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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Prudential Tower Akasaka Tokyo

プルデンシャル・タワー 赤坂

The bustling Akasaka district in Tokyo is dominated by a gleaming white architectural giant, the Prudential Tower. This 38-story behemoth stands out not for its 158m height but for the sophistication of its design which belies the simplicity of its shape, imparting finesse to what would otherwise appear as bulk.

The Prudential Tower in Akasaka, viewed from Kojimachi.

Floors 1 and 2 of The Prudential Tower are stores and other businesses, the third to 24th floors are offices, and floors 26 to 38 contain 125 apartments, 70% of which are serviced, and which cost in the region of at least one million yen a month to rent.

The Prudential Tower was built by Taisei Corporation, completed in 2002. The history of the site on which the Prudential Tower stands is a story in itself.

Up until the time of the Pacific War, the site was occupied by the Koraku ryotei (traditional high-class guesthouse) which happened to have been one of the premises commandeered by rebel troops on 26 February 1936 in the attempted coup d'état known as the February 26 Incident. The Koraku met a worse fate within the decade, scoring a direct hit from an American B-52 bomber during the raids on Tokyo.

The Prudential Tower in Akasaka, towering over the streetscape of nearby Kojimachi.

Following the war, what began as a luxury apartment building built by the sugar mogul and later prime minister from 1957-60, Aiichiro Fujiyama, was subject to a sudden change of plans to become a hotel, the New Japan Hotel, which opened in 1960.

The New Japan Hotel was later bought out by Japan's takeover king of the time, Hideki Yokoi (the man who later bought the Empire State Building). Yokoi was the ultimate in hardnosed rationalizers, and applied his costcutting when refurbishing the New Japan Hotel to the point where the building went without a fire sprinkler system and did not contain fireproof construction materials.

The Prudential Tower at nightfall, seen from nearby Kojimachi.

In 1982, the New Japan Hotel burnt to the ground with the loss of 33 lives. Yokoi was found guilty of negligence in 1993 and spent the next three years in jail. However, for all of that time, the burnt out hotel remained as is, finally being demolished in 1996. The owner of the site by this time, Chiyoda Seimei insurance, had plans for developing it anew, but went bust in 2000 before it could do anything.

Prudential then teamed up with Mori Building to buy the incomplete development, resulting in the construction of the present Prudential Tower in 2002.

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