Last week we discussed how Japan needs a helping hand when it comes to boosting the image of “Brand Japan” to the West. Unfortunately, as mentioned, the track record of the government department currently in charge is less than impressive. Running disastrous campaigns, for example “Yokoso Japan”, featuring slogans that are unintelligible to non-Japanese speakers, and certainly not catchy enough to have garnered any significant attention. As a country that can be as intriguing as it is innovative there is so much more to focus on, and in this series we are aiming at highlighting a small selection of this. Attempting to show that handled correctly, “Cool Japan” really can be cool. Last week we focused on “Outstanding Design” and this week we turn our attention towards the bricks and mortar of the country; Japanese Architecture.

Over time Japanese architecture has been many different things to many different people, amongst other things, designs have been clarifying, coveted or simply copied. For those such as Frank Lloyd Wright it was a source of immense influence in the development of a new vision, and to many it has served as exemplifying basic principles that are adhered to around the world. Post-war Japanese architects such as Kenzo Tange and Kisho Kurokawa grew to become leading figures in the establishment of the Metabolism Movement sending out strong signals to the West and inspiring the work of many. Since then architects such as Hiroshi Hara, pictured below, have gone on to solidify Japan’s position as an architectural leader.

The Pritzker Prize 2010, awarded to SANAA – the architectural team of Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa in Tokyo – was international confirmation of Japan’s global leadership in innovative design. Their works such as the Dior building in Omotesando embody an architecture that is “deceptively simple”, with designs that blur the line between public and private space.

Japan’s architecture has come to represent an amazing simplicity in design, where deep thought has been placed in every corner or space, as buildings are confined to the minimum of meters. Drawing on it’s rich history and culture such as the ancient simplicity of paper screens, tatami mattresses, tea rooms and wood-structures, and similar to how we described Japanese product design with its stripped back philosophy of “less is more”, Japanese building designs have eliminated distracting embellishments that are typical in the West. In fact “..in this sense”, says Roland Hagenberg author of 20 Japanese Architects and CScouts own archiTokyo guide, “Minimalism was not invented in the West, but in Japan”.

Any visitor to Tokyo will attest that the architecture is mixed and varied, with buildings often jostling for space next to each other and in stark contrast in their designs. With rapidly constructed, ubiquitous grey offices next to ancient temples and alongside modern internationally acclaimed designs, Tokyo’s architecture is unlike most modern planned cities around the world. Getting lost in the back streets of Tokyo and meandering through neighborhoods that pack in so much architectural diversity, as well as being unavoidable with its bizarre addressing system where buildings are numbered according to when they were constructed, more importantly is one of the most rewarding pleasures that visitors to Tokyo can experience.

Once again if packaged properly, Japan’s architectural uniqueness and strength is a true example of what makes the country such an interesting and inspiring destination. What has been inspirational to many over the years now needs to be harnessed and marketed correctly in order to repair the country’s recently damaged image in the West. In the next installment we will explore more about what is needed to transform Brand Japan into the appealing, marketable force it could be. Let us uncover for you another area where Japan leads the world and that makes it a real “Cool Japan.”