Photo/IllutrationThe National Diet Building, which stands majestic and imposing in Nagatacho, Chiyoda Ward, is a well-known Tokyo landmark. (Photo by Lisa Vogt)

  • Photo/Illustraion

The National Diet Building in Nagatacho is not home to a government institution that promotes fitness and health, despite the word “diet” being in its name. In fact, it houses Japan’s bicameral legislature.

Japan is one of the rare countries in the world to use the word diet to refer to the nation’s parliament.

According to an old Encyclopedia Britannica entry, the word is German, and it has to do with meeting and feasting, or an assembly. The Meiji Constitution promulgated in 1889 was fashioned, in part, after the 19th-century Prussian model, and perhaps that’s why the term is used.

The building is commanding, dignified and majestic. In every country, parliaments and Congresses are housed in massive structures that represent power, importance and influence. The architecture shows the country’s standing in the world, and Japan can be proud to have such an awe-inspiring Diet building.

When the first Imperial Diet convened in 1890, it was held in an interim building made of wood. Officials wanted to erect a permanent structure befitting the modern nation that Japan was becoming, and after years of fits and starts, the current building was completed in 1936. Master craftsmen and all of the materials--except for the stained glass, mail chute and door locks--were sourced from Japan.

The structure they created is a harmonious blend of East and West. With mosaic floors made up of a million colorful stones, walls consisting of 2,800 tons of marble, more than 4.5 kilometers of red carpeting, and hundreds of rooms, each decorated exquisitely, it is opulent and palatial. It is said that some of the magnificent stones came from the then-colonies of Japan.

As with many similar grand structures around the world, the facade design probably has its roots in one of the Seven Wonders of the World: the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus in present-day Turkey. This reminded me that it’s the passing on and building upon of ideas that advance society.

Under the pyramid-shaped central roof, sandwiched between the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors, is Central Hall. In the corners, there are statues of Hirofumi Ito, Taisuke Itagaki and Shigenobu Okuma.

However, one corner is empty. Why?

Take your pick: (1) Japan is waiting for the next great statesman or stateswoman to come along. (2) It means that politics is never complete. (3) It’s improper to have a statue’s bum face the emperor’s palace.

Your guess is as good as mine.

The resplendent beauty of the structure is a chronicle of Japan’s modern nation-building. If you have not been there, it’s certainly worth a visit.

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This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the Feb. 18 issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series "Lisa’s In and Around Tokyo," which depicts the capital and its surroundings through the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.