Hiding amongst the residential area of Fukushima-ku in Osaka is a building you need to see to believe. The Gate Tower Building stands 16 stories high if you count the missing 3 stories. The missing floors (5th - 7th) house the Hanshin Expressway and effortlessly take drivers through the middle of the building and onto the Umeda exit.
Let me say that again, a highway runs through this building.
How did this happen you ask? The building was never designed to house a highway. In fact this remarkable building came about as a result of a compromise between land holders and the Japanese Government.
The land owners operated a wood and charcoal processing company and after a downturn in their business had applied for new planning permits to redevelop the area. The permits were refused as the Hanshin Expressway was in its final planing stages and would be built across the land. During the 5-year battle the land owners did not back down and, in a remarkable compromise, both went ahead as planned with some minor adjustments.
As a result of the building's unique appearance and use, it is commonly referred to in Japan as the ‘Beehive.’ In part due to its shape and mostly due to the hive of activity that sees cars buzz in and out.
Glass elevators travel up and down either side of the building and provide a great view point. To get to them, take the stairs to the left of the main entrance to the smokers area and you can get in the side entrance to the building. Take the lift up to the top floor and walk across the building to the bathrooms. From here you can enjoy a bird's eye view of the highway as it passes through the building. The staff I saw didn't seem to mind that I was there with a camera around my neck so it’s probably good to be an obvious tourist if you wish to go inside.
As you are traveling back down, take note of how quiet the building is considering there is a 4 lane highway passing through it. The design of the highway exit ensured no vibrations or sounds are heard from inside the building. In fact the highway does not actually touch the building as it is a different structure for safety reasons in an earthquake prone area.
As you turn back to face the elevator door you will also notice that the elevator skips from the 4th to the 8th floor. It is apparently an ongoing joke of the building to tell clients they have a meeting on the 5th, 6th or 7th floors.
Lastly, you will be pleased to know that the tenant of floors 5-7 is the highway owners and they pay rent to the building.