Tokyo began life as an humble fishing village but, having been effectively rebuilt after extensive damage sustained during WWII, today it is a futuristic blend of neon lights and towering skyscrapers.
And there’s far more to these modern buildings than functionality – from the giant advertising screens in Shinjuku to the technology stores of Akihabara, Tokyo’s architecture is a chaotic mix of innovative design.
The sprawling district of Minato comprises the awe-inspiring skyscrapers of the Akasaka commercial district, and the hypermodern edifices of emerging Shiodome. Built entirely after 2000, the latter was once a derelict railway terminal that’s since been transformed into a visually stunning mini-city in the heart of the metropolis.
Minato is also home to the Tokyo Tower; the radio and communications tower in Shiba Park which imitates the more famous Eiffel Tower in Paris. Rather surprisingly in a city packed with fascinating architecture, this is one of Tokyo’s biggest tourist draws, partly for its observation deck and views over the skyline.
In the 1980s, Tokyo’s architecture was given a further boost in its postwar reconstruction and it was during this period that Japanese designer Fumihiko Maki made his mark on the city with the huge, futuristic Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium complex in Shibuya.
The designer is arguably most famous, however, for his Spiral building – a unique structure in Aoyama that features, on the outside, a fractured facade of glass and concrete and, on the inside, an iconic staircase that appears to float in space.
The Government Building
Kenzo Tange – whose other works include the over-the-top Fuji TV building in Odaiba – also helped define the Tokyo skyline with the monumental Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku.
Described as a postmodernist triumph, the huge tower is the bureaucratic center of the city and has a free viewing platform on the 45th floor offering an impressive view of the city – one which probably supersedes that of the Tokyo Tower.
In the heart of Tokyo’s Old Town, Taito, the Asakusa neighborhood is known for its traditional temples and shrines rather than its modernism but, even here, futuristic style dominates the area thanks to the Asahi Super Dry Hall.
Created by French architect Philippe Stark, the brewery of the popular Asahi brand has become a cult landmark in Tokyo with its cartoon-like shape. The granite facade is punctuated with portholes so that, at night, the building looks like a giant mug of fizzing beer!
Where to Stay
As with many hostels in Japan, the budget accommodation available in Tokyo is a mix of traditional Japanese guesthouses (complete with complimentary kimonos) and excellent, brand-new backpackers’ hostels.
There’s a great range of Tokyo hostels scattered across the vast city which offer cheap dorm beds or private rooms for travelers exploring the architecture and, thanks to efficient inner-city transport, the sights are all easily accessible from any part of the city.