Unique Japanese architecture


From ancient shrines boasting hundreds of years of history to modern skyscrapers, the country has no shortage of impressive feats of Japanese architecture. While most travellers flock to the Land of the Rising Sun to gawk at historic buildings, the innovative array of contemporary architecture is often where it’s at. 

Check out these 11 examples of Japanese architecture with designs so avant-garde that wouldn’t be out of place in a sci-fi anime series.


1. Gate Tower Building – Osaka


Unique Japanese architecture - gate tower building
Image credit: @viajero_total

What happens when you want to build a highway but there’s a building in your way? Apparently, the logical solution in Japan is to just run the highway through the tower. 

Unique Japanese architecture - gate tower building
View of the building from ground level 
Image credit: @jonnyrouse7

The structural anomaly of Gate Tower Building is the result of a compromise between Hanshin Expressway Corporation and the building’s owner, Suezawa Sangyo. Instead of demolishing the building to make way for a new expressway, the construction company rented 3 floors from the office tower and built a tunnel straight through it.

Unique Japanese architecture - gate tower building
Image credit: @amr.tarabulsi

In case you’re wondering, the elevator in this building goes straight from the 4th to 8th floor – perfect for those who are pressed for time. Noise-proof walls were also installed around the highway to ensure that employees working in the building won’t be distracted by noisy traffic. 

Address: 5-chōme-4-21 Fukushima, Fukushima-ku, Osaka, 553-0003, Japan


2. Nakagin Capsule Tower – Tokyo


Unique Japanese architecture - nakagin capsule tower
Image credit: @jyuenger

The future is now – or rather, it was now in 1972 when the Nakagin Capsule Tower was built. It has been almost 50 years since the tower made its architectural debut in the opulent neighbourhood of Ginza, but it is still looking as curiously futuristic as ever. 

Unique Japanese architecture - nakagin capsule tower
Image credit: @tokyoartsandculture

This residential and office building was the brainchild of architect Kisho Kurokawa and a product of Japanese Metabolism. Metabolism is a modern architecture movement that trended in the post-war decades. Many Japanese architects believed that urban spaces and designs are not static. Instead, they should emulate organic growth and change with time. 

Unique Japanese architecture - interior of nakagin capsule tower
Interior of one of the capsule rooms 
Image credit: @ibrahim13alameer

Nakagin Capsule Tower is said to be the poster child and one of the last remnants of the movement. With individual capsules that can be unbolted and replaced with new ones, the tower resembles vital regenerating cells. 

Address: 8 Chome-16-10 Ginza, Chuo City, Tokyo 104-0061, Japan


3. Aomori Tourist Information Centre ASPAM – Aomori


Unique Japanese architecture - ASPAM aomori
Image credit: Akshay Kulkarni

Aomori Tourist Information Centre ASPAM is an iconic pyramid-shaped tourist information centre located in the northernmost prefecture of Tohoku. Its shape resembles the letter “A”, which is also the first letter of “Aomori”.  

Unique Japanese architecture - ASPAM aomori
Image credit: @toppers_smokeshop

The name ASPAM is an acronym for “Aomori Prefecture, Sightseeing, Products, and Mansion”. 

Unique Japanese architecture - ASPAM aomori
Image credit: @oguri1987_sub

Souvenirs and local knick knacks are sold on the lower floors, and there’s an observation room located on the 13th floor where visitors can get a bird’s eye view of the city.  

Address: 1 Chome-1-40 Yasukata, Aomori, 030-0803, Japan


4. Art Tower Mito – Ibaraki


Unique Japanese architecture - art tower mito
Image credit: @choco.41

Inspired by the Boerdijk-Coxeter helix, a slender rod-like rectangular model, Art Tower Mito is a real-life rendition of the helical structure. 

Unique Japanese architecture - art tower mito
Image credit: @lscms

To commemorate the 100th year of Mito as an official city, the 100-metre titanium tower was unveiled in 1990 and its grandeur can be seen from all over the city. 

Unique Japanese architecture - art tower mito
Image credit: @shunkun___

As a multi-media art centre, Art Tower Mito holds performances and exhibitions regularly in its concert hall, theatre, and art gallery. 

Address: 1 Chome-6-8 Goken-chō Mito, Ibaraki 310-0063, Japan


5. Tokyo Big Sight – Tokyo


Unique Japanese architecture - tokyo big sight
Image credit: @joycechans

While it is officially named Tokyo International Exhibition Centre, this convention and exhibition centre is better known as Tokyo Big Sight.

Unique Japanese architecture - tokyo big sight
Image credit: @allen20001107

Even though it is located in Odaiba, a manmade island in Tokyo Bay where unique buildings abound, Tokyo Big Sight stands out with its eye-catching inverted pyramids and tall glass pillars. 

Unique Japanese architecture - tokyo big sight
Image credit: @tokyo_kenchikutrip

As one of Japan’s biggest convention centres, the building plays host to numerous large events, ranging from popular anime conventions like Comiket and AnimeJapan, to others such as Design Fiesta and motor shows. It is also slated to serve as the main broadcasting centre for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics in 2021. 

Address: 3 Chome-11-1 Ariake, Koto City, Tokyo 135-0063, Japan


6. Meiji Centennial Observation Tower – Chiba


Unique Japanese architecture - Meiji Centennial Observation Tower
Image credit: @choco.41

The Meiji Centennial Observatory Tower in Chiba Prefecture is not a well-known tourist attraction or particularly accessible per se, but its peculiar design has attracted many budding photographers hoping to get an interesting shot. 

Unique Japanese architecture - Meiji Centennial Observation Tower
View of Meiji Centennial Observatory Tower from above
Image credit: @c9_jp

Built in 1971 to celebrate the 100th year since the Meiji Period, the structure’s white facade and cascading, interconnected platforms are inspired by goyōmatsu (五葉松) –  Japanese white pine. 

Unique Japanese architecture - Meiji Centennial Observation Tower
Image credit: @zama.kashiwa

Perched right at the edge of Cape Futtsu, the futuristic interlace building might look out of place but it provides the perfect location to take in the entire Tokyo Bay. Ascend to its highest platform, which boasts a height of 21.8m, and enjoy an unobstructed view of Mount Fuji on a clear day. 

Address: 2280 Futtsu, Chiba 293-0021, Japan


7. Tokyo Mode Gakuen – Tokyo


Unique Japanese architecture - Tokyo Mode Gakuen
Image credit: @japarioca

It’s hard to miss the prominent cocoon-shaped building situated right in the bustling area of Shinjuku. 

Unique Japanese architecture - Tokyo Mode Gakuen
Image credit: @isomunnnn

Ultra-modern skyscraper Tokyo Mode Gakuen is actually a campus that houses 3 schools – fashion school Tokyo Mode Gakuen, HAL Tokyo College Of Technology and Design, which specialises in information technology, and medical service school Shuto Ikō.  

Unique Japanese architecture - Tokyo Mode Gakuen
Image credit: @daigo_sato

This vertical campus was the architect’s ingenious solution to a dense urban environment where land is scarce. Unfortunately, only students are allowed inside the building, so visitors can only admire the building from afar. 

If you’d like to get a panoramic view of the business district, visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office nearby for free access to its observatory deck. 

Address: 1-7-3, Nishi-shinjuku, Shinjuku 160-0023, Tokyo Prefecture


8. Twin Arch 138 – Ichinomiya


Unique Japanese architecture - twin arch 138
Image credit: @hideki123photo

Twin Arch 138, with its iconic parabolic arches, is a recognisable landmark that proudly represents Ichinomiya city in Aichi Prefecture. Part of its name and its building height were derived from a clever play on the city’s name – ichi, which means “1”, mi, which denotes “3”, and ya, which refers to “8”. 

Unique Japanese architecture - twin arch 138
Image credit: @kisosansenpark

You can find the landmark in Kiso Sansen National Government Park, the largest national park in Japan which stretches across Aichi, Gifu, and Mie Prefectures. 

Flowers pop up in abundance in the surrounding field during spring, making it a great location to have a picnic or casual stroll. Come winter and the park becomes one of Aichi Prefecture’s top winter illumination spots. The tower and park are sights to behold as they are embellished with festive christmas lights. 

Address: Urasaki-21-3 Komyoji, Ichinomiya, Aichi 491-0135, Japan


9. Kihoku Astronomical Observatory – Kagoshima


Unique Japanese architecture - Kihoku Astronomical Observatory
Image credit: @omitsu_dayo

Don’t be mistaken – this is not part of Howl’s moving castle from the famed animation, although the eccentric architecture does look like it belongs in a strange fantasy world. 

Unique Japanese architecture - Kihoku Astronomical Observatory
Image credit: @shu_sakaguchi

The Kihoku Astronomical Observatory is a relatively remote astronomy museum located in Kihoku Uwaba Park on the Osumi Peninsula. 

4 floors are dedicated to exhibitions and photographs of starry night skies, while the top floor is an observation room. There, visitors can access the telescope to view the stars, or simply gaze out into the night sky with their naked eye. 

Unique Japanese architecture - Kihoku Astronomical Observatory
Image adapted from: @tenby71

The air in Kihoku is clean and the town is remote enough to be unaffected by light pollution from nearby cities, so visitors will be treated to clear celestial views on cloudless days. 

Address: 1660-3 Kihokuchō Ichinari Kanoya-shi, Kagoshima-ken 899-8511


10. Aoyama Technical College – Tokyo


Unique Japanese architecture - Aoyama Technical College
Image credit: Pinterest

Aoyama Technical College in Tokyo, despite being a school building, is admittedly too cool for school. Nestled in a nondescript and unassuming Daikanyama neighbourhood, the college building will make passersby do a double take. 

Unique Japanese architecture - Aoyama Technical College
Image credit: DesignArt 

With its red antenna poking out amidst rows of normal looking houses, the giant robot-esque building looks like it’s caught in the middle of a mecha transformation. 

Unique Japanese architecture - Aoyama Technical College
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The unusual campus building, which first graced the streets in 1990, was designed by Makoto Sei Watanabe, an award-winning architect who is famous for his many gravity-defying designs. Although it seems narrow, the facility contains classrooms, faculty space, and a gallery – a space sufficient enough to house the entire student population. 

Address: 7-9 Uguisudanicho, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0032, Japan


11. National Art Centre – Tokyo


Unique Japanese architecture - National Art Centre
Image credit: Koji Kobayashi

The National Art Centre is located in the affluent Roppongi area and is widely known to be one of the most important art spaces in Japan. Its impressive and stunning glass curvatures were conceived by Kisho Kurokawa, the same architect who designed Nakagin Capsule Tower. 

Unique Japanese architecture - National Art Centre
Image credit: @kagaribi_hy

Unlike most museums and art galleries, the National Art Centre does not hold any permanent exhibitions. Instead, the space is utilised for numerous rotating art exhibitions, as well as spontaneous events like workshops and talks by artists. 

Unique Japanese architecture - National Art Centre
Museum café that appeared in Your Name 
Image credit: @thenationalartcentertokyo

Anime fans with a keen eye for details will find the interior of the museum café familiar. The fashionable café Salon de Thé ROND, perched atop a huge inverted cone, was featured in Your Name. Find the table Taki and Okudera were seated at and enjoy a leisurely cup of tea. 

Address: 7 Chome-22-2 Roppongi, Minato City, Tokyo 106-8558, Japan


Unique Japanese architecture


From detachable capsules to Transformer-esque buildings, these examples of unique Japanese architecture truly push the limits of human imagination and break away from ordinary designs. Don’t miss out on visiting these extraordinary feats of Japanese architecture the next time you’re in the country.  

Check out these articles for more photo spots in Japan: 

Cover image adapted from (left to right): @japarioca, @viajero_total, and @jyuenger