Visit somewhere cool to relax.

It's in the middle of rainy season in Japan.
I can't go out but it's a good time to plan my summer vacation.
Somewhere cool to relax and less people.
Lake Chuzenji in Nikko must be for you and me!


Tange Kenzo. A leading architect in Japan who brought Japanese architecture onto the world stage.

The Pritzker Prize, the “architecture Nobel”, was founded in 1979. From Japan, seven groups (eight people) have won the prize, even though only a single prize is awarded each year. 
I have no hesitation in saying that, without Kenzo Tange, Japan could not have produced such a number of great architects.

Tange played a central role in leading the construction industry after World War 2, and educated superb young architects to follow after him. Now, many of his disciples (Arata Isozaki, Kisho Kurokawa, Fumihiko Maki, Yoshio Taniguchi) are key players both in Tokyo and around the world. And buildings, which Tange designed are still an ornament to Tokyo.

One of Tange's masterpieces, a bold piece of modernism, is Yoyogi Gymnasium.  The Olympic Games were first held in Tokyo in 1964. The monumental Yoyogi stadium was an embodiment and symbol of Japan’s rapid economic growth since the war.

photo: Casa Brutus
<National Yoyogi Stadium> Completion: 1964
Built as a sub venue for the Tokyo Olympic Games. A dynamic curving roof uses a "suspended roof structure." The roof is suspended from two large pillars. As a result, the large interior space is uninterrupted.

Another is Tokyo Cathedral.
photo: Casa Brutus

<Tokyo Cathedral> Completion: 1964
The silhouette that stretches heavenward is reminiscent of Yoyogi Gymnasium. The exterior is made of stainless steel. The entrance doesn’t lead you straight inside, like a typical church. Rather, your route goes round up stairs to the nave. The ceiling has a cruciform sky light, and the mystical light falls on the nave as if leading worshippers to the presence of God.

Here are some others of Tange’s works that we can see in Tokyo. Tokyo Metropolitan Government building, United Nations University, Shinjuku Park Tower, Fuji Television Head Office Building. Each is a landmark of the area where it stands. 

Now, let's take a look at a photo of Kenzo Tange. 

He looks gentle and cheerful. It seems that he really was good at socializing and, at one time, his house was a kind of salon for international celebrities such as Gropius, Waxman, Isamu Noguchi and Charlotte Perriand. Photographs of them all at the house survive. 

It is said that Tange was a very nice person. He treated everyone gently and equallyAs an educator, his guidance of Arata Isozaki, Kisho Kurokawa, Fumihiko Maki and Yoshio Taniguchi to the heights of architecture was a great achievement.

Tange also created grand designs of cities on a large scale, rather than just for individual buildings. For example, he designed the visionary schemes for the Hiroshima Peace Memorial park and the Osaka Expo1970.

However, his works in later years, such as the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building and Unite Nation University are sometimes criticized as “authoritarian gothic.”  The style of his design changea lot from his works in 1980s
I watched these two buildings grow in real time, and remember thinking they were intimidatingSome say that, as Tange succeeded, he was drawn into the circles of power and forgot the spirit of the common people.

It was when I went to Odaiba that I really noticed Tange's greatness. Odaiba is an artificial island and Tokyo's last frontier, developed as futuristic city. Today, it hosts the Fuji TV headquarters building, convention centers, science museums, huge amusement facilities, shopping centers, and so on. 
Certainly, Odaiba has all the necessary amenities, but to be honest, it doesn’t look futuristic, it is just a boring new city. With coherent urban planning, it could have been designed in any way and become something like the Marina District in Singapore. Still among the indifferent buildings, there is one that has a strong presence. That’s the Fuji TV headquarters building Tange worked on. It stands out as a unique beacon in the area.
photo: Tange Associates

If I could go back in time, there is a project I would like to ask Kenzo Tange to undertake. That is the redevelopment of Odaiba. If Tange had worked on a grand design for Odaiba, what would this last frontier have looked like? Even imagining it is exciting! 


Ukiuyo-e Is a Media that Shows Us the lives of Edo People.

I went to an exhibition of Ukiyo-e or Japanese wood block printings entitled “Kuniyoshi Kunisada,” which was held at the Bunkamura Museum in Shibuya.

Ukiyo in Ukiyo-e originally means sorrow and short-lived(憂き), but the  meaning changed to buoyant(浮き浮き)as the society became stable and people started enjoying their lives in Edo, the largest city in Japan. 

The unique point of the exhibition is that the curator emphasizes the similarity of people in Edo and the people of today. 

Utagawa Kuniyoshi and Utagawa Kunisada, who were the top two the most popular ukiyo-e artists in Edo, vividly depicted the lives of Edo people.  Through their works, we can see Edo people are the same or more when it comes to appreciating the joy of everyday.  

The style of the two artists is quite different.  Kuniyoshi took the men by storm with his dynamic images of warriors and his bold compositions, while Kunisada intrigued women with his beautiful portraits of women. 

I feel that their ukiyo-e are like fashion magazines.  In  Kuniyoshi’s magazinesUkiyo-e, there comes a young man wearing a skull pattern kimono.  He looks like a punkish guy of the era.  In Kunisada’s fashion magazines, dazzling kabuki actors must have captured women fans. 

It’s funny and interesting to realize we of today are still doing the same things as the people 150 years ago.  The Edo period is not so long ago. 

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Strolling around Tsukiji and Higashi-Ginza (1)

Tsukiji Honganji Temple
Tsukiji is a huge market, which deals with 8,800 tons of fish, vegetables, and fruits a day.  It’s surprising that that amount is traded just in a day for satisfying the demand of people in Tokyo.  The other day, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced that the Auction Hall of Tsukiji market is going to move to Toyosu, a bit to the south from where it is, on the 7th of November 2016. 

I thought it’s almost the last opportunity to enjoy the present market atmosphere that has lasted since the Edo period and decided to visit there.  My sister and I met at Higashi-Ginza station and had a half-day tour going around Tsukiji like foreign visitors.

First of all, we headed for Tsukijii-Honganji temple.  It’s a branch temple of Nishi-Honganji, a Jodo-Shinshu sect of Buddhism, which is located in Kyoto.  At first sight, you may be surprised to see its peculiar appearance.  It’s quite different from authentic Japanese temples.  It’s more like the Indian style.

The round shaped roof of the temple represents the linden leaf, which is one of the very important symbols of Buddhism because Buddha is believed to have reached Enlightenment while he was meditating under a linden tree.  Moreover, in the center of the leaf you can see a lotus flower motif, which has a significant meaning for Buddhism.  Lotus flowers bloom beautifully in muddy water, it represents that your life can bloom beautifully even if you are in muddy water, a metaphor of suffering of lives. 

Tukiji market is divided into two areas; one is the Auction Hall and the other is Jogai-ichiba, or the shops of allied traders.  Jogai-ichiba is a huge shopping arcade.  There are many small retailers lining narrow streets and they sell small portions of fish, vegetables, fruits, and a variety of processed goods. 

At a corner of Jogai-ichiba, there are some dining areas.  Inoue, a ramen shop, is one of my friend’s recommendations, so we decided to have lunch there.  Inoue is a standing bar style ramen shop.  People are eating a bowl of ramen at a simple table extending onto the sidewalk.  It seemed that it would take some time to reach a bowl of ramen because many people were waiting in line in the narrow street.  However, we’ve already decided to eat there, so we went to the end of the line. 

---To be continued---

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Cherry Blossom Viewing at Inui Street in the Imperial Palace

The entrance of Yamashita Street
 Cherry blossoms are now in full bloom.  I have been very busy viewing sakura from place to place.  This year’s highlight so far is, definitely, Inui Street in the Imperial Palace, Tokyo.  The street, which runs along the eastern side of the Imperial Palace, opened to the general public for a week. 

It was about a 30 minute walk from Sakashita-mon Gate, on the southeast side, to Inui-mon Gate, at the north end.  It was my first time to go into the premises of the Palace, so everything was quite new and exciting to me.  After going through the Sakashita-mon Gate, we crossed the new palace building and in front of the office building of the Imperial Household Agency, both of which we are familiar with from TV broadcasting and newspapers. 

Sakura and Dokan moat

We passed through the entrance of Yamashita Street, which leads to Momiji-yama, or Mt. Momiji and Empress Michiko’s cocoonery, and Dokan-go or Dokan moat, which is named after Ota Dokan who developed the Edo Castle originally in the 15th century.  The combination of sakura with the castle moat and stonewall is incredibly beautiful.  The pale pink color of sakura is emphasized with the backdrop of the dark stonewall and the white plaster wall.  It looked so refined and so elegant.

The contrast between sakura and dark stonewall backdrop is beautiful

This experience made me go crazy about Edo Castle.  Unfortunately, the castle tower in Edo Castle was burnt down three times and also the main buildings built in both the Edo and the Meiji eras were lost because of the air raids during World War ll.  Although there are very few remains on the premises, there is still something in the air that reminds us of those days. 

I bought some books that illustrate the reconstruction of the dwelling of Edo Castle.  It’s a fun to read those books and to imagine what it used to be like.  You can easily go back in time and feel very close to the Edo era.

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Anime All Star Version of “Flowers Will Bloom” is Gorgeous!

NHK released the new version of 311 earthquake recovery support song, “hana ha saku” or “Flowers will bloom” in March.  They call it anime all star version and the anime characters, which are very popular among Japanese almost all generations appeared in it.  For example, “Space Cruiser Yamato,” “Pocket Monster,” “Lupin the third,” “Astro Boy,” Neon Genesis Evangelion,” and such.  It’s incredibly star-studded cast.

When I watched the video, I re-recognized that we are closely and deeply related to the anime and manga culture and it is along with our lives anytime.

I don’t know how much the characters encourage us to stand up again when we are in a harsh time.  At least for me, this new version of support song is touching. 

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Takashi Murakami’s Superflat Collection

I went to the Yokohama Museum to see “Takashi Murakami’s Superflat Collection.”  You might think it’s the art work of Takashi Murakami, one of the most successful artists in contemporary art, but it’s the display of Murakami’s private collection as an energetic art collector.  It was mind-boggling and incredibly overwhelming.

The collection is assembled based on the artist’s unique eye and aesthetic.  From contemporary art to antiques, from Japan and other countries, it includes more than 5,000 items.  I think it’s more than a private collection in scale.  It seems to be collected just by his instinct and I felt as if I saw inside of his head. 

Murakami is one of my favorite artists.  Especially, I like what he is thinking and saying rather than what he is drawing.  He is a great concept maker and an eloquent speaker as well.  I remember his “declaration” for the exhibition “Super Flat Declaration” that he curated in 2001.   It starts with this phrase, “Japan might be the future of the world.  And the Japan of today is SUPER FLAT.”  So cool, isn’t it?

The declaration continues, “…everything from society and public morals to art and culture is super two dimensional.”  He says “Super Flat” is a new concept to understand Japanese original culture.  Now, Japanese students learn perspective and Western art at school.  The two dimensional structure has been disregarded since Japan modernized in the Meiji era.  However, Murakami indicated that sense of two dimensional structure have been handed down through games, manga, and animation culture.

In this exhibition, Murakami expanded the definition of the concept “Superflat.”  Everything in here seems to be equal in value.  There is no historical period, no genre, no hierarchies, and no logic in his collection.  It’s the chaotic world, which is a mixture of good and bad, valuable and invaluable. 

 Why has he been collecting so many art items?  He explains it is to find the answer “what is art?”  And he concludes that art is the crystallization of culture; that is, the social circumstances, human relationships, and ephemera of the era in which we live. 
As I expected, what he is thinking is still super interesting!

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Working As a Guide Interpreter

Last month, I received a letter confirming that I passed the test to be a government licensed guide interpreter.  It’s a qualification that enables you to guide foreign tourists with a monetary reward.  I took this exam just for a challenge, but I never imagined working as a guide interpreter up to now. 

In 2015, the total number of tourists visiting Japan was 19,730,000.  It was a 47.1% increase from the previous year.  Tourism is one of the highest growing industries in Japan and the government is aiming to increase it.  It’s surprising to know that the government is setting the goal of gaining 30,000,000 tourists by 2030. 

It must be interesting to be involved in the tourism industry.  However, what should I do with this license that is so hard to come by?  What can I do for people coming to Japan?  I have been thinking about it since I passed the exam.

As for me, I’m a lazy traveler.  I like to sip drinks while viewing nice scenery for as long as I want rather than to visit many places.  Besides, I’d like to find something that is not listed in guidebooks.  A package tour or a group tour is convenient, especially for the first time or the first day in a country.  But I don’t feel up to joining it because the schedule is always filled with events and we need to be punctual.

I haven’t come up with any plans yet but at least I can say I will target people like me, lazy adventurers.  I hope I can help foreign visitors someday in the near future.

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One Day Picnic to Hakone.

I went to Hakone last weekend.  Hakone is a popular resort, which is well-known for having many hot springs, beautiful scenery and wholesome climate.  It’s easy to access from Tokyo and in my case, it took about an hour to drive from Yokohama.  It’s so convenient.

It was a fine day and I had expected to view Mt. Fuji from a very close point.  I think that Mt. Fuji has a special power that makes us get excited.  Whether we are able to see its beautiful corn shape or not.  Even Japanese like me, who already have seen the mountain many times, get thrilled and foreign tourists much more so.

First of all, we went on board a sightseeing cruse boat on Lake Ashi.  Lake Ashi is a caldera lake, which collects water in a large crater shaped like basin made by volcanic activities.  (Caldera is a Spanish word that means sunken places.)  Lake Ashi is surrounded by forest and it makes the scenery more profound.

 Blowing in the breeze on the deck of the boat, I was looking at the surface of the lake, which was sparkling with the reflection of sunshine.  There are very few commercial facilities around the lake, so we could appreciate the genuinely natural landscape there. 

After that, we climbed Mt.Hakone-Komagatake by ropeway.  Komagatake used to be a volcano, but now it’s a good view point that overlooks a panoramic view of Lake Ashi, Mt. Fuji, the Izu peninsula and more.  When we got to the plateau, most of the coulds were swept away and the beautiful shape of Mt, Fuji with its long skirts appeared just in front of us.  How lucky we were! 

Mt. Fuji enshrines the Shinto deity named Konohanasakuya-hime, or literally means “Princess this flower is blooming now.”  Maybe, she was in a good mood and smiled for us, I believe.

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Yoko Ono: from My Window

photo: Museum of Contemporary Art,Tokyo
I went to see an exhibition entitled “Yoko Ono: from My Window” held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo in Kiyosumi-shirakawa.  Yoko Ono is most of thought of in her relationship with John Lennon, but she has been a great artist in contemporary art long before she met him. 

She is one of the pioneers of conceptual art and I have been a big fan of her works.  The exhibition emphasizes her very beginning works in the 1960s’ including some events she held in Tokyo.  Looking at the photos and videos at the show, I was taken aback by how avant-garde they are.  They are still interesting and inspiring to this day.

Why do I like her works?  I took a moment to stop and think about it.  One reason is that her works have the power to stir my imagination.  For example, the “instructions for paintings” series.  They are just displaying instructional words on pieces of white paper like this: 

Painting for the Wind

Cut a hole in a bag filled with
seeds of any kind and place the
bag where there is wind.

With this instruction, you can imagine any process of changes after the seeds start spreading into the air.  Flying in the air, touching down on the ground, germinating and covering the ground with green leaves.  You can transfer the instructions to your own vision.  I think that the idea Yoko Ono came up with is a beautiful invention.  We can draw invisible pictures in our head and maybe, it’s more creative than real pictures. 

The second reason I like her works is that her art works are always positive.  There is nothing that scares me or depresses me in her works, even if their themes were anti-war.  I can always feel happy with them. 

After going through the exhibition, I was fully charged with the energy.

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You can understand Japanese history in 9 minutes.

Hi everyone.

I love this video.   Have you already check it out?
It's so funny and maybe, useful.  ww

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The Future of Japanese Traditional Crafts.

photo: colocal.jp  Johoji-urushi
The other day, I joined a talk session on Japanese traditional crafts at Midtown in Roppongi.  Hidetoshi Nakata, a former football player and Jun Nakagawa, CEO of Nakagawa Masashiti shoten in Nara pref. talked about their endeavors to promote Japanese traditional crafts.  It was very interesting and thought provoking for me.

Nakata, known as a “traveler,” said he had just finished his trip visiting artisans, sake breweries and other local traditional craft centers in all 47 prefectural regions in Japan.  I have been wondering why a former world-class football player got interested in Japanese crafts.  I couldn't wrap my head around it.  However, my uneasy feelings finally cleared up when I heard his explanation. 

Nakata said that he realized he didn’t know anything about Japan at all when he was asked about Japan, as he worked outside of the country.  All the more reason, he wanted to know every inch of Japan and started visiting manufacturing people after he quite playing football.  I think it’s his honest feelings and I also sometimes feel the same way.  It’s a shame we really don’t know about our country.

Nakagawa is the 13th generation of a traditional company with 300 years of history.  Born in a family of linen fabric makers, he considered the future of Japanese crafts, which seemed to be disappearing due to the lack of successors and the change of people’s lifestyles.  Now, he has been enthusiastic about revitalizing traditional crafts.  And his company is growing enough to have a flag shop in Aoyoma, Tokyo. 

The chemistry of these two people was very interesting.  Though their standpoints are different, there are some similarities between them.  What impressed me most is their claim that Japanese traditional products wouldn’t be sold overseas unless customers understand the cultural background, or how the products have been used in traditionally in Japanese. 

For example, Japanese wooden products and urushi lacquer products are beautiful but it’s a bit difficult to maintain their good conditions if people leave them in low ambient humidity, as in Europe. 

If we want to expand the traditional crafts market worldwide, we should export the history of the products as well so that the prospective consumers would keep using them as long as possible.  Otherwise, Japanese crafts would be recognized just a souvenirs. 

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The Remains of the Azuchi Castle.

photo: azuchi-shiga.com
If I were asked what period of Japanese history do you like best, I would say it would be the Azuchi Momoyama period (1573-1603) because many unique and innovative people appeared in the era such as Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Sen no Rikyu.

Oda Nobunaga was a war load who completed the way to unify the nation and promoted the merchandising by opening a new market without taxes.  Toyotomi Hideyoshi was born as a son of a peasant and climbed up the social ladder and finally reached the top.  Sen no Rikyu completed the tea ceremony as an ultimate art.  He created the new concept of art called “wabi,” a state of calm, quiet subtlety, which avoids being gaudy or showy.  What a gorgeous era Aduchi Momoyama was!

The name of “Azuchi” in Azuchi Momoyama period comes from the castle’s name, which Oda Nobunaga built in azuchi-cho, Shiga prefecture.  I’ve wanted to visit the castle for many years and finally I did. 

To tell the truth, there is no castle there.  Unfortunately, the castle was burnt down three year after it was built, when Oda Nobunaga was assassinated by his senior statesman.  All we were allowed to do is just look at the stone walls and imagine the time.

The remains of the castle stand beside Lake Biwa.  At the opposite side of the lake, you can see Mt. Hieizan, in which Enryakuji-temple is located.  Over the mountain is Kyoto, the ancient capital city.  Oda Nobunaga must have looked at the scene everyday and accumulated his ambition to unify the nation and beyond.  It’s nice to deepen my understanding of the history geographically here.   I think there is something that we can feel only when we come the site. 

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