japanese art, design and culture

Category — Architecture

An Artist-Designed Ice Hotel in Hokkaido

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photos by hiroki onishi

Earlier this month a pop-up hotel emerged in Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island know for, amongst other things, their snow. Although typically geared towards a longer-term horizon, this hotel was temporary in that it was made from snow and only made to last until the temperatures begin to rise. Ice Hills Hotel was conceived by a local real estate company as part of Creative Hokkaido, an initiative designed to telegraph Hokkaido’s creative culture beyond their island.

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Under the creative direction of Clark Gallery, 3 artists – Toshihiko Shibuya, Midori Kambara and Leo Fujisawa – were tapped to each design separate hotel rooms.

Inspired by the beauty of white, Sapporo-based artist Midori Kambara chose to create a white landscape of grass and flowers carved into the snow wall.

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“White Garden” by Midori Kambara

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“White Garden” by Midori Kambara

Moving in the opposite direction from Kambara, the installation artist Toshihiko Shibuya decided to experiment with color. By inserting fluorescent color sheets behind blocks of ice and then embedding them into the wall, Kambara used natural light to create a frosted color palette.

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“Ice Palette” by Toshihiko Shibuya

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“Ice Palette” by Toshihiko Shibuya

The sculptor Leo Fujisawa created a monumental room that begins with a large ice door that obscures your view. Once inside, various cubic ice stairs take form and lead to a central bed, where a warm sleeping bag awaits residents.

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“Ice Step” by Leo Fujisawa

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“Ice Step” by Leo Fujisawa

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Accompanying the 3 frozen designer rooms is a bar in case, you know, the hotel happens to be a little chilly. Planning a visit? Make sure you grab a pair of ice glasses!

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source: SHIFT

February 25, 2014   1 Comment

The Hellish Art of Japanese Interlocking Wooden Architecture Revived at SunnyHills Minami-Aoyama

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image courtesy kengo kuma & associates | click to enlarge

In Japan there is an ancient craft passed down between woodworkers and artisans known as jigoku-gumi. Literally, “interlocking hell,” the complex technique can be observed, on a smaller scale, in the wooden frames of shoji screens. The fear-inducing name seems to have been derived not only from the complexity and difficulty of the craft, but also because it is near-impossible to disassemble once complete. In fact, jigoku-gumi was used to create the 635-year old shoji screens in Kyoto’s Toji Mieido temple (renovated in 1380), as well as the 815-year old fusuma sliding doors in Wakayama’s Kongōbu-ji temple. In other words, jigoku-gumi is not meant to be taken halfheartedly.

But reviving the technique, and taking it to awe-inspiring heights, is the architect Kengo Kuma, who just completed SunnyHills in the posh neighborhood of Minami-Aoyama, Tokyo. Nestled amongst designer boutiques like Herzog & De Meuron’s Prada building and the Nezu Museum, designed by Kuma himself, the bold structure of entwined wood feels right at home.

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image courtesy kengo kuma & associates | click to enlarge

And there’s nothing hellish about SunnyHills, the first Japanese location of a popular Taiwanese pineapple cake shop. The 3-story structure, which opened in late December of last year, has made it their mission to offer visitors free tea and cake, even if they are not buying anything. “That’s just the spirit of Taiwanese hospitality,” says Michael Sheu, an IT exec who discovered he had a sweet tooth at age 50. Sheu is capitalizing on a pineapple cake market that has grown in size from $100 mm 5 years ago to a little under a billion dollars.

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image courtesy kengo kuma & associates | click to enlarge

Once you walk through the entrance of the wooden latticework on the ground floor, you’re immediately transported into a forest of light filtering through the cracks. It’s easy to get lost in the shadows, as well as the aroma of Japanese hinoki wood. When asked why he transferred from IT to confectionary Sheu responded that it was because he wanted to return to more simpler times. He wanted to create a forest of wilderness that recalled his days as a child growing up in the mountainous regions of Taiwan.

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image courtesy flickr user Ken Lee | click to enlarge

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image courtesy flickr user Ken Lee | click to enlarge

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image courtesy flickr user Ken Lee | click to enlarge

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image courtesy flickr user Ken Lee | click to enlarge

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image courtesy flickr user Ken Lee | click to enlarge

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image courtesy kengo kuma & associates | click to enlarge

Source: Asahi | Hachise | SunnyHills

February 19, 2014   3 Comments

Discovering Old Japan in New Tokyo | Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten-gai

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photos by Takumi Ota | click to enlarge

A shoten-gai (商店街)is a shopping street centrally located within small towns in Japan. They come in all shapes and sizes and, somewhat naturally, have evolved directly in front of local train stations. It’s where people come to gather and shop, either on their way home from work or during the day. But as is the case with most cities, the face of these shopping streets have changed. Local vendors and artisans have been replaced by large drugstore chains, 100-yen shops and convenience stores.

In an attempt to recreate the lost charm of shoten-gai, Nakagawa Masamichi Shoten, a traditional fabric maker with a 300-year history, hired designer Yusuke Seki (previously) to create a new type of market place; one more suitable and competitive within a new ecosystem. Nakagawa Masamichi Shoten-gai opened last year in the basement level of the Tokyo Midtown shopping complex. “In the same way that a city grows and develops by accumulating its people and building up the number of individual shops in one particular area, this shop was designed to reflect a growing market street, within a city central precinct,” says Seki.

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One of my favorite details is the electrical signboard, an essential element of all Shoten-gai and a unifying mechanism to reflect identity.

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source: press release

January 30, 2014   1 Comment

Now Open | Goodbeer Faucets in Hakata

hp001photos by hiroshi mizusaki / loop photo creative | click to enlarge

Hakata is quickly transforming into a trendy, hipster hangout. After getting a gorgeous artisanal tea shop,  the Japanese Southern city, known for it’s heavy, pork-based ramen, just got a craft beer watering hole too. Under the leadership of craft beer heavyweight Teruya Hori, Goodbeer Faucets opened their first location in Shibuya 2 years ago. And now with a craft beer boom in full swing in Japan they’ve opened a beach house-themed location along the Naka River in Hakata.




The interior was designed by Yoshihiro Saitoh of A-Study, who integrated ropes and a wooden pagoda into the design. It creates a nice atmosphere that makes you fully aware of the ocean’s presence. The Hakata location has over 40 craft beers on draught; mostly Japanese and American microbrews. And with more emphasis on food pairing than it’s older sister in Tokyo, the watering hole is making itself out to be a lot more than just a watering hole.





Several years ago it would have been close to impossible to walk into a bar and order anything other than Sapporo, Kirin or Yebisu. But thanks to the revision of a legal code that allowed smaller players to enter the market, microbreweries were suddenly cool.


source: A-Study

January 19, 2014   2 Comments

Gurunavi’s Shun Shoku Lounge in Osaka Designed by Kengo Kuma

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Once proudly web only, online sites opening brick-and-mortar stores seems to be the new trend, as evidenced by companies like EBay, Etsy, Piperlime and Warby Parker. But with a tech start-up spirit slowly taking hold in Japan, it seems as though the country is no exception. Gurunavi, a yelp-like service that offers online food and restaurant guides, has opened up their first physical store.

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Located in a prime location right outside Osaka Station, “SHUN*SHOKU LOUNGE” is part café, part information kiosk. The Kengo Kuma-desinged interior features a topographical landscape made from layered natural wooden sheets. Much of the furniture serves as a showcase to display seasonal foods that rotate in and out on a monthly basis. Over on the café customers can order smoothies and lunch boxes made from the seasonal ingredients.

The owners hope that the shop will help disperse information about Osaka’s food and dining culture, while also bridging a gap between restaurants and farmers. However, I would go just for the amazing scenery.

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source: Kengo Kuma | Food Stadium

January 15, 2014   Comments Off

Sweet Architecture | A Home Built on Top of a Bakery

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VIN ROSE has been cooking up sweets and pastries for locals since 1977. The well-established shop, located in the suburban neighborhood of Katsutadai (Chiba) just East of Tokyo, was especially well known for their apple pie. But after 35 years of doing business, the owners decided it was time for change. They hired architect Yuko Nagayama (previously) to create a modern, enticing space that accommodate their growing family as well as maintain their presence as neighborhood pâtissier.

VIN ROSE, now nestled in-between a massive condo building and a clinic, reopened its doors late last year. The first floor is the bakery and kitchen while the 2nd and 3rd floors encompass living quarters for the owners and their 2 kids. Defining the structure is the open space that’s been carved out above the bakery, creating the illusion that the home above is hovering over the bakery. It also serves the purpose allowing natural light to spill into the bakery. But for a real treat, head there in the evening hours when the space looks like a treasure box that’s been opened and goodies are flowing out.

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source: architechturephoto | Yuko Nagayama

January 9, 2014   1 Comment

151E | a new tea destination in Fukuoka



Ichi-go ichi-e (一期一会) is one of those Japanese phrases that is near-impossible to translate. Derived from a mix of roots like tea master Sen no Rikyo, Buddhism and also Tokugawa Shogunate politics, the term can be used to encourage one to cherish a once in a lifetime moment or – in the tradition of tea ceremonies – a cup of tea. (The Japanese title for the movie Forest Gump was Ichi-go ichi-e, perhaps because of the protagonist’s tendency to appreciate every moment and every chance encounter.) It was with those spirits that Mr. Yamashi, a trained, class 1 tea steward (sometimes known as a cha-mmelier) decided to open a shop dedicated to Japan’s finest teas.

151E is written in alpha-numeric characters but is pronounced ichi-go ichi-e. It opened shop in Fukuoka 2 months ago and boasts the finest varieties of teas from the Kyushu region. But it wasn’t only tea that Mr. Yamashi has as taste for. The shop also features an elegant interior with minimally gorgeous packaging for each tea. They say the way of tea is inscrutable, but Mr. Yamashi has certainly figured it out.





source: hitspaper

December 10, 2013   2 Comments

Ryuei Nishizawa’s Fukita Pavilion | a shrine made from 2 sheets of metal

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Within the grounds of the sacred Fukita Shrine on Shodoshima Island rests a new structure, seemingly out of place yet at one with nature. This is Fukita Pavillion (PDF), Ryuei Nishizawa’s latest work. The architect and one half of the duo SANAA (previously) completed the structure over the summer as part of the 2013 Setouchi Arts Festival. It consists of 2 large sheets of metal – one forms the base and hosts a crescent shaped bench for seating while also holding up the second sheet, which appears to droop over it.

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A large tree rises through the two sheets, which calmly and steadily form round openings. In the summer a cool breeze passes through the pavilion. Children play on the slopes it creates while adults rest on the bench and contemplate its coexistence with nature.

The Fukita Shrine creates an interesting contrast between the Teshima Museum on a neighboring island and also designed by Nishizawa.

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November 13, 2013   Comments Off

Teshima Yokoo House | a renovated home turns into a museum

teshimayokookan_w865all photos by Nobutada Omote

A bright, iridescent rock garden. Ceilings and floors turned into artwork. A circular tower that encompasses you with images. This is Teshima Yokoo House, a renovated home turned into a museum to house the work of artist and graphic designer Tadanori Yokoo. The structure, which opened over the summer of 2013, is the latest addition to the ongoing develop of the Setouchi Islands as an artistic and cultural hub, and was a collaboration between Yokoo himself and architect Yuko Nagayama.

One major theme throughout the space is the convergence of art and architecture. Translucent red panels appear throughout the space, at times making it appear is if a whole room is just a painting in itself. The red glass also has the strange effect of making the red rock garden disappear.


What makes the space special is it’s efforts to involve the locals citizens, most of whom are elderly. Neighbors were always welcome to observe the construction process and they were even invited to help lay the ceramic tiles in the rock garden. Through a collaborative process, the site became part of the community rather than just a museum. Staying true to their theme of “life and death,” the museum even offers funeral and cremation services.








November 5, 2013   1 Comment

Japanese Designer Public Restrooms

From squeaky clean to technologically bizarre, much has been said and written about Japanese public restrooms. And while some of it is hyperbole and sensationalism generated by an overly zealous foreign press, Japan does lead the world in toilet technology. The country also takes great pride in cleanliness and restrooms are one of the first places to begin.

The public restroom has largely been shunned as an architectural subject in the western world but in Japan it stands as its own archetype. Here are some recent public restroom designs in Japan that have been turning heads for reasons other than an uncontrollable bladder.

Halftecture OO by Shuhei Endo (2006)

Halfitecture OO is 1 of 3 public restrooms that architect Endo Shuhei designed inside the Osaka Castle Park. Reminiscent of a Richard Serra sculpture, the truss-shaped walls are made of a single sheet of anti-corrosive steel that holds up its own weight. Underneath the steel sheet is a white box that holds the actual lavatory facilities.

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Tokinokura Lavatories by Shuichiro Yoshida (2009)

Located in Chikusei City (Ibaraki), a region known for their historical stone storage buildings (ishikura), a group of citizens operate Tokinokura – a storage building converted into an event space for hosting exhibitions. In 2008 the group selected Shuichiro Yoshida to design a much-needed lavatory for staff and visitors. It was constructed in a narrow alley behind the building, hence the high ceilings.

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Absolute Arrows by Bunzo Ogawa (2009-current)

In 2009 Bunzo Ogawa of Future Studio was selected to design a series of public restrooms to be designed in public parks across the city of Hiroshima. Ogawa proposed three repeatable designs that could adapt to the different sizes of parks. (By law, Japanese public restrooms cannot encompass more than 2% of a park’s surface area.)

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The concept of the restrooms were to embed the City of Hiroshima with an “absolute axis,” similar to the horizontal and vertical axes of the planet, with all arrows pointing North. In Essence, the arrows create a place that is no longer pinned down as a city within Japan, on a map, that was destroyed by nuclear weapons. Instead, it is now part of a grander space and transcends towards a coexistence with the planet. And I suppose those encountering the restrooms have an even greater sense of this. It helps them imagine what is beyond the park fence, or the neighbors wall, or the city’s high-rise buildings.

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Kikuchi Pocket Park Restrooms by Takao Shiotsuka (2012)

Connect the town – this was the seemingly simple yet lofty goal entrusted to Takao Shiotsuka Atelier as they set about designing a park and public restroom in the middle of historic Kikuchi City in Kumamoto. The result was 3 different parks and restrooms, each with their own theme, that weave throughout the town. One of the restrooms is reminiscent of an abstract rock placed within the center of a Zen garden. Another forms from curved metal pipes that define the pathways and then create circular restrooms.

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The World’s Largest Public Restroom by Sou Fujimoto (2012)

In the middle of Chiba’s Boso peninsula is Itabu Station, a lone, unmanned station that sits on the Kominato Line. Trains come and go about every 2 hours and, on average, deliver about 6 people. In stark contrast to the very quiet nature of the station sits a facility that makes a very bold statement: “the world’s largest public restroom.”

Completed in 2012 by architect Sou Fujimoto, the grand lavatory – a clear glass box sitting in the middle of a lush flower garden – encompasses an area 200 sq meters (about 2150 sq ft). It is indeed larger than the train station it accompanies.

Japanese public restrooms - sou fujimoto 2photos by Iwan Baan

Japanese public restrooms - sou fujimoto 4The lavish, larger-than-life-lavatory, which is encompassed by a pervert-preventing black wooden log fence, was designed to both attract visitors but to also be part of an art fair happening this year. Indeed, those statistics I quoted earlier were as of 2010. We’ll just have to wait and see if foot traffic picks up.

Note to visitors: The restroom is for women only. Guys will be asked to use a much more modest bathroom nearby.




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Hut with the Arc Wall by Tato Architects (2013)

Part art installation part functioning public restroom, “Hut with the Arc Wall” was created by Tato Architects for the 2013 Setouchi Triennale. Located on Shodoshima Island, the architects drew inspiration from the large cedar barrels originally used to make soy sauce on that exact site. And the roof is made from a mixture of opaque and transparent tiles, which allows sunlight to filter in during the day but also creates quite a spectacle at night.

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November 3, 2013   2 Comments