A Top-Heavy Tower Comes Down

Peter Durfee [Profile]

[2013.10.18] Read in: ESPAÑOL |

Last month workers began erecting tall fences around the former Long-Term Credit Bank/Shinsei Bank headquarters, a 130-meter tower standing to the west of the Nippon Press Center. The building was completed in August 1993, but its twentieth birthday will be its last: the tower is being torn down to make room for yet more new construction in our neighborhood. 

Given the timeframes for planning, designing, and constructing buildings of this scale, the tower likely had its genesis at the height of Japan’s bubble economy, toward the end of the 1980s. The bubble was deflating rapidly by the time the LTCB moved into its new offices, though, and just five years later Chōgin, as it was commonly known in Japanese, succumbed to a mountain of bad debt. In October 1998 the bank was nationalized. Relaunched in 2000 as Shinsei Bank following a buyout by Ripplewood Holdings and other investors—the first time for foreign interests to take control of a Japanese bank—the institution continued to occupy the oddly shaped tower just south of Hibiya Park. (This period of the bank’s history is covered well in Gillian Tett’s Saving the Sun.)

Observers at the time pointed to the top-heavy shape of the building as inappropriate for a bank, which should have a stable structure to house stable financial dealings. Feng shui practitioners had a field day claiming that the striking structure, with its glass atriums tucked under the overhanging bulk of the building’s upper floors, had contributed to LTCB’s failure. Their cries were heard again later in the decade, when Shinsei saw its performance sag as the financial crisis spread from the United States to Japanese shores. 

The LTCB/Shinsei building: bigger above than below.

Shinsei sold the building for ¥118 billion in March 2008 to Morgan Stanley–backed Fujisawa Holdings. It stuck around as a tenant until the end of 2010, when it moved into more modest headquarters in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi district—no doubt pleasing the feng shui fans. The structure has stood mostly empty since then. In December 2012 the tower changed hands again, going for ¥51 billion to Kenedix, Tokyu Land Corporation, and the Development Bank of Japan. This brings us to the present day: the tower will be torn down (a job scheduled to last until the summer of 2015) and rebuilt (by the spring of 2017) as a 20-story tower.

Noisy times for those of us in the area. And a survey carried out early this year confirmed that the structure contains asbestos, which will make the demolition a tougher task. We won’t be seeing a dramatic takedown with explosives, but it would be exciting to see something innovative like the “shrinking building” approach pioneered on the Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka up close. (PD)

  • [2013.10.18]

Translator and editor, Nippon.com. Came to Japan in 1985. After graduating from the American School in Japan, earned his degree in Japanese from the University of California at Berkeley. In 1996 joined Japan Echo Inc., where he produced translations for Japan Echo and the Japan Review of International Affairs, as well as for governmental and private-sector clients. Translator of Dr. Noguchi’s Journey, a biography of the medical researcher Noguchi Hideyo. Heads the English-language team at the Nippon Communications Foundation.


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