Tokyo Budokan 426 © Joel Levinson 2017

The Tokyo Budokan sports facility was built in 1989 in the Higashi Ayase Metropolitan Park in the Adachi-ku area of northern Tokyo. Its purpose was to host martial arts exhibitions, competitions, and training activities in Kendo, Judo, Karate, and Kyudo.  Traditionally, a Budokan is an arena for martial arts, so there are many Budokan buildings in Japan.  The Tokyo Budokan is not to be confused with the Nippon Budokan in central Tokyo, known largely as a performance venue for large rock and roll events.

The Tokyo Budokan was designed by architect Kijō Rokkaku (1941 – ).  After graduating from the Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music in 1965, he worked in the office of the internationally honored architect Arata Isozaki.   Critical of much modern architecture and preferring a more intuitive approach to design, Rokkaku opened his own office in Tokyo in 1969.  He was inspired by what has been called “pre-modern rituals” such as geomancy, which, according to its followers, is the study of the energies of the earth and the cosmos.  As with feng shui, the intent is to design in concert with these natural forces.

Tokyo Budokan 401 PS © Joel Levinson 2017

It has been said that in designing the Tokyo Budokan, Rokkaku’s goal was to disseminate Japanese culture through a presentation of traditional Japanese martial arts programs.  When I saw and photographed the exterior of the building in 1999, I was struck by the degree to which the diagonal motif appears (almost obsessively) in the massing, the fenestration, the roofing, and in countless construction details.

Tokyo Budokan 417 © Joel Levinson 2017

The effect is overwhelming and reads like a musical composition as much as a piece of modern architecture.  For me, the building was yet another confirmation that diagonality was a powerful 20th century design phenomenon sweeping the world.


Tokyo Budokan 423 © Joel Levinson 2017

All four facades of the Tokyo Budokan look like miniature mountain-scapes and exuberantly and insistently express the diagonal motif.  In fact, Rokkaku said he intended to reflect a human-made mountain that meets the sea and the sky.  I see the building’s connection to the sky but am a bit puzzled by the reference to the sea, which is not nearby.  The way the prismatic architectural features seem momentarily frozen and suspended like ice crystals, combined with how sunlight flashes off the angled panes of glass seems to contribute to the architect’s desire to capture the moment of “readiness for movement”—so important in the martial arts.

Tokyo Budokan 416 PS © Joel Levinson 2017

In 1991, two years after the building was constructed, the “remodeling” of the building won a prize from the Architectural Institute of Japan.  In a 2012 article titled The Japanese Budo Demonstration for the Reopening of the Tokyo Budokan, the author Guillaume Erard (martial arts expert himself) wrote, “The notion that is central to the conception of this building is that just as much as they are part of the Japanese cultural heritage, Martial Arts are also Art forms in their own right.  Art is also very much present in the surroundings of the Tokyo Budokan with the presence of sculptures commissioned from five renowned Japanese artists.”

Tokyo Budokan 409 © Joel Levinson 2017

In March of 2011, the building was damaged by an earthquake.  Although its structural integrity was in question, the building was used to welcome refugees from the earthquake and tsunami of that same year, thereby fulfilling its role as a place for social functions, not just martial arts.  Videos showing performances to celebrate the reopening of the quake resistant modifications to the building can be found at

Tokyo Budokan 413 © Joel Levinson 2017

After removing your shoes upon entering the building and making sure your socks have no holes, and if you ask “Kengaku dekimasuka” and sign your name at the reception area on the left, it is reported that if the building is not reserved for private use, you can look around the inside of the arena.  No photography is allowed on the interior.

Tokyo Budokan 419 © Joel Levinson 2017

All photographs above © Joel Levinson 2017      Free to use images above with attribution.



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