More than a decade ago, on a tiny plot of land in eastern Tokyo, a young man named Keisuke Oka began to construct a tower of concrete. Built entirely by hand, it looks like Kurt Schwitters’s Merzbau, but wrenched inside out. Each section measures no more than 70 cm, because that’s the most he can carry. It’s a sinewy and organic thing, almost threatening, in an otherwise boring district of embassies and hotels. One day, Oka plans to live there with his wife. He calls his grotto-tower the Arimaston, a portmanteau of Japanese words: Ant-Trout-Kite. Saying it in English gives a flighty and elemental sense of upward progress. At the top of the unfinished building, like a shock of hair, rusted rebar sticks out of unfinished walls.
Several years ago, on a wintry afternoon, my girlfriend and I walked through the rain to see it. Oka was there, mixing concrete in the basement. We introduced ourselves and he invited us in. We followed Oka up and up, as he spidered around a creaking system of ladders and scaffolding. He confided that, before qualifying as an architect, he had been both a butoh dancer and a steeplejack. High-altitude choreography. The Arimaston is a building improvised, one slab at a time – ‘like dancing’, Oka said.
First published in Issue 200