hiroshi nakamura’s ueno toshogu shrine juyosho in japan revives felled ginkgo tree as roof

ueno toshogu shrine juyosho as a garden to pray

Japanese company Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP designed meditation spaces and pavilions in Ueno Toshogu Altar (built in 1627 as a shrine dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu) in Tokyo, Japan appeal to the nature of “a garden to pray.” The first element that caught the team’s attention was the ginkgo trees surrounding the sanctuary, which have fire-resistant properties. Of the ginkgo trees the team encountered during the site visit, one of the oldest was severely corroded and in danger of collapse at any moment. Before an accident could happen, Nakamura and the site’s board decided to cut it down.

But the Japanese architect did not see the felled tree go to waste. Instead of setting it aside, he revived the gingko tree by cutting it into planks and using them for the roof of the design, a 3-foot cantilever with a cross-sectional shape. Nakamura transformed the felled ginkgo tree into slabs of wood for the roof architecture that once again protects the main shrine. The original plan was for the Japanese architect to build a space where visitors could receive amulets and talismans, but when visiting the site came the desire to compose a place of worship with the 600-year-old tree in the foreground of the blueprint to Nakamura.


images courtesy of Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP | all photos (unless noted) © Koji Fujii or TOREAL

Around the sacred ginkgo tree

Nakamura approached the layout by creating two buildings that surround the tree. The first locates the Seishin-sho where it greets visitors with its open space. The Shinpujuyo-sho, a monastic garden that includes both the open and sheltered shrines. He calls his and his team’s redesign a place of silence where visitors can worship and meditate with the sacred ginkgo tree in front of them in the sanctuary. The hooded sanctuary outside the main sanctuary puts visitors in the nature and tranquility of the compound, with the decades-old ginkgo tree standing strong in front of them. An anthracite-colored platform lifts the wooden plank under the diamond-shaped canopy that Nakamura and his team purposely created.

hiroshi nakamura's ueno toshogu shrine juyosho in japan revives felled ginkgo tree as roof
Nakamura transformed the felled ginkgo tree into slabs for the roof

Diamond-shaped grid dot for the god of the sanctuary

A reflection of the assimilation of the inside and the outside, Ueno Toshogu Shrine by Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP architects invite visitors to internalize their prayers and beliefs, while letting their surroundings take care of their peaceful state of mind. In an Instagram post, Nakamura writes, ‘From afar you can see the double pane fence, the barrier protecting the sanctuary. We reinterpreted the grid to build the roof structure of this prayer hall. The two directions that make up the diamond-shaped grid refer to the important directions for the god who anchors this shrine. At the same time, this construction creates deep eaves on all four sides of the building.’

hiroshi nakamura's ueno toshogu shrine juyosho in japan revives felled ginkgo tree as roof
prayer pavilion in the open space

hiroshi nakamura's ueno toshogu shrine juyosho in japan revives felled ginkgo tree as roof
the place is a space to pray?

hiroshi nakamura's ueno toshogu shrine juyosho in japan revives felled ginkgo tree as roof
wave-like roof construction