Heaven on Earth: The Canadian Embassy in Tokyo

Next weekend Canadians around the world will be celebrating our national holiday and those lucky enough to score an invite to their local embassy will enjoy a spectacular party. If I could pick one city to experience this, it would be Tokyo, if only to get to see the remarkable complex designed by Raymond Moriyama of Toronto’s Moriyama and Teshima Architects.

Photo: Move and Stay

Moriyama’s personal story is as interesting as the buildings he designs. During World War II, his father was sent to a POW camp in Ontario, while Moriyama and his mother were detained in a Japanese internment facility in British Columbia. He was further alienated by the other children at the camp, who teased him about his scars from an earlier accident. He built himself a tree house as a refuge, which would later serve as the inspiration for the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo.

Photo: Moriyama and Teshima Architects

The glass roof of the embassy rises out of the lush foliage of the adjacent Akasaka Imperial Grounds and Takahashi Memorial Park. Moriyama envisioned the glass-enclosed upper floors (the embassy) as heaven, with the bottom three floors (leased offices) representing earth.

(Photo: Moriyama and Teshima Architects)

The fourth floor terrace, which is open to the public, links the two and symbolises the harmonious meeting place of the Japanese and Canadian peoples. To access this peaceful area one ascends a glass-enclosed escalator through the treetops, just as Moriyama escaped the discord of his youth.

Photo: A Fish Out of Water

The terrace encircles the building and illustrates aspects of the Canadian landscape through Japanese stone gardening techniques. Its designer, Shunmyo Masuno, is one of the few Zen priests who still practices ishi-tate-so, stone setting originally performed by itinerant priests of the Heian and Kamakura periods.A Japanese stone garden depicting Canada

Photo: A Fish Out of Water

For this project Masuno used roughly cut rock from Hiroshima to represent the bedrock of the Canadian Shield. A traditional Inuit inukshuk balances at one corner, symbolising the northern part of the country.

Photo: City Photos

Three peaked pyramids embody the Rocky Mountains of the west.

Photo: Graham Cooper’s Project Japan: Architecture and Art Media, Edo to Now,
via The Japan Society

A small water feature exemplifies the Pacific Ocean and links the Canadian elements with Japan, represented by the traditional raked gravel of Zen gardens.

Photo: Gap Photos

According to Masuno’s design philosophy, “the garden is a special spiritual place in which the mind dwells.” For visitors and locals alike, the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo offers both a beautiful respite from the hectic urban environment and a place to contemplate the history and cultures of both countries through the visionary design of Raymond Moriyama and Shunmyo Masuno.

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