with customers. Behind, a promiscuous neighbourhood features decadent love hotels with flamboyant facades. [Map!]

Golden Gai – Shinjuku

Golden Gai - Photo by Shiranai, CC.

Photo by Shiranai.

Golden Gai is a resilient neighbourhood resisting gentrification. Here a labyrinth of alleys between two floors wooden houses nests mini bars guesting 6 to 10 customers. Each one has its own style ranging from punk-cafe to book club sake bar. Pick your favourite one and feel cosy engaging in a conversation with show-biz professionals or grumpy bar tenders. [Map!]

National Museum of Western Art by Le Corbusier – Ueno

National Museum of Western Arts Tokyo - Photo by Chris Guy, CC.

Photo by Chris Guy.

Ueno park hosts several architecture gems including shrines, pagodas, The Tokyo National Museum and even a re-creation of a XIX century neighbourhood. Here you can also find Le Corbusier’s little known UNESCO world heritage National Museum of Western Art. The Modernist building’s facade is made of precast concrete panels that rest on steel brackets. The permanent collection ranges from the Middle Age to the XX century and features works by Rodin, Manet, Picasso and Pollock. [Map!]

Electric Town – Akihabara

Akihabara - Photo by Archipanic.

Photo by Archipanic.

A former electric plant has become the headquarter of manga and anime fans as well as vintage-game geeks and cosplayers. Even those who don’t know much of Japanese comics, cartoons and video games culture will find this district streetscape quite charming. Buildings are covered with large posters of fictional popular characters while a labyrinth of alleys provides electricians supplies along with fancy-dress costumes, pokemon hubs and all sort of comics, gadgets and vintage video game pods. [Map!]

St. Mary Cathedral by Kenzo Tange, Otawa – Gokokuji

St. Mary Cathedral - Photo by Kakidai, Flickr CC.

Photo by Kakidai.

This cross shaped building cladded in stainless steel merges Roman Catholic architecture within Tokyo urban grid. Completed in 1965, Pritzker price Kenzo Tange created this dramatic structure composed of eight hyperbolic parabolas rising upwards to form a cross of light, which continues vertically along the length of the four facades. To this rhomboid volume other secondary constructions are added, including the baptistry and the baptismal font. [Map!]

Asahi Beer Tower – East of Sumida Gawa

Super Dry HallDesigned by Philippe Stark and completed in 1989, the headquarters of Asahi beer is probably Tokyo quirkiest landmark. Indeed the pint glass shaped building is topped by a 300 tones sculpture that should remind beer foam but locals keep calling it “The Golden Poo”. [Map!]

Tokyo SkyTree – East of Sumida Gawa

Tokyo SkyTree - Photo by, CC.

Photo by

With a height of 634 meters, the Tokyo Skytree television broadcasting tower is the tallest structure in Japan and one of the tallest in the world. Two enclosed obesravction decks are located at heights of 350 and 450 meters. Its silvery exterior of steel mesh morphs from a triangle at the base to a circle at 300m. In clear days you can even see Mount Fuji, but it is at night that Tokyo appears truly beautiful.


Tokyo City Dome - Photo by Adrian Bailon, CC.

Photo by Adrian Bailon, CC.

Odaiba is an artificial island in a futuristic shopping and residential district in Tokyo Bay featuring flamboyant residential architecture starting from the Fuji TV building by Kenzo Tange (See below). The best way to access the area is to jump on the Yurikamome elevated train snaking through skyscrapers and offering a brilliant view on the bay and the Rainbow Bridge. The island hosts Tokyo Big Sight, Japan’s largest exhibition and convention center and one of the bay islands’ boldest architectural creations. A panoramic roller park on top of a shopping mall and a fun park with vertigo roller coaster piercing skyscrapers.

Fuji Tv building by Kenzo Tange – Odaiba

Fuji TV Building - Photo by David Meenagh, CC.

Photo by David Meenagh.

The headquarters of the Fuji TV on the waterfront area in the Obaiba area are hosted in one of the most bizzarre buildings in Tokyo. Designed by Kenzo Tange, the 25-storey building is composed of two towers connected by earthquake proof pedestrian bridges. The centrepiece of the building is the 1,350 tons titanium silver. Inside it is an observation platform which is open to the public, offers unobstructed views of Tokyo and Mount Fuji. [Map!]

Reversible Destiny – Osawa, Mitaka-shi.

Reversible Destiny - Photo by Takahiro Hayashi, CC.

Photo by Takahiro Hayashi.

The rainbow-coloured Reversible Destiny Lofts designed by Shusaku Arakawa is a 9 apartments block featuring apartments with uneven floors and rounded walls, awkward light switches, power sockets in the ceilings, and no cupboards. Some of the units are available for short-term rent as well. “Lopsided, physically challenging spaces would awaken residents’ instincts and allow them to live better, longer – even forever” said Shusaku Arakawa. [Map!]

Kabukicho - Photo by Archipanic

Kabukicho – Photo by Archipanic.