Cartoons have been a major genre of popular entertainment in Japan dating back to 1917. The country’s unique style of animation, or anime, came into its own in the 1960s — notably in the pioneering work of Osamu Tezuka. In the 1990’s, a generation of architects, who came of age watching anime cartoons on television, were granted license to build fantastic creations fueled by the excess and lack of restraint that characterized Japan’s asset bubble. Since that era, Japanese architects have produced fantastical edifices that clearly owe a great deal of their creative inspiration to the country’s cartoon aesthetics.
Aoyama Technical College by Makoto Sei Watanabe (1990)
Perched atop a building in the upscale Tokyo neighborhood of Aoyama, the top of this academic building resembles an antennaed robotic insect or the giant mecha foe of Gundam.
Soft and Hairy House by Ushida Findlay (1994)
Shrouded in a lush green roof, Ushida Findlay’s courtyard house contains a bright blue pod that looks like it could be an exotic fungus. It’s actually a cozy bathroom dotted with portholes.
Kihoku Astronomical Museum by Masaharu Takasaki (1995)
This astronomical museum looks like something straight out of a Studio Ghibli production. Inside, you won’t find any telescopes. It was built in this location simply because it is the best place in Japan for stargazing with the naked eye.
Syntax by Shin Takamatsu (1990)
With wings inexplicably outstretched, this office building in Kyoto mixes the postmodern with the robotic. The allusion to anime is unmistakable, particularly on the roof where antennae-like finials cascade down skylights designed to look like cockpits.
Rias Ark Museum of Art by Osamu Ishiyama Lab., Department of Architecture, Waseda University (1994)
The pink watch towers perched atop this art museum in Kesennuma City look as though they might stride off over the landscape.
Shomyo Kindergarten by Masaharu Takasaki (1995)
Fittingly for a kindergarten, the domed timber auditorium has chimneys for ears and windows for eyes.
K-Museum by Makoto Sei Watanabe (1997)
You could mistake Makoto Sei Watanabe’s small museum itself for a work of sculpture. It appears to be many shiny steel blocks taking off at high speed. Spiking out of the undulating base around the building, a field of illuminated cilia wave in the breeze.
Communication and Recreation Plaza “Nanohana-Kan” by Takasaki Masaharu (1998)
Looking like a stranded rocket after a crash landing, this building is, in fact, a community center for seniors. The complex is intended to foster greater communication between the old and young generations. Perhaps the anime architecture is designed to entice youngsters to come and talk to the old people inside.
Humax Pavilion Shibuya by Studio Arch Hiroyuki Wakabayashi (1993)
Another rocket here. This building in the middle of Tokyo juxtaposes the gothic with the fantastical, not unlike films like Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise.
SUBWAY STATION IIDABASHI by Makoto Sei Watanabe (2000)
The entrance to this Tokyo metro station is shrouded in giant glass and steel canopies that resemble giant insect wings.
Flying Mud Boat by Terunobu Fujimori (2010)
Terunobu Fujimori was famous as an architectural historian before he built his first works when he was well into his forties. Considered an eccentric, his architecture is nonetheless respected for its creative charm and use of vernacular materials and techniques. Many of his works, like this floating teahouse, look like something you might have seen in a Studio Ghibli film, but like Japan’s most famous animation studio, his inspiration seems to draw from a very primitive part of Japanese folklore.
Roof House by Terunobu Fujimori (2009)
Another of Fujimori’s works, this courtyard house is topped by live saplings growing from the peaks of its many copper-clad roofs. Inside the walls and ceilings are covered with a traditional mud plaster.
Kamiyubetsu Folk Museum by Toyokazu Watanabe (1996)
This behemoth, with its many roofs and turrets, resembles some kind of armoured fortress. It is, in fact, nothing more sinister than a rural folk museum.