DAY 8 (2/6): ARCHITECTURE OF THE 21st CENTURY, 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館), Kanazawa (金沢), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), Japan, 2018.06.01
For architects and designers, the single most important reason coming to Kanazawa is perhaps to visit the contemporary art museum just across the street from Kenroku-en Garden. Designed by Pritzker Prize awarded firm SANAA under Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa and opened in 2004, the unique 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館) is one of the most widely published contemporary architecture in Japan during the 2000’s. Staying low as a single storey building, the circular building aims to minimize its impact to the surrounding landscape. Exhibition galleries, library, lecture hall, workshops, offices, lobbies, and courtyards are housed in a huge circular building fully cladded with glass at its circumference. Given we have seen the architecture in design magazines and Internet websites throughout the years, SANAA’s famous museum in Kanazawa is like a friend that we have never met. Since the museum would get crowded with its popularity not just for tourists but also local visitors coming for workshops and cultural events, we made the effort to arrive before the facility’s opening time.
With multiple functions configured within a circular plan with a diameter of 112.5m, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館) is a unique piece of architecture accessible from all four directions.
The outer facade is entirely covered with full height glazing to express a sense of welcome and transparency for visitors.
Outside the circular building, there are a number of outdoor art installations erected around the museum.
Perhaps inspired by the building form, the outdoor art installations are also organic or circular in form.
Before entering the museum, we walked around the building once to check out the art installations as well as the building itself.
Workshops and other common areas lined along the circumference of the museum building.
Just like many tourist attractions in Japan, the famous museum is also popular with school kids.
We managed to get our admission tickets without much queuing minutes after the museum opened its doors.
The first thing we did was to find a locker to store our bags so that we could enjoy a carefree visit.
Along the curved glazed facade, there were a number of gathering spaces of different sizes available, perhaps catered for different programme.
Everything in the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is clean, minimal and neutral in colour.
Photography was prohibited at indoor exhibitions. At the centre of the building, a glazed walkway passed through a courtyard dominated by a beautiful archway made of green wall.
In the glazed walkway, we could have a glimpse of the interesting art installation on the roof.
The Swimming Pool by Leandro Erlich is the most famous art installation in the museum.
The piece is accessible from both the Ground and Basement levels. From the Ground level, spectators can look down and see the visitors in the basement level through a shallow level of water, as if looking looking into a real swimming pool.
From the basement level, spectators find themselves in a pool like environment as if walking at the bottom of a swimming pool.
The water effect appears in the most spectacular fashion when the sun is out from above.
DAY 7 (6/7): THE SUBTLE BEAUTY OF A WARRIOR’S REFUGE, Nomura Samurai House (武家屋敷跡 野村家), Nagamachi Samurai District (長町), Kanazawa (金沢), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), Japan, 2018.05.31
We wandered around Nagamachi (長町) on narrow lanes flanked both sides by yellow earth walls. We slowly found our way to Nomura Samurai House and arrived at the house’s forecourt about an hour before its closing time. Once we took off our shoes, we were free to walk around the former samurai house. It was hard to imagine that such a tranquil complex with a picturesque garden and tea house was actually the home of a powerful samurai (warrior official who served the feudal lord) in the Edo Period. In the 16th century, Nomura Denbei Nobusada, an official of the first feudal lord of the Kaga Domain Toshiie Maeda, was assigned with the Nomura Family House. 12 generations had passed until the 19th century when the Nomura lost their property during the Meiji Restoration. It was the historical moment of transition when the samurai system quickly became obsoleted against rapid modernization of Japan. A business man and shipowner named Kubo Hikobei bought the house in mid 20th century. He restored the garden and house and was responsible for several alterations, which included adding a tea house. The focal point of the Nomura Samurai House was undoubtedly the small garden at the back of the house. Stone lanterns, stepping stones, pine trees, a small waterfall, a tranquil water pond, and several curious koi fish form a beautiful picture to welcome visitors and exemplify the essence of traditional Japanese gardens. Journal of Japanese Gardening even claims that the small Nomura garden is one of the top three gardens in the entire nation. While judging beauty is purely subjective to the eye, the layering of natural scenes and careful arrangement of the verandas, pathways, stepping stones and stone bridges would definitely slow down the pace of visitors. Only with patience and a peaceful heart could one fully appreciates the carefully configured beauty of the garden at Nomura.
After a path made of large stepping stones, a humble entrance welcomed all visitors at the entrance garden.
Prominently displayed at the foyer was a samurai armour.
The painted screen doors at the tatami drawing room were quite eye-catching.
Japanese cypress wood, rosewood, ebony, paulownia wood, etc were used for different functions inside the house.
The family altar is lavishly decorated with gold paint and leaves. Kanazawa has been a famous place for gold leaf manufacturing for over 400-years.
The Japanese is almost a synonym to fine craftsmanship. All nails in the Nomura House are carefully kept out of sight.
At the back garden, trees and shrubs of different sizes provide a layered backdrop to the stone lantern.
The boundary of garden and architecture almost disappears. Walking or sitting at the wooden veranda would make one forget all the troubles.
Irregular stepping stones, rectangular stone bridges, and the smooth wooden veranda allow spectators to appreciate the beauty of the garden at his/her own pace.
A plinth like water basic reveals a certain contemporary charm of minimalism. Gentle ripples and the sound of the dripping water create an almost spiritual effect to the visitor experience.
At the end of the veranda, we found our way into another small outdoor space and a stair up to the tea house.
The transitional space between the garden and the stair to the tea house is another masterpiece of landscape design.
Before one reaches the stair up to the tea house, a small water feature reminds visitors of the purity and vitality of water.
The outdoor spaces at Nomura Samurai House are full of beautiful surprises.
A large variety of bamboo, timber and stones have been used to create a rich palette of textures.
Just like many tea houses in Japan, the tiny tea house at Nomura Samurai House is an artwork in itself.
From the tea house, the lush-green vegetation of the garden defines the ambience.
Before leaving Nomura Samurai House, a display bonsai reminded us the beauty of many traditional Japanese art did require tons of patience, techniques, care and imagination to maintain. What might seem to be a simple pot plant was in reality had gone through decades of care and subtle alterations.
DAY 7 (3/7): POETICS OF ARCHITECTURE, D T Suzuki Museum (鈴木大拙館), Kanazawa (金沢), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), Japan, 2018.05.31
In counter to a globalized world where International Style architecture can be erected anywhere in the world without connections with the regional culture and landscape, architectural historian Kenneth Frampton suggests Critical Regionalism as an alternative approach that integrates Modernist design with regional essence. From Kenzo Tange to Tadao Ando and Kengo Kuma, the beauty of traditional Japanese architecture have made a strong presence in modern architectural designs in Japan. Located just a block southeast of SANAA’s 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, the D T Suzuki Museum is an elegant piece of modern architecture that contains deep roots in the beauty of Japanese Zen traditions. Famous for designing a number of museums in Japan and, the most well known of all, the new wing of New York’s MOMA, architect Yoshio Taniguchi (谷口吉生) completed this small museum in 2011 to commemorate the life and works of Suzuki Daisetz Teitaro (1870-1966), an influential Zen Buddhist philosopher who was largely responsible for introducing Japanese Zen Buddhism to the West.
Famous for the spatial qualities and fine detailing, Yoshio Taniguchi’s D T Suzuki Museum goes much beyond a sleek building that houses a collection of artefacts. From the humble entrance to a hallway guided by a slit of light, from a cozy exhibition hall that tells the story of the zen master to a small library of Suzuki’s works for visitor’s better understanding on the philosophy of Zen, and from a courtyard of a rugged stone wall and tranquil mirror pool for visitors’ self reflection to a spiritual pavilion surrounded by water for self contemplation, a visit to the D T Suzuki Museum offers an inspiring journey designated for the beauty of spiritual enlightenment, Zen Buddhism and life itself. Though small in scale, the experience and beauty of D T Suzuki Museum provided us much more food for thought than many catchy and sleek designs that spark a few minutes of wow effect and then nothing more.
Reference to traditional Japanese houses and Modernist architecture, a band of vertical strips conceal the humble entrance and glazed reception lobby.
A square abstract pattern of lines and strokes define the logo of the D T Suzuki Museum.
After obtaining our tickets, we followed a hallway with skirting light into the exhibition space.
In the middle of the hallway, an angular glazed corner allowed us to have a peek into the modern zen garden outside.
No photography was allowed in the exhibition and library areas. After the exhibit, the journey took us out to the courtyard of mirror pond and the contemplation pavilion with its paper-thin roof.
We sat on a wooden bench in front of a stone wall for quite some time to feel the breeze and take in the atmosphere and let the beauty of the courtyard to sink into our hearts.
Water ripples was generated automatically from time to time in the pool, serving as a visual massage to further calm down our mind.
Every elements in the complex are minimal, light and elegant, as if the world has been striped of every excessive and undesirable element with only the essence left behind.
Refined detailing of the pool railing showed us the architect’s careful attention to minimize excessive lines and connection hardware throughout the complex.
At four corners of the pavilion, rainwater chains were provided along with beautiful water feature of small water droplets forming tiny ripples in the pool.
The pavilion for contemplation can be reached from all four sides. With indirect lighting from the overhead oculus and the four openings each framing a garden view, one can stay, meditate and make peace with him/herself in the pavilion for a long time.
The courtyard wasn’t very big, but it was full of interesting design details and magnificent spots to appreciate order of zen architecture.
The edge of the pool is carefully treated with a perimeter band of pebble stones.
From the garden lookout, the pavilion and its reflection appear perfect in geometry under the shade of the willow tree.
The essence of minimalist architecture is evident from the limited number of lines and elements in the design.
Less doesn’t mean lacking: unique features in the museum garden offer touches of design sophistication to enhance user experience at different spots throughout the journey.
For many tourists, D T Suzuki Museum has provided one of the most pleasant surprises and inspiring moments in their Kanazawa experience. We couldn’t agree more.
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.
It 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.
We 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.
After presenting our online-purchased tickets, we followed the coloured footprints and headed upstairs to the show.
Photography was not allowed for most of the show, except the common atrium and one of the painting galleries.
Somehow the red polka dots fitted in very well with the minimalist museum interior.
Another Yayoi Kusama’s flower installation inside the museum.
A paper cut of Yayoi Kusama was offered as a photo spot for visitors.
The room filled with paintings from the “My Eternal Soul” series was the only gallery that photography was allowed.
Visitors enjoyed themselves by making selfies in front of the colourful paintings.
Under the power of the Polka Dot Queen, even the food at the museum cafe provided an Yayoi Kusama experience.
Through a polka dot on the window, we could see a version of Yayoi Kusama’s most recognizable yellow pumpkin in the museum courtyard.
Polka dots were everywhere.
We couldn’t leave the museum without a closer look at the yellow pumpkin.
While most visitors went to make selfies at the yellow pumpkin, kids were having fun at the water feature in the courtyard.
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.
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.
On 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.
To mark its 15th anniversary, the Mori Art Museum was hosting an exhibition on Japanese architecture on the 53rd floor of Mori Tower.
“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.
In 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.
A causal seating area offered further reading on Japanese architecture.
A one-to-one model of a Japanese tea house offered visitors a chance to see the essence of traditional minimalist architecture.
This 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.
Towards the end of the exhibition, there was an eye-catching multi-media show made with 3D projections.
After 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.
With the beautiful terracotta cladding, the 20-acre Tokyo Midtown is an elegant and highly recognizable high-rise complex.
With glass canopies and shade trees, the outdoor areas of Tokyo Midtown exemplify a role model of livable city.
Last 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.
Despite its small scale, Ando’s 21_21 Design Sight was an interesting attraction for design enthusiasts.
Curated 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.
Ando’s signature fair faced concrete provided a beautiful backdrop for light and shadow.
Outside 21_21 Design Sight, the afternoon sun was soft and relaxing.
We 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.
Instead, 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.
The nice coffee from Japan’s first Slayer coffee machine and the stylish interior made the visit worthwhile.
After a full day excursion of historical temples and natural scenery in Nikko, we decided to spend the next day to explore another neighborhood in Tokyo. We started the day at the southwest area of Sumida District (墨田区), near the metro station of Ryogoku (両国). Many tourists come to Ryogoku (両国) for sumo (相撲): visit sumo stables to view professional practice, or checked out chanko nabe restaurants for a sumo meal, or even watch a game of sumo wrestling at Ryogoku Kokugikan (Ryogoku Sumo Hall). We, however, came to the area for museum hopping.
Opened in 2016, the Sumida Hokusai Museum is being considered as a novel cultural icon of Sumida. Designed by Kazuyo Sejima (妹島 和世), the sleek architecture houses exhibitions to showcase the life and works of the world famous ukiyo-e (浮世絵) artist Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎). With his Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (富嶽三十六景), Hokusai is definitely the most iconic figure of ukiyo-e (浮世絵) in the Edo Period (1603 – 1868). Kazuyo Sejima (妹島 和世), the founder of SANAA and a recipient of the Pritzker Prize in architecture with Ryue Nishizawa, is also a generation defining Japanese architect in her own right. From the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, New Museum in New York, Rolex Learning Centre in Lausanne, to Louvre Lens Museum in France, Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA have inspired uncounted architects and designers around the world in the last two decades.
The Midoricho Park (緑町公園) where Sumida Hokusai Museum is erected, is also the birthplace of Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎).
Sejima’s building immediately became a cultural icon in the rather low key residential neighborhood. The building provides an interesting backdrop for the community play area of Midoricho Park.
The building scale and the facade’s level of reflectiveness express a certain degree of novelty without creating an overwhelming impact to the surrounding context.
The cave like slit at each of the four sides provides a prominent entrance gateway at each side.
The reflectivity of the museum’s metal cladding is right on.
Everything on the facade is clean and minimal.
We walked to the main entrance via one of the triangular opening on the facade.
The facets of the glass panes and the reflections of the outside offer a unique entrance experience.
The detailing of the triangular opening is once again clean and minimal.
The angular aspects of the architecture is carried through into the interior.
The washroom on the ground floor is a cute little cube at the lobby.
Beside Sejima’ architecture, the works of Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎) were well worth the admission.
The exhibition space is not big. Most of his paintings are hung along the wall. Artifacts such as books and sketches.
The most famous works by Kazuyo Sejima is Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (富嶽三十六景 Fugaku Sanjūroku-kei). A selection of the 36 prints had been put on display.
The Great Wave off Kanagawa is perhaps the most well known image by Katsushika Hokusai.
Some of the final works by Katsushika Hokusai are also on display.
A wax display depicting the studio of Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎) and his daughter back in the Edo Period.
Outside of the exhibition area, there is a seating area with great views towards the Sky Tree.