Kurokawa Kishou’s 中銀カプセルタワー, the Nakagin Capsule Tower, was completed in 1972, close to both the swish Ginza district and the Tsukiji wholesale market (aka the place where you, as a native non-Japanese speaker are most certainly not welcome, particularly at 3am; besides, can fish tell time?). Kurokawa was an adherent of the architectural style known as Japanese Metabolism, the brainchild of a small group of post-war architects aiming to construct monoliths based on the typical Japanese diet at the time- a single grain of koshihikari rice. No, that’s a load of malarkey, Japanese Metabolism in fact was a relatively short-lived and (in reality) rarely implemented response to urbanization and the increasing presence of the salaryman that was rapidly occurring in the late 1950s-mid 1970s. The notion of flexibility, avant-garde technological advancements and the shifting of family roles in the movement led to the realization that you might as well have residents live like the same cogs in a machine that they are stereotypically employed as. A little more curious about the pomp surrounding new-age urban architecture from that corner of the globe? Look at me.
The Nakagin Capsule Tower is composed of two towers, one 11-stories and its near-twin 13-stories. The rectangular, shipping container-like pods that jut out from its central core are prefabricated, hoisted into place once they were completed off-site (photo courtesy of the entertaining and informative architecture blog http://architecturalmoleskine.blogspot.com/2011/10/kurokawa-nakagin-capsule-tower.html). Theoretically, greater demand for capsules would take advantage of one of the tenets of Japanese Metabolism, flexibility, and see more pods being added to the core. Originally designed to accommodate one oft-inebriated white collar worker, digs included an airplane lavatory-sized bathroom (in other words, a common size for Tokyo), desk, radio (similar to those that you can find in many older Japanese hotels these days), and CD of Louis Armstrong (maybe not that last thing, but I have heard that many Japanese can’t get enough of New Orleans and its consummate jazz musicians)…why else would you be able to find a Café du Monde and its beignets in Japan too?
Sadly, as it enters its fortieth anniversary, the buildings have fallen into serious disrepair, with asbestos, mildew and inadequate plumbing leading the horde of structural plagues, in addition to the eye-wateringly expensive cost of real estate in the neighborhood. Even given all of those negatives, I’d move in. One place I stayed in London wouldn’t give me a key, so instead a Somali “bouncer” just let guests in whenever he felt like it. Another guesthouse in Bangkok was US$7 per night, and had nearly translucent walls, not to mention a bucket of water in place of a door. Nakagin is a serious upgrade. Plus, it’s Tokyo, so whenever I’m jiving for pancake juice it would be within easy reach.
Have you ever/would you live/stay in such a confined space such as Nakagin or a capsule hotel? Have you seen other examples of Japanese Metabolism/capsule hotels?