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  • John Barr

Do|Co|Mo|Mo|Japan|09 Ministry of Foreign Affairs : Hideo Kosaka

Do|Co|Mo|Mo is an international organisation dedicated to the Documentation and Conservation of buildings, sites and neighbourhoods of the Modern Movement. The Japanese branch has selected 100 works as representative of the development of the Modern Movement in Japan.

In a series of short posts I will feature some of the selected works that I have had the chance to visit and photograph. This post features the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo, designed by Hideo Kosaka and built in 1960. In passing, I will mention three other related buildings that also feature in the 100 selected works...


Hideo Kosaka was a staff architect with the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications when he took first place in an invited competition for the design of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be built in Kasumigaseki, Tokyo. The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications for which Kosaka worked was created when the Ministry of Communications was split into the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications and the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Public Agency (NTT) in 1950. As part of this reorganisation of responsibilities the architectural design section of the Ministry of Communications was split along the same lines.

The Ministry of Communications had been an institutional patron of modern architecture, and amongst the first in Japan to adopt the rational functionalism coming out of Germany in the 1920’s, particularly the ideas emanating from Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus school.1 This resulted in a series of rigorously rational designs for Post Office buildings throughout Japan in the 1930’s, amongst which the two most notable examples are the Central Post Offices of Tokyo and Osaka, both designed by Tetsuro Yoshida, then principal architect at the ministry. The Tokyo Central Post Office is described by Hiroyasu Fujioka, Professor of Architectural History at Tokyo Institute of Technology, as the first genuine example of modernism in Japanese architecture.2 Design was begun in 1922, but the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 that destroyed much of Tokyo delayed construction until 1927 and the building was completed in 1931. The Osaka Central Post Office was completed in 1939 and both buildings feature in the DoCoMoMo Japan selection of 100 works.

Central Post Office,Tokyo : Tetsuro Yoshida : 1931

Central Post Office,Osaka : Tetsuro Yoshida : 1939 (unknown photographer)

However, modernist designs that openly and unambiguously embraced internationalism were to become a rarity in Japan from the mid 1930’s until the end of WWII in 1945. The rise of nationalism in the 1930’s, particularly amongst the military, and the increasingly dominant position of the military within government, created a political climate in which architects were expected to produce designs exhibiting Japanese Values, by which was meant designs based on historical models.

By the time modernism re-emerged after the war a new generation of Japanese architects looked to Corbusier for inspiration, and increasingly to his post-war mannerist mode exemplified by his designs at Ronchamp and Chandigarh. It was left largely to those architects still working in the public sector to defend the values of functionalism and rationalism.

Hideo Kunikata had been an architect with the Ministry of Communications, and when it was split in 1950 he went to the newly formed Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Public Agency (NTT) as principal architect, where he continued the former ministry’s tradition of modern, functional and rational architecture in his design for the Agency’s headquarters building in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo (after privatisation known as NTT Communications Corp. Headquarters). This building is also on the DoCoMoMo Japan list of 100 selected works.3

NTT Headquarters,Tokyo : Hideo Kunikata: 1958


Kosaka had won the competition to design the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as an individual, and the organisers subsequently asked Yoshida, his old boss from the Ministry of Communications who had designed the Tokyo and Osaka Central Post Offices, to support him in an advisory role during the design development phase. Meanwhile the design section of the Ministry of Construction provided the construction drawings in a display of collaboration amongst architects and engineers working in the public sector.

Whilst Kenzo Tange had sought to express Japan-ness in his design of the Kagawa Prefectural Government Offices* by replicating traditional timber construction in concrete, Kosaka and Yoshida adopted the Japanese tradition of post and beam construction in a manner that made rational and appropriate use of the particular properties of concrete.

* See post dated December 12, 2018 : DoICoIMoIMoIJapanI05 : Kagawa Prefectural

Government Offices.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs,Tokyo : Hideo Kosaka : 1960

Ministry of Foreign Affairs,Tokyo : Hideo Kosaka : 1960

Ministry of Foreign Affairs,Tokyo : Plant Room : Hideo Kosaka : 1960


The design, and the design process, for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building represents a time when, in the wake of the Second World War, modernism was concerned with the creation of a socially-engaged democracy, where a significant percentage of architects worked in the public sector and saw themselves as being engaged in building a new and fairer society. By the time of the Osaka Expo of 1970, which was all about sales promotion for Japanese companies, this model began to disintegrate under the pressures of capitalism and consumerism, the two forces that came to dominate many industrialised societies, and nowhere more so than Japan. The result is apparent in the theme of the Expo itself and in the attention-seeking whimsical designs of the Expo pavilions.

Kosaka himself moved to the private sector, and his most famous building is the iconic Hotel Okura in Tokyo, designed in collaboration with Yoshiro Taniguchi, father of Yoshio Taniguchi.**

**See post dated August 21, 2018 : Yoshio Taniguchi : The Man in the White Suit.

The hotel opened in 1962 and Kosaka’s contribution to the design is plain to see. Whilst many of the interior spaces, by Taniguchi and others, are sumptuous interpretations of traditional motifs, the building itself is a clone of Kosaka’s design for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs,Tokyo : Hideo Kosaka: 1960

The Hotel Okura of 1962 is virtually a clone of this design with hotel-appropriate embellishments added.

The Hotel Okura became iconic, hosting a long list of royalty, presidents and celebrities, and featuring in several movies, including the 1966 Walk Don’t Run with Cary Grant and You Only Live Twice with Sean Connery in 1967. However, it’s iconic status, both as an hotel and as a piece of architecture symbolic of its era, didn’t prevent the main building from being demolished in 2015 to make way for two glass towers that are due for completion in time for the 2020 Olympics, a situation that Fujioka has explained by saying: Right now, Japan operates as a capitalist society and development is the top priority. Architecture is treated like a commodity and land is just considered a product, so what’s on that land is easily demolished.4

That gives Kosaka’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs building an even greater significance – it is one of the few remaining examples in Japan, especially in Tokyo, of an approach to architectural design, and a vision of society, that it embodies. Catch it while you can.

1. Kenji Watanabe. The Japan Architect, No.57, Spring 2005, pg.104.

2. Hiroyasu Fujioka. The Japan Architect, No.57, Spring 2005, pg.36.

3. Kenji Watanabe. The Japan Architect, No.57, Spring 2005, pg.104.

4. Hiroyasu Fujioka, Professor of Architectural History at Tokyo Institute of Technology,

quoted in article by Anna Fifield, Washington Post, 13 Feb 2015

All images by John Barr unless otherwise noted

© John Barr 2019

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