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Ryounkaku before and after Great Kanto earthquake.JPG
Ryōunkaku before and after the Great Kanto earthquake
General information
Coordinates 35°42′56″N 139°47′36″E / 35.715571°N 139.793375°E / 35.715571; 139.793375Coordinates: 35°42′56″N 139°47′36″E / 35.715571°N 139.793375°E / 35.715571; 139.793375
Opening 1890
Destroyed 1923
Roof 68.58 m (225.0 ft)
Technical details
Floor count 12
Lifts/elevators 1
Design and construction
Architect W. K. Burton

The Ryōunkaku (凌雲閣, Ryōunkaku, lit. Cloud-Surpassing Pavilion or Cloud-Surpassing Tower) was Japan's first western-style skyscraper. It stood in the Asakusa district of City of Tokyo (now Taitō, Tokyo) from 1890 until its demolition following the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923. The Asakusa Jūnikai (浅草十二階, lit. Asakusa Twelve-stories), as it was called affectionately by Tokyoites, was the most popular attraction in Tokyo, and a showcase for new technologies as it housed Japan's first electric elevator.


The Ryōunkaku quickly became a landmark and symbol of Asakusa after its opening in 1890. It was a major leisure complex for visitors from all over Tokyo. The 1894 tremor weakened the structure, which was now reinforced with steel girders. However the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 destroyed the upper floors, and damaged the whole tower so severely that it had to be completely demolished.

Architecture and technology[edit]

The Ryōunkaku was designed by the Scottish engineer W. K. Burton in the late 1880s, not long after his arrival in Japan. It was a 225-foot (69 m) tower, made from red bricks over a wood frame in renaissance revival style. The twelve floors all had electric lighting. The two electric elevators were designed by Ichisuke Fujioka, a founder of Toshiba, and served from the first to the eight floor, with a ten-person capacity each, however they were shut down only half a year after the opening of the tower for safety reasons.

Building uses[edit]

The Ryōunkaku on the second through seventh floors held forty-six stores selling goods from around the world. A lounge was on the eighth floor, and art exhibitions were held on the ninth floor, while the tenth through twelfth were observation decks. From there, all of Tokyo could be seen and on a clear day also Mount Fuji. Many artistic and cultural events were held in the Ryōunkaku, including Western music concerts, geisha photograph exhibitions, beauty contests etc. Famous was the store where wood-block prints were made for Sugoroku, a popular Japanese board game.

The Ryōunkaku in literature[edit]

The Ryōunkaku's fame spread as it appeared in the literary works of contemporary authors such as Tanizaki Junichiro, Ishikawa Takuboku, Kitahara Hakushu, and Kaneko Mitsuharu. The opening of the edifice was commemorated in Ogawa Kazumasa's most famous works, Types of Japan, Celebrated Geysha of Tokyo in Collotype and From Photographic Negatives Taken by Him published around 1892.[1]

Ryōunkaku with Jintan billboard


  • To celebrate the sunrise on the New Year's Day in 1891, balloons with telephone tickets and tower tickets were released in the sky from the Ryōunkaku top floor. However, only one person succeeded in getting one ticket, as all the other tickets were torn up when people scrambled for them.
  • The billboard in front of the tower advertised Jintan, a breath mint product still sold in Japan.
  • There is a replica of the Ryōunkaku in the Edo-Tokyo Museum.


External links[edit]

Media related to Ryōunkaku at Wikimedia Commons