Contemporary architecture in Japan
Heinouchi Masanobu is now almost forgotten, and little that he built survives. Yet in his own day he created buildings that helped define the Tokugawa period (1603-1868). He was an architect whose buildings shaped the society of his age, ever conscious of a fundamental distinction between “old” and “contemporary” and the need to be relevant to the needs of his clients, while respecting the architectural practices of his forebears in the family tradition. These same concerns are to be found in Japanese architecture over the last half-century. They will be explored in this essay by focusing on buildings from four particular moments in time, from the era of recovery after World War II to the recent era of post-bubble recession. The architecture of each of these eras will be shown to crystallize the fundamental dynamics at work in the Japanese society of their day. This approach interprets the idea of “contemporary” as historically contingent, part of an ever-shifting viewpoint that soon relegates the present to the past because of the frenetic pace of change in Japan. It will be shown that buildings can represent modernity as well as conservatism at the same time, acting as a visible demonstration of the new as a tangible realization of innovation and change, while remaining intensely conservative as a reminder and representative of the past.