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  • Shelley Dark

14. konnichwa Tokyo!

Gosh it seems so long since I've written to you yet it's only forty-eight hours. We've left Shiragawa, visited Kanazawa, come back by train to Tokyo, John has flown home, Ange has arrived, we're in a new hotel, and it's been another brilliant day. OK, that's it. Now I'll go to bed. -:) Only joking!

I'm sitting at the 2-way desk in our hotel room at the Park Hyatt with my back to the view. If I faced it, I don't think I'd do any writing!

We said goodbye regretfully to Beniya Mukayu. It was as close to nirvana as I'll probably ever come. Mr Nagamichi came down to the lobby to say goodbye to us.

It took only half an hour in the train from Kaga Onsen to Kanazawa alongside rice paddies and water.

At Kanazawa railway station, this group of cuties were on a school excursion, each boy holding hands with a girl.

I don't know the architect of Kanazawa railway station, but its light airy framework is very similar to the station we saw at Kyoto.

photo courtesy Wikipedia via Creative Commons

It was just starting to drizzle as we arrived, so I couldn't take a photo of this extraordinary station entrance which references the old Shinto torii gates so common here.

photo courtesy Wikipedia via Creative Commons

We had four hours in Kanazawa. Our first stop was the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. I thought you'd like to see the circular building from the air. It was designed by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa and built in 2006.

Our day wasn't nearly so blue as the photo above, and I loved the way the roofline seemed to disappear into the greyness of the sky.

There are several installations on the wide lawn between the street and the entrance to the long low building - this circle of seats looked like a fairy dell.

The main exhibition was fascinating - featuring the drawings of the young artist Ikeda Manabu who uses a superfine pen. His work on massive pieces of paper is so incredibly detailed that he only completes a few square centimetres a day. I have no idea how he even manages physically to work on the more central parts. His art mostly depicts a strange fantasy alien world.

What I really wanted to see though was the swimming pool by Leandro Erlich. In an internal open-air courtyard is a normal-looking swimming pool. But when you look into it, there are people walking around under the water, pushing prams, taking photos, reading leaflets. It's such fun, so witty and entertaining! There's ten centimetres of water over the top of a sheet of glass, and then underneath that is a room made to look like the interior of a swimming pool - you enter it via a door in the basement.

This man was making his wife laugh, pretending to drown.

Then on to the much-visited Kenrokuen garden. It's famous for being one of the most beautiful in Japan. Most of the cherries were finished, but there were a couple of late ones still in bloom.

Soft green moss thrives under these huge trees. Bamboo barriers tied decoratively with thick black string remind visitors not to stray as it's very delicate.

The meandering stream is edged with iris which will be spectacular in a week or two. It's a typically formal Japanese landscape with cherry trees and clipped shrubs.

A few are out already. There was also a pergola covered in wisteria vine on the point of flowering.

Thankfully the rain held off. There are massive pines around this large lake. There's snow in winter so the long wide branches have to be supported by ropes attached to a top of a central pole, looking like a tent structure. You may have seen photos of them. They've been taken down for the summer.

There wasn't time to linger, as our train left at 2pm. We consoled ourselves with a cream puff each at the station. Crisp and slightly sugary on the outside, hollow softness on the inside, filled with fresh cream. Ohhhh it was so good!

This train driver was in as big a hurry to go home as we were to be back in Tokyo for John's flight home. I had time to help him check in at the Qantas desk and we said goodbye at security. Then I raced down to arrivals, where daughter Ange had already landed. Great timing! A one-hour train trip to Shinjuku Station and here we are, happily installed at the Park Hyatt!

This was our view on waking - the Empire State looking building belongs to a telecommunications company.

We did a little exploring after a delicious breakfast (I love bircher meusli!) - this cavernous space is over the Peak bar.

The hotel occupies the top 14 floors of the 52 storey Shinjuku Park Tower. It seems strange to have no lobby at the ground - we travelled up in a fast lift which made my ears pop. Breath-taking 360 degree views.

This is Jay, who has lived in Japan for 17 years and has a Master's degree in Urban Planning from the University of Tokyo. He was our enthusiastic tour guide for the morning's introduction to the city's architecture.

We walked through the park on our way to Meiji Shrine commemorating Emperor Meiji who died in 1912, and his wife. It was during his reign that Japan was opened up to the west.

Now that's a torii gate! It was quite a hot 24 degrees today!

We strolled through the shrine just to look at the architecture, with its copper roofing and intricately constructed wooden joint techniques. The main building is covered with canvas for maintenance.

These old buildings were made without nails so they'd survive earthquakes. Jay made the point that it's impossible to put an age on most old buildings in Japan for this reason - they can be taken apart, bits replaced, and put back together again many many times over until nothing of the original remains. The wood starts off a pale colour, but applications of a water-proofing liquid made from persimmons eventually turns it almost black.

Most cities start from a central point and radiate outwards. This wasn't the case with Tokyo - there are five hills and each was the residence of the local lord. Lesser houses just filled in the gaps. Social space in Tokyo is linear, ie along roads, not square as in Europe where social life revolves around the town square or piazza.

Tokyo was largely destroyed by bombing in World War II and the rebuild was a haphazard business, simply to get things done. There was little planning or control. Now of course things are different. Tower buildings can only be on major roads, building height is 3-5 storeys otherwise, the narrowest street must be at least four metres wide. Tokyo is quiet architecturally speaking, and low to the ground.

The National Stadium was designed by Kenzo Tange, an admirer of Corbousier, for the 1964 Olympics. The roof is suspended on two massive steel cables to imitate the curve of a shrine, and it is aligned exactly with the Meiji Shrine nearby.

The path to Meiji Shrine, Omotesando (sando = path to a shrine) was the first attempt in Tokyo to create a European-style tree-lined boulevard. It's also lined with the big names, Ralph Lauren, Prada, Boss, Laurent, Dior etc etc. (We'll be back!) Some of the buildings are stunning, and many refer to wood in some way - looking like a tree trunk, covered in wood etc.

The old streetscape here was the wooden house like this - we saw this old home behind an abandoned building very close to Omotesando. Jay said that mostly probably an old couple live in it and it won't be redeveloped until they are gone.

The Prada building was designed by the international firm Herzog & de Meuron.

This building has vertical wooden slats on the facade for shade and privacy.

This is a pineapple cake shop, designed by Kengo Kuma.

This is the Miu-Miu building.

We ended the tour at 21-21, a building by Tadao Ando, probably the most famous non-architect in the world! He emphasises nothingness and empty space as a representation of the beauty of simplicity. Remember the nothingness of Beniya Mukayu?

We had looked at the National Art Museum with Jay earlier from the vantage point of the Aoyama cemetery, but now Ange and I saw it up close. It's featuring the dots of 88 year old Yayoi Kusama in an exhibition called 'My Eternal Soul'.

The queue was so long that we decided to come back at a less busy time. And our feet were killing us. We looked online for a Japanese restaurant for Ange to have an authentic experience. We found one, the name in Japanese, but with a high rating. We searched the lane but couldn't find it. Blast!

We found this instead. A tiny cafe jammed packed with Japanese diners, smelling like heaven. All the signs in Japanese. And the chefs were happy. We sat down, opened the menu and ..... Thai! We stayed anyway. Fantastic!

On the way to the Nezu Museum we found a wisteria in flower. How amazing. It must be the earliest one in Tokyo!

And we sniffed out an antique shop - stuffed full of English antiques!

Nezu Museum was also designed by Kengo Kuma of the match-stick pineapple cake shop. The site used to be the home of Nezu Kaichiro, an avid art collector who donated them to the community. Now seven of its pieces are declared national treasures. The house was destroyed in World War II and a new museum built after the war. Today there was an exhibition of screens, bronzes, gilt ware and tea-making paraphernalia. The bronze containers in particular were just amazing, dating from the 13th century BC. The small ceramic containers like vases were tied upright with fishing line, we guessed to stop them falling over and smashing in earth tremors.

I've been wanting to see the garden, which escaped the worst of the damage. It was as pretty as I had imagined.

And I wanted to make the acquaintance of this little poppet. She wasn't wearing a flower when we first saw her, but someone who shall remain nameless found one somewhere. Not me. Shhhh don't tell. :-)

Becoming giggly from tiredness, we set off for home.

With a slight detour to Aoyama Flower Market and Tea Room, where there was a queue for the tea room. We were on a different mission. You guessed it. Flowers for our hotel room. The room is dark now and Ange is asleep but I'll take a photo of them for you tomorrow.

We caught the subway home from Shibuya to Shinjuku. Peak hour. Those photos you see of Japanese people jammed into trains like sardines? It's true. We were two sardines. You honestly could not put a cigarette paper between people. The ones closest to the door weren't even in when the doors were closing. The man behind me was pushing my back with his shoulders so hard that if I hadn't pushed back hard, I'd have done a face plant into a stainless steel pole. Ange had the flowers above her head to stop them being squashed. If you were claustrophobic you would have died. Naturally we started laughing.

We made it. Back to the hotel. A champagne together looking at sunset over Mt Fuji to celebrate our first day. Take-away out of a box for dinner, and now for bed exhausted babies!

Until tomorrow's instalment of our adventures in Tokyo, buddies, stay safe!

shelley dark, writer 

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