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Ryounkaku before and after Great Kanto earthquake.JPG
Ryōunkaku before and after the Great Kanto earthquake
General information
Coordinates35°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
Roof68.58 m (225.0 ft)
Technical details
Floor count12
Design and construction
ArchitectW. 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 affectionately called by Tokyoites, was Tokyo's most popular attraction, and a showcase for new technologies. 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. When the 1894 tremor weakened the structure, it was 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 demolished.

Architecture and technology[edit]

The Ryōunkaku was designed by Scottish engineer W. K. Burton in the late 1880s, not long after his arrival in Japan. It was a 225-foot (69 m) tower of red bricks over a wood frame, in renaissance revival style. All twelve floors had electric lighting. The two electric elevators were designed by Ichisuke Fujioka, a founder of Toshiba. They served the first through eighth floors, and could carry up to 10 persons each. However, for safety reasons, they were shut down after only half a year of operation.

Building uses[edit]

The Ryōunkaku's second through seventh floors held 46 stores selling goods from around the world. A lounge was on the eighth floor, and art exhibitions were held on the ninth floor. The tenth through twelfth floors were observation decks from which all of Tokyo could be seen, and on clear days, Mount Fuji. Many artistic and cultural events were held in the Ryōunkaku, including Western music concerts, geisha photograph exhibitions, and beauty contests. A well-known store was the place where wood-block prints were made for Sugoroku, a popular Japanese board game.

The Ryōunkaku in literature[edit]

As the Ryōunkaku's fame spread, it appeared in the works of contemporary authors such as Tanizaki Junichiro, Ishikawa Takuboku, Kitahara Hakushu and Kaneko Mitsuharu. The edifice's opening was commemorated in Ogawa Kazumasa's most famous work, 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 New Year's Day, 1891, balloons with telephone tickets and tower tickets were released from the Ryōunkaku top floor. However, only one person succeeded in getting a 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 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