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Dojunkai: Death of a Cultural Icon


When you look at Japanese traditional architecture, you have to look at Japanese culture and its relationship with nature. You can actually live in a harmonious, close contact with nature – this very unique to Japan.

When I found out today, from an old friend in Roppongi Hills, that there are no more Dojunkai left I honestly thought she was pulling my leg. But a few months ago, I’m told, the last two remaining Dojunkai apartment complexes – once considered a symbol of Japanese architectural prowess – were shown to reporters before being demolished. Their 84-year history came to an inglorious end.


The dilapidated Uenoshita apartments

Built in the Ueno district in Taito Ward, Tokyo, in 1929, the two buildings called Uenoshita Apartments stood four stories high and, like most well-designed buildings in Tokyo, made from reinforced concrete.

They are to be replaced with a 14-story building with 128 condominiums, according to Mitsubishi Estate Co. The biggest unit will have 75 sq. meters of floor space, compared with 40 sq. meters in the Dojunkai buildings, the real estate company said.

Construction is expected to be completed in summer 2015. Of the 65 residents who lived in the buildings, 55 are to be moved into the new structure. A series of Dojunkai apartment buildings — 13 in Tokyo and two in Yokohama — were constructed following the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 as a forerunner to Japan’s state-of-the-art architectural technology.

Supposedly, concerns had been mounting for years that the buildings had grown too old and dilapidated, with cracked walls and corroded handrails. Their ability to survive earthquakes had also been called into question.

Call me a cynic, but I’m pretty darn sure that the buildings could have easily been reinforced for earthquake survival and I’m also sure that if the Dojunkai were built after the 1923 earthquake, their structure must still be very sound.

What saddens me here, more than anything else is the lack of care that contemporary Japan has for the designs of previous architects. We’re seeing multi-nationals erect giant towers that almost seem to come from a factory-led design aesthetic. I think I’m also projecting my disdain and anger at One Hyde Park and the Shard in London. Tall, glass and ‘function’ led; but devoid of what I’d call architectural being and spirit. Both addresses are also empty. Hmm…

I don’t know how long this trend of construction and destruction will last. But I highly doubt that the apartments set to replace the Dojunkai will last 90 years. The same goes for One Hyde Park and the Shard.



From → Architecture

  1. They were the result of efforts after the 1923 Kanto Earthquake to build quake proof and fireproof apartments. According to a book I bought several years go, there were 16 of them built in Tokyo and Yokohama. There were evidently 7 left when the book was published in 2000. So sad. I didn’t learn of them until after my trip to Tokyo in 2008. Now it’s too late? It’s a beautiful book if you can ind a copy: Design of Doujunkai by United Design Inc. it’s subtitled “Reminiscence of life in modern style.” Tadao Ando’s Omotesando Hills development stands on the site of the apartments in Aoyama.

    • Hello David, thanks for the your book recommendation. I shall endeavour to get my hands of a copy. With regards to the Dojunkai, I was lucky to have the chance to visit two sites before they were demolished. I just didn’t think they’d do actually get rid of all of them. I don’t actually like Omotesando Hills that much. The Monocle cafe there is nice, if anything, but I wish the apartments had been kept.

      • The look very livable, or at least well lived-in from the photos in the book!

  2. I just posted a photo of mine that included a bit of Doujunkai in Aoyama. Do you know if it is still there?

    • Hi again! That’s a lovely picture. I believe the Aoyama (is that Omotesando Hills?) Dojunkai are all gone now. Nonetheless, I shall check with my friends in Japan just to make sure.

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