You don’t have to be a Tokyo architecture geek to recognise the Nakagin Capsule Tower in Shinbashi. Dreamed up by architect Kisho Kurokawa, a prominent Japanese architect who was one of the founders of the Metabolist Movement, the iconic building was completed in 1972. Composed of box-like capsules stacked on top of each other, it’s a rare remaining example of Metabolism, a post-war architectural movement that envisioned cities filled with structures that would keep growing and evolving, like living organisms.
The Capsule Tower remains a subject of fascination among architecture fans around the world, and before the pandemic, tourists could often be seen snapping photos in front of the eye-catching edifice. English-language tours were also held on a semi-regular basis.
But Nakagin isn’t the only structure conveying the legacy of Metabolism into the present. Capsule House-K, Kurokawa’s own countryside villa, was built one year after the Capsule Tower and will soon be opened to the public as a unique accommodation facility.
Capsule House-K was originally the property of the Kurokawa architecture office, but was sold off when the office went bankrupt. Kisho’s son Mikio Kurokawa, the head of Mirai Kurokawa Design Studio, later bought back the building to make it sure it was repaired and preserved.
The villa stands in the forested hills of western Karuizawa, long a popular vacation spot for moneyed Tokyoites. Crossing a mountain stream via the 100-metre-high Karuizawa Ohashi Bridge, a winding road leads to the Mori-Izumi holiday home township, at the edge of which a distinctive building appears through the trees.
But upon arrival, the Capsule House is nowhere to be seen; only benches and simple barbecue facilities meet the eye. This is actually the rooftop – the actual building is below, one of its red-brown capsules visible through a reinforced-concrete shaft from the roof.
Descending an outdoor staircase to the entrance, we enter the shaft and soon arrive in a distinctly modern living room with warm wood paneling and complete with a fireplace.
From the entrance, pathways lead to four capsules: a kitchen, two bedrooms and a tea room. Both bedrooms are equipped with toilet-and-shower units and feature round windows with views toward majestic Mt Asama. The tea room also has a round window, but this one has a sliding shoji panel that helps the aperture blend into the chamber’s traditional architecture.
At the bottom of a spiral staircase is the master bedroom. Its current appearance dates to a 1997 renovation, but the room was originally used as an atelier and for recreation, with the easel on the wall suggesting that Kurokawa may have painted here. The master bedroom is the only part of the house that’s been significantly altered from its original design.