Japan Cultural Center
- Geary Blvd & Laguna St, San Francisco, California
- Current Name:
- Japanese Culture and Trade
- Current Use:
- Mixed Use
- Current Condition:
- Not Listed
Japan Center consists of three mall buildings – the Kinokuniya Building, the Kintetsu Mall, and the Miyako Mall – as well as the Miyako Hotel and Kabuki Theater, which anchor the east and west ends of the complex, respectively. Originally proposed by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California in 1953, the Japan Center was one of the first urban renewal projects in the United States and one of the earliest undertakings by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. The center was built between 1965 and 1968 and was designed by Minoru Yamasaki & Associates and Takenaka & Associates (interior). The Center encompasses three city blocks, and the project displaced approximately 50 businesses and 1,500 residents originally located on the site. The Japan Center has since become a commercial center with a mostly local focus, providing a venue for Japanese American businesses, activities, and events. The Center is a destination for the local and regional Japanese American community as well as for Japanese nationals and visitors of all backgrounds.
San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
The intended approach was “to produce a Japanese feeling with the most modern building technology,” resulting in the strict proportions, rhythmic repetition of forms, and exposed structural members of traditional Japanese architecture reproduced in reinforced concrete, rather than wood. Architect Minoru Yamasaki & Associates also addressed the project as a creative treatment of the common problems found in American shopping malls, specifically citing the parking garage under the mall as a solution for concealing cars from view and thus maintaining the human scale of the Center. In implementing this and other conventions, the design referenced nation-wide trends in large-scale architecture of the period. Such trends included expansive pedestrian plazas, the minimizing of automobile presence through conventions like organization of super-blocks to break the street grid and construction of underground parking garages, inward-focused spatial organization of buildings, and a clear distinction in design and scale from surrounding urban fabric, all of which are characteristics found in Japan Center. The Peace Pagoda, which stands at the southwest corner of Peace Plaza, was a gift from San Francisco’s sister city, Osaka, Japan to symbolize eternal peace between Japan and the United States. It was designed by architect Yoshiro Taniguchi (1904-1979), a Japanese architect with an active practice in Tokyo.
The Japan Center is important as a locus for cultural associations, events, and commerce within San Francisco’s Japanese American community and for its emphasis on ties between America and Japan. It is notable that the Japan Center was designed by a Japanese American architect, Minoru Yamasaki, whose work emphasizes the fusion of traditional Asian and European / American styles with modern design. The Japan Center may be understood in the context of growth of the neighborhood after World War II, and it is emblematic of the large-scale urban renewal projects that were undertaken during the post-War period.