My days in Japan

Without being conscious about it, I ate my Japanese dish with chopsticks on the plane back. It made me realise how much the Japanese culture had gotten to me. I even saluted at the German stewardess in a typical Japanese way when entering the plane.

I started this chapter of my foreign work experience last October, and where to start better with widening my horizon than in the land of the rising sun. While flying to Japan, I tried to get familiar with its culture by watching ‘Lost in Translation’. The movie was partly shot on the streetscapes of Tokyo. The masses of people, the electronics, the lights, the fashion, the signs and it’s ever changing environment, famously known as the Tokyo Metabolism has left a strong visual image in my mind. Visualizing space is something so strong. Something all architects have in common.

Thanks to the fact that nearly 75 percent of Japan is covered by mountains and forrest, leaving only about 25 percent of the land suitable for residential, agricultural and industrial use, cities are unbelievably dense and lively. This is reflected in the designs of the Japanese houses. Plots are mostly tiny and irregular. Positioning spaces in the most convenient manner is always a challenge. This, together with the differences in Japanese building regulations, results in unique designs coupled with uncommon solutions compared to western architecture.Japan map

A few days after landing in Japan, I would be rushing through Tokyo chasing the magnificent architecture. In the graphic above, you’ll find the first projects I visited. The building that left the biggest impression on me was the Mediatheque, a two hour ride by bullet train, north of Tokyo. The Mediatheque in Sendai was designed by Toyo Ito, one of Japan’s greatest architects. The movement through the building in the metal cores by elevator gave me a unique feeling of connectivity. The way the floors connect and interact with each other was very inspiring.

This brings me to the main reason I came to Japan in the first place…Tato Architects. Interaction of spaces has always inspired me. In my academic learning in the last years I was influenced a lot by Dutch architect Herman Hertzberger, who had a very clear vision on how buildings should provide interaction between people. The way I wanted buildings to work was very similar to his vision.

Tato Architects, with lead architect Yo Shimada, designs houses wherein spaces flow. Where volumes touch, there lays a separation between the inside and outside or a contrast is created as a result of different materials. The fluid transition, or the big contrast by materials, makes the house lively and interactive. Every room can have it’s own unique character, which is realised by differing in form, size and material. A lot of attention is put in the detail and furniture forms an integral part of the design. The craftsmanship which is put in the detail of every little part of the house deserves to be in a book soon.

The diversity of work on all amazing projects exceeded my expectations. Together with the unbelievably helpful, respectful and kind Japanese people and my colleagues in particular, it was an impressive experience worth remembering.

Next stop: Vietnam.