vignettes of tokyo

Wednesday 13 November 2013

I had heard that Tokyo is a place where east meets west but after visiting, I'm inclined to disagree and say that Tokyo is really it's own glorious beast. From where I was sitting, it seemed to operate on a completely different frequency to the rest of the world- and I mean that in the best way possible.

Meguro River

It's a complex and diverse city which oscillates between a wild over-saturation of the senses to the most gentle moments of quiet contemplation. Yet along every point of Tokyo's multi-faceted spectrum is an incredibly stable sense of cultural identity. It seems to have resisted the tinge of murky globalisation infecting other developed cities, which is such an exciting thing to witness.

Fog Linen Work store

At Calico Cat Cafe, Shinjuku

Everything I encountered felt so uniquely Japanese. Naturally, my observations centred around design and the built environment. The grey concrete contrasting with vivid greenery, a recurring motif of simple gridded tiles lining the subways and low rise houses, the wabi sabi sentiment imbued in the crockery and utensils, the avant garde fashionistas browsing through Comme des Garcons, the hyper modern retail architecture in Ginza and the small scaled timber screened houses lining the old town of Asakusa. All completely varied and yet equally compelling and exciting. I can't pinpoint what ties it all together, or if there is in fact a thread that does, but all aspects of the Japanese design sensibility absolutely struck something inside me. Perhaps it's the freedom from Western thinking that excites me? All I know is that the creative pulse of Japan resonated right through me and it was the most exhilarating ride.

Architecture for Dogs at MA Gallery
Tokujin Yoshioka, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo
Richard Wilson at Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo

Yet I'll be honest, it wasn't all roses and sweetness. At times the foreignness of Tokyo was unsettling. I had no idea what was going on half the time (there are a lot of rules and systems) and I must have spent thirty percent of my time lost, disoriented and a little panicked. The endlessly long overpasses and the layers upon layers of sound stimulation certainly didn't help. (This might account for my lack of streetscape photos). The scale of this big city would occasionally dislodge my ability to feel human. Yet just as the scale of the city could abruptly shift from towering high rises to the tiniest, most intimate spaces of retreat, for every hardship, a moment of exquisite pleasure would float my way.

I was so frequently reminded how much I had fallen for the truly wonderful city that is Tokyo.

Some Tokyo travel tips

+ Stroll around Megura river. Visit Eva for excellent vintage fashion and drop into Parking for coffee.
+ Explore Daikanyama, including the backstreets for small boutiques and the most incredible menswear you may ever see.
+ Architecture and design book lovers must visit Nanyodo. Totodo also has a great collection of second hand books, including a few rare copies. T-Site is a massive concept bookstore worth dropping into. Commune Gallery and Utrecht independent bookstores sounded amazing but I couldn't find them for the life of me. Damn.
+ Fossick through the vintage shops at Shimokitazawa. I didn't actually buy anything but the energy of the pedestrian scaled streets in this youthful area made the visit worthwhile.
+ Izakaya Ism in Shimokitazawa was the best meal I had by a long shot and the staff were jovial and friendly.
+ Ogle the retail towers by every star-chitect you can think of around Omotesando.
+ Recuperate with a coffee and seriously delicious baked custard cube at Omotesando Koffee, in a renovated house, tucked in the backstreets.
+ While Shibuya generally ruffled my feathers a bit, there's a great pedestrian shopping strip east of Meiji Dori worth exploring which won't test your nerves.
+ For most of the galleries I went to, the seasonal exhibitions were the strength so check the programmes. Having said that, Ando's 21 21 Design Site is worth going to, just for the building. I concentrated on twentieth century to present and despite visiting one to three galleries daily, I still didn't see everything I'd bookmarked.
+ Check the Shift website for current art and design happenings.
+ In case you missed my last post, Baishinka and Ori Higashiya are a must.

[Photos by me]


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