41 Motoko Ishii (Lighting Designer)

Motoko Ishii (Lighting Designer)

Motoko Ishii is a pioneer in Japan in the illumination of architecture, and is known for designing the lights for the Tokyo Tower - whose sight we now take for granted - as well as the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower and the Tokyo Gate Bridge. Ishii, who also designed the lights installed under the elevated express way, has strong ties with Roppongi. We asked her about her memories of the area in the 1970s as well as some of the steps she would like to see implemented in Roppongi.

photo_hiroshi kiyonaga / text_kentaro inoue

An inconvenient yet cozy place

In the 1970s, I opened my first office on the "Kyu TV Asahi Dori" (the Former Asahi TV Street) in Roppongi. I chose Roppongi because in those days it was more affordable to have an office here than in Shinbashi or Ginza. There was only one subway line - the Hibiya Line, and while being an inconvenient location, Roppongi was for some reason an extremely comfortable place for designers.

On the Kyu Tele-Asa Dori, there was a variety store commonly known as "Azabu Yours" which was open until 5 a.m. and a lot of camerapersons and designers came shopping late at night. And people who had been drinking in Ginza or nearby would later come to Roppongi for more drinks. Even in those days, many shops were open until dawn, so everyone came here to have noisy fun.

In the basement below my office was an establishment called "Speak Low" which Shiro Kuramata-san had designed, and Kishin Shinoyama-san and all kinds of people went there. There was also Chianti, the famous Italian restaurant where I would often get together with people such as Kisho Kurokawa-san and Tadanori Yokoo-san. We would usually begin at around 10 in the evening and stay until daybreak. (laughs) There's a book I read called "Chianti Monogatari" (written by Tsuneyoshi Noji and published by Gentosha) which brought back fond memories.

Roppongi was "rural" in the 1970s

Minato Shichifukujin

Minato Shichifukujin
Minato Shichifukujin refers to the eight shrines in Minato City such as the Sakurada Jinja (Shirine) on TV Asahi Dori (photo) which enshrine the Seven Lucky Gods and treasure ships. In the New Year, people make a three-hour long pilgrimage to collect stamps from each of these shrines and pray for good fortune and safety of the household.

With its many embassies and people from all around the world, Roppongi had an international atmosphere in those days too. But if you walked one street behind the main street, you would find yourself in a very ordinary, residential neighborhood. It was a very approachable area where different elements were jumbled together; I think that in a way, it was a "rural" place. When you look at the map of Roppongi in the Edo era, you see that there used to be a road which looks exactly like the current Kyu Tele-Asa Dori. On the road where the residence of a "hatamoto" samurai used to be, there was a gardener's shop, and an idyllic atmosphere pervaded the place.

Then Roppongi Hills was built and Tokyo Midtown was built, and the area was changed quite extensively. But not everything has been renewed- some old things have been retained such as the Minato Shichifukujin, and I think Roppongi has become a very pleasant area. What is unfortunate though, is that many charming place names have disappeared. The area around the Nishi-Azabu intersection used to be called Kasumicho (mist town) and there was also a place called Kogaicho whose kanji character is"kanzashi" (hair ornament).

As you can tell from the fact that many creators have offices in Roppongi, people in my kind of profession find this area a very comfortable place to live in. I relocated my office a long time ago, but I still live in Nishi-Azabu, and Roppongi is my neighborhood; I come walking here on the weekends, dressed in casual clothes. The drawback however, is that I run into a lot of acquaintances. (laughs)

Lights to make the Roppongi intersection identifiable

Roppongi logo mark

Roppongi logo mark
The logo mark evokes tree-lined streets and was designed by Kaoru Kasai, an art director known for making creative commercials such as those for Suntory Oolong tea. When the Roppongi intersection was renovated in 2009, the logo was installed on the elevated expressway together with the LED lights designed by Motoko Ishii.

Street lamps on Roppongi Dori Street

Street lamps on Roppongi Dori Street
In an ongoing project, street lamps are being installed from Ark Hills to Roppongi 6- chome as part of the Tokyo metropolitan government's plan to improve Roppongi's symbolic road. The lamps are of elegant and pleasing design, with five diamond-like white lights set in its arms.

I designed the lights for the elevated expressway at the Roppongi intersection because I was given the offer by the people of the local shopping district. The aim was to make Roppongi an area of design and art, and they asked me if I would be interested in making something artistic for the intersection - doing something to go with the new Roppongi logo designed by art director Kaoru Kasai-san.

LED lights had just begun to be available at that time, and I suggested that we use them to light up the intersection and make it identifiable. The intersection can be seen by everyone walking in the streets, but when you are passing by in a car, it's difficult to know where you are exactly, isn't it? So I thought it would be good if there were lights to make it instantly clear to car passengers that they were in Roppongi. And I didn't want the lights to be too bright and glaring. My hope was that the lights would make the intersection look nicer even if only in a small way.

Fortunately, the lighting was very well received and after that, I was asked to design the street lamps on Roppongi Dori Street. As you can see, the street lamps go with the lighting of the intersection - they belong to the same family. There was another plan, but the people at the shopping district strongly supported my idea.