ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Architecture

DAY 6 (4/6): RAINY AFTERNOON IN AINOKURA (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山), Nanto (南砺市), Toyama Prefecture (富山県), Japan, 2018.05.30

45 minutes of bus ride took us deeper into the valley of Gokayama (五箇山) in Toyama Prefecture.  Our destination was Ainokura (相倉), one of the three villages with Gassho-zukuri houses inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.  Rain continued to pour down when we get off at Ainokuraguchi (相倉口) bus stop.  We had no choice but to brave the elements and walk uphill into the village from the country highway.  It took about 5 minutes to reach the village parking lot, and another 5 minutes to reach our guesthouse.  After checking in, we rested a bit until the rain subsided a little.

Sandwiched between dense forests on a hill and the Sho River (庄川) that runs in a deep valley, Ainokura is a situated on a narrow plain surrounded by forests and mountains.  With about about 30 preserved gassho-zukuri houses, the 450-year old village remains a quiet rural community with about 90 inhabitants as of 1994.  The region around Ainokura was nearly impenetrable until 1925, when a road was built through the surrounding forests.  Once a stronghold of silkworm production before the 1950s, the village has since become a self-sufficient rural community filled with rice paddies and flower fields.  Today, a few houses are open to visitors as museums or guesthouses, but most of the village remain private, unlike Ogimachi of Shirakawa-go where most houses have been converted into tourism-related uses.  The view of Ainokura from the adjacent hill may be less dramatic than the one from the Shiroyama Observatory Deck at Ogimachi, yet wandering in the remote village of Gokayama offers a much more tranquil and delightful experience as if going back in time.DSC_7861The rain was at times heavy as we entered Ainokura in mid afternoon.

DSC_7791Mist and clouds lingered around the surrounding mountains of Ainokura as we entered the village.

DSC_7923After a five minute walk from Ainokuraguchi (相倉口) bus stop, we reached the main parking lot of the village and a small visitor centre.

DSC_7826Rice paddies of different sizes and shapes filled up all the spaces between village homes.

DSC_7932Most gassho-zukuri houses remain as private homes of villagers.

DSC_7777One of the gassho-zukuri houses at the village centre is turned into a souvenir shop.

DSC_7782On a high ground at the village centre stands the Jinushi Shrine (地主神社), a Shinto shrine in the shade of tall trees.

DSC_7783Adjacent to the Jinushi Shrine (地主神社), a stepped path leads to a stone monument to commemorate the visit of a royal prince.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASonen-ji Temple (相念寺) is a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist temple at the heart of Ainokura.

DSC_7953Jodo Shinshu Buddhism (浄土真宗) is a school of Pure Land Buddhism. It is the most popular branch of Buddhism in Japan.

DSC_7960The Sonen-ji Temple (相念寺) building was completed in 1859.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn Ainokura, there are several designated viewpoints, mostly on the slope or farming terraces right by the village.

DSC_7804We walked up to a few farming terraces to look for a desirable viewpoint for the village’s overview.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome viewpoints required us to walk further uphill into the dense forest adjacent to Ainokura.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe followed a series of signs to reach the highest viewpoint uphill.  The walk took about 15 minutes on a narrow paved road.

DSC_7867From the openings between trees, we could enjoy beautiful birdeye’s views of Ainokura.

DSC_7842From above, we could truly appreciated the thatched roofs of Ainokura, which are steeper than the ones in Shirakawa-go due to the heavier snowfall in Gokayama.

DSC_7857We truly sensed the remoteness of Ainokura with its surrounding mountains.

DSC_7769We wandered around Ainokura between periods of rain, but we didn’t entered any museums.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the end of the village near our guesthouse, a downhill road led us to a large piece of mirror-like rice paddy.  Sunlight was fading, reminding us that dinner was about to start at our guesthouse.

 

 

 

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DAY 6 (2/6): OGIMACHI IN THE RAIN, Shirakawa-go (白川郷), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県), Japan, 2018.05.30

The illuminated Gassho-zukuri village houses blanketed in thick layer of snow make a fairy tale like postcard scenery have attracted visitors from close and afar, making Shirakawa-go an extremely popular tourist attraction at specific winter weekends.  Situated in the remote snow county of the Japanese Alps, gassho rural regions such as Shirakawa-go (白川郷) and Gokayama (五箇山) have been historically isolated from the outside world.  A unique rural lifestyle and special vernacular architecture have been developed in the past few centuries to tackle the snowy and wet climate of the mountains.  Gassho-zukuri (合掌造り集落), which literally means “hands in prayer”, refers to the exceptionally steep thatch roofs of the regional farmhouses due to the heavy snowfall of the area.  These steep roofs have become a unique symbol of the region.  In 1995, three of these remote Gassho-zukuri villages: Ogimachi in Shirakawa-go (荻町), Suganuma (菅沼) and Ainokura (相倉) in Gokayama were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Due to its proximity to Hida-Takayama, most visitors opt for a day trip (or half-day trip) to visit Shirakawa-go.  Few would venture farther into Gokayama and even less so would stay the night at one of the mountain villages.  In recent years, a number of the centuries old Gassho-zukuri farmhouses have been transformed into guesthouses, allowing visitors to experience the villages’ unique beauty and tranquility after the departure of the daytrippers.  Being the largest and most accessible Gassho-zukuri village, Ogimachi of Shirakawa-go is the most developed in terms of its tourist facilities.  A number of its old farmhouses have been converted into museums, restaurants and souvenir shops.  There is even an area called Gasshozukuri Minkaen Outdoor Museum, where historical farmhouses have been relocated and grouped into an open air museum.  Taking the 8:25am bus from Takayama, we arrived at Shirakawa-go bus station in about an hour.  When we arrived at one of Japan’s most picturesque farming village, steady rain kept on coming down with no end in sight.  We stored our backpacks in a locker at the bus station, picked up a village map and bought a transparent umbrella from the tourist office, and off we went to explore touristy yet charming Ogimachi of Shirakawa-go.

DSC_7465Just outside the bus station, we had our first peek of the rural charm of Shirakawa-go.  Rhythmical rain drops rippled across the flooded paddy field of lush green rice seedlings.

DSC_7471Despite the rain, we were delighted to enter the tranquil world of Ogimachi.

DSC_7477It was 9:20am.  Not too many tourists were around.  We stopped by the pond of waterlilies in front of Wada Residence, one of the largest gassho style house in the village.

DSC_7478Ogimachi has a extensive network of irrigation channels.  Visitors may occasionally find carps in the water.

DSC_7518A row of cute scarecrows offer an amusing background for photos, and a friendly reminder of Ogimachi’s rural past.

DSC_7493Straw from farm crops are harvested in the autumn, dried as a snow fence around the gassho style house, and used to repair the thatched roof in the spring or autumn.  Due to the need of a large labour force, neighbors in the village would come over to help on repairing the thatched roof.

DSC_7621Many gassho style houses, including the Yamaainoie Residence (山峡の家), have been converted into cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops or guesthouses.

DSC_7635The small gassho style house serves as a charming little cafe with splendid views of rice patties.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe entrance of the cafe is decorated with plant pots, wood lattice and a “thinker” statue.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn 1961, the construction of Miboro Dam at Sho River in Takayama was completed.  several villages and shrines were submerged, along with about half of the surviving Gassho-zukuri houses.

DSC_7622Today, the biggest concentration of Gassho-zukuri houses are found in Ogimachi, Ainokura, and Suganuma.  Important structures, such as the Myozen-ji Temple in Ogimachi, have become rare survivors from the bygone period.

DSC_7628Thatched roof repair works can still be seen in Ogimachi of Shirakawa-go.

DSC_7627The steep angle of the thatched roof of the Gassho-zukuri houses help to prevent snow accumulation, though people, especially outside visitors, have to be cautious of the falling snow below the roof.

DSC_7624A number of Gassho-zukuri houses in Ogimachi of Shirakawa-go have been turned into guesthouses.

DSC_7755Fire hydrants are important in the farming village because of the combustibility of the Gassho-zukuri houses.

DSC_7754Because of the rain, the mountains beyond Ogimachi were covered in beautiful mist while we were there.

DSC_7749Newer houses in a distinct architectural style can also be found in the village.

DSC_7631Due to the unique appearance of the Gassho-zukuri houses and it natural setting, Ogimachi of Shirakawa-go is often considered one of the most picturesque farming village in Japan.

 

 


DAY 5 (4/5): YOSHIJIMA HOUSE (吉島家住宅), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県), Japan, 2018.05.29

Other than the Hida beef and sake, the other two places we planned to visit in Takayama were the Miyagawa Morning Market (宮川朝市) and Yoshijima House (吉島家住宅).  According to guidebooks, for anyone who are interested in architecture and design, Yoshijima House is a must-go in Takayama.  The Yoshijima House has been published in various design magazines and is considered an excellent example of machiya or traditional townhouse architecture of the Hida region.  Built in 1907 by master carpenter Nishida Isaburo (西田伊三郎), the student of the fourth Mizuma Sagami (水間相模), the timber house of Yoshijima exemplifies the supreme craftsmanship of the traditional Hida carpentry.  Today, the house is designated as a national important cultural property and a popular tourist attraction.  From Sanmachi Suji (三町筋) or the old town, Yoshijima House is just a few blocks to the north beyond a water channel.

 

DSC_7098The sugitama (杉玉) outside of Yoshijima House reveals its original identity as a well known sake breweries in Takayama.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom outside, a traditional outer wall conceals the inner garden of the Yoshijima House.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeyond the entrance vestibule, we entered into a large and airy hall.  The middle part of the hall with hard flooring indicated where the sake shop was once situated, whereas the raised tatami areas belonged to the living spaces of the Yoshijima family.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were told by the museum staff to take the wooden stair and visit the upper level first.

DSC_7106On the upper level, we walked through a series of tatami spaces.  These spaces were used by the children of the family back in the old days.

DSC_7109The simplicity of design details and building materials express a sense of minimalism that is still dominating Japanese architectural design.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOccasional design elaborations such as the painted cupboard panels provide a touch of artistic beauty and focus.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Level difference is being used as a means to define two separated spaces.

DSC_7117The wood stairs are beautiful but a little steep.

DSC_7125Small architectural details throughout the building  highlight the level of family status and quality of the carpentry.

DSC_7122The ground floor of Yoshijima House reveals the flexibility of partitioning in a traditional Japanese house.  All rooms are interconnected with sliding doors, allowing utmost freedom for space planning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is no specific function for each 6-tatami room.  When a table is set up in the tatami room then it will become a dining room.  And when bedding is arranged, the same room will be transformed into a bedroom.

DSC_7127When all sliding panels are removed, the ground floor will become one large space for special uses.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALike many Japanese houses, a courtyard flanked with verandas provides pleasant semi-outdoor spaces for the house users.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring our visit, artworks and magazines about the Yoshijima House were on displayed at the former sake making and storage area, where beautiful jazz music was playing in the background.

DSC_7133The most famous feature of the Yoshijima House is the prominent posts and beams at the main hall.  The spaces with the charcoal brazier set were used as living and dining room for the family.

DSC_7150The high windows allow light to create a pleasant ambience at the main hall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe beauty of wood is essential to the interiors of the house.  The wood beams and posts are covered with thin layer of lacquer, and have been periodically polished with cloth by the family since completion.

DSC_7157The antique clock on the wall reminded us the Meiji Era at the turning of the 20th century when Japan opened its doors to welcome Western technologies and knowledge and went through a rapid process of modernization.


DAY 2 (4/5): FROM MATSUMOTO (松本) TO KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Nagano Prefecture (長野県), Japan, 2018.05.26

With a population of less than 250,000, peaceful Matsumoto (松本市) is renowned for its beautiful mountain views, in particular the Hida Mountains to the west.  Coming from Tokyo, we could immediately sense the relaxing air of the mountain city as we stepped out the train station.  We spent 5 hours in Matsumoto, visiting the castle, art museum, and performing arts centre.  All three sites were within walking distance from the train station, and we were able to cover everything on foot.  Near the castle, we passed by small weekend markets where vendors were selling snacks, handicrafts, straw hats, accessories, local produces, artworks, etc.  Our brief stay in Matsumoto provided us a moment of transition between busy Tokyo and tranquil Kamikochi (上高地) in the Japanese Alps.

DSC_5957At 09:40 we arrived at Matsumoto Station (松本駅) by JR East’s Super Azusa.

DSC_5958It was Saturday morning.  Most shops near the station had yet open their doors except this sake store.  Sake, the popular Japanese rice wine, is in fact quite famous in Nagano Prefecture, where clean water, good sake rice and cool weather can be found.

DSC_6062With red polka dots all over, the Town Sneaker bus is undoubtedly designed by Yayoi Kusama (草間彌生), the world renowned artist from Matsumoto.  This inner city loop service is a convenient way for tourists to get around the city.

DSC_5962In front of the newly opened Shinmai Media Garden, a lively street market captured our attention.  Designed by Toyo Ito, Shinmai Media Garden is a shopping centre with an interesting trade mix, including a local beer restaurant, cultural workshops, rooftop cafe, restaurants, apple cider shop, lifestyle store, small exhibition spaces, etc.

DSC_6066At the street market, we could find different local products from handicrafts to snacks.

DSC_6064Even doughnuts were made with local ingredients.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStraw broom (houki) of Matsumoto (松本箒) is a famous traditional handicraft of the city since the late Edo Period 150 years ago.

DSC_5964This minimalist building right by the Metoba River is a small retail complex with a barber shop, restaurants, and fashion boutiques.

DSC_5966Behind the retail complex stands the Matsumoto Timepiece Museum, which hosts a collection of timepieces donated by Chikazo Honda and other local citizens.

DSC_5967Nawate Dori, also called Kaeru Machi or “Frog Street”, is a small street near the castle famous for its traditional shops.  Frog sculptures can be found along Nawate Dori.  Made by students of Tokyo University for Arts, this sculpture of frog samurai is one the most impressive.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome say the abundance of frog sculptures at Nawate Dori is a result from the typhoon incident in 1959, which flooded the area and forced the original Kajika frogs of the Metoba River leaving for higher ground and never returned.  The frog sculptures have since become replacements to retain the original spirit of the place.

DSC_6061The streets of Matsumoto were full of surprises.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe abundance of nice boutiques and delightful cafes at downtown Matsumoto reveals the youthful energy and desire for a cozy lifestyle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMatsumoto has a decent student population with its universities, junior colleges, secondary and elementary schools.

DSC_6214At 14:45, we hopped on the Alpico Kotsu’s Kamikochi Line at platform No. 7 at the station.  The 14.4km train ride took us as far as Shin Shimashima (新島々駅) in half an hour, from where we switched to the Kamikochi bound bus for the final leg of the journey.

IMG_6011At Matsumoto Station, we picked up two bento boxes from a convenient store.  They were tasty and decent looking, perfect for a relaxing train ride.

DSC_6227As soon as we stepped out of Shin Shimashima Station (新島々駅), we could see the bus parked outside.  It was a smooth transfer as we boarded the direct bus for Kamikochi.

DSC_6230On the way to Kamikochi, we often passed by picturesque rice paddies.

DSC_6233_01The bus ride took about 60 minutes through mountain valleys and small villages.  All we could hope for was pleasant weather in Kamikochi, where we would make day hikes to explore the mountains.

 

 


DAY 2 (3/5): MATSUMOTO PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (まつもと市民芸術館), Matsumoto (松本), Japan, 2018.05.26

Two years ago in April 2016, Pritzker Prize winner Toyo Ito (伊東豊雄) came to Hong Kong for a public lecture.  His recently completed Taichung Metropolitan Opera House was the main focus on that day, but Ito also introduced some of his earlier works, including the Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre (まつもと市民芸術館).  With its spatial fluidity and random windows on the curving outer walls, the Matsumoto project has strongly imprinted onto our memory.  Completed in 2004, the Matsumoto Performing Arts Center is consisted of two performance halls: the great hall (1800 seats) and the smaller hall (240 seats), rehearsal studios, supporting facilities, a cafe, and a reception lobby, all connected by a ribbon-like foyer and a splendid staircase, allowing visitors to freely flow through different spaces.  The performing arts centre was famous not only for its aesthetics, but also its quality as a community theatre, providing a great place for both the audience and performers.  This, to a great extent, was the fruitful result from close collaborations during the design process between architect Toyo Ito and stage director-actor Kazuyoshi Kushida.

Despite our limited time in the city, we just couldn’t leave Matsumoto without checking out Ito’s building.  We were eager to have a firsthand experience of the fluid spatial experience, check out the delicate construction detailing, and admire the lovely finish materials.  The performance halls were closed for the public, but we could still freely wander in the common areas, from the grand entrance staircase to the lovely roof garden.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre is just a few minutes walk from Matsumoto City Museum of Art.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom outside, the Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre bends along a side street to the dark grey fly tower.

DSC_6131The expression of fluidity seems to be the coherent design language of the building.  Patterns of flowing water appears on some metal panels near the building entrance.

DSC_6133The magical experience of the architecture begins right from the dramatic entry into the entrance lobby and grand staircase.

DSC_6138A moving walkway along the beautiful outer wall of random openings, where diffused natural light is allowed to enter the interior.

DSC_6140In a magazine interview, Toyo Ito describes the curved facade with windows of sparkling pattern can give the impression of being random and natural rather than geometrically based.

DSC_6155From a distance, the facade of random windows appears like a translucent screen of sparkling gemstones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring daytime, the foyer serves as a indoor public space.  The public is free to enter and climb the stair to the upper foyer.

DSC_6143A screen of translucent glass serves as a balustrade for the upper foyer.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the upper foyer, there is a large glazed wall allowing visitors to take in the view of greenery outside.

DSC_6145The curvature of the outer walls extends all the way to the back foyer of the grand hall.  While the outer wall are defined by the random windows, the walls of the performance halls in the foyer are cladded by dark metal panels.

DSC_6149On the upper foyer, there are several two groups of organic shaped seating under spotlight.

DSC_6150Between the grand and smaller halls, the foyer offers a pleasant space for pre-function activities under the carefully designed ambient lighting.

DSC_6182There is a causal cafe at the end of the foyer next to the smaller hall.  The adjacent glass elevator provides a convenient way to access the above roof garden.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe flat roof is covered entirely by vegetation.  Both the lawn and the continuous bench along the railing offer pleasant seating to the public.

DSC_6173The roof garden ends at a dance rehearsal studio and the fly tower of the grand hall.

DSC_6167From the roof garden, visitors can enjoy the skyline of Matsumoto and the scenery of Hida Mountains (Northern Japanese Alps) beyond.

DSC_6195After touring the roof garden and upper foyer, we descended back to the ground floor.

DSC_6203We were delighted to have make it to see Ito’s great piece of architecture.  From the performing arts centre, it was a 15-minute walk back to Matsumoto Station for us to embark into the countryside of the Northern Japanese Alps.

 

 


DAY 2 (2/5): “ALL ABOUT MY LOVE”, Yayoi Kusama’s Exhibition at Matsumoto City Museum of Art (松本市美術館), Matsumoto (松本), Japan, 2018.05.26

First appeared in 1966, the stainless steel balls floating in the natural flow of pond water of Yayoi Kusama (草間彌生)’s “Narcissus Garden” was a remarkable landscape art piece that we saw in 2013 at Inhotim, an outdoor art museum and botanical garden near Belo Horizonte of Brazil.  During the same trip, we went on to see her retrospective show “Obsesión infinita [Infinite Obsession]” at Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro.  It was an mind-blowing experience to enter Yayoi Kusama’s world of polka dots for the first time.  Four and a half years has passed.  This time, we were fortunate to swing by Matsumoto, Yayoi Kusama’s birthplace, on our way to the Japanese Alps and got a chance to see her latest show at the city’s art museum.  Since its grand opening in 2003, Matsumoto City Museum of Art (松本市美術館) has held three Yayoi Kusama’s shows.  With 180 pieces in display, “All About My Love (私の愛のすべて) has become the fourth show for the famous daughter of Matsumoto.

Born in 1929 and raised in Matsumoto, Yayoi Kusama is a prolific artist with a career spanning many decades.  Since the age of 10, Yayoi Kusama experienced hallucinations of light flashes, auras, or dense fields of dots.  These vivid imagery has since become a powerful source of inspirations for many of her works.  In her childhood, she was also inspired by the smooth and fluid forms of white river stones near her home, which has led to another major influence in her works.  Yayoi Kusama began exhibiting her works in Japan in 1950s.  In 1957 at the age of 27, she moved to the United States to pursue greater freedom and respect for an avant-garde woman artist.  She stayed in the US from 1957 to 1972, based mainly in New York City.  In New York, she soon became an active member in the circle of avant-garde artists, befriended many artists and activists of her era, produced paintings, art installations, performance art, photography, and films, involved in a number of social movements including anti-war protests and opened a naked painting studio and a gay social club.  She stood at the forefront of the avant-garde art scene and held exhibitions/ performances in established venues such as MoMA and the Venice Biennale.  In 1973, she fell ill and returned to Japan.  She checked into Tokyo’s Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill in 1977, and has stayed there since then.  After leaving New York, she was soon forgotten in the international art scene until the early 1990s, when retrospective shows and large outdoor installations revived international interest in her works.  Some notable pieces included the 1993 Japanese pavilion at the Venice Biennale, where she created a mirrored room filled with small pumpkin sculptures, and soon later, huge yellow pumpkin sculptures covered with black dots (representing a kind of her alter-ego) emerged around the world, and so as various reiterations of “Narcissus Garden” around the world.  In recent years, collaborations with commercial labels such as Louis Vuitton and Lancome have further brought the veteran avant-garde back in the limelight.

DSC_6129It was just a  20-minute walk from Matsumoto Castle to Matsumoto City Museum of Art.  The museum building was covered with the trademark of Yayoi Kusama, the Queen of Polka Dots.

DSC_6127_01We were greeted by Yayoi Kusama’s “The Visionary Flowers”, an eye-catching installation of three wacky-looking tulips that have stood at the museum forecourt since 2002.

DSC_6077After presenting our online-purchased tickets, we followed the coloured footprints and headed upstairs to the show.

DSC_6104Photography was not allowed for most of the show, except the common atrium and one of the painting galleries.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASomehow the red polka dots fitted in very well with the minimalist museum interior.

DSC_6082Another Yayoi Kusama’s flower installation inside the museum.

DSC_6083A paper cut of Yayoi Kusama was offered as a photo spot for visitors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe room filled with paintings from the “My Eternal Soul” series was the only gallery that photography was allowed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVisitors enjoyed themselves by making selfies in front of the colourful paintings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUnder the power of the Polka Dot Queen, even the food at the museum cafe provided an Yayoi Kusama experience.

DSC_6102Through a polka dot on the window, we could see a version of Yayoi Kusama’s most recognizable yellow pumpkin in the museum courtyard.

DSC_6108Polka dots were everywhere.

DSC_6120We couldn’t leave the museum without a closer look at the yellow pumpkin.

DSC_6119While most visitors went to make selfies at the yellow pumpkin, kids were having fun at the water feature in the courtyard.

 


DAY 1 (3/3): MORI ART MUSEUM (森美術館), 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT & CAFE KITSUNE, Tokyo, Japan, 2018.05.25

A short metro ride took us to Roppongi (六本木), a business and entertainment district dominated by the high-rise complexes of Roppongi Hills (2003) and Tokyo Midtown (2006).  Before the completion of these mixed-use developments, Roppongi was well known for its disco scene since the late 1960’s.  In 2014, we visited the area for the first time to explore these complexes and the nearby National Art Center (国立新美術館) in a stormy day.  This time, we came specifically to check out the exhibitions at Mori Art Museum and 21_21 Design Sight.

DSC_5889 At Roku Roku Plaza of Roppongi Hills, Louise Bourgeois’ famous sculpture “Maman” was given a temporary makeover by Magda Sayeg, the textile artist who was responsible for a wide range of yarn installations in cities around the world.

DSC_5893On the observation deck of Mori Tower, we had a good view of the surrounding area.  The wavy facade of Kisho Kurokawa’s National Art Center stood out at the forefront.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo mark its 15th anniversary, the Mori Art Museum was hosting an exhibition on Japanese architecture on the 53rd floor of Mori Tower.

IMG_5906“Japan in Architecture: Genealogies of Its Transformation” presented the essence of modern Japanese architecture in 9 sections: 1) Possibilities of Wood, 2) Transcendent Aesthetics, 3) Roofs of Tranquility, 4) Crafts as Architecture, 5) Linked Spaces, 6) Hybrid Architecture, 7) Forms of Living Together, 8) Japan Discovered, and 9) Living with Nature.

DSC_5900In each section, the topics were presented with physical models, design installations, architectural drawings, project photos, hand sketches, etc.  Photography was not allowed for most displays.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA causal seating area offered further reading on Japanese architecture.

DSC_5904A one-to-one model of a Japanese tea house offered visitors a chance to see the essence of traditional minimalist architecture.

DSC_5905This large wooden model of what looked like a traditional Japanese home was in fact the Tange House designed by architectural maestro Kenzo Tange (丹下健三).  Built in 1953, the Tange House presented a fusion of traditional style and customs of modern living.

IMG_5941Towards the end of the exhibition, there was an eye-catching multi-media show made with 3D projections.

DSC_5913After a good taste of Japanese architecture at Mori, we walked a few blocks north to 21_21 Design Sight, a small design museum at Hinokicho Park (檜町公園) in Tokyo Midtown.

DSC_5914With the beautiful terracotta cladding, the 20-acre Tokyo Midtown is an elegant and highly recognizable high-rise complex.

DSC_5915With glass canopies and shade trees, the outdoor areas of Tokyo Midtown exemplify a role model of livable city.

DSC_5945Last time when we came to 21_21 Design Sight, the facility was closed for exhibition installation.  This time, a photography show “New Planet Photo City – William Klein and Photographers Living in the 22nd Century” was held, and we were able to see the show as well as the building designed by Tadao Ando.

DSC_5934Despite its small scale, Ando’s 21_21 Design Sight was an interesting attraction for design enthusiasts.

DSC_5937Curated by photographic critic and art historian Toshiharu Ito, the show began with a video presentation of William Klein’s photographs on the 20th century urbanity, and then contemporary photography on city and people by various Asian photographers.

DSC_5939Ando’s signature fair faced concrete provided a beautiful backdrop for light and shadow.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOutside 21_21 Design Sight, the afternoon sun was soft and relaxing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe sat on a bench in Hinokicho Park (檜町公園) to take a brief rest, and decided to follow Google Map for a 25-minute walk to Aoyama (青山).  Time was getting a little late and we weren’t sure if we could still make it to see Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum (岡本太郎記念館), the former home of renounced artist Taro Okamoto.  We left Tokyo Midtown and walked west from Nogizaka Station (乃木坂駅), passed by the peaceful Aoyama Cemetery (青山霊園), and reached the fabulous Nezu Museum (根津美術館) in Aoyama at around 4:15pm.  From Nezu, it was only a block from Taro Okamoto’s former residence, and we had about 1.5 hour to visit the house, its exhibitions and cafe.  Time was a little tight and we were quite tired due to the midnight flight.  We decided to leave the museum until next time in town.

DSC_5951Instead, we opted for Cafe Kitsuné at a side street off the fashionable Omotesando (表参道), where the creative talents of world famous fashion designers and architects converged into high-end fashion boutiques.  Associated with Kitsuné, a French electronic music record and fashion label (Kitsuné Maison) created by Gildas Loaec, Masaya Kuroki and company Abake, Cafe Kitsuné is a little gem in Aoyama for anyone who loves coffee and design.

IMG_5949The nice coffee from Japan’s first Slayer coffee machine and the stylish interior made the visit worthwhile.