Walking around in cultural and historical Kamakura, one of Japan’s once capitals, I spotted an interesting building that looked to fit in a little better than most of the new builds you see recently. The architect must have anticipated the interest as he had fitted an explanation sheet on the side of the building for interested viewers. This little act alone makes me believe there is quite a lot of love invested in this building, which one vital ingredient in sustainable architecture. Kamakura isn’t exactly starved of interesting buildings, a stone’s throw away from this little house near Hase Station I found a couple of handsome old fashioned black wooden buildings. I love how Japanese cities (at least the best ones) are so eminently walkable! To be a walkable city, it is not enough to focus on good sidewalks and street crossings, it is also important to make the buildings so interesting that you actually want to walk there, just to explore!
Ginza is known for money, riches, luxury brands and high fashion, it is a city in the city for people who have wealth or who like to spend it. Ginza has always been associated with money, even the name Ginza comes from licensed coin minting operation in the area back in the Edo period of Japan (in this case it was established in 1612). In the 1870a Ginza was one of the first areas of Japan to get western style brick buildings as a way of attracting investment and showing of Japan’s newfound sense of modernity. But what happens when former luxury houses grow old? As times and fashions move on the buildings remain standing and although most of them are torn down, the second oldest building in Ginza, the Okuno Building remains standing. Constructed in 1932 as a luxury apartment complex the building survived World War II and the building boom of the 1980s it is now one of the oldest apartment buildings in the country, the oldest in Ginza and the second oldest building in Ginza overall (the oldest is the Daiichi Ginza Biru, 第一銀緑ビル, constructed in 1924). Up until a few years ago there were almost identical buildings in Harajuku and Ueno but they have gone under the wrecking ball. In 1932 it was still extremely unusual to have people living in western style concrete buildings. These days the former apartments and shops have been converted to about 50 working galleries, artist’s studios and small artisan shops.
The interior matches the exterior perfectly and is wonderfully old, rusty and worn down. Flaking paint, bent railings, deep ruts worn into the concrete floor, it looks more like an abandoned ghost complex than a working building. During weekdays and weekends there’s a steady stream of people coming in and out of the building. With so many galleries there is an opening almost every day and new and old artists mix and meet in the narrow corridors. Some galleries are modern and ultra-hip, using high tech and the showing the latest fashions, others look more like your old Granny’s collection of antique toys. You are never likely to be able to visit all the galleries but there’s always enough of them open to make it worthwhile to visit the building.
Even the elevator is an original working antique and manually operated meaning that you have to close and open the doors by yourself. There are stern warnings to not forget to close the doors after you leave. You don’t see many elevators like this any more and most people I saw entering the building took one look at it and then opted for the stairs. Me included.
I hope to go back soon and get better photos, but for now, here are the (scary looking) interior corridors and stairs. It feels like going on urban ruin safari even though the building is still functioning and in the middle of the most expensive shopping district in the world! I would love to meet someone who actually experienced living in this building! The address to this building is Ginza 1−9−8 and the best subway exit is Ginza Itchome Station, Exit 10.
To celebrate the opening of the new Coredo building in Nihonbashi Muromachi the other week there is a special pink cherry blossom themed light up taking place right now. The light up covers the sandstone colored Mitsukoshi department store, the brown black and steel colored Coredo Muromachi and also the granite grey Sumitomo Mitsui Bank and unexpectedly perhaps especially the bank looks fantastic in pink! There is something special about the austere classic architecture of the bank lit up by bright pink! I think they should make the light up permanent. It is on everyday between 18:30 and 23:00 finishing on April 6th. An already quite pretty part of Tokyo will be even prettier, for a short while.