All about Architects in Japan and How to Become One

Japanese architecture and its architects are world-renowned. Their style is a beautiful mix of Japanese traditions and contemporary architecture. Many people travel to see such works. This article features famous architects, firms, skills necessary as well as recommended schools to become an architect in Japan.

Table of Contents

  1. A Brief Intro to Japanese Architectural Style
  2. Famous architects of Japan 
  3. Few must know architecture firms in Japan for an aspiring Architects
  4. Skills and Requirements to become an architect
  5. Education in Japan to obtain architecture degree
  6. Visa requirements for architects to work in Japan
  7. In Conclusion

A Brief Intro to Japanese Architectural Style

If you’re unfamiliar with Japanese architectural styles, taking a look at the various types of architecture preserved around the country is the easiest way to see the traditional aspects still preserved in many designs today. The most obvious places to look are Japanese shrines, temples and castles. While influences have carried over from other Asian countries, Japanese architecture evolved into something unique on its own. 

Here are some articles about architecture and design to get you started

Famous Architects of Japan 

Many modern architects incorporate aspects and ideology of Japanese traditional architecture - whether it be the materials, symbolic meaning, use of space, etc. - in their present-day designs. They also incorporate innovative technology and such to reflect the advancements in Japan in the modern world. 

First, we’ll introduce just some of the famous architects of Japan who have contributed to the development of Japanese architecture and have won the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize. A brief introduction to their individual styles is followed by a list of notable projects.

Kenzo Tange 

Pritzker Prize Winner Tange's Architecture

Tange is considered a Japanese legend in the architecture world who won the 1987 Pritzker Prize. His style of work was a combination of traditional Japanese styles with modern architecture. He has designed major distinctive buildings in Tokyo and in cities around the world. Tange’s most famous design is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan. His other major projects include the Yoyogi National Gymnasium for the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.

Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa 

They are the founding partners of the architecture firm Sejima and Nishizawa and Associates known as SANAA. They are also the Pritzker Prize holders in 2010. Nishizawa became the youngest recipient of this prestigious award at the time. A few of their famous projects are The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan, Zollverein School of Management and Design in Germany, The New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York and The Sumida Hokusai Museum in Tokyo, Japan.  

Toyo Ito 

Ito is a Japanese architect who won the Pritzker Prize for Architecture in 2013 for his achievements and works in conceptual architecture. He is the founder of the firm Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects. Some of his famous projects are: Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture in Imabari, Japan, Library of Tama Art University in Tokyo, Za-Koenji Public Theater in Tokyo and National Taichung Theater in Taiwan.

Arata Isozaki

Isozaki was the eighth Japanese awardee of the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2019. Isozaki worked under Kenzo Tange after graduating from university. Isozaki's work progressed from somewhat European to modern designs. His well-known projects are Fujimi Country Club and Kitakyushu Central Library in Japan. Art Tower of Mito in Japan and Domus-Casa del Hombre in Galicia, Spain, and The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles.

Few Must Know Architecture Firms in Japan for an Aspiring Architect

For aspiring architects, it’s important to not only know famous architects but also firms in the industry that can provide the best experience to an architect. We have listed 5 such firms that cover a range of architectural subjects and projects, from residences to public spaces. Perhaps some readers will aim to work with them in the future as these firms also hire foreign employees.

Kengo Kuma & Associates (based in Tokyo)

Famous projects: Akagi Shrine (Kagurazaka), Kadokawa Cultural Museum, Meiji Jingu Museum, National Stadium
Website: kkaa.co.jp

Arbol (based in Osaka)

Projects: mainly residences, Hanare (Guest House), Public Facility Open Renovation KIITO, Miyoshi Bakery
Website: arbol-design.com 

Hata Tomohiro Architect & Associates (based in Kobe)

Projects: mainly private residences (eg. Earth House), Okura Coast Park Facility, Sannomiya Platz,  
Website: hata-archi.com

Akihiro Kondo Architecture (based in Osaka)

Projects: mainly private residences with special requests, such as a pool house, luxury garage, etc.
Website: ak-archi.com

Mount Fuji Architects Studio (based in Tokyo)

Projects: Mount Fuji World Heritage Center, Rooflag
Website: http://fuji-studio.jp

Skills and Requirements to Become an Architect

In Japan, architects are called 建築士 (Kenchikushi) and this encompasses both architects and building engineers. Thus it’s often not just about design but actually learning the engineering side as well. 

There are 3 main licenses you can get as Kenchikushi. 

  1. Class 1 License

  2. Class 2 License

  3. Mokuzo (wooden buildings) License

Class 1 is the highest level and you would have to pass a national exam to get the license. Class 2 and Mokuzo are given at a prefectural level. 

The different licenses allow architects and building engineers to work with certain types of buildings and structures related to scale, size (number of floors, etc.), material and so on. 

You qualify to take the exam if you have met the requirements for education and practical experience. Each license requires a different amount. For example, if you went to a 4 year university and majored in architecture, then you can immediately take the Class 2 License and then you will need 2 years of practical experience before you can take the Class 1 license. Thus the type of education you get is important. 

The Japan Architectural Education and Information Center
※The Japan Institute of Architects, “KENCHIKUSHI LAW IN JAPAN

Education in Japan to Obtain Architecture Degree

To be an architect in Japan, of course, you need the education and the language skills for it. Going to school in Japan would be the most common way most architects in Japan get their education and license. Many international students go the graduate school route. Most schools don’t offer a program in just English so therefore, your Japanese language skills will more than likely have to be quite high. (And, it’s important to know Japanese anyway to communicate with future clients). In order to get admission to an architecture university, you may need to pass entrance examinations held by specific universities. We will list some of the universities you can look into below.

  1. University of Tokyo (masters program in mostly Japanese or the Urban Design Architecture Course master’s program in English) 

  2. Meiji University (masters program, International Program in
    Architecture and Urban Design
    in English) Keio University, Graduate School of Science and Technology while enrolled in a lab at Keio Architecture (Japanese program with some English classes)

  3. Kyoto Imperial University (Architecture and Architectural
    ) taught in English.

  4. Tohoku University (Department of Architecture and Building Science), courses are mostly taught in Japanese.

  5. Tsukuba University (School of Art and Design) offers an undergraduate program taught in English and Japanese.

There are many schools out there to look at with a mix of programs in English and Japanese. But again, learning Japanese is highly recommended especially if you intend to stay and work in Japan. 

Visa Requirements for Architects to Work in Japan

To work as an architect in Japan, you need to obtain a working visa. The firm you are joining should be able to sponsor you, so make sure when you are in the process of being hired.

If you are just starting out, and want to take up studies in Japan you will fall under Student Visa. But if you were already an architect abroad and you wish to continue to be one in Japan, a Highly Skilled Professional Visa is probably what you are looking for. For this visa, you need at least 10 years of experience in architecture.

※ Japan Visa, "Skilled Labor Visa

In Conclusion

Architecture is popular in Japan and there are many universities with an architecture program. We have listed them above. Most of the universities provide education in English as well. Architects in Japan have an opportunity to work on inspirational projects in the country. The rise in the Japanese economy, infrastructure has raised the scope for architects in Japan,

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