ultramarinus – beyond the sea

2017 Tokyo

A STROLL IN NAKAMEGURO (中目黒) AND DAIKANYAMA (代官山), Tokyo, Japan

Only 15 minutes of walk separates Nakameguro (中目黒) and Daikanyama (代官山), two pleasant residential neighborhoods close to Shibuya and Ebisu.  Last year in 2016, I made my first visit to Daikanyama, and was immediately captivated by its elegance as an upscale residential and shopping area.  This time, we ventured further south towards Meguro River into the neighborhood of Nakameguro.  While Nakameguro is not as established as Daikanyama, its charm as a hip and lovely residential and shopping area has become quite well known to both the locals and foreign visitors.  Our stroll in Nakameguro and Daikanyama began at Higashi-yama Restaurant, where we had a fine lunch.  Then we found our way to the Meguro River, a canal like waterway that used to be an awful stream filled with industrial waste before the 1980s.  The fate of Nakameguro changed its course after the government cleaned up the river in the late 1980s.  Since then the first group of hipsters moved in, and soon trendy cafes, boutiques and residential developments mushroomed along the Meguro River, and gradually transformed the area into one of the most desirable residential neighborhood in Tokyo.  We walked along the river and stopped by a number of shops, before heading over to Sarugakucho (猿楽町) of Daikanyama for a revisit of the magnificent T-Site and the nearby boutiques.  Literally means “monkey fun town”, Sarugakucho of Daikanyama is a popular spot in Tokyo simply to enjoy life: unique fashion boutiques, coffee shops, bookstores, hair salons, organic vendors, furniture and design shops, etc.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Meguro River seems like a canal with peaceful and clear water.

02As the government cleaned up Meguro River, the character of Nakameguro was completely transformed into a pleasant residential neighborhood and a concentration of interesting shops, cafes and restaurants.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany shops along Meguro River are catered to serve the immediate community of local residents, such as hair salons.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOr local eateries…

05Considered as one of the star attractions in the area, COW Books in Nakameguro has a charming collection of rare and out-of-print books.

06Blue Blue, a unique clothing store owned by Seilin & Co. Hollywood Ranch Market selling a wide range of garments that combines traditional indigo dyeing and contemporary fashion.

07Over at Daikanyama, shops are more concentrated in a clusters of narrow streets of Sarugakucho near T-Site, the famous Tsutaya Bookstore and its garden of shops.   UES Jeans is a small boutique that sells high quality denim.  They believe a garment should be fully used till the end of the product’s life.  The name “UES” is derived from the word “waste”, with reference to the Japanese habit of reusing old clothes for dust cloths at the end of the garment’s life.

08Designed by architect Akihisa Hirata in 2007, Sarugaku is a cluster of six commercial blocks surrounding a valley-like courtyard in a narrow site.

09At Sarugakucho, we couldn’t resist to check out Okura (オクラ), one of the most popular boutiques in the area.  Under the same mother company as Nakameguro’s Blue Blue, Okura is renowned for their garments that perfectly combine traditional indigo dyeing and tailor techniques with contemporary fashion trends and functions.

10Maison Kitsune is another unique boutique in Sarugakucho.  Maison Kitsune represents a success story of international collaboration.  It is founded by French electornic musician Gildas Loaec and Japanese architect Masaya Kuroki, in an attempt to create a brand under the intertwining influences of music and fashion.  “Kitsune” is the Japanese word for “fox”, representing a character of versatility and the power of changing appearance.

11Our brief afternoon walk of Daikanyama ended at the T-Site, the garden retail complex behind Tsutaya Bookstore.

12Other than Tsutaya Bookstore, the stylish restaurant Ivy Place is the main focus in the T-Site.

13At the T-Site, the primary attraction is definitely the Tsutaya Bookstore.  It was our second time to visit this beautiful bookstore.  Similar to my first visit a year ago, we were delighted to find that every corner of the complex was enjoyed by customers of all sorts.

15To us, Tsutaya and the T-Site represents an ideal venue to spend a Sunday afternoon.

17It was getting dark as we left Daikanyama.  We leisurely walked back to our hotel in Shibuya to take a little break before dinner.

 


HIGASHI-YAMA RESTAURANT, near Nakameguro (中目黒), Tokyo, Japan

After Ebisu, our next stop was Higashi-yama Restaurant in Nakameguro (中目黒).  In a quiet residential street in Higashi-yama 15 minutes walk from Nakameguro Station, Higashi-yama Restaurant was well hidden from the street.  We came across this restaurant from our online research.  We were attracted by the minimalist food presentation and the atmospheric interior setting.  We reserved a table for lunch through their website two weeks prior to our departure.  After the traditional Kaiseki experience at Ueno Park the day before, we were hoping that Higashi-yama would offer us a contemporary interpretation of Japanese cuisine.  “A detached house located in Higashi-yama, Meguro-ku, Tokyo, away from the clamor of the city, and be a place where people meet and discuss what matters most to them, a place where new communication is born.”  According to the description on their website, the story of this tranquil spot in Tokyo’s Higashi-yama where people come and chat and enjoy modern Japanese food all began in 1998.  Our experience of Higashi-yama began at a narrow stairway off the street.

01A flight of steps led us away from a residential street up to a hidden courtyard.

02Well hidden from the street, the entrance courtyard offers a serene buffer between the street and the restaurant.  The courtyard served well to decant our souls of hastiness and calm down our hearts (as we were almost late for the booking).

03The interior of the restaurant is simple and unpretentious, with traditional Japanese dark timber millwork in a bright and simple setting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA tall shelf displaying wine and sake anchors one corner of the interior.

05Wood is such an important material in Japanese culture, from table, chopsticks to chopstick holders.

06The appetizer consisted of eight ingredients fresh to the season.

07Both the taste and the beautiful presentation of the food matched with the overall ambience of the restaurant.

08One of the main dish we ordered was the grilled snapper.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe other main we chose was the tempura seasonal ingredients.

10After the tasty appetizers and main dishes, we were led by the staff downstairs via a beautiful and modern stair.

12The water feature by the stairwell seems like a contemporary interpretation of a chōzubachi water basin in front of a zen tea house.

13We were led to a comfortable sitting area for dessert.

14Mocha pudding and mango ice-cream came went well with hot Japanese tea.

15An interesting copper sculpture was mounted on the wall over our head.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOpposite to our sitting area, a staff was preparing tea and chatting with another customer by a high counter.

17 After dessert, we paid the bill and were led to exit the building through a copper door directly back to the street.  Overall, Higashi-yama Restaurant offered us a fine experience, with good food to satisfy our taste-buds and a zen and minimalist environment to sooth our souls.

 


YEBISU GARDEN PLACE AND TOKYO PHOTOGRAPHIC ART MUSEUM, Ebisu (恵比寿), Tokyo, Japan

On the second day, we decided to stay close to the area around Shibuya.  We hopped on the Yamanote Line and went one stop over to Ebisu (恵比寿).  Known as the God of Fishermen and Luck, Ebisu is a popular divinity in Japanese mythology.  It was then used by Japan Beer Brewery Company to come up with the brand of Yebisu Beer back in 1890.  Established their production facilities near Meguro, Yebisu Beer is one of the oldest beer brand in Japan.  In the modern era, the train station and the surrounding community was named after the brewery as Ebisu.  In 1988, the beer brewery were moved to a new location.  The original brewery site at Ebisu was then transformed into a commercial complex consisted of office towers, retail, and museums known as the Yebisu Garden Place.  The Western architectural style create a unique atmosphere, attracting young couples and the local community to dine, shop and relax.

Many tourists go to Yebisu Garden Place to visit the Museum of Yebisu Beer.  We came specifically to visit Tokyo Photographic Art Museum (TOP Museum).  Opened in 1995, the museum is known as the only public museum in Japan dedicated to photography.  The museum has recently gone through two years of extensive renovations.  Three wall display of world famous photographs marked the museum entrance at the end of a  colonnade.  Three exhibitions were on and we opted to see them all.  The first one was “20 Year Anniversary TOP Collection: Scrolling Through Heisei Part 1”, a selection of works taken by Japanese photographers during the present Heisei era (平成).  The second was Museum Bhavan by Dayanita Singh, a renowned female photographer who captures the various faces and colours of the magnificently complicated Indian society.  The third was World Press Photo 17, the annual award event to compliment a selection of works by the world’s photojournalists in the past year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Yebisu Garden Place offers a lot of pleasant public spaces for the community of Ebisu.

02Two traditional red brick buildings mark the entrance plaza of Yebisu Garden Place.

01Many people arrived at Yebisu Garden Place about the same time as we did, probably going to work.

05We arrived at Yebisu Garden Place in the morning at around 9am.  We had breakfast at one of the cafe near the entrance of Yebisu Garden Place.

5aThe interior of the cafe was causal and sleek.

03Across from the cafe, the Yebisu Beer Museum offers visitors a glimpse of the history of Japanese beer.  While a Mitsukoshi department store occupies the opposite side of the entrance square.

 

06A barrel vault atrium and a gentle ramp frame the central axis of Yebisu Garden Place, with the Chateau Restaurant Joël Robuchon at the terminus.

07We then walked under the canopy to the airy Central Square.

08The design of Yebisu Garden Place is dominated by classical layout and axial arrangement.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAClassical architectural elements include the colonnades that appear in a number of locations in the complex.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the Central Square, there were benches painted with playful patterns that marked the 20th anniversary of the complex.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYebisu Garden Place is frequented with locals.  We saw a few who came dressed in traditional garments.

11The Chateau Restaurant Joël Robuchon is a famous luxurious venue in the area of Ebisu.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur main reason coming to Yebisu Garden Place was the TOP Museum (Tokyo Photographic Art Museum), formerly known as the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography.

14The entrance colonnade of the TOP Museum offers visitors a pleasant approach.

15Shōji Ueda (植田正治)’s Sand Dune and My Wife III (妻のいる砂丘風景III) , an iconic Robert Capa’s D-Day shots, and Robert Doisneau’s Le baiser de l’hotel de ville (Kiss by the Hotel de Ville) provide a dramatic setting for the museum entrance.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe stayed at the museum for about two hours, seeing three exhibitions including “20 Year Anniversary TOP Collection: Scrolling Through Heisei Part 1”, Dayanita Singh’s Museum Bhavan, and World Press Photo 17.  The TOP Museum is a fantastic cultural institution for anyone who love photography.  It offers temporary exhibitions on four levels of museum spaces.

 


KAIKAYA BY THE SEA (開花屋), Shibuya (渋谷), Tokyo, Japan

Everyone who has visited Tokyo would probably admit that he/she was  spoiled by the abundance of dining options while staying in the Japanese capital.  For us, it was actually quite challenging to pin down a place to eat near our hotel in Shibuya, because there were simply too many options (6,866 restaurants in Shibuya alone listed on the tourist website Tripadvisor).  We began our trip research about two weeks prior departure.  We checked guidebooks, searched travel websites and read online blogs, and came up with a short list of places to visit and eat.  The name Kaikaya By The Sea (開花屋), a popular seafood restaurant at Shibuya, came up multiple times during our research.  Tempted by their highly recommended seafood, we made a table reservation at Kaikaya for our first evening.  After our visit to Ueno and St Mary’s Cathedral, we made it back to Shibuya right on time to Kaikaya By The Sea at 18:30.

 

01Kaikaya By The Sea is located west of Central Shibuya, in a small street west of the shopping centre of Shibuya Mark City.  The “fishy” mural under the shop awning introduces a sense of seaside relaxation to the small urban alleyway of Shibuya.

02The restaurant vestibule is decorated with lots of visitor photos.

03The setting was causal and relax with interesting sea and food related decorations throughout the interior.

04The door handle reminded me of a bowl of seafood soup.

05From his years of surfing, the owner of Kaikaya By The Sea maintains close connections with fishermen working by the sea.  Fish is brought in fresh directly from Sagami Bay (相模湾).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe menu at Kaikaya is quite creative and diverse, from local Japanese sashimi to fusion seafood dishes, and so as the visitors from local customers to foreign tourists.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKaikaya By The Sea is cozy and full of personal touches of the owner.

08An English leaflet introduces a few of their feature dishes.  We ended up trying the Tuna Spareribs recommended by the staff.

09Our first dish was a plate of very fresh assorted sashimi.

10The second dish was broiled live tiger prawns prepared in Hong Kong style.  Again, freshness was the key and we could clearly taste the sweetness of the prawn meat.

11Then came the in-house specialty tuna spareribs.  They are actually baked marinaded tuna jaw.  The dish was quite a pleasant surprise to us as we didn’t know what to expect.

12Six pieces of fatty tuna (maguro toro) sushi, pickled ginger and fresh wasabi root.  A leaf shaped grinder was given for us to DIY the wasabi paste.  The toro was so soft as if melted right after we put it into our mouth.

13Fresh octopus with rock salt and fresh lemon allowed us to taste the freshness and tenderness of the octopus.

14Despite we had already eaten a lot, we couldn’t resist and asked for the dessert menu.

15Outside the kitchen of Kaikaya By The Sea.

16It was already dark by the time we finished our delicious seafood dinner.

17We took a causal stroll in the area and found our way back to Central Shibuya.

18We then walked through the shopping centre of Shibuya Mark City and Shibuya Hikarie to return to our hotel and called it a day.


ST MARY’S CATHEDRAL (東京カテドラル聖マリア大聖堂), Tokyo, Japan

After Ueno Park, we still have time to visit another place before our 18:30 dinner reservation back in Shibuya.  West from Ueno, we took the metro to the residential neighborhood of Sekiguchi in Bunkyo District.  We stepped into the peaceful residential streets of Sekiguchi, and used Google Map to find our way to St. Mary’s Cathedral, the seat of Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Tokyo.  Apart from its religious significance, the cathedral building is also a masterpiece of modernist architecture designed by renowned Japanese architect Kenzo Tange (丹下健三).  The cathedral was completed in 1964, about the same time as Kenzo Tange’s Yoyogi National Gymnasium for the 1964 Olympics.

01The peaceful residential streets of Sekiguchi led us toward’s St. Mary’s Cathedral.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACladded with stainless steel, Kenzo Tange’s St. Mary’s Cathedral replaces its Gothic and wooden predecessor that was destroyed during the Second World War.

03Kenzo Tange’s version of the cathedral was much simpler than a traditional Gothic church.  The essence of the building is expressed through the combination of geometry, lines, shades, and reflections.

04On a plan in the form of a cross, Kenzo Tange extruded eight hyperbolic parabolas upwards to form this unique piece of architecture.

05When seen from above, the cathedral and its skylights would appear exactly in the shape of the cross.

06Reaching 61.68m, the bell tower is separated from the main church building.

07The interior of St. Mary’s Cathedral should be a huge surprise for any first time visitors.  The concrete structural shell is fully exposed, providing a minimalist interior where light and shades play the role to create a spiritual atmosphere.

08Benches inside St. Mary’s Cathedral face toward the main altar, behind which stands the tall window extending all the way to the ceiling, then runs across the ceiling to the opposite end of the building.

09The spiral stair behind the seating is a neat feature that goes up the largest organ in Japan.

11The large organ was manufactured by Italian company Mascioni.  We were lucky to experience its beautiful sound when staff were practicing the organ when we were there.

12After a fantastic architectural treat at St. Mary’s Cathedral, we made a short walk in the neighborhood to Zoshigaya Metro Station (雑司が谷駅) for the Fukutoshin Metro back to Shibuya.

13On our way, we passed through the peaceful residential neighborhood of Mejirodai (目白台).

14The afternoon sunlight of the early summer day was brilliant.  The half-hour walk was pleasant and we hardly saw other tourists along the way.


NATIONAL MUSEUM OF WESTERN ART (国立西洋美術館), Ueno Park (上野公園), Tokyo, Japan

Completed in 1959, the National Museum of Western Art is the only building in the Far East designed by modernist architectural maestro Le Corbusier.  In 2016, the museum building has been inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage along with 16 other Le Corbusier’s works such as Villa Savoye, Unite d’habitation Marseille, Notre-Dame-Haut de Ronchamp, Chandigarh Capitol Complex, etc.  We came for the modernist architecture, although many paintings and sculptures on display by world renowned artists were quite interesting too.

01Precast concrete panels were used as the main cladding material for the museum.

02We were greeted at the front entrance by Émile-Antoine Bourdelle’s Hercules the archer.  Bourdelle was an influential French sculptor in late 19th and early 20th century.

03The Thinker at Tokyo National Museum of Western Art was made after the death of Auguste Rodin.

04The lobby atrium of the museum was a pleasant surprise.  The high volume of the space and the trunk-like columns drew our attention to the unique skylight above.

06A skylight consisted of multiple triangles provides an interesting design feature to the space, and also magnificent indirect lighting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn architectural model provides a sectional view of the atrium and shows the exterior form of the skylight feature.

05At one side of the atrium, a zigzag ramp led all visitors to the main exhibition on the upper level.

08On the upper deck, we could get a clear view of the lobby atrium with its statues.

09Again, the concept of bringing indirect sunlight into the interior was the clear intent from Le Corbusier.  The glazing bulkhead above the paintings provided the main source of ambient light.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe collection of the museum ranges from Renaissance to the modern ages.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe glazing feature brings in indirect sunlight, but it also creates a long bulkhead along one side of the exhibition hall.

12Some of the paintings and statues were interesting, but our focus was always on the architecture itself.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the museum courtyard, we could see the various facade cladding materials used at different periods of expansion.

14At the forecourt, another zigzag ramp supposedly leads visitors to the lower courtyard.  Now the entire area, including the exterior ramp, is closed off.

15After the National Museum of Western Art, we thought we had enough dosage of art and history for the day.  We were quite tired due to the red-eye flight.  We decided to check out another piece of architectural gem in Tokyo, Kenzo Tange’s St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sekiguchi.


TOKYO NATIONAL MUSEUM (東京国立博物館), Ueno Park (上野公園), Tokyo, Japan

After the magnificent lunch bento at Innsyoutei, we followed the main path further into Ueno Park to reach the museum clusters.  Here one can find the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, National Museum of Nature and Science, National Museum of Wester Art, as well as the largest of them all, the Tokyo National Museum.  Established in 1872, the Tokyo National Museum (東京国立博物館) is the oldest and largest Japanese museum.  We didn’t plan to see everything.  We were a little tired from the flight, so we took it easy to explore the museum complex.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Tokyo National Museum is consisted of several buildings: Honkan, Toyokan, Heiseikan, Hyokeikan, etc.  We started with Honkan, the main museum hall.  This present Honkan was designed by Watanabe Jin. The building was completed in 1938 to replace its predecessor designed by British architect Josiah Conder.  The former building was severely damaged in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.

02There are two main levels in the Honkan.  We walked up the grand staircase to the upper level to begin our visit.

03Beautiful amours of samurai and shogunate were some of the most impressive artefacts in the museum.

04The “Fujin and Raijin”or the Wind and Thunder God by Ogata Korin reminded us our visit to Kyoto’s Kenninji Temple (建仁寺), the original location of the screen.  At Kenninji, we saw a replica of the famous screen.

05The Yaksha Generals (12 Heavenly Generals) is one of the most impressive display in the historical sculpture collection.

06Architectural drawings by British architects from the 19th century reveal the popularity of Western culture in Japan during the Meiji Period.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHistorical photograph of a Japanese samurai taken in 1862.

08At Honkan, there is a room opens to the garden behind the museum.  The room is decorated with exquisite mosaic and plastered motifs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA traditional telephone matches well with the historical decor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA garden of traditional pavilion and reflective pool provided some fresh air during our museum visit.  Unfortunately the pavilion was inaccessible from the museum.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAApart from sculptures, paintings and photographs, historical textiles and garments also provided us a glimpse of the old Japan.

12The museum shop at Honkan is beautiful designed.  A gentle passageway ramps up to the upper mezzanine.  Along the ramp stands a low wall of book display.

13After Honkan, we walked to the adjacent Toyokan Building.  Toyokan houses a few levels of artifacts and artworks from Asia and the Middle East.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Chinese and Korean exhibits reveal the close linkage between the cultures of the Far East.

15The Toyokan also contains some interesting pieces from Egypt and the Near East.  After visiting Honkan and Toyokan, we had a little more understanding on the heritage of Japan, and felt it was time to check out the other museums in Ueno Park.  So we exited the Tokyo National Museum, passed by a gigantic model of a blue whale in front of the National Museum of Nature and Science and headed towards the National Museum of Western Art.