1. St Mary's Cathedral Tokyo
    Photo: Keisuke TanigawaSt Mary's Cathedral Tokyo
  2. Tokyo Mode Gakuen
    Photo: Hamupon/Photo AC
  3. Hokusai Museum
    Photo: Yosuke Owashi

11 most beautiful buildings in Tokyo

Get your camera ready – these stunning structures are paragons of modern architecture

Emma Steen
Written by
Emma Steen

At first glance, Tokyo’s cityscape is a mishmash of grey concrete buildings instead of an assemblage of architectural showpieces. As a city prone to earthquakes, Tokyo doesn’t have an abundance of centuries-old structures that other parts of the world are famous for. Moreover, buildings are constantly torn down to make way for new structures of steel and concrete.

However, new doesn’t necessarily mean ugly. With superstar architects the likes of Kenzo Tange and Kengo Kuma seizing the opportunity to rebuild and reimagine Tokyo’s infrastructure, the capital has earned itself a reputation for being a leader of modern architecture. 

From post-war metabolism to minimalist designs with an emphasis on sustainability, here are some of Tokyo’s most spectacular buildings that are worth a detour just to admire their beauty. 

RECOMMENDED: Stunning flagship stores you need to visit in Tokyo

  • Art
  • Galleries
  • Ryogoku

This shiny museum in Sumida is dedicated to the revered prints of ukiyo-e master Hokusai. Unlike the traditional Edo-period (1603-1867) art displayed inside, the museum itself was only established in 2016 and boasts the modern design of Kazuyo Sejima, one of Japan’s most revered female architects. 

Sejima’s vision for the building was conceptually challenging – it had to stand out while also reflecting the scenery of the neighbourhood and harmonise with its surroundings. To build this slick metal-clad landmark, Sejima teamed up with engineers of Kikukawa, a company specialising in metalwork, who helped bring the vision to life by testing different metals and workshopping different panels for the exterior before settling on aluminium. 

  • Art
  • Shinjuku

True to its name, this Shinjuku fashion college designed by Tange Associates looks exactly like a cocoon with its ovoid shape and criss-crossed lines. At 50-storeys high, Mode Gakuen’s vertical campus is the second tallest education institution in the world after the Lomonosov Moscow State University main building in Russia. 

To build its new location, Mode Gakuen made an open call for local architects to send in their design pitches. According to the school, the concept of the cocoon was picked out of some 150 proposals to symbolise the institution’s role in nurturing the students before releasing them into the world to create their own innovative designs for our modern society. 

  • Things to do
  • Cultural centres
  • Asakusa

It's hard to miss the stunning Asakusa Culture and Tourist Information Center designed by Kengo Kuma, located across the street from another visitor magnet, Sensoji Temple's Kaminarimon gate. Besides offering an information desk, free guided tours and currency exchange, the eight-storey building also features a (covered) rooftop observation deck, which offers the best views of Sensoji without having to jostle through the crowds.

You'll find exhibitions and cultural events on the other floors. However, if you're short of battery power, best make a beeline for the street-facing counter on the second floor – it's fitted with electrical charging points.

  • Shopping
  • Aoyama

This eye-catching structure in Minimi Aoyama is home to Taiwanese pineapple cake shop SunnyHills. The building features Kengo Kuma’s iconic wood lattice design, with timber slats criss-crossed to form geometric patterns. No glue or nails were used to interlock the wooden panels, as Kuma opted to use an ancient technique called jigoku-gumi to conjoin the pieces of wood. 

The same angular slats are used throughout the store interior. You’re welcome to enter the store for an up-close look at Kuma’s handiwork and sit down for a free tasting of pineapple cake over tea.

  • Shopping
  • Aoyama

As demonstrated countless times, a building doesn’t have to be very big to be iconic. Despite similar brands unveiling newer venues every year, Prada continues to impress with its iconic glass boutique in Aoyama designed by Herzog & de Meuron. 

Opened in 2003 right on the cusp of the retail architecture boom in Omotesando, the seven-story flagship store stocks everything from fragrances to the brand’s latest collection of handbags. However, even those who aren’t planning to shell out for a pair of designer kicks make a point of passing by the store if only to appreciate the architecture itself.

  • Restaurants
  • Coffeeshops
  • Hongo
  • price 2 of 4

Another unique design from starchitect Kengo Kuma, this research building belonging to the University of Tokyo features a facade that looks a bit like the building is covered in layers upon layers of post-it notes. The panels, of course, are actually made of cedar, used to give the facility a softer appearance than some of the more traditional buildings on the campus. 

Seeing as the facility is for the research that explores how people could become permanently connected to an online network in the future, it's only fitting that the building it's based in should also represent a forward-thinking futurist design. 

The building itself has multiple sensors installed behind Kuma's signature wooden panels, which can measure temperature, wind speed, radiation and more, the data of which can then be used for further research. If you don't happen to be pursuing a PhD in the Internet of Things, you can pop by the Kurogi café on the ground floor – it's a wagashi specialist with a just-as-sleek interior and some stellar kakigori.

  • Attractions
  • Religious buildings and sites
  • Mejirodai

A spectacular landmark in Bunkyo, this modernist Roman Catholic church is an architectural masterpiece designed by the renowned Kenzo Tange. The reflective stainless steel exterior is instantly recognisable, but it’s the use of light that really dazzles.

Sunlight streams into the nave, which is laid out like a cross, through a skylight and diffuses from the ceiling and across the curved walls to create a magical environment that changes as the day progresses. Moreover, Tange replaced the conventional stained glass window behind the altar with thin marble panes to create additional soft lighting.

  • Shopping
  • Department stores
  • Daikanyama

This Daikanyama mall is an architechural beauty, offering a curated mix of food and drink, fashion and art. Our favorite space is Market, curated by the Kenzo's creative directors Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, who are also the founders of cult fashion store Opening Ceremony. The two-floor store is home to cutting-edge fashion from some of today's hottest designers.

On weekends, the building often has a queue circling around it as brunch-goers wait for a table to open in the brightly lit basement cafe. The menu is simple and straightword with offerings like caprese salad or soup and sandwhich sets, but the venue's stylish ambiance makes it worth the wait – even if you're just dropping in for a cappuccino. 

  • Art
  • Galleries
  • Otsuka

On a quiet road in Kitaotsuka is this head-turning complex that is reminiscent of a concrete planter. Walking past it, one might wonder: is the building a niche art gallery or a residential apartment? The answer is a bit of both.

Husband and wife team Jeffrey Ian Rosen and Misako Rosen worked as directors for small contemporary art galleries in Tokyo before setting off to establish their own space at the Tree-ness House by architect Akihisa Hirata. The building, completed in 2017, is a composition of stacked concrete boxes juxtaposed with hanging gardens.

  • Shopping
  • Boutiques
  • Ginza

The reopening of Louis Vuitton’s flagship store in Ginza was one of the most buzzworthy occasions of 2021 as the city’s fashion trendsetters flocked to see the iridescent tower by Jun Aoki & Associates.

According to Louis Vuitton, the seven-storey building’s undulating exterior was made to mimic the reflective properties of water. Ripple-like effects continue into the building, where American architect Peter Marino installed a curved wooden staircase against a four-storey feature wall inspired by the 1977 painting ‘Wave Blue Line’ by Kimiko Fujimura.

The Iceberg
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

The Iceberg

Even among Omotesando’s parade of ostentatious structures, this OTT glass miracle stands out. Conceived by Tokyo-based design firm CDI, the aptly-named Iceberg Building first opened in 2006 and now serves as the Jingumae location of WeWork. 

The blue-tinted glass combined with the structure’s angular facade give the building a three-dimensional quality. This unique work of architecture looks like a fragment of crystal cast into an urban cityscape.

See more of Tokyo

    You may also like
    You may also like