Visitors from around the world have stumbled upon 3331 Arts Chiyoda, nestled in the Kanda neighborhood near Akihabara. While 3331 is an inclusive art center with ongoing exhibitions to peruse, the space functions as a base for cultural workshops and lectures as well. But the cultural experience does not stop there - visitors are sure to notice remnants of what was once a Japanese junior high school!
When Rensei Junior High School closed its doors in March 2005, Chiyoda City was open to suggestions on how the building could be repurposed. By its opening in 2010, 3331 had filled the classrooms with art galleries, creative offices, a cafe and more. To this day, one can walk the halls and feel the creative energy of its tenants, while at the same time experiencing the nostalgia of the former school.
Depending on where you are from, some of the remaining school infrastructure might seem very distinct or even "Japanese". Let's take a tour!
Just as one often changes from outdoor shoes into slippers when entering a home, Japanese students will place their outdoor shoes in these shoe boxes. At 3331, the boxes have been reused for mail and flyer displays, showcasing upcoming exhibitions and events in the area. Browsing the various designs and photographs can be fun in itself!
Speaking of shoes, the CUBE shop and gallery also offers "uwabaki", common indoor shoes students change into as part of their uniform. Here, they come in different colors and add a quirky and comfortable touch to any outfit.
The classic layout of the remaining classrooms can still be seen throughout the hallways. That is, two sets of sliding doors with a sign marking the classroom's designation. Why two doors? It seems to have allowed for easy exit in case of earthquake and fire - a serious concern in the past when classrooms accommodated large numbers of students.
These days, many doors have been remodeled as gallery windows but some interiors maintain a classroom feel with original wood flooring and chalkboards. School desks and chairs have also claimed new purposes throughout the building.
The school roof, made iconic in Japanese drama and anime as a place for love confessions, fights, skipping class and the like. In actuality, the school roof provides an outdoor recreation space in crowded cities like Tokyo. While the space still functions as a place for community sports and barbecues, it also hosts artisan markets as well as an organic gardening program. (Start your own garden! firstname.lastname@example.org)
Often said to remind visitors of their student days, these hallway sinks were once used for brushing teeth after lunch and rinsing hands after playing outside. Tenants are often seen filling their water filters and flower vases these days.
While Japan's birth rate is in decline and schools continue to close around the country, 3331 represents just one way in which community infrastructure can reanimate the local area as a creative hub. We invite you to freely explore the space for yourself!