ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Latest

URBAN OASIS, Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku (原宿), Tokyo (東京), Japan

Perched above the northeast intersection of Meiji Dori (明治道り) and Omotesando Dori (表参道), a charming little oasis is hidden atop the shopping centre Tokyu Plaza.  From street level, the gleaming mall entrance resembles a giant kaleidoscope with a myriad of mirrors wrapping a set of grand escalators and stair, like a glittering passageway heading up into the building.  Looking overhead, clusters of greenery stick out from the roof parapet, revealing the lovely rooftop terrace above the shopping levels.  What the local design firm Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP gives visitors is a pleasant surprise on the roof, a little roof garden of trees and plantings, seating and stepped platforms, overlooking the busy urban streets at the heart of Harajuku (原宿).

1The kaleidoscope-like mall entrance is a decent design to capture the attention of pedestrians.

2It’s fun to go through the kaleidoscope-like passageway.  Looking out of the entrance feels like standing inside a cave made of mirrors.

3The intersection of Meiji Dori (明治道り) and Omotesando Dori (表参道) is busy anytime throughout the day.

4After going through the shopping levels, a wooden stairway leads up to the top level of restaurants and cafe, and the lovely roof terrace.

5At the roof terrace, a hexagonal decking system provide great seating for shoppers and cafe customers.

DSC_3061After a long day of shopping and walking, many visitors choose to take a brief stop at this pleasant roof terrace at the top of Tokyu Plaza.

6

DSC_3087In the middle, a raised planter surrounded by a counter and high chairs is actually part of the skylight providing natural light for the level below.

7The decking and the roof terrace can also serve as a small performance venue.

8From the relaxing rooftop, the busy street scene below seems like a distant world.  While pedestrians rush across the streets, visitors of the roof terrace rest in harmony with a manmade nature several storeys above.

934 trees and 50+ different types of plants are planted on the terrace on what architect Hiroshi Nakamura describes as a “roof forest”.

DSC_3096At the lower levels, smaller balconies also provide spaces for relaxation with a close encounter with the zelkova trees that line the sidewalk of Omotesandō (表参道), the traditional procession route of Meiji Shrine (明治神宮).

IMG_5916From the street, the Tokyu Plaza Omotesandō look like an interesting piece of modern architecture with a light and transparent base and a solid upper part that supports the greenery at the top.

TOKYO’S TRIANGLE OF STYLE, Shibuya (渋谷), Harajuku (原宿) and Omotesando (表参道), Tokyo (東京), Japan

In Tokyo, it’s almost a ritual for every visitor to cross the iconic Shibuya(渋谷) Crossing on the way to a department store, or to search for cosplayers in the narrow Takeshita (竹下通) of Harajuku (原宿), or to admire the high fashion and sleek architecture along Omotesando (表参道).  Despite it is only the distance of one station apart from each other, the urban scenery and shopping culture around the station of Shibuya, Harajuku and Omotesando are actually quite different.  Geographically, Shibuya is a special ward in Tokyo that encompasses some of the most important commercial and shopping districts in the city, such as Daikanyama, Ebisu, Harajuku, Omotosando, and Sendagaya.  Spending an afternoon wandering in this vibrant area is a movable feast of style.

1Shibuya Hikarie (渋谷ヒカリエ), the iconic monument at the heart of Shibuya, is a mixed use high-rise tower with multiple functions, including office, theatre, auditorium, galleries and museum, dining facilities, and department store.

DSC_2811The railway station of Shibuya (渋谷) is the fourth busiest communter railway station in Japan (and the world).

2-4Pedestrians rush out the Shibuya Station, wait for the traffic lights to turn and then scramble to radiate in all directions.  The famous Shibuya Crossing has become an icon for Tokyo.  Uncounted promotional videos, TV shows and movies such as Lost in Translation have made the Shibuya Crossing immortal as part of Tokyo’s identity.

5A stop north of Shibuya (渋谷) along the Yamanote Line (山手線) brings us to Harajuku (原宿).  Built in 1906, the timber structure of Harajuku is the oldest wooden railway station in Tokyo.  Construction of a new station building is underway in time for 2020’s Tokyo Olympics.  The fate of the original timber building has yet been determined.

6Very popular with teenage shoppers, the pedestrian Takeshita Street (竹下通) is the destination to find cute merchandises aimed for the young generation.

7Takeshita Street (竹下通) is full of cafes, eateries, small shops, and of course young shoppers.

8

9The side streets in Harajuku (原宿) are lined with small shops and boutiques, each carries its own style of decorations and identity.

10Made in Okayama, the small and cozy Full Count denim is one of my favorite shop in the area.  They were the first Japanese denim company to use Zimbabwean cotton.

11It was impossible not to revisit Omotesando (表参道) when I was in the area.  Completed in 2004, SANAA’s Dior Omotesando (ディオール表参道店) looked as cool as ever.  Last time I came in 2014 the building was covered in scaffolding.

12Diagonally across Omotesando (表参道) from SANAA’s Dior, Tadao Ando’s Omotesando Hills, a long and narrow shopping centre, was flooded with a rainbow of LED lights.

13Controversially, Ando’s Omotesando Hills in Aoyama (青山) has replaced the former Bauhaus inspired Dojunkai Aoyama Apartments built in 1927.  A small section of the former apartment has been reconstructed as part of Omotesando Hills.

14Cladded with a weaving system of aluminium, Takenaka’s Stella McCartney on Omotesando (表参道) is a small architectural gem across the street from Herzog de Meuron’s Prada.

15Built in 2003, Herzog de Meuron’s Prada Aoyama (青山) is perhaps the most well known architecture on Omotesando (表参道) .

15aAfter over a decade, the glazing system of Herzog de Meuron’s Prada Aoyama (青山) still matches the essence of contemporary design.

16Further into Aoyama, we reached the Spiral Building on Aoyama Dori.  Completed in 1985, Fumihiko Maki’s building was named after its large spiral ramp.  The complex houses a design shop and cafe, as well as exhibitions.

17Sit against the window on the upper level of the Spiral Building and look at the urban scenery outside along Aoyama Dori is peaceful and relaxing.

18The new star at Softbank Omotesando (ソフトバンク表参道) near Harajuku Station was the humanoid robots called Pepper.

19In a sleek white appearance and the ability to interact with users, the Pepper humanoid robots were fun to play with.  As population aging emerges as a huge issue in Japan, humanoid robots may soon become a household necessity in the future.

LIBRARY IN THE WOODS, Tsutaya Bookstore, Daikanyama (代官山), Tokyo (東京), Japan

Named by some books and magazines as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, the T-Site by Tsutaya Books is the biggest attraction in the affluent neighborhood of Daikanyama (代官山).  Designed by Tokyo firm Klein Dytham Architecture in collaboration with communication and graphic designer Kenya Hara and designer Tomoko Ikegai, the T-Site is an architectural gem in Tokyo.  A web-like facade system resembles a layer of white lace wrapping the three box-like buildings.  Intended to create a “Library in the Woods”, the three bookstore buildings is connected by a 55m “Magazine Street” on the ground floor and surrounded by lush green vegetation.  A cafe is provided on the ground floor with views of the outdoor greenery.  A more upscale lounge is located on the upper level surrounded by bookshelves holding different series of architectural and design magazines.  Other than books, stationery merchandise are also impeccably displayed under atmospheric lighting.  While we were there, T-Site was full of shoppers.  Compared to many bookstores around the world struggling to survive in today’s digital era, T-Site is certainly a great success story.

1The approach to the entrance of the T-Site resembles a short walk to a garden pavilion.

2The web-like facade system resembles a layer of lace fabric made of uncounted “T”.

3Outdoor spaces between the three bookstore buildings serve as garden courtyards, offering pleasant green views for the interior.

4Covered with vertical strips of highly reflective stainless steel, the bridge linking the bookstore buildings appears like a sculptural feature of the architecture.

5

6The vertical strips of the bridge match perfectly well with the lace-like wall cladding.

7The shadows of the strips offer an interesting experience while crossing the bridge from one building to the other.

8The green view outside and the reflected scenery on the strips create a compelling imagery like an abstract painting.

9Seating in the bookstore offer various pleasant spots for visitors to enjoy a moment of peaceful reading.

10There is a garden behind the three bookstore buildings.  A cluster of interesting shops scatter in the garden, including a camera shop, organic eateries and lifestyle stores.

11The T-Site garden is full of planting.

12Outdoor sculpture can also be found in the garden as well.

13We couldn’t resist but get a bowl of organic vegetable soup from an vending truck.

WAY OF LIVING, Daikanyama (代官山), Tokyo (東京), Japan

Often regarded as the Brooklyn of Tokyo, the highly fashionable and pleasant Daikanyama (代官山) is much more than just an affluent urban neighborhood.  Just a short walk south of the world’s busiest intersection Shibuya (渋谷) crossing, Daikanyama is a totally different world: Sleek cafes or sleepy bistros with a few tables, stylish boutiques and intimate denim shops housed in traditional timber houses, lovely design, camera and music shops, and the exquisite T Site, the flagship bookstore by Tsutaya Books.  A brief stroll in Daikanyama shall make one to contemplate on the way of living and the question on what’s the most desirable lifestyle one possible lead.

1From Ebisu (恵比寿) Station, we found our way into a series of lanes heading towards Daikanyama (代官山).

3We weren’t in a hurry and preferred to wander in the quiet residential streets.  With its bohemian atmosphere, Daikanyama (代官山) is a great place to visit on foot.

4In this affluent neighborhood, some of the houses and shops are interestingly designed according to the character of the owner.  Judging from the exterior appearance of the architecture, one might make a fine guess on what kind of person the owner could be.

5The neighborhood is sleepy, clean, quiet and relaxing.  We finally made our way back out to the beautiful Kyu Yamate Dori (旧山手通り), a tree lined avenue dotted with greenery, boutiques and foreign embassies.

6Buildings along Kyu Yamate Dori (旧山手通り) are quite low key.  This highly reflective building facade introduces the colour palette from the blue sky and white clouds.

7Some owner prefers to dress up the ild building with street art.

8The Kyu Yamate Dori (旧山手通り) is a full of lush green vegetation.

9Full of pleasant courtyards and atmospheric cafe, Hillside Terrace (ヒルサイドテラス) is an intimate shopping complex off the Kyu Yamate Dori (旧山手通り).

10Maison Kitsune, a fashion boutique with the Parisian mood, occupies a former timber house.

11We loved Okura (オクラ), a intimate boutique selling various kinds of clothing and denim made from traditional dyeing process.

12Tenoha Daikanyama is a cool courtyard complex with a fantastic lifestyle shop, Italian restaurant and bar, and an Italian cafe.

13All shops and restaurants at Tenoha open out to the central courtyard where visitors can enjoy the sun in a garden setting.

14The Italian restaurant has a large open kitchen and a proper pizza oven, and big windows out to the central courtyard.

15Another interesting retail cluster in Daikanyama is Logroad.  Logroad is a 220m pathway of shops and restaurants converted from a former railway track.

16The scale at Log Road is intimate.  The entire place is relaxing as if arriving at a wooden cottage away from the city.

17Greenery is everywhere in Log Road. There aren’t too many shops, but the atmosphere is quite laid back.

18The architecture is boxes cladded with vertical timber sidings.

19The path of Log Road extends out to a roof terrace at one end, overlooking the surrounding residential neighborhood.

20There are enough greenery and public furniture at Log Road to offer an intimate garden setting for most visitors.

 

DAY AND NIGHT IN SHINJUKU (新宿), Tokyo (東京), Japan

There are a handful of cities around the world that I have often found reasons to revisit. In Spring 2016, my mother and I had a brief getaway trip to Tokyo (東京).  We shopped, visited galleries, wandered in different neighborhoods, had a self-served grilled oyster dinner, and hopped on a bullet train to Karuizawa (軽井沢) for a day excursion.  In Tokyo, we chose to stay at Shinjuku (新宿), one of the city’s major commercial, administrative and transportation hub whose railway station is renowned as the busiest station in the world with 3.64 million passengers passing through each day.

Japanese office workers have been known for their high level of work related stress.  A daily routine of an office worker begins from the moment when he or she squeezes into a commuter train bounded for the city centre.  After an intense day of office work in an orderly and hierarchical environment, as night falls upon a totally opposite world awaits to unwind the mental tension of office workers.  It is a world of colours, neon lights, chaos and desires, presenting the perfect counterbalance for the rigid real world during the day.  Shinjuku encompasses both ends on the balance: a busy administrative and commercial district by day, and the world famous red light district, shopping paradise and dining wonderland by night.  For any visitor, Shinjuku serves well as a springboard to obtain an introduce about the two faces of Tokyo’s urbanity.

3West Shinjuku, the commercial heart and home of Tokyo’s metropolitan government, is cool, tidy and orderly.

2Design to reference a cocoon, the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower is a highrise educational building by Tange Associates.  Tange Associates was founded by Paul Noritaka Tange, the son of Kenzo Tange (丹下健三), one of the most influential Japanese architect of the 20th Century.

1The concrete tower of one of Japan’s top three insurer, Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Credit Corporation, presents the typically unsympathetic appearance of the modernist architecture in West Shinjuku.

4Designed by Kenzo Tange and opened in 1991, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (東京都庁舎) is home to the metropolitan government of Tokyo.

5A series of bronze statues are erected along the colonnade flanking the civic square in front of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (東京都庁舎).

6While the towers of Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (東京都庁舎) resemble a Gothic cathedral, the square in front reminded me of a Classical colonnade.

7Many buildings in the commercial and civic centre of Shinjuku are finished with either light grey, beige or silver materials, offering a rather monotonous and coherent cityscape for visitors.

8At night, much of the commercial and municipal centre of Shinjuku is deserted, except groups of young dancers who come to practice their dance moves in front of the reflective glass curtain walls.

8aIt is a totally different story just a stone throw away at the east side of Shinjuku Station, where neon lights and large LCD billboards begin to dominate the streetscape as soon as the sun sets.

9In the area of Kabukicho (歌舞伎町), narrow alleyways are lit up by all sort of neon signage and restaurant shopfronts.  The streets get even more crowded as the clock clicks closer to midnight.

11Entrance of the popular Sakura Dori of Kabukicho (歌舞伎町さくら通り) is decorated by a atmospheric gateway and colourful signage.

12Nightclubs and restaurants are everywhere as far as the eye can see.  In order to thrive in such a highly competitive entertainment district, venues sometimes would opt for some sort of creative gimmicks such as the Robot Restaurant, where real robots and humans dressed in robotic costumes would go on stage for performances.

13With the mighty Godzilla head perched over the podium roof, the tall and slender Shinjuku Toho Building (新宿東宝ビル) is a visual icon on the high street of Kabukicho (歌舞伎町).

14Landing on a restaurant for dinner in Kabukicho (歌舞伎町) can be tricky as there are just too many choices.

15The iconic neon gateway of Kabukicho Ichibangai (歌舞伎町一番街), the “Sleepless Town” (眠らない街) of the Japanese capital, is itself an urban monument.

16It wasn’t until the reconstruction after World War II that Kabukicho (歌舞伎町) has gradually became today’s “Sleepless Town” (眠らない街).  The name Kabukicho (歌舞伎町) was first used in 1948, after attempts to bring a Kabuki theatre into this new entertainment area of postwar Tokyo.

17Outside Kabukicho, the Yasukuni Dori (靖国通り) is an important shopping and entertainment avenue of the city.

18Looking back at the gateway of Kabukicho Ichibangai (歌舞伎町一番街) from Yasukuni Dori (靖国通り), the vivid neon lights of the vibrant urban scenery has undoubtedly inspired the imagination of any visitor, as if standing in the futuristic science fiction movie set of Blade Runner.

AUTUMN FOG, SILVER GRASS AND STONE HUTS, Sunset Peak (大東山), Lantau Island (大嶼山), Hong Kong

At 869m above sea level, Sunset Peak (大東山) on Lantau Island (大嶼山) is the third tallest mountain in Hong Kong.  Situated east of Lantau Peak (鳳凰山, 2nd tallest), and west of Lin Fa Shan (蓮花山, 6th tallest) and Yi Tung Shan (二東山, 7th tallest), Sunset Peak is at the centre of the mountainous area on the island.  Sunset Peak is very popular with hikers in the autumn, when much of the mountain would be covered with golden miscanthus, or silver grass.  Other than the golden grass, the mysterious stone cabins dated to the 1920’s near the summit area between Yi Tung shan and Sunset Peak also draw the attention of visitors.  Probably built by foreign missionary in Southern China who came to Lantau for the annual summer retreat, the two dozen or so stone cabins known as Lantau Mountain Camp (爛頭營) reveal the once thriving retreat community on the remote mountain on Lantau.

DSC_8195There are numerous ways to hike up Sunset Peak.  We chose to begin our walk from Nam Shan (南山) Campsite near Mui Wo (梅窩).  The trail gradually went upwards with uneven stone steps.

DSC_8250The miscanthus, or silver grass (芒草), started to dominate the landscape at half way up the mountain.  Soon we were embraced by fog.  The higher we went, the foggier it became.

DSC_8251It became quite wet and misty as we approached Yi Tung Shan (二東山).

DSC_8257On the route from Yi Tung Shan (二東山) to Sunset Peak (大東山), the stone cabins known as Lantau Mountain Camp (爛頭營) emerged from the fog.  In the fog, it was difficult to tell how many stone cabins were actually there.

DSC_8286Silver grass (芒草) was so dense in the summit area.  We followed some of the narrow paths in the sea of grass to reach a few of the stone cabins.

DSC_8297Some said the stone cabins were summer retreat camps of foreigners who lived in Southern China.  Originally built in 1925, the cabins were damaged during the Second War World and were subsequently repaired after the war.

DSC_8304After the war, the stone cabins were managed by missionary organizations and the Lantau Mountain Camp Resident’s Associations.  These historical cabins are now under a new threat from the overwhelming numbers of visitors and campers who would climb on the roof for photos or leave behind piles of rubbish.

DSC_8309On Sunset Peak, third tallest mountain in Hong Kong, there were no golden sunset as the name suggested.  Instead, it was a unique imagery of autumn fog, silver grass and historical stone cabins.

DSC_8327Surrounded by the taller-than-human silver grass (芒草), it was easy to lose one’s bearings and walk in circles.

DSC_8367Time was getting late.  We decided to move on the trail downhill towards Pak Kung Au (伯公坳), the mountain pass between Lantau Peak and Sunset Peak.

DSC_8377From then on it was all uneven steps downwards.

DSC_8419It was a tiring descend until our legs started to shake a bit from time to time.

DSC_8435The sky was dark and we could briefly see the coastline of Cheung Sha Beach.

DSC_8439The downhill walk was dominated by the view of Lantau Peak (鳳凰山) to the west.

DSC_8477A little sun break as we went for the final descend to Pak Kung Au (伯公坳).

DSC_8497Despite the sun break, the summit of Lantau Peak was still concealed in thick clouds.

DSC_8484Bidding farewell to the Sunset Peak, we passed by the last patch of silver grass (芒草) near Pak Kung Au (伯公坳).  At Pak Kung Au, it wasn’t easy to get on a bus as most were already full.  After a few packed one, we managed to hop on a bus heading to Tung Chung (東涌).

 

 

CLEAR WATER AND SEAFOOD COVE, Clear Water Bay (清水灣) and Po Toi O (布袋澳), Hong Kong

South of Sai Kung and east of Tseung Kwan O, the lush green Clear Water Bay Peninsula (清水灣半島) separates Junk Bay (將軍澳) and Port Shelter (牛尾海).  With its natural and relaxed setting, uncounted opportunities for outdoor activities, and a number of low dense residential neighborhoods, Clear Water Bay ( is popular among expats and anyone who loves nature.  Clear Water Bay (‘s two beaches, High Junk Peak (釣魚翁) country trail, the cove of Po Toi O, sleepy villages and the surrounding turquoise water make it a great alternative for outdoor adventures to the more popular Sai Kung.  With just a bus ride away from Kowloon, Clear Water Bay offers the opportunity for a quick dose of nature for Hong Kong’s city dwellers.  It was rather late by the time I get off the bus at the second beach of Clear Water Bay.  I chose to enter the High Junk Peak country trail at Ha Shan Tuk (蝦山篤) and do a short hike to the fishing village of Po Toi O (布袋澳).

 

DSC_1884I entered Clear Water Bay’s High Junk Peak Country Trail at the Tai O Mun Road (大坳門路) entrance.  The Chinese name of High Junk Peak is 釣魚翁, which means “Fisherman” or a Common Kingfisher (釣魚翁鳥).  In reference to the Kingfisher bird, a sculpture is erected at the trail entrance.

DSC_1889On the slope of Ha Shan Tuk (蝦山篤), a visitor was having fun with his remote controlled mini-plane against the scenic backdrop of Clear Water Bay.

DSC_1896To the west of Ha Shan Tuk (蝦山篤) is South East New Territories Landfill (新界東南堆填區) and the new residential developments at Lohas Park (日出康城) and Tseung Kwan O (將軍澳).  Completed in 1993, the South East New Territories Landfill is pretty much filled up.  Waste disposal and running out of landfills is one of the city’s toughest and most urgent issues needed to resolve.

DSC_1900Looking east, the view opened up to Clear Water Bay Club and Steep Island beyond.

DSC_1903Atop the hill above Po Toi O lies the golf course of Clear Water Bay Country Club.

DSC_1904Eastwards beyond Clear Water Bay stand a number of islands close to the shore.  Beyond that is the vast open sea until Taiwan.

DSC_1910Because of There are many fish farms in the area.

DSC_1920In a distance, the mighty High Junk Peak (釣魚翁) stands proudly over Clear Water Bay.  It is one of the three treacherous Peaks (the others are Sai Kung’s Sharp Peak (蚺蛇尖) and Tuen Mun’s Castle Peak (青山).  It is also considered to be one of the three sharp peaks of Sai Kung, with the other two being Sharp Peak (蚺蛇尖) and Tai Yue Ngam Teng (睇魚岩頂).

DSC_1929From above, the tranquil Po Toi O (布袋澳) is a lovely fishing village.  Referring to its physical appearance, Po Toi O’s name literally means a fabric sack.

DSC_1949The fish farms and the village of Po Toi O (布袋澳) look neat below the Clear Water Bay  Country Club.

DSC_1956.JPGFounded in 1266 by Lam Tao Yi  (林道義), the Tin Hau Temple in Joss House Bay (佛堂門天后古廟) is Hong Kong’s oldest Tin Hau temple.

DSC_1968Fish farms are still in operations at Po Toi O, a popular village for seafood meals.

DSC_1972The village of Po Toi O is one of the places in Hong Kong where a laid back atmosphere dominates.

DSC_1976In Po Toi O, two heritage buildings stand out from the rest: the Hung Shing Temple (1663) and Kung So (公所) in 1740.

DSC_1979There are two seafood restaurants in Po Toi O.

DSC_1988The village homes at Po Toi O are simple houses made of bamboos, timber, and metal sheets.

DSC_1997At the village exit, a large neon sign of “Seafood Island Restaurant” is erected near the minibus station.