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  • Shelley Dark

20. last day in Tokyo

When we've wanted to say goodbye to shop employees, doormen, wait staff or taxi drivers we've been saying matane rather than sayonara. I found the word on a Japanese app - it sounded the equivalent of au revoir or farewell. We haven't wanted to use the finality of sayonara, which almost seems to be making a judgment: I will NOT be coming back here and I will NOT be seeing you again.

No wonder people have been laughing, because we've discovered that matane is a slang term used between teenage friends, and is as casual as 'see yuh ron (later on)'. I laugh every time I think about our saying it in a formal way, with a bow, to quite proper assistants. But it's always elicited such a joyful response that I'm rather glad we didn't know!

Musée Tomo is a gallery specialising in contemporary ceramics and while John and I were travelling, he found an article in the Japan Times by Tyler Rothmar about the current exhibition.

The founder of Musée Tomo was Madame Tomo Kikuchi who was still running the gallery at the time of her death in 2016 aged 93. You have to take your hat off to Japanese women - many seem to be amazingly dynamic and powerful into old age.

She first had a gallery in Tokyo, then a ceramics boutique in Bloomingdale's New York. Because of her passion for Japanese ceramics she was invited to stage an exhibition of them at both the Smithsonian and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Known for her generosity, she had a refined eye and impeccable taste. She put modern Japanese ceramics on the world map.

On family-owned land in Roppongi, she built this tall slender building on the left to house the gallery and offices for the many associated corporations she ran.

I didn't realise that photography is not allowed even at the desk upstairs, so I managed a tiny photo of the stunning sparkling twisted glass railing on the circular staircase down into the basement gallery. It's the work of Yokoyama Naoto whose name is embedded into the glass itself, at the very top.

The gallery rooms beneath have dark crimson and very dark green walls, organza panels stretched tightly from roof to floor as dividers, fixed into a serpentine track in the floor so that the fabric is folded to catch the light. They're an artwork in themselves.

The current exhibition though is not about ceramics. It's the second time the gallery has featured the art of Toko Shinoda. She did the huge pale golden mural panelling you can see covering the circular walls around the staircase above, in 2003, when she was a spring chicken of 90.

This fabulous portrait of her was taken 4 years ago, by Kiyo Fukuda and featured in the Japan Times.

Toko Shinoda turned 104 in March. This exhibition of her work includes some done in 2017.

The Japan Times quotes her as saying: 'I am surprised that I am still here at 104. I never thought that I would live to be this old and to think that I am still able to produce works that delight art lovers is in itself rewarding. I don't paint on any regular schedule, just when the mood strikes me. Sometimes new forms that I had never thought of until recently seem to come to mind and I try my best to put them down as I see them.'

Born into a wealthy family in Manchuria, she was fortunate that her great uncle who had designed a seal for the emperor passed on to her a love of calligraphy. Her work reflects this, although in abstract form.

She uses lithography, and brush and sumi ink. The way sumi appears on the paper depends on many things including humidity, how the ink stick is rubbed on the stone, the equipment. With this art form, there is no going back. The first brush stroke is there forever.

photo courtesy Wikiart: lithograph by Toko Shinada 'Maiden' 1985

She does a little work each day, 'the proof that I am alive'. She is the only Japanese person ever to have had their portrait on a stamp while still living. The painting I loved best was a sumi ink and silver paint on the most superb paper: 'Silence' 2004.

The huge canvas has four or five vertical brush strokes of different widths, overlapping each other to create greys with different depths of colour from transparent to opaque, covering the canvas. Its simplicity was so commanding and yet so delicate. Her current work could have been done by someone in the prime of youth, it's so timeless.

I copied this poem by Tatsuji Muyoshi displayed on the wall. Perhaps it's one of her favourites:

Oh sad, flower petals drift down, onto the young girls flower petals drift down, young girls quietly talking as they walk, the sound of serene footsteps drifting into the sky, occasionally raising their eyes they pass by the springtime in a shadeless temple garden. The tiled roof of the temple has turned green and at each of its eaves the wind bells are hanging silent while being alone I let my own shadow walk over the paving stones.

The old and the new. Since we had to be back at the hotel at 3pm to be at the airport on time, we took a forty minute stroll from the gallery down the hill into Ginza once again.

The chestnuts are coming into flower.

There are some very interesting facades.

A furry ball in Fendi's window.

These two photos were also in Fendi's windows, icing piped onto a tray displaying bags and shoes.

A regal bronze lion and little white Kimba outside Matsuya, arguably the oldest department store in the world. In 1869 Tokube Furuya opened his bespoke tailored kimono shop in Yohohama, and it gradually developed into a major fashion house, employing its first woman in 1906.

By this time, western clothing was in vogue and other branches were opened. In 1926 the practice of making customers remove their shoes before entering the store was abandoned.

The US Military took over the shop as its headquarters in 1946, so trade was severely curtailed. When they left in 1952 it resumed as before. A milestone was reached in 2015 when the first female company director was appointed.

The Ginza 6 designer is quoted as saying that the complex allows its stores to best express their own personalities. I think this restrained facade was Louis Vuitton.

But I think this wild one was LV as well: the handbag on the tongue. It looks more like Versace style doesn't it?

We were interested to see the stationery store G.Itoya, because on the 7th floor there's a hydroponic farm for the caféteria on the 11th. When we walked in the front door, we made a lunch reservation for an hour's time.

On the eleventh floor, through a glass wall we could see lettuce, rocket and Asian greens growing under artificial lighting which emphasised the translucency of the leaves. It all looked so pretty!

Paper samples on one of the 11 floors.

Myriad shelves of card board.

I liked this grey and orange range.