XXXX House

Masahiro Harada and Mao Harada.

Two architects, Masahiro Harada and Mao Harada, who make up Mount Fuji Architects Studio have been collecting awards since their student years. There is a long list of all their achievements on their website.

In 2003 they got a project in Yaizu near Shizuoka. The owner saved up to buy a Toyota Corolla Sedan and in the last minute decided he would rather have a pottery studio built. He asked the pair of architects to build him one with the budget he had for the car. He had 1.5 million Japanese yen in 2003. That’s about 14 400 US dollars in 2019. So, not much.

Which one would you choose—the workshop or the car?

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Natural Ellipse House

Yet another work of modern Japanese architecture is a Tokyo house that looks like an egg with a hole at the top. It was conceived by two architects, Masaki Endoh and Masahiro Ikeda. Both of these architects are little known outside of Japan, but the building I want to write about today was awarded Rookie of the Year 2003 by The Japan Institute of Architects.

It’s called Natural Ellipse House and it was a built as a four story apartment building of sorts. There were just two apartments, each taking up two stories, and the basement was shared.

I’m using the past tense, because it seems the building is not occupied by the original client anymore. Instead it is used as a hotel! That means that if you’re looking for a memorable place to stay in Tokyo, Natural Ellipse House is one option. Continue reading

4 × 4 House

Tadao Ando (*1941)

Today we’ll be looking at a residential house by one of the leading Japanese architects, Tadao Ando. He is an interesting person—a former boxer with no formal training in architecture is certainly not the kind of man you would expect to win the Pritzker Prize (in 1995). His buildings embody the Japanese idea of zen. They are simple and practical, giving the mind and heart, not just the body, a space to dwell.

In this house, aptly named 4 × 4 House, the simplicity of the construction lets the concepts shine. Firstly, the concept of four. The tiny building is 4 stories tall. Every story has a square, 4 m by 4 m footprint. The structure is crowned by a cube that’s also 4 m by 4 m by 4 m. And, as if it wasn’t enough, the large window, that takes up a whole side of the cube, is divided into 4 equal square sections. (4 m is equal to roughly 13 feet.)

As you can see in the rendition above, the house is quite small. This was caused mainly by the regulations set in place to protect the shoreline, which is gradually receding. Shoreline erosion in Japan is a real problem caused by the real global climate change. Yet I don’t think this limited Tadao Ando as much as it would a Western architect, since the Japanese don’t assume a small house means the owners are poor. For some, living small means living more beautifully. Continue reading

Curtain Wall House

Shigeru Ban (*1957)

Mr. Takeshi, a photographer who grew up in a tiny space, wished for a large house for his family that would be open to its surroundings. With this project he entrusted a well-known architect, Shigeru Ban.

Similar to Mr. Fujimori, the architect and owner of Takasugi-an, Shigeru Ban is known for a very innovative approach to architecture. He is also of a humanitarian mind—designing low-cost shelters for victims of natural disasters in many countries since the 90’s. (Read more at Both of which are reasons for his receiving the 2014 Pritzker Prize.

For Mr. Takeshi, Shigeru Ban designed the Curtain Wall House in Tokyo.

It is definitely open to its surroundings. The house pretty much looks like it’s missing two walls. Instead there are two enormous white curtains! Continue reading

Mountain Day

Good morning of Mountain Day 2018!

I love browsing Japan’s Google doodles. Here are two that celebrate Mountain Day, a public holiday that falls on August 11th, which is today. (There is no doodle this year.)

In 2016, Japan established a yet another (16th) public holiday, Mountain Day. Japan is a mountainous country (about 70% of land is in the mountains) and therefore mountains are a very good example of the country’s beautiful nature. The holiday is supposed to relieve workers, which is a great idea in a country of notoriously long working hours, and encourage to spend time (and money) with their families.

Read much more in the very well-written 2016 BBC article:

高過庵 | Takasugi-an

* 1946 (71 years old)

Terunobu Fujimori is a recognized Japanese architect and historian of architecture. He is more known in Japan, but after his feature as the curator of the Japanese pavilion at 2006 Venice Biennale, he became well-known to the world as well.

Having built several tea houses for his acquaintances, he decided to build one for himself. It is situated in his hometown, which has become part of Chino. Chino is a city in the mountains just east of Nagano.

As is customary with his works, the house is ecological and innovative. It is built from wood cut on the surrounding mountains. The two main supports are naked chestnut trees. The plaster is a traditional, earthy one and the roof copper, which is also a traditional material. Six meters (almost 20 ft for the Americans) above ground, in the branches of these tall chestnut trees, rests a tiny tea house.

The name Takasugi-an means “a tea house [built] too high.”

It is so tiny that one can’t stand up in it. Which is not an exception among tea houses. What is more inventive is the window—the painting that should hang in every traditional tea house and depict the current season is replaced by a window overlooking the former town of Miyakawa-mura. This therefore shows the current season as well as the city changing through the times.

The tea house is accessible by two free-standing ladders. As is good manners in Japan, shoes taken off at the midway point, the platform with a flimsy, pro forma railing. The tea house gently sways in the mountain winds.

Here the famous architect can enjoy a cup of matcha with his visitors and a beautiful view.

Japanese tea houses are a fascinating subject to study. They are bound by traditional rules and yet, since they were very often designed by the masters of tea and not by masters of carpentry, are extremely variable in their simplicity. The character 庵 [あん, an] means a hut. You can barely go simpler than a hut in architecture.

Another principle (I have already mentioned the seasonal picture.) is to enter the room humbly. In “normal” tea rooms this is achieved by lowering the lintel to under a meter above ground. Entering the room from below is the ultimate solution.

Dezeen article

Hokusai in Hoozuki no Reitetsu

In episode 8 of Hoozuki no Reitetsu several facts about a certain Edo period artist, Hokusai, were mentioned. Even if you do not recognize his name, you are probably familiar with his world-famous print The Great Wave off Kanagawa.


What I like the most about watching Hoozuki no Reitetsu are precisely these snippets of information about the Japanese culture. I really appreciate the meticulousness with which the translators and editors subtitle it. There are so many Buddhist terms, so I expect the research behind this to be exhausting.

The series itself is not particularly special — some may even say it is substandard — but I really enjoy learning about the various mythical creatures, religion and folklore through anime. I don’t intend to talk about the series today, so for more information please see its ANN entry. News flash: Hoozuki no Reitetsu is getting a second season this fall!
I hope you’ll join me, fellow art lovers, otaku and other interested readers~


I want to rectify a misconception about the highest mountain in Japan, Mount Fuji.


Written 富士山, the last character means mountain, which is read yama when stand-alone. When a part of a “word” though (the on-yomi), it is read san. So this san means mountain, it’s not an honorific as someone could have thought — Fuji-san!

俳句 | Haiku

Whenever I encounter haiku in the Western world, the given definition is always along the lines of unrhymed three-line poem with seventeen syllables (written in a 5-7-5 syllable count), often about nature. Sometimes the theme is omitted. In reality there is much more than that to this traditional Japanese form of poetry. I’ll try to avoid boring you with its history and write mainly about the main principles one should follow when writing haiku.

Kobayashi Issa google doodle

Google doodle for the 250th birthday of Issa, one of the four haiku masters

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1972 – Nakagin Capsule Tower photos

Do you remember that post about Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo I wrote 7 months ago?

Back then I seem to have missed a certain photography project called 1972 by Noritaka Minami. It comprises a total of 24 shots documenting the tower’s derelict condition in 2011 and 2012. See one sixth of it below or visit the project’s page for more.

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minamiThe artist Noritaka Minami is interested in applying the medium of photography as a means of investigating history and memory associated with sites. He currently works as a TA in Photography at the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard University.