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TAKOTRON NEWS
Monday, 1 August 2005
TAKOTRON, JAPAN EPISODE III
Topic: Architecture / Travel
Topic 2: Kisho Kurokawa's Nakagin Capsule Tower / IMAHAN SUKIYAKI

When thenovakids first began to emerge in 2002 during a semester abroad at Jouchi Daigaku, we went building-seeking on many occasions. At the top of our list was Kisho Kurokawa's Capsule Tower in Ginza, Tokyo, but we lacked the background information, navigation skills, and discipline to find it. For just a second I thought Tange's ugly brown Shizuoka Broadcasting Headquarters might be it--it's modular I guess (right). But this time, EPISODE III, we were prepared, with KENCHIKU MAP TOKYO, among other things, to strike.

The Capsule Tower in Ginza was completed in 1972, and represents the pinnacle of realized Metabolist architecture (left). During the 60s and 70s Metabolism represented a movement in architectural design that advocated principles of modularity through the use of interchangable, mass-manufactured, replacable components. That is, a new type of building that could be modified indefinitely over time to suit the occupants' changing needs. As influential as the group's ideas were, much of it remained only theoretical (like the projects of England's sometimes similar Archigram group).

However, a suprising number of projects were actualized. These included a 1968 Discotheque Space Capsule in Roppongi and the Capsule House "K" in Karuizawa. Then the 1970 Osaka World Exposition provided a forum for such experiments, allowing Kurokawa to prove the relatively easy installation and disassembly of his system with the Takara Beautillion, an expo installation for a furniture conglomerate. The Beautillion was made up of cubic units formed by steel pipes bent at right angles then bolted to steel plates. The pipes were fitted to plug into one another, and the completed capsules were joined to one another with high-tension bolts.

The Nakagin Capsule Tower in Ginza has two concrete shafts, bolted to which are 2.3m x 3.9m x 2.1m capsules made from modified shipping containers. The tower was originally intended to provide short-term housing for transient businessmen on trips to Tokyo.

More than 30 years later, it's still around. It could use a power-washing. There is a prototype capsule room on the ground floor. If you ask the surly security guard inside the building, he will coldly let you go in the prototype, which is fitted with a built-in rotary phone, air jets, and a TV/Audio system from the 70s with a reel-to-reel tape deck (right). It's those electronics that betray the building's age, not the overall form, which still approaches the science fictional. The mobile urban society the Metabolists were planning for didn't quite develop the way they imagined, and the Capsule Tower remains something of a monument to some foward-looking thinking that resonated with enough people that it materialized. Planning for a possible future that never panned out.

Our day in Ginza did not end with the Nakagin Tower, however. We wandered over to the fancy part of Ginza, which is like the 5th avenue of Tokyo. There we purchased several bags of the greatest green tea produced on this planet. I won't tell you all the secrets, but the place is called CHA GINZA. If you can find it you can get some. Otherwise, it's strictly for those with grandmotherly connections.

We had a few hours before dinner and Kei had to pick up some CDs so we went to Shibuya, got drinks at Fujiya, went to HMV, and took some purikura. Then we returned to Ginza for the fanciest meal of my life.

We wanted to try Sukiyaki, which is supposed to be pretty fine and very expensive. Kei's uncle recommended a place, IMAHAN. We had a private Cha-shitsu style room, into which a young woman came and cooked for us. There's a boiling broth in which she cooks various vegetables and then the thinly sliced, perfectly tender beef. You dip it all in raw beaten egg. The environment and the quality of the ingredients were incredible, and the service is traditional (and slavish). But Kei got our server to lighten up by exhibiting her purikura collection, and ultimately donating a picture to her.

Posted by thenovakids at 10:12 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:21 AM CDT
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