St. Mary’s Cathedral

St. Mary's Cathedral

Japan’s most important architect is the late Kenzo Tange. Previously I wrote about visiting one of his works, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. And I also wrote about one of his works being featured in an exhibit about architectural photography. I visited this structure, St. Mary’s Cathedral. Built in 1963, the cathedral, which is the seat of the Catholic Church in Japan, is a striking building, gleaming like a futuristic space station. The design is decades ahead of its time, using dramatic vaults that dip in the center. From the sky, you can see the traditional shape of the cross.

let there be light

While the exterior is lined with metal siding, the interior is bare concrete, presaging the current popularity of this look. The cavernous interior hearkens to the echoing spaces of traditional cathedrals. The spine of the vault consists of a long line of skylights. Inside there were numerous modern art elements such as the cubist baptismal.

baptismal

I like this quote that I found by Tange:

Architectural creation is a special form of comprehending reality….This understanding of reality which takes place through architectural creation requires that the anatomy of reality, its substantial and spiritual structure, be grasped as a whole…

— Kenzo Tange

Because the cathedral is far form any train or subway station, there was only a trickle of tourists on the grounds. When I was inside, there was no one. It was eerie. Outside, the bell tower is a sharp white needle that seems to disappear into the sky. It was a nice contrast to the billowy cathedral.

eaves and bell towers

Directions.

To get to the cathedral, take the Yamanote Line to Mejiro statioin. Turn right on the street in front of the station and walk for about 20 minutes. You can take a bus but I prefer walking. On the way I passed Gakushuin University, where the Japanese royal family attends, Tokyo Women’s University and the Kodansha Museum, which was closed on a Wednesday.

hobby horse

Near the cathedral I chanced upon the Humpty Café, which is a small cozy restaurant with lots of interesting objects throughout. The main theme appeared to be children’s books. The only dishes offered were curry. It was ok. The coffee was quite good though. Then across the street from the cathedral was a wholesale nursery and it was fun looking at a lot of very cheap plants, which I didn’t want to buy and carry back.

Other than that, there really isn’t much in the neighborhood. But if you want to see one of Tokyo’s most unique buildings, and experience a rare quiet religious moment, it’s well worth the trek.

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4 thoughts on “St. Mary’s Cathedral”

  1. Hello!

    we are students of the greek school of architecture. We are doing an essay on st mary’s cathedral in tokyo by kenzotange and have been wondering whether you or somebody else could send us any information or photos of the church.

    Thank you very much in advance,

    aliki and panos(aliki.panos@hotmail.com)

  2. hi aliki and panos (cool names),

    what a wonderful project. i’m no expert on kenzo tange, but you can check out the wikipedia page on him and that’s a good start. for more of my pictures of the cathedral, just click on any of the photos to take you to my set. then you can do a search on flickr for more pictures by other people.

    good luck!

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