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Starbucks, Japanese Style


The “harmonious” design of a Starbucks outlet located at one of Japan’s top Shinto sites has outraged the architectural sensibilities of many Japanese, although pleasurable feelings of violation at the hands of corporate America are sadly complicated by the fact it was designed by Japanese architects…


The design for the Dazaifu Tenman-gū (a sprawling Shinto shrine complex in Fukuoka, built to honour the grave of deified Heian period poet and court schemer Sugawara Michizane – although rather more pertinently, it attracts 2 million visitors a year) branch of Starbucks was created by architectural firm Kengo Kuma & Associates.


As the branch is positioned on the traditional approach to the shrine, the Starbucks and their architects naturally felt they ought to “harmonize with the townscape,” resulting in the unmistakeably traditional application of scores of wooden sticks to the interior:

Along the main path to the shrine, there are traditional Japanese buildings in one or two stories. The project aimed to make a structure that harmonizes with such townscape, using a unique system of weaving thin woods diagonally.



The building is made of 2,000 stick-like parts in the sizes of 1.3m – 4m length and 6cm section. Total length of the sticks reached as far as 4.4km.


Piling up of small parts from the ground was highly developed in the traditional architecture of Japan and China. This time the method was greatly improved in combination with state-of-the art technology so that people are brought further into the architecture. It is a fluid, cave-like space.

As might be expected of such a daring and avante garde architectural creation, most non-architects seem to think it is terrible:

“This is a lumber yard?”

“More like a pile of disposable wooden chopsticks.”

“However you look at it, it’s a warehouse.”

“Looks like you could get a nasty injury.”

“You would not want to fall over in there.”

“I bet all the staff are covered in bruises…”

“Pretty creepy design. Wouldn’t like to see a fire in a place like that.”

“Must be a devil to clean.”

“Another worthless piece of architectural onanism.”

“I’m familiar with the architect and they do some nice stuff, but this really is just onanism.”

“Creepy. But what’s scarier is that some people actually have tastes which lead them to think this is stylish.”

“I’m more interested in why Starbucks thought they should open a store in a location like that.”

“It’s one of their ‘concept stores’ – they have a bunch all over the country.”


“They have some in China at traditional sites as well:”


“These are much better, they are in tune with the environment.”

“It looks like it would fall down. How can you be at ease there?”

“I think the idea must be to stop people from relaxing?”

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