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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogSunnyHills and More: Five Unusual Buildings in Japan!

SunnyHills and More: Five Unusual Buildings in Japan!

Anna AyvazyanAnna Ayvazyan
Published Time
Posted on 
March 27, 2024
SunnyHills Aoyama at night.

You’ll discover many unique and unconventional buildings in Japan’s bustling cities, often described as concrete jungles! From Tokyo’s SunnyHills, a delightful pineapple cake shop, to the iconic Gate Tower Building in Osaka, there’s no shortage of architectural wonders to explore!

SunnyHills Minami-Aoyama 

SunnyHills, located in Minami-Aoyama in Tokyo, is a pineapple cake shop that looks like a woven basket. It’s one of the most famous producers of pineapple cake in Taiwan, and this store in Tokyo is its flagship store. The building was designed by architect Kengo Kuma, known for his avant-garde architectural works. The building is designed based on a joint system and technique used without nails called Jigoku-Gumi in Japanese, meaning “Hell’s structure”.

The inside of SunnyHills Aoyama.
You can get your favorite pineapple cakes here. Image via When in Tokyo

This structure of SunnyHills earns the nickname ‘hell’s structure’ because it presents a real challenge in construction and disassembly. Typically, wood pieces intersect in two dimensions, but Kengo’s design takes it further with three dimensions intersections. Inside SunnyHills, you’ll discover various tasty treats spread across three floors. Additionally, the natural sunlight flooding in creates a calm and peaceful atmosphere, making SunnyHills an ideal spot to visit in Tokyo!

Gate Tower Building 

The Gate Tower Building is a 16-story office building in Fukushima ward in Osaka. While it has 16 floors, the 5th to 7th floors are missing due to the Hankyu highway passing through the building. However, elevators in the building pass through the floors without any issues. Sometimes, the building is referred to as “the beehive” due to its shape and how cars look like bees coming out of the highway. 

Gate Tower Building in Osaka.
This building has a highway going through it! Image via Medium

The story behind the building is that a logging and coal company owned the land during the Meiji period (1868-1912). By 1983, redevelopment plans for the building were thwarted due to a planned highway. As the development of the highway progressed, the building started to pose a problem. The wood and coal companies did not want to sell their property rights away. After approximately five years of negotiation, the building owners and highway developers compromised by allowing the highway to pass through the building. 

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Aoyama Technical College 

Aoyama Technical College is in Tokyo and looks like a disassembled robot or a giant insect. The college was designed by architect Makoto Sei Watanabe, famous for his unconventional trend-defying works. Makoto believes that many architecture should awaken a sense of wonder and excitement in the viewer. The building was his first significant work completed in 1990. 

The outside of Aoyama Technical College.
This college looks like a Gundam! Image via Design Art

Like other colleges, the facility contains classrooms, a faculty space, and a gallery. Not to mention, the sphere-like entity is a water tank; antennas are lightning rods behind it. While it is in Tokyo, the street it is on is quiet and not flashy. While it is not open to the public, just walking past it is enough to spark curiosity and excitement, just like Makato intended. 

St. Mary’s Cathedral (Tokyo)

St Mary’s Cathedral is a church in Tokyo with a futuristic exterior. Initially, the church was built from wood in the Gothic style in 1899. However, due to the air raids during World War II in 1945, it was destroyed. The architect Kenzo Tange, renowned for designing the Hiroshima Peace Park Memorial, designed the present church. His design style artfully blends modernism with traditional Japanese styles, receiving notable attention.

The outside of St Mary's Cathedral in Tokyo.
This church has a futuristic design. Image via Tokyo Cheapo.

The cathedral has a modern structural design made from concrete and stainless steel. Kenzo says that the shine of the stainless steel is meant to represent the light that Christ shines upon the world and on people. Inside the church, you can also find Japan’s largest pipe organ. The organ has excellent acoustics, so it is a popular concert venue. If you’re visiting Tokyo, it is worth checking out the church’s schedule to see if a concert is happening!

Nago City Hall (Okinawa)

Nago City Hall, located in Nago City, Okinawa, was built by Zo Design Group in 1981. Although it looks like an ancient building, the architectural design incorporates modern techniques to adapt to Okinawa’s climate. Its original design used the island’s coastal winds to create a refreshing airflow through its “breezy pathways.” However, these pathways were closed off when air conditioning was adopted in 2000 during the Kyushu-Okinawa Summit. 

Nago City Hall in Okinawa. It's made of stone with many trees growing through.
Be sure to take pictures BEFORE going into city all. Image via Trip Advisor

The building is surrounded by lush greenery, which helps keep the grounds cool. Visitors can visit Ashagi Terrace and admire the banyan trees and the design of the building. While you can visit the Terrace, it is essential to note that people should only take pictures outside the city hall. Since it is still an active administrative building, it is also important not to disturb the internal operations.

Why should I visit unusual buildings like Sunny Hills?

Visiting unique or unusual buildings is a great way to spark creativity and curiosity in our minds! It can also be a great way to see Japan from a different perspective, encouraging you to visit places outside significant landmarks. Many of these designs, mix modern and traditional elements. These designs aim to inspire visitors to think outside the box. Which buildings do you want to visit and why? Let us know in the comments below! 

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