Land of Soroku
A Japanese-inspired steampunk city in the sky!
My arms are aching and my shoulders shaking. I’m climbing the neverending ladder of the tall Chansen Tower in the Shinseidai district. As I reach the top, I want nothing but to rest, but instead I just stand there in awe. From the peak of the tower I see pagodas rising tall in the sunset, canyons covered with houses of elegant wood, and cherry blossom trees blowing in the wind. It’s a sight for sore eyes.
North Garms, a Minecraft creator from England and the grand architect of this area, is a man who has had his head in these clouds for quite a long time. He’s been building and improving his map Land of Soroku – the city of the sky – for five years.
The Land of Soroku is an ancient-yet-steampunky city built upon the mountains of the surrounding land. Its buildings are a network of pagodas, walkways and bridges, based on feudal Japanese architecture. A maze of wooden structures and colourful lanterns. And sure, it may lack the mandatory sumo wrestler arenas and arcade halls, but Soroku makes up for it in its unique form and shape.
“When I first created the map I had no clue how to landscape at all,” says North when I ask how his creation came to be.
“To achieve the dramatic geography I simply created an “amplified” world and worked from there,” North explains. “In a kind of roleplay fashion I prefer not to destroy or flatten areas to build on, but build around the landscape instead, as would be done in real life. The result, I find, is that the natural landscape is as important as the artificial.”
Inspiration came from the team FyreUK and their build Land of Akane. North was blown away by the scale and detail of it. He wanted to create his own map with a similar theme, with the goal of making his feel more lived-in and somewhere that could be explored for hours.
“I have always been fascinated by Japanese architecture and aesthetics in general. I don’t consider myself a master builder at any rate, but this format works particularly well for me. I tend to draw inspiration from Studio Ghibli films or even video games alongside some real world Japanese architecture.”
The project has had its challenges. Just like the Great fire of Meireki that burned down a big portion of the Japanese capital of Edo in 1657, Soroku almost had its own similar disaster.
“A fire somehow started in the huge tower in the east of the map. Luckily I stopped it in time to save some of it, but a lot of progress was lost. There are a few references to “the great fire” in the build.”
Located high above the sea level, the origins of the city are clouded - even to its creator! But while Soroku might lack history, it is extremely rich on local lore and easter eggs. As I explore the different districts, I realize that the devil is in the details. Every little street or building is carefully crafted and decorated, from cafes and markets to temples and homes.
"I have always been fascinated by Japanese architecture"
“There are small narratives in some areas around the city, but the whole settlement is kind of an accident I guess. For me, it’s a bit like a hobbyist’s prized scale model of a living, breathing place,” North says proudly.
Some monuments stand out more than others, such as the Tree of the Spirits on top of the great Kyoukikami Bridge, or the picturesque streets of Hisekawa district. It’s almost like every building or landmark has its own unique story rather than the city as a whole.
“I’d say the best reason to download the map is everything in between. I’m very particular about making sure every building has a unique, decorated interior with filled chests and labels. The capacity for exploration is my favourite element of the build.”
Despite its glory, all the climbing and walking through endless stairs and ladders in Soroku has taken its toll. As I retreat to city’s more comfortable onsen baths and grab a tasty bowl of ramen in the Yanmagawa district, I strongly recommend you pay a visit as well!