Death of the dojunkai apartments

As I mentioned the other day, after the Kanto daishinsai (Great Kanto Earthquake) of 1923, there were many changes to planning and architecture in Tokyo, in particular a series of experiments with introducing western-style elements into the city, including wider streets to accommodate trams (streetcars), and new concrete mass housing influenced by the modern movement.

Dojunkai, a special organisation under the Interior Ministry, was set to provide such things. Between 1924 and 1936, this agency built 16 apartment blocks out of ferroconcrete and wood in Tokyo and Yokohama. The best known were those in Daikanyama (near Shibuya) and on Omotesando Avenue in Aoyama. The latter were controversially demolished in 2003 by the Mori Building Company Ltd to make way for their soulless Omotesando Hills shopping complex.

Much less celebrated however, were the Dojunkai appartments in Nippori (not Minowa as most people seem to think) in Aarakawa-ku, just round the corner from where I am staying. They’ve been empty and crumbling for a while, but now the writing is very literally on the wall, saying that they will be demolished too. It’s a sad moment: another episode in the slow death of the utopian urban ideal of the Twentieth Century. It’s also a reflection of the very high land prices in Tokyo and relative lack of value in what is on the land at any time (see this article for a good summary of the difficulty of any architectural preservation in Tokyo).

Anyway, not only are they valuable historical buildings, they are also degenerating rather stylishly so, at the very least, I thought I should get in and take some pictures before it was too late. So I did – much to the surprise of a crew of local authority workers who were surveying the place as I came out. Here are some of the shots. I didn’t (yet) go into any of the indvidual apartments – all those I tried were locked and some chained too – though I might try to in the early morning this week before anyone is around.

Author: David

I'm David Murakami Wood. I live on Wolfe Island, in Ontario, and am Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Surveillance Studies and an Associate Professor at Queen's University, Kingston.

2 thoughts on “Death of the dojunkai apartments”

  1. Hello

    I used to live close to this apartment building. I finally got around to getting inside the place, it appears, about a month after you took a look around. I’ve included a link below to my own blog post:

    As you couldn’t enter some or any of the rooms when you were there, I thought this may be of interest to you. When I got there, demolition work had clearly begun and it seemed that whatever contents had remained were now gone. However, some of the interiors were in a splendid state of disrepair. Please check out the link if you have time.

    Finally I’d just like to say that through finding your Dojunkai post, I have read some of your other posts/articles regarding Japan and security and found them really interesting, especially when comparisons are made with the UK, my home country.

    Cheers, David.


    PS – apologies – I thought the building was in Minowa!

  2. Cool, thanks!

    Well, it turns out it used to be Minowa, but these days it’s officially part of Nippori (just). I think a lot of local people still think of it as Minowa – and why not?

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