Asahi Flame, Asakusa

Mike GristArchitecture 6 Comments

The Asahi ‘Flame’ building on the Asakusa banks of the Sumida river is infamous in Tokyo for its eponymous ‘flame’, a huge golden piece of art juxtaposed atop the obelisk-like black building; intended to represent the freedom and grace of a good head of foam on a glass of Asahi beer. It has however been dubbed by many the ‘flying golden turd’ or ‘golden tadpole’; another sad instance of too much art-like sensibility and not enough common sense.

Asahi ‘Flame’ Building.

I’ve meant to get out and shoot the ‘Flame’ for some time, but only now that I’m virtually unemployed have I found the time to do it. Then in a prime example of- ‘wait for one bus for hours and then 4 of them all come along at once’, I came back here the very next day for some sakura (cherry blossom) festival watching along the Sumida river right across from the ‘Flame’.

The Flame was built by a Frenchman called Philippe Starcke- apparently he uses this design in all of his architecture, though this is the biggest version of it yet. Egoist? Probably.

Up closer.

The flame is coated in gold leaf so it shines, and weighs a whopping 300 tons. Is it made of solid metal? I don’t see how else it can weigh so much. It’s big but not that big, right? Maybe though its walls have to be very thick to not crumple…

Up close I was surprised to find the black plinth-building has no windows and only one door- into a restaurant a small line of people was camped out in front of. How odd. Is this whole building then redundant, I wonder. People would not want to work in a completly window-less office, and with only one door into the restaurant it can’t be used effectively for any kind of bulk storage. So it’s just a big waste of space. How odd.

Two of the Asahi flags flank the Hi No Maru Japanese flag, all limp on a windless day.

The tail.

The entrance to the restaurant, on the other side of this gold pillar.

Henry Moore!

Big cheese grater.


The black plinth.


And across the road, an ad for Asahi Super Dry.


Location – Asakusa

Entry – Only if you wait outside for the restaurant.

Facts – Finished in 1989.

Architect – Philippe Starcke.

Highlights – Uh….


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Comments 6

  1. I remember my first trip to Asakusa. I had no idea what the “flame” was suppose to be. I thought joked that it was the giant golden sperm, or the giant golden turd. Apparently the building underneath is suppose to represent a lighter.

    1. My friend lives a block away from this building. Your joke was very astute: The locals actually call this sculpture, “The golden pooh.” It was commissioned by Asahi and a French artist designed it. It is supposed to represent, “a soul ascending to heaven.”

  2. This article brings back some memories of when I was at University.
    My lecturers/tutors were raving about this building and Starck’s designs and style. I have to admit during those college years I too was sucked into Starck’s world of decorative unfunctional products . Nowadays when i do see this building or any of the stuff he designs it’s just meh.

    Check out the ‘Naninani’ building if you want to know more about ‘Starck’ and Japan.

  3. Yeah, in the mid-nineties my JET friends and I all called it a spermatozoid, which was disapproved by our girlfriends.

  4. Post

    James and James right, it really is a frivolous kind of shape- I wonder that Starck was not more conscious of what people would see in it. Perhaps he knew though, and it was just a joke? But apparently that design is prevalent in all his work, in broad shape as well as in detail- strange to make your life’s work a joke; I imagine he was sincere, and just didn’t realize or chose not to see the connotations.

    A lighter- I didn’t know that, thanks.

    Thanks Adrian for the tip on naninani, and I’m with you on the meh feeling. I wouldn’t diatribe that it should never have been built or that it should be torn down or that it’s ‘ugly’ or whatnot, it’s just a bit silly, and was it really the best idea? Well, OK, it IS interesting….

  5. I hope you are the right person I saw your piece on YouTube about the Western Village you know the Western town in Nico Japan . I do not have a YouTube account so I could not send you a comment it made me sad to see what has happened to the Western Village I lived and worked at the Western Village as a wild West performer for 12 years due to the the bad economy took away the oldest theme park in Neiko if you have any questions that you like answered about Western Village. Let me know. Shoot me a e-mail I hope this goes the right person. Take it easy I enjoy your videos if you’re ever in San Francisco. Give me a holler and I will get lunchSincerely years scruffy the cowboy a.k.a. Eric Anderson

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