Summer, 2016 and I’m heading for Japan again. The focus has been very much on Tokyo recently and while I would love to see more of the country, I cannot complain. Tokyo, my Tokyo, is green, accessible, friendly and fascinating. I love the heat, and the light is magical to work by. I try to keep busy while I’m in Uk, but still find myself, subconsciously, waiting…
Packing, printing out my wheelchair and battery information and completing online pre-flight details, I wondered why it is not yet possible to add the wheelchair details online.
Checking in with my wheels has almost put me off flying. The stress, the amount of misinformation and lack of knowledgeable staff, regularly reduces me to a tearful quivering mess.
I go by taxi to Heathrow, my regular taxi driver is aware of the impending hassle and kindly stays long enough to be sure that I can cope.
To my utter amazement, this time is unbelievably hassle free. I hand over my wheelchair details: a page of facts, figures and diagrams, and the woman checking me in says thank you. She seems genuinely impressed with my preparation. Likewise with the battery details; no diagrams here, just details and manufacturer’s advice, plus various government guidelines, for flying with that battery type.
There are no arguments, I don’t have to convince anyone that I know what I’m talking about. I’m not forced to go against any government guidelines and best of all I’m not bullied about the security risk. I am dazed. It’s all so easy, what a gigantic relief.
Wheelchair assistance has improved too. I don’t get treated like baggage; or like some kind of criminal maniac for needing assistance when I am driving a powerchair. Though I am required to justify it. Initially I have to explain to the controller that with one hand driving the chair, and one hand ready to delve into my bag for passport details, I don’t really cope with my very lightweight carry on bag and crutches. Anything heavy I do carry on the chair.
And going through security I need assistance to put the heavy stuff (spare battery, charger etc) in and out of the plastic trays. I get a nod and a cheerful chap volunteers to carry the bag and crutches.
I get escorted to the holding bay, where I am required to wait until the gate is confirmed. The next person to take on the onerous task of escorting me whilst carrying my bag and crutches, also requires an explanation. She looks and acts utterly pissed off by the prospect. But accepts the task.
She waits with me at the gate and hassles the staff to board me. Into the boarding tunnel I am met by a man with the aisle-chair. I repeat-explain that I will transfer at the aircraft door. He volunteers to take my carry on bag. My pissed-off assistance person laughs and says no need, it’s not heavy.
One meter away from the door he wants me to do the transfer. I refuse. I tell him to put the aisle-chair back on the plane. He doesn’t understand. The aircrew come to my rescue. Eventually he puts the aisle-chair back on the plane, about a meter from the door. I re-explain that I will transfer at the door. It might, one day, make a good comedy sketch, but at the time I was starting to feel as pissed off as my assistance person.
I went into great details of explanation, starting with the fact that it’s my body we are talking about. I know what it can or cannot do. And it’s my wheelchair. I am the expert. They are all totally without any of my personal knowledge and experience. The aircrew get the point, but the aisle-chair pusher argues that he does know best. My pissed-off assistance person pushes him out of the way and says she will take over the aisle-chair. From then everything goes smoothly. I’m boarded onto the BA flight to Narita airport and shortly after we take off for our flight to Japan.
We lost our take-off slot at Heathrow, so we were actually half an hour late starting our journey, but the pilot was given permission to make up time and we arrived at Narita only ten minutes late. I had decided to try the Asian vegetarian meal option on board and was somewhat surprised to be presented with an Indian meal. And flabbergasted to be told that green tea was not available! Was I on the wrong flight?
Half way through the journey, passengers are traditionally offered ice cream. This time I was presented with a frozen fruit lolly. Even though I took my time unwrapping it, and only gave it a tentative lick, my tongue stuck fast to the surface and ripping it away was very painful. I mentioned this to a crew member who smiled and said the same thing had happened to someone else.
The flight itself had gone well, I’d slept some and, in spite of the food and drink situation and my blistered tongue, felt more relaxed than usual, due to the lack of preflight hassle.
The landing however was about the worst I’ve experienced. We thundered into the Tarmac at what felt like the wrong speed and the wrong angle – due, I’m guessing, to some rogue air pocket. Seat belts restrained us, but I was tossed about and it felt scarily insecure. While the other passengers disembarked, I had time to gather my thoughts whilst waiting for my wheelchair to be brought to the aircraft door.
Being last off the plane, I generally find the queuing for passport and customs control to be not that bad. The rush is always over.
Nevertheless, by the time I was through, with my bag retrieved by my Japanese assistance person, I was about an hour late. Which meant there was an hour wait for the next Skyliner train to Ueno. Transferring to the Tokyo metro Hibiya line at Ueno was quick and easy, but altogether I was still a couple of hours late at my final destination. Unusual for Japan.
The Skyliner, a fast (100mph) service between Narita and Ueno, runs through some Japanese countryside that starts with rice fields, little orchards and other seasonally farmed produce. There are small wooded areas and rivers, but gradually the sparsely dotted buildings appear more frequently and closer together until they merge into the megacity that is Tokyo.
My heart lifts as I make this journey, I love the little forests with bamboo, the gorgeous tiled roofs, and my first glimpse of Skytree.
The temperature in Tokyo was around 29 degrees, which, after the cold air onboard, felt pleasantly welcoming. Something in the air triggered my hay fever and I wondered if it could be tree pollen. I arrived with sore eyes, streaming nose and a blistered tongue. But happy.
My first purchase was to be a tiny tube of magic; the merest pinhead size spot of ointment applied around each nostril wards off the pollen grains – functioning like an invisible mask.
It was so good to be back.
My tiny tube of pollen deterrent had changed packaging. The bold manga-style text in bright green and yellow that proclaimed breakthrough Japanese research had been replaced by a plain dark blue with white packaging that now announced the product as the result of both Japanese and American technology.
This small thing somehow alerted me to other changes. My delight at being here is tinged with a vague sense of trepidation.
Things change…what would I find this time?
One of the first things I do after unpacking is to check out the local galleries and museums online. 21_21 Design Sight being my favourite, I checked there first. Or attempted to. The English version of their website seemed to have completely disappeared. I was obliged to go through more general tourist sites – sites which promote attractions without going into event details. It took me a while to find a tiny paragraph naming the current exhibition.
I also found some curious text claiming that this gallery presents ideas that are not yet design, but is still worth checking out for its architecture. What on earth does that mean? Where was the excitement and pride in this brilliant venue, this great design concept with its innovative ehibitions?
And why the shift from bold flagship venue to timid, apologetic hesitancy? I wondered if this disclaimer might all be part of the continuing Olympic build-up. Are the Americans being anticipated?
I felt saddened. If things were this bad now, what on earth would they be like by the time the Olympics actually arrived in Tokyo?
The American election featured prominently on the daily news. The ‘Japanese take’ varied from the ‘UK take’ in that Hilary Clinton was portrayed speaking eloquently to an enthusiastic rally. Sweeping shots of cheering crowds reinforced the impression of her suitability and popularity. Donald Trump was featured in close-up, grunting wordlessly to underline a point, but coming over as inarticulate. His audience did not feature and he spoke into near silence. But they did get equal airtime.
Tokyo was also in the run-up to an election. The female candidate here had a lot of support. Things are indeed changing.
My Tokyo is green. Local people put pots and containers with trees, shrubs and plants, around the entrances to homes and businesses, around street trees and shrubs, along empty walls… Green public spaces are plentiful, generous and well kept – from wild spaces to carefully manicured ones. The rainy season, and the typhoons, together with heat and otherwise clear blue skies normally mean ideal conditions for lush greenery.
My Tokyo is not the crushing, people packed hysteria found in the media and popular with people who are drawn to incredulous comment or complaint. My Tokyo prides itself, rightly, on striving for Universal Access and is more often that not successful.
Tokyo, the Megacity, is also a conglomeration of something more like villages, there are networks of local communities and people-centred architecture and created geography. It has enormous variety and diversity.
Temperatures, when I arrived, were in the thirties and although humidity was highish (in the seventies), and we were nearing the end of the traditional rain season, the local plants all looked dry and patchy. In places they were parched and brown. The rainy season had been disappointing, but I had heard that the typhoon season was about to step up a gear. There were mosquitoes, lots of ants and the cicadas were flying low, but I had not yet heard that persistent ‘electrical fizz’ that seems synonymous with their presence.
I looked forward to roaming further afield, but my chair needed some attention, so I began by staying very local.
I did venture into Ginza for an evening meal at Muji. The restaurant there is very popular with families and a good, quiet place for a Friday night when the salarymen are out on the binge.
The food is consistently of good quality. And there is my secret fascination with watching one of the very helpful waitresses there -a small Asian woman who moves like a younger version of Julie Walters’ ‘two soups waitress’ and with a similar expression on her face. She is particularly kind and helpful to the mums with young families.
My Tokyo is a safe place, not to say nothing bad ever happens, but generally it does not and people do not live in fear that it will. I feel safe any time of day or night. People rush to my rescue if my chair gets stuck, but politely, never persist after the situation is sorted. I’m not hassled about the pace I travel or the space I need; I don’t get treated as a leper. As a result I feel more confident and relaxed.
My Muji meal was an experimental combination of traditional and modern Japanese food. It was very enjoyable.
Rolling home I was closely followed by a drunk. It was early, only nine thirty, and many folk were just starting the evening, but he was already too far gone to walk a straight line.
I turned a corner, he turned with me. I stopped, with my back to him and he walked on a few yards, overtaking me and then turned to wait for me. I ignored him and he walked on a little further before looking back and waving me forward. Again I ignored him. I was still in nervous Uk mode, but rather tempted to find it a just a little bit funny.
In his state he soon lost interest and I continued to roll home.
For me Roppongi has a certain fascination. It is quite an arty part of Tokyo and strongly influenced by the number of American and European workers based in the Mori Tower building. It is a window into the Japanese perception of certain aspects of Western taste. Culture and sleaze are close neighbours.
Checking out the art on offer in the Roppongi triangle is always a priority. And most fun to do from Roppongi itself. This time I discovered that there is ‘Doboku’ – the ‘Civil Engineering’ exhibition, at 21_21 Design Sight (opposite Midtown Building) plus ‘The Universe and Art’ and ‘Louvre No. 9’ both at Mori Galleries in the Mori Tower (Roppongi Hills), and that just to start with.
I took the metro to Roppongi. The first thing I noticed on arriving at the Roppongi Hills complex was the cicadas. The noise was quite phenomenal; the next thing was the visual onslaught of blue and white. The large, rounded (plastic? fibreglass?) figures of the cartoon creature Doraemon (possibly a cat), extended around the entrances, along the water-wall fountains and around to the Spider statue. There were hundreds of them, still fascinating Japanese ‘children’ of all ages.
I’d taken the elevator up from metro level (B1) to giant spider level (F2), and emerged into the warm moist air. The water-walls were in full, cooling action, mist billowed from the overhead cooling system and the cicadas were in the trees that shade the waterside seating. And it was all crowded.
In Roppongi, you’d never know that Japan has a problem with a low birth rate, toddlers and small children were everywhere. The crowds were mostly young people, groups of singles and families with one to three small children.
I think it must have been a school holiday, there were children’s workshops and events all over the place and the Mori Galleries had long, long queues. I decided that maybe tomorrow would be good for the Doboku, Civil Engineering exhibition, but the Mori exhibitions could wait on a quieter time.
I had sashimi, a selection of thinly sliced raw fish on a bed of rice, for lunch. It came as a set with all the green tea I could drink and a green tea jelly dessert. Afterwards, full and happy, I browsed the shops for the few essentials I had decided to leave until I got here.
Chocolate ice cream in the afternoon almost proved too much. It had chunky lumps of chocolate and large bits of chocolate brownie in; it was more like a meal than an afternoon refreshment, filling but nice.
Roppongi, 21_21 Design Sight:
Next day, back in Roppongi, we paused in the Hills complex just long enough for me to don my new typhoon-proof raincoat before heading for Midtown and lunch. Ironically, the heavy downpour stopped as soon as we set out.
Lunch was a generous piece of soy-baked salmon with rice, plus a bowl of something slithery and frothy made from the Chinese yam or cinnamon vine. It tasted faintly like natto (which I love) and I mixed it enthusiastically into the rice. With generous amounts of green tea, it was a delicious meal.
To reach 21_21Design Sight from the Midtown Building there are several options. Ambulant people cross a pretty arched white bridge to the green area where the building sits well into the landscape. Wheelborne people can take a roll along a jutting ‘catwalk’ that has an elevator at the end.
The first time I tried the ‘catwalk’ was immediately after the Great Eastern Earthquake when none of the elevators were working. I do know my way around a little better now. We took the option that elevated me down to the inside/outside café level (where a very non-accessible Dior promotion was happening) and rolled beside the rill and up to my favourite exhibition space.
At 21_21 Design Sight large sliding glass doors admit you to the reception and shop. The long low building is mainly underground, but since it is built into sloping ground there is also light on a lower level where the exhibitions start. The main gallery space is underground. This elegant concrete building, designed by Tadeo Ando and sitting so well in the landscape, seems the ideal venue for an exhibition that gives insight into the concept of civil engineering: ‘Doboku’
From wall sized detailed drawings of the world famous Shibuya Crossing and its surroundings; a plywood scale model of its five underground station levels; some big clear plastic blow-up bricks for bridge building; sand boxes with light effects that show contour lines or colour effects as you dig holes or construct mountains, through to a cartoon video projected onto a wall – there is interest for all ages. Detailed terrain cross-sections compare Seikan Tunnel, Japan’s longest, with the Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland, the worlds longest.
A display of hand-tools used in earlier major construction projects accompanies a video of tunnel construction choreographed to a version of Ravel’s Bolero, plus beautiful detailed photographs of projects and constructed landscapes. Explanations of the modern Japanese word ‘doboku’ – its concept and the roots of its meaning, were elaborated on and compared both in Japanese and English.
The depth of preparation and research for this project helped create a wide interest base for this exhibition.
Afterwards we sat with our feet in the rill that runs downhill from the main street. The landscaped area begins with rocks and low-level ‘bubble-fountains’ that lure you from the street to follow the rill as it leads to widening areas of greenery and parks. It flows between Midtown Building and the Gallery in a white concrete channel. Normally people would not dream of paddling, but at certain celebratory times of the year it is encouraged. The polished, angular concrete rill is especially lined with bamboo mats and smooth white pebbles to create interesting textures with beneficial effects for the feet. The organisers hire out small round mats for dabblers to sit on along the edges. Children play in the water and adults sit with their parasols, being sociable and chatting.
Just after five o’clock we heard a slow and careful announcement in both Japanese and English, saying there was no cause for alarm. There was no emergency. We later discovered that a false alarm – predicting a 9.1 earthquake – had been triggered by the thunder and in the seconds it took to correct the error the electronic media had begun to run with it. Nobody panicked, nobody even took much notice.
After enjoying the gardens, fountains and play areas still busy with laughing children on a balmy summer evening, we ate our delicious evening meal in a Chinese restaurant before watching a big light show of simulated fireworks.
Metropolitan Art Museum Ueno, today’s destination, is in Ueno Park. This is a fascinating park, with a variety of impressive museums (some visited and blogged about on previous occasions) and a zoo among its attractions.
The metro to Ueno is a short air-conditioned journey, quite welcome in the 30 degree heat. A crushed, frozen orange drink blatantly sipped as we moved, cooled us on the sloped pathway to the park: eating, drinking or smoking in the street is very much not the done thing in Japan, so I felt a little awkward.
The exhibition at MAMU was the chronological glimpse into French art 1930-1977; an exhibition on loan from the Pompidou Centre in Paris.
The artists featured ranged from the uber famous, like Picasso, to the virtually unknown (probably even in Paris before this exhibition was curated).
The artists were French, including immigrants – all quite international. The concept of choosing just one item per year to represent French Art, meant that the choices were not necessarily that artist’s best, or best-known work, but an isolated glimpse of what they were doing in that particular year. A small blank wall marked 1945, the end of the war, and the absence of visual art was highlighted by a muted recording by Edith Piaf. There were paintings, prints, photographs, sculptures, a mobile, a collage, chairs, and a scale model of the Pompidou Centre. Displayed on or against short temporary walls, not one parallel to another, I can only describe the exhibition as staccato…with some of the disjointed bits a lot more interesting than the others.
Each artist’s work and short biography was accompanied by a ‘sound bite’, a few I wished to remember and one I actually did: “I don’t take the photographs, the photographs take me”
It echoes something I feel about my art: ‘I don’t just make art, art makes me”
The building was rather empty and later we wandered through an exhibition of Japanese calligraphy without seeing anyone else. Its hard, without the cultural background and experience, to say meaningful things about the art of calligraphy. I can only say that certain pieces, both of the meticulous and careful and of the spontaneous and apparently throw-away, really appealed to me. If I lived in Japan I would surely have bought one.
In the Citizens Gallery was an exhibition of five artists working in wood. The exhibition spread over several rooms/arts spaces. The Citizens Gallery included fascinating wood samples strung out like they were on washing lines. There were carvings of animals, including the stag on the poster, and small experiments with wood shapes. It also contained well displayed documentation of an exhibition in another gallery. This was what totally drew me in. The installation featured a very large construction of wooden poles and blocks, into forms that flowed and swirled, abstract and vibrant with energy. It filled a whole room. It might have been a home, a village, a forest, a fantasy…
I would very much like to come back to it.
MAMU, the Metropolitan Art Museum, Ueno was a delight.
Accessible and with a relaxed atmosphere that welcomed me – without the normal hint of suspicion that exists in most Museums and Galleries (and certainly not restricted to Japan). I get this reception frequently when ambulant folk have trouble accepting that disabled people come in as many varieties as they do.
I don’t run amok, I don’t have Tourette’s or make any other sounds and movements that will embarrass them. In spite of being an artist, I behave much of the time like a typical member of the sort of public these places exist for.
But at MAMU I definitely got the impression that however I came I would be welcome.
Access to other Museums and galleries in the park varies, but for me I could spend a week exploring what’s on offer, and much longer inside some of them!
Something I’ve somehow missed in previous visits has been the Matsuri – the small local festivals, often sponsored by the local shrine. I did catch the bigger, Green Room Festival in Yokohama one year, but the local event, which takes place in the play-park outside a local school (and next-door to the shrine) has eluded me.
Heading into Ginza one evening I passed a local gathering with lanterns, music, food and games. People from their local community were turning up with mats to sit on as the venue was a paved area and the number of wooden tables and benches inadequate for the crowds. Everyone looked relaxed and happy.
Drums alerted me to our local do, which starts around 19.00 and finishes around 21.30. A red and white striped, tented platform is erected in the centre of the park and small open marquees line the edges. The space between the two is for dancing.
Inside the marquees are tables and chairs, cold drinks and free paper fans. Around them are food and drink stalls and above everything swing big colourful lanterns.
When I arrived I was surprised that at least half of the crowd were wearing yukata – the traditional Japanese summer garment – not always the case, but more evident in the temple sponsored Matsuri (with the tented platform and the dancing). The picture here shows a Japanese summer yukata featuring designs by popular artist Junichi Nakahara. These, and other designs, were available from Uniqlo: ‘the bright obi adds a cute touch to the modern retro look of the prints. Perfect for summer events’.
The dancers move in a circle around the central platform, dancing vaguely in rows between three and six deep. The dancing is formal and not too energetic in the 30 degree heat.
The music, with a female vocalist, sounds traditional and I presumed this is a very traditional event. Everyone seemed to know the steps and actions and the participants ranged from babies to elderly, from dancers to shamblers; I was the only person on wheels, but there were other independent, disabled people taking part.
After about fifteen minutes I began to recognise tunes and gradually through the evening a structure became clear. The circle dances happened in sets. Each set starting with a traditional piece and moving into something more modern – I recognised a tune made famous by Celine Dionne. As they progress through the repertoire, fewer people are familiar with the actions and then the circle dancing really comes into its own. It only takes one person to lead it and soon the whole circle is copying.
Everyone joined in, everything was very relaxed and informal and there was minimal bowing. I noticed people reaching out to tap or prod a neighbour who had not noticed them, to exchange greetings.
I was made to feel very welcome and offered cold drinks and ice-lollies (with a bow). The sandy surface of the play-park is not ideal for wheels so for most of the time I found a good spot to just sit and watch.
At 20.30 there were treats offered to the small children and they disappeared off into long queues. There were goody bags with chocolate bars and there was ice cream.
Adults and older children continued dancing for another hour before the event quietly winds down. I leave with a warm glow – a very good evening.
Kintsugi and Lemon Sauce:
This evening we took the metro into Ginza for a very special evening meal. We took the metro to avoid the heat. Our destination was the new black glass building that I had watched with some fascination as it was being constructed. I really like the way it looks with its elongated triangles and oblongs of smoky black glass set at angles to create an interesting texture. I can’t help wondering how it will fare in an earthquake…
Inside the glass appears to be clear and the building is light-filled and just possibly air-conned to perfection. The layout is spacious and creative – modern Japanese – there is shopping on most floors, while the top two, 10 and 11 have restaurants and the rooftop, floor 12, has relaxed seating, sells icecream and has views out over Ginza.
Riding up in a minimal stainless steel elevator, we had a short explore of floor 6 with its ‘discover Japan’ shopping before continuing to floor 11. The polished concrete floor was threaded through with golden coloured ‘cracks’, reminiscent of kintsugi (the mending of valued broken pottery with real gold) a traditional Japanese artform. The large open space of floor 6 was filled with individual stalls of unique Japanese goods.
We had booked into a ‘Greek’ restaurant – a rather confused Greek in that it began life in Australia, modified to the Aussie market, and then ’emigrated’ to Japan where further adjustment fitted it to Japanese tastes.
The minimal interior, with various styles of table, from wood to marble, iron to caste concrete, was appealing in a Scandinavian way. The big picture windows, the wood and the white (and the perfect aircon) gave an open airy feel.
The food was good, if a little over cooked (and slow, even for japan), but the lemon sauce accompanying the calamari was truly, mouthwateringly excellent. I asked for the recipe and was generously rewarded with extra helpings and full recipe details by the chef.
The atmosphere, which began cheerful and friendly, with banter from the waiters and much laughter, became cosy and intimate as the evening wore on. As it got dark outside the lights inside were dimmed, showing off tall, elegant candlesticks with long tapering candles and Tokyo night life (atmospheric – city lights without the eternal flashing neon some people automatically associate with Tokyo) surrounding us, outside.
After our meal we sat out on the roof terrace in the still warm evening air, to enjoy the view out over the city, before a leisurely roll/stroll home.
Emerging Science and Innovation:
Today was devoted to Miraikan – the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. And it was a hot day, with temperatures well up in the thirties under a fierce sun and cloudless sky.
The route to the station involved staying as much as possible in the shadow of buildings. Once in the station the air-con kicked in and we boarded a train for Odaiba.
This took us past the site being prepared for the famous Fish Market, which will leave its present location in Tsukiji, as the preparations for the 2020 Olympics take shape in that area.
In the grounds outside Miraikan, a free festival: Tokyo Idol could be heard some way off and getting louder as we approached.
Miraikan – future museum – is run by Japanese astronaut, Dr Mamoru Mohri. Among it’s prize exhibits is a mock-up space habitation module signed by various astronauts including Neil Armstrong.
There is also the unique, scaled globe suspended from the roof with a spiral viewing gallery curving around it from the fifth down to the third floor. It shows near real-time weather with impressive cloud formation and drift as it spins. The technology to create this model was invented by a Japanese architect, and it does look like a very realistic view of Earth from space.
The exhibits were varied and fascinating, not forgetting the robots! Asimo, being the most famous, has its own presentation event, but there are also various other robot experiments on interactive display. As part of one experiment, I was invited to converse with a trio of small white robots who ‘spoke’ English. The conversation did not go well as they sought sympathy for not being mobile. They were obviously not programmed to respond to people in wheelchairs…
Another exhibit allowed one person to control quite a realistic appearing robot, in order for it to ‘interact’ with a second person. This proved to be quite traumatic for several of the couples who took-on the challenge. Freed from the inhibition of their real bodies, the robot controllers allowed their emotions free expression in their ‘avatars’ – with revealing consequences.
And on another floor, head, arms and torso of a robotic female had cutaway sections to reveal the complex mechanical workings…
There were sections on future technologies and current data collection including a map of Japan that showed real time earth movement with small lines of coloured light (like micro light sabers) with an intensity that made them clearly visible. Quite small under normal circumstances, and direction-wise looking quite chaotic, they grew under earthquake situations so we were able to watch real-time tremors.
There were sections on environmental issues, including climate change, disease prevention and recycling.
And, looking like an elaborate series of random pinball machines, a small-room-size model demonstrating how email works…
Visitors were free to wander around the exhibit following ‘their’ email’s journey from a to b. There were plentiful guides and assistants.
On the ground floor, for youngsters of all ages there was an exhibition about ninja which included various interactive sections to test skills and reactions. A free certificate, or a ¥500 medal were available for participants. Needless to say, I am now a certified ninja.
Food was available from the restaurant, though it was not frowned upon to bring your own, and the facilities were good if a little sparse.
Seating too was not up to the generous standard I normally expect in Japan – although there was a children’s play area and plenty of seating modules on the ground floor. The exhibits were spread out over many floors, but seating (apart from the restaurant) was all confined to the ground floor. This was in itself attractive, with colourful seating in creative family-size shapes looking out through glass walls on fountain and landscape garden.
The interactive section for toddlers specified it was for Japanese speakers only. The participants I could see scribbling, didn’t look old enough for much conversation…
Access was bumpy. Attractive cobbles contrasted well with boulders and smooth concrete, but unlike some areas of Tokyo, there was no smooth channel for wheelborne people.
The area immediately around Miraikan, like that around the Royal Opera House in London, lacked well-thought out, well-made dropped kerbs. Surface ‘wells’ and steep cambers played havoc with steering, and the cobbled surfaces were certainly pain-inducing. It did however, look good. Lots of green areas and Japanese-style ‘rock and greenery’ landscaping allowed the setting to breath, yet another oasis of calm in this megacity.
Once inside the Japanese policy of Universal Access worked well.
All in all it was a good day out, but such a shame that the building closed promptly at 17.00.
Retail therapy in the form of a trip to IKEA, provided an almost fully air-conned experience. The temperatures were still high and the sun blazed sharply in the clear sky.
We made it to the station hugging the shade, and took the train to Minami – Funabashi. There were not many people about. We carried drinks and took our time.
The short walk from the station complex across an empty road to the ikea building, has no shade, so we were glad to be greeted by the cool Scandinavian atmosphere.
Japanese IKEA is like every other and yet manages to be Japanese. The tiny room layouts are even smaller, and include mini-balcony ideas too. I wish I could time travel to simultaneously visit the Uk and Dk Ikeas as well, to ascertain how similar their stock is. Is IKEA homogenising the world?
Public transport to my nearest Uk IKEA is dire, so a comparison visit is unlikely.
Since many people use the excellent public transport in Japan, there is also a very efficient system for getting your large or heavy purchase delivered. Although it does require that you may need to wait in all day for the delivery.
Usually when we come to this part of Tokyo we head for the Himalayan Curry restaurant, but the heat on this particular day provokes a change of plan and we order food in the Ikea restaurant instead.
There seems little interest in the ‘famous’ Swedish meatball, but I did discover veg-balls. I wonder if they are universally available? Curiously I found that the food tended to have a Uk slant, rather than Scandinavian; particularly noticeable in the over-sweet desserts.
Today there is a bit of a breeze, but still hot. We decide on a curry for lunch and wend our way through shadow and scorching streaks of sunshine to a local curry house. The proprietor looks Indian, speaks fluent Japanese and Chinese. He welcomes us into the small space and moves the furniture about to accommodate me in the wheelchair.
I choose a saag mushroom with sesame nan. Curry in Japan is more like a soup. There may or may not be rice, but there is nan to soak up the liquid.
My saag mushroom is green and tastes vegetarian – spinach with perhaps a hint of mushroom. The nan is almost flakey – it’s crisp on the bottom and all the way through in places, but tastes good.
I have my at home days here in Tokyo also, coping with all the stuff I cannot fit into the everyday.
Sumida, flat, languid;
the blanket of hot air
pressing out her creases,
crinkles, from the surface.
Sumida, warm, salty,
mingled with sea monster
in steams of lazy heat.
In no hurry to reach
the shoreline, she rocks to
her own soundless music
and I, under the glare,
roll beside her, my own
body throbbing under
the fiery heat of
sun in a clear blue sky.
We pass together through
air devoid of all movement.
Today I visited the river, I miss Sumidagawa when I am away. Sumida is the most ‘alive’ river I know – as if river spirits define her essence; as if she has a soul.
Temperatures were around 37 degrees C and although there was a warm breeze in town, the air around the river was spent and still. I used my umbrella as a parasol; carried water with me and wore my sunglasses for the glare.
Japanese people seem not keen on sunglasses – if anything they seem to prefer a sun visor.
The river walkway was almost deserted, there were not that many people out in the heat, anywhere. I passed quite a few dead cicadas; plus, maybe half a dozen people on bicycles and one sweaty, determined jogger, but few people wandering on foot.
Stacked along the riverside, each side, were many large bags of soil. Some with plants growing in them. I felt curious to know what they were for. A large notice board seemed to indicate a project to rebuild a shelf along the concrete sides of the river.
Back up on street level, I had the benefit of a breeze, albeit a hot breeze, and some shadow from the buildings. I made my way on into Ginza, taking advantage of whatever shade was available. An avenue of trees absorbs sunlight, but the sun is high in the sky and the road is wide; heat from the stream of traffic, aircon blazing, surges down the it. At traffic-light road crossings I waited, with most other pedestrians, in the nearest shade until the lights changed. At unregulated crossings the pedestrian always has priority.
Yesterday was the inaugural Mountain Day. We decided to visit a mountain, but to postpone by one day. Perhaps avoiding the crush.
We took trains from our local stop to the foot of the mountain and funicular to somewhere halfway to the top.
Heading west out of Tokyo centre we headed for Takaosan, a little mountain just short of 600 meters and approximately 50 km away. Directions say it’s around 75 minutes away, but it’s always wise to add on extra travel time when utilising a wheelchair. The assistance staff take a measured, careful approach to the task and seldom board me on the first available train.
Travelling out of Tokyo centre we rolled through familiar territory where multi-storey buildings gave way to small houses built so close there is barely room to squeeze between them. Each house is individual. No two rooflines are the same in form or material. Most have glazed tile roofs and colours vary from blue to green and rich creams. Access roads are narrow. At one point the roads appeared non-existent and the jumble of small houses surrounded by thin strips of dirt looked impoverished and chaotic. Order soon returned with roads and lines of dwellings. In Tokyo there seem to be few planning regulations.
This familiar cityscape continued until we reached Hino where houses started to be a little larger, with maybe a couple of meters of garden with trees and topiary shrubs. Hino and Toyoda seemed to mark a visible change from intense cityscape to something more rural. An orchard or two, and occasional small fields of sweetcorn appeared between the houses. And soon small farms, as houses again reduced in size and the landscape became greener and hilly.
Arriving at the station I was faced with the adaptable escalator – staff choose a setting that locks three steps together and I roll on. There was just enough room for my small chair. At the top I was rewarded by the news that to get down the next flight of steps, four station staff would carry me in my chair.
I quite literally wanted to shriek, in fact I’m amazed that no sound came out of my mouth.
The woman in charge looked at me with some sympathy. ‘If you are not happy you can go back. North station is easier’ her English is very good. ‘How easier? No steps?’
She wished to make me happier, wanted to say no steps, but had to admit that North station also has steps, just fewer and not so steep. I cannot see much advantage. We go ahead.
I was weeping silently when my wheels again touched the ground.
From the station a short picturesque roll brings me to the funicular station; busy, but not packed. On the way we pass a stand-pipe where hikers are scrubbing their boots after their mountain climb. I wonder how far up Takaosan I will be able to roll.
The funicular is the steepest in Japan. The girl in the ticket office says I will be able to board without assistance, she has obviously never tried, or even watched the procedure. Without a strong and experienced helper the task would be dangerous.
Via a strange triangular ramp I am manoeuvred on board the sloping carriage. I park between the rails of the narrow passage leading to the first row of seats – with my brakes firmly on, but this is not enough to prevent the wheelchair swinging hard against the rails as we reach our sharpest angle. The view is rather exciting as we climb through the trees. There is a passing point where the two funicular cross and the shrubs here are neatly topiaried. Otherwise the area is strictly conserved and has a very wide variety of flora and fauna.
A newly opened museum at the foot of the mountain aims to educate visitors with a wall of stuffed local animals: including monkey, flying squirrel and wild boar; and birds: from owls and birds of prey, to tiny sparrow- like specimens. Next week there is a lecture on beetles and there are some brilliant photographs to look at.
At the end of the ride a tiny triangular ramp is produced for my disembarkation and there is just enough room to roll off before turning sharply into the lift that will take me to level ground – just enough, that is, if you have the assistance of someone to manhandle the chair through a much too tiny turning circle.
At the top of the lift is reasonably negotiable ground. Here there are snacks and drinks and a very basic eating place. It is tiny, split over two levels, with a ramp too steep to negotiate. You choose your meal and pay at a ticket machine; the choice is very limited. The food is prepared in a canteen and ladled into bowls to be collected when your number is called. The seating areas are small and cramped.
While I waited, I sat and watched sticky rice balls on sticks being roasted over a flame and coated with miso-sugar glaze – a popular snack. Less popular, but more to my taste, was the blue honeysuckle ice-cream.
Exploring proved very limited. While the route to the top is not hard, it is surfaced with corrugated concrete. I couldn’t cope with the vibrations. Alternative access, by (ski) lift, or trek was not accessible to wheelchairs.
I admired the view, had an ice-cream, negotiated the lift (a phone call is necessary to prove you do actually need it) and returned on the funicular. This time on the journey down, I was better prepared, but still unable to prevent my wheels sliding across the steeply sloping floor of the carriage.
A visit to the museum rounded off the day. On its unusual grassy lawns outside there appeared to be a mini ‘computers and camping’ festival. Children played in the decorative rills of water, adults could purchase camping equipment and computing accessories.
In the spacious glass entrance to the museum was a sales exhibition of clothes and equipment for small-mountain climbing and rambling. On the upper floor was a spacious café/restaurant with great views and excellent, accessible facilities.
In the first large exhibition space was a display of creatures found in the protected area of Takao Mountain; mainly stuffed birds and animals individually mounted on stark white walls.
My grandmother had a collection of Victorian taxidermy – creatures stuffed and displayed realistically in their natural environments inside glass domed cabinets. Some of them were in the mouths of predators. These Japanese creatures, not quite art, not quite science, staring out through sightless eyes at their streams of visitors were oddly a lot more spooky.
A children’s play area next door catered for little ones not into the concept…
I am reminded of my first visit to a Japanese museum; that first surprise acknowledgement that the word museum could cover more and less than I had yet discovered in the west. This, together with a blurring of what might be the artificial distinction between arts and sciences, would give the whole concept of collecting, displaying and archiving as wide a remit as that of almost everything else that is loosing its boundaries in the twenty-first century.
We went home by an alternative route, less interesting, but avoiding the manual lifting. A very long wait for assistance at Shinjuku and a trek through the service tunnels of Tokyo station meant I arrived home quite exhausted after my adventure.
The Universe and Art:
As advertised by a scale model of the failed challenger rocket, this exhibition at the Mori Art Museum caught my eye. I was excited to visit, even though the crowds leading to the entrance were exceptionally long. It soon became clear though, that it was another exhibition that attracted the majority of Japanese visitors – an exhibition of drawing and cartoons that I hope to visit on a quieter occasion.
My choice was at first disappointing. The exhibition was a look at how people across the globe have pondered creation and the universe and interpreted their known wisdoms through the arts. From my very first visit to a Japanese museum I suspected that the Japanese (eastern?) view of the humanity’s efforts to understand and document the world (and their own achievements) come from a more holistic place. There are no hard and fast lines that separate out arts and sciences. So, while this exhibition had initially appealed to me, I needed to understand that the initial appeal was based on my subconscious western expectations.
Beginning with Mandalas and eastern religion/philosophy, it made some attempt to capture my imagination with dark, possibly faded, mapworks. Not what I would consider science, they were surely not created as art, was there even a concept of ‘art’ back then? It felt a little like being tossed into the sea, without knowing if I could swim.
It also felt a bit like having a trail of DNA and looking back to discover where arts and sciences had branched off – only to discover that the whole idea of ‘branching’ was alien to this exhibition. Some items dated as far back as the eleventh century. Some were exquisite works of art. Were they also science? I believe in the value of emotional intelligence and, surprising myself with an instinct to classify these artifacts, found it hard not to think of them as emotional speculation. Perhaps I should have been content to view them as archeological or anthropological scene setting..
If not smoothly, the exhibition did move quite rapidly from ‘speculation to science’, with illustrated notes, books and instruments created or used, by such notables as Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler and Newton, but these were interspersed with modern (1970s) artworks of questionable relevance or merit, depicting medieval occurrences that baffled me. I can’t help believing this was not solely due to western mindset.
Somewhere along the line though, I got hooked by the juxtapositioning of facts and arts, fantasy and speculation, even though the quality of the arts seemed to veer from fascinating to amusingly amateur. The content began sparsely with artifacts from hundreds of years ago, moved (not strictly chronologically) to the present – with a wealth of detail, photographs and artworks – and on into the future via science fiction.
From speculation/emotional intelligence, through facts and on into speculation and science fiction, seen from an eastern gaze. I was fascinated by a comment noting the shift to heliocentric thought in Japan around the start of the nineteenth century. A shift, it was claimed, influenced by western thinking.
While I was disappointed by the exhibition as a whole, there were many great details. The notebooks and exquisite instruments used by the likes of Galileo and Copernicus were a delight. One of the sculptures from the sci-fi section caught my imagination, a curled up baby of ‘future people’ emerging rather like a hibernating hedgehog, looked totally believable.
The Universe and Art – art presumed present in the crafting of ancient religious artifacts, in the exquisitely made tools and notebooks of western scientists – art integral to human evolution – art that learns from its history and bends itself to future prediction. This was an exhibition with the capacity to gently rattle my assumptions about where I was going and who I was becoming.
As a people watcher, it also gave me food for thought via one exhibit that lingered unnecessarily in my memory. The sculpture of a robot. A female robot, head obscured by a very bland helmet, breasts exposed.
It was surrounded by salivating men, not predominantly Japanese, with their eyes pressed to camera lenses, their bodies curving inwards as they crouched, twitching fingers repeatedly pressing the buttons to capture multiple images of the static figure.
Is this, the robot representation of an anonymous female, sexually available with her breasts exposed, really seem as a significant marker in the history of the Universe and Art?
Gardening and DIY:
A cooler, windy day, we made our way to Toyosu Lalaport to look at a Japanese version of a DIY store: home stuff and, to my surprise, garden.
I had been told there were no garden centres in Tokyo, so was not really expecting anything in that direction. Tales of complex journeys to out of town, and I do mean way out, garden centres with no Public transport are common.
Given the obvious love of plants shown almost everywhere in Tokyo, I should not really have been so surprised to discover this place.
I rolled fascinated up and down aisles with wooden stakes and strips; nuts, bolts and screws; pipes and taps; kitchen cupboards and utensils; flooring, lighting, cleaning stuff; flowerpots and house plants; and the big surprise – the outdoor section with decking, tiles, fake grass and garden plants.
I was really delighted to see a small, but reasonable selection. I could not resist plants for the balcony. The hottest time of the year was past – typhoons are expected – it should be a good time to give it a go.
I chose plants that grow locally, a selection that would look good together in one pot, or grouped, to share a micro-climate.
I was also unable to resist the hardware section and bought a small selection of things that would come in handy. A neat little brush for cleaning my coffee grinder caught my eye as well as a beautiful little sieve in the kitchen utensils section. And a handy bag of nails suitable for hammering into concrete walls.
Projects began to shape themselves before my eyes. It was hard to know when to stop. I had to keep reminding myself that I could come again, that all this was in comfortable rolling distance. And affordable. No need for panic buying or rash decisions.
Outside, views across the bay gave me a new perspective on Tokyo. Places I knew only from metro journeys underground, raised markers into the sky so I could form a more realistic mental image of where they sat, relative to one another.
Between me and the view, giant robotic creatures were fascinating small children, particularly the boys. Dog-sized ants nodded and waived pincers in a scary, but not too scary, imitation of life. Behind me a dog grooming parlour pimped poodles and other toys and a dog playground allowed the pimped pooches to show off their new splendour.
I don’t really like zoos.
I was highly uncomfortable visiting a Japanese aquarium (close to Tokyo’s Disney Sea) a year or more ago, so I approached Ueno zoo with some trepidation.
It was busy. There were a lot of children there, on ‘summer holiday’, families, on the whole looking happy and absorbed.
It was warmer than forecast and there was no rain.
Ueno zoo is proud of its Panda pair, and it was there that we chose to start. Attempting to join the long queue, I was intercepted by a guard who informed me that he would escort me to a priority viewing platform. I pointed out that I was with a small party and he assure me we could all stick together. The priority viewing platform was in front of the main public platform. A privileged position indeed.
The Pandas were tucking heartily into their lunch of fresh bamboo. One, the female, sat facing its audience while the male sat hunched with his back to the crowds. They were indeed kawai (= cute), as modern Japanese are so fond of saying.
I worried about the small bland enclosures, but as we moved along the platform a richer environment for each panda was revealed in larger adjacent spaces.
Once past the pandas, special treatment was abandoned. The hilly terrain, often with uneven surfaces that sent my wheelchair off in unpredictable directions, made for a rather hair raising experience among the visiting crowds.
We decided not to go back to the restaurant for lunch, but take it where we could find it, which meant chicken and chips, or box noodles. And the option of a garishly coloured ‘fruit’ drink. I opted for noodles and water.
Most people chose the chips. 2016 might be the year of the chip in Tokyo. I’ve been seeing quite a few notices proudly proclaiming: get ‘Japanese Fries’ here.
They came in a medium size paper cup, the fried chicken pieces in a separate cardboard box.
There is plentiful seating in the shade of large trees. Overhead pigeons were pooping after rich pickings from the assorted diners – they favoured the chips too.
The variety of life on display in Ueno zoo is impressive; the conditions do seem to vary a great deal. In places the pong is nauseating. The penguins and polar bear seem cheerful enough in spite of the heat, The Gorilla was obviously showing off in a bored, but not listless, fashion. Most of the creatures seemed to have somewhere they could escape the public gaze.
In spite of liberal doses of deterrent spray, I did get bitten, repeatedly, by mosquitos.
Afternoon refreshment beside Shinobazu – a natural lake divided into three sections – offered a view of the famous Lotus Pond. Later we wandered through it on the tourist pathway, disappearing into the shoulder high mass of greenery and exquisite lotus blossom. The lotus lake was far more impressive than the small selection of garishly coloured, disappointing refreshments.
We also saw wild cormorants and egret on Cormorant Pond as we wandered the path from the Zoo through parts of Ueno park.
Yoyogikoen is surely the place to go on a Sunday afternoon. Yoyogi park is a big green public space, where there is also a cycle trail and a dog walking park. Expanses of green get used for practice – by dancers, jugglers, magic acts, theatre groups and bands. Joggers jog, shoppers relax and children play.
We took the metro to Hibiya where we needed to change lines.
I’d loved the way the place was announced: ‘the next station is Hi-bi-ya’ – with the emphasis on ‘bi’, cute. But I’d learned the hard way not to love Hibiya station because of its access status. The part I need to use has no elevator, so there is a lot of ramp and platform lift action.
This time the access assistants were not the usual station staff, but guys in special uniforms with ‘security’ badges. It took three of them, and between them they made me flaming mad. My chair, when the power is switched off, will go nowhere unless I flip a switch to convert it to manual mode. Switching off, however, is not enough for Japanese health and safety; they don’t understand or care about the switching off. They demand that the brakes are on when my chair is on the platform lift.
For my personal health and safety, I switch off. As a friendly gesture I put on a ‘redundant’ manual-mode brake. But the ‘security’ guy gives me no opportunity – without the courtesy of addressing me, he actually puts my brakes on before I can get to them. I am shocked and offended.
When he tried to release the brakes he discovered that I had managed to get to one first. He was disorientated and even though I know he will not understand, I tell him anyway, how very rude I consider his actions to be.
Not comprehending that Hibiya station totally has no elevators where I need them, I tried to avoid a repeat on my homeward journey by attempting not to change lines, but to leave the station altogether. This failed to avoid the platform lift and actually required even more ramp action. A deep stone step outside the station has a groove chiselled along the edge so that the lip of the portable ramp will fit securely into it.
From Hibiya I rolled the rest of the way home. An irritated ‘I don’t believe it’ rattling around in my head.
Oh and the bit in the middle, Yoyogikoen? That was fun.
Typhoons and tropical storms are working their way along Japan this week. High winds and large quantities of rain temporarily threaten daily activities here in Tokyo. People in ‘at risk’ homes have been receiving evacuation warnings. General advice about staying inside safe buildings during the expected peak between 14.00 and 16.00, has been offered. People are aware of the possibility that it may be necessary to put life on hold while the typhoon passes. Equally, it may be possible to carry on. We may just get the edges, rain without extreme wind.
Elsewhere the danger of mudslides threatens. I am reminded that geographically Japan is a fragile place to build a home.
Living in a big city, in a ‘mansion’ – apartment building – is probably the safest option.
While I have been here the three small earthquakes rattling furniture and making our mansion dance, have left no permanent damage. Storm water drains efficiently from the street; high winds do no more damage than tossing bicycles and flowerpots in the air.
I am aware of my own relative inexperience with the phenomenon of active geography and extreme weather. Living in the west has created an assumption of being in control. Children in Japan grow up with earthquake drill, learn about heat and sun damage and safe places to evacuate. Some children go to school in hardhats under the threat of volcanoes. The earth itself and the weather are never to be taken completely for granted.
It takes courage to acknowledge the threat and yet carry on with the business of living.
Louvre No.9, a fascinating exhibition in one of the Mori Art Museum’s galleries, is an impressive first. This cooperation between France and Japan witnesses the Louvre’s game changing acknowledgement of the comic strip cartoon as fine art through the works of the Franco-Belgian and Japanese masters of the craft.
Commissioned to produce a body of work inspired by the Louvre building, by it’s collections and its 800 year history as an important art venue of world renown, the artists have individually done their research and each artist has blended fact and fiction into charming, spooky or fanciful tales.
The curation makes for a well-presented wholeness for this exhibition. The theme provides for a unifying sense of identity for ‘the ninth art’ recently embraced by the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, which claims to be the largest and second most visited art museum in the world.
Each artist had their own section, with a short biography and an explanation of their cartoon tale.
Some offered videos of their working process, some also displayed rough initial sketches showing the work developing, some are silent mysteries.
The cartoons were made in various media: pencil, pen, oils; screen printing and graphics tablets also featured. The artists managed to retain their individual styles and familiar identities as each artist’s work was displayed in discrete sections, large on the gallery walls.
The ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace’ acted as the unifying, feature artwork, beating the Louvre’s most famous exhibit, La Giaconda, into a shadowy second place. The exhibition began rather like a choreographed interactive performance piece; the duplicated statue provided a powerful visual introduction – after a short cartoon film.
The audience began in an anteroom. A small room, with introductory cartoon-crowded walls, reminiscent of a book cover, or perhaps waiting for an audience with the previous regal occupier of the Louvre Palace. Every three minutes double doors were swung open and the guests ushered through to another small, but sparse room. After a short, silent pause the cartoon-film explanation of Louvre No. 9 played out on one wall. At the end of the presentation, a concealed door in that wall was opened to reveal Nike in all her winged glory. Around and behind her the cartoon- world unfurled. Guests are invited to wander the intriguing layout, to be educated and entertained in equal measure as they explored this gathering of virtual characters adventuring in a cartoon world.
Needless to say, the shopping experience guests are invited to partake off at the exit, provided plenty of opportunity to continue both the education and the entertainment via books, prints and other souvenirs.
Fine dining – east meets west:
Marunouchi Metropolitan hotel has a restaurant on the 27th floor and our table was butted up to a picture window. We were eating early, before seven, but it was already dark and Tokyo was lit up for the night.
We looked out over Tokyo to an impressive view of skyscrapers and landmark buildings – including the swoop of green lights marking Rainbow Bridge.
The restaurant itself had a main dining area and various semi private little alcoves. Everywhere you looked was a splendid view out over Tokyo. The alcoves were candle-lit and cosy, some were situated very privately and some were accessed from the main dining area so diners could see and be seen.
We had a party ‘alcove’ on the far side of main dining, all to ourselves; and we had dressed for the occasion.
A faux candle flickered on our table which was laid with western-style glassware, flatware and cutlery as well as chopsticks. White cloth and napkins were also a western influence.
The service was leisurely; the staff were exceedingly helpful and polite. They managed to be both attentive and unobtrusive.
We took our time, settling in and admiring the view. A handy, larger-than-dinerplate, fold-out circular guide indicated all the familiar landmarks as well as places I’d never heard of. Looking down we could see trains (Marunouchi is not that far from Tokyo Station) and tiny people enjoying the warm evening.
Having pre-ordered when we booked, we were presented with our individual menus and prepared ourselves to receive the first course.
This was a birthday celebration, so we were also captured by the in-house photographer. And with the Traditional Japanese Birthday Cake, came a porcelain plate decorated in chocolate and gold and proclaiming ‘Happy Birthday’.
Appetisers – in this case a cauliflower mousse garnished with shrimp and herb.
Grilled Barracuda with Seasonal Vegetables. Yuzu flavour.
Sautéed Sea Bream with semi-dried Tomato and Bread Crumb.
Granite of Cidre.
Poeler Scallop and Japanese Oyster. Spicy Miso and Balsamic Sauce.
Pickled Red Salmon on Rice in Soup.
Granite of Melon.
Traditional Japanese Birthday Cake.
We finished sometime after ten and walked home through relatively crowded streets. Marunouchi is a fine, quiet district, but around Tokyo Station things can be a little less salubrious. Even there I never felt uneasy, but then I was in a small group. And being on wheels I am often invisible.
The night was still warm and pleasant.
Curry and magic:
Our local Indian/Japanese Curryhouse is hidden away in a small side street. It is not large and the kitchen hardly more than a narrow alcove. The menu is very limited, but good and we enjoy it. The prices are also low. The service is very relaxed and friendly.
Today’s visit the place was unusually busy, we were welcomed, ushered in and informed that there would be a magic show coinciding with our meal.
The magician, an elegant young Japanese, came to introduce himself with a few simple tricks with dancing, interlocking rings. Almost before I knew it, my silver bangles were getting in on the act – via a very polite invitation.
Our curries arrived and the magic happened as we ate. Fellow guests leapt up and down in enthusiasm. I find Japanese taste for live entertainment to be quite refreshingly unsophisticated.
I’ve often watched street entertainers, surrounded by murmuring admiration, who as far as I can judge are being applauded for effort and perseverance. Maybe also for the individual act of stepping out of line – daring to be different, when society demands such uniformity and conformity.
After lunch we wandered into Ginza for a little shopping and to watch the tourists taking mad photos and videos in the streets closed to traffic on weekend afternoons.
Palace Garden jinx:
Today was another attempt to visit the Emperor’s Palace Gardens. I did warn everyone that in this matter I was jinxed, all previous attempts had been rained off – and not by small showers.
The day was pleasantly cool around 29C and a little overcast, but the forecast said the chance of rain was low.
We had lunch in a strange little venue that would not have looked out of place somewhere like Bath, in Uk. It could have been a cake shop, with its genteel hint of art-deco and carpeted interior.
The customers are also unique. Generally older, white haired Japanese in traditional clothing, but not quite traditional reservation – the women in particular seeming more relaxed and in control.
On today’s visit there is also a business meeting of younger man with a woman boss – very unusual.
The tables are laid with knife, fork and spoons, the menu is Japanese. And there are a lot of cakes on offer too…
Even as we are finishing our meal it begins to spot with rain, but we continue on towards Hibiya. This however is not a passing shower, the intensity increases and we are forced into shelter.
We are not far from the new black glass building that we dined in some weeks ago and decide to explore it further.
There are the usual designer floors, two floors with tax-free luxury goods for people with a passport and a ticket out of Tokyo, two floors of restaurants and two floors dedicated to the concept of discovering Japan via small unique boutiques.
Graphic Trial 2016:
As a trained printmaker, I would eventually, inevitably be drawn to the Print Museum inside the Toppan Printing Bldg, 1-3-3 Suido, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo.
I was first attracted by a poster advertising this year’s Graphic Trial 2016: ‘Crossing’ and the words: ‘this is an era of instant global communication, unshackled from the limits of time and space. New sources of creativity are being formed at the intersections through which new technologies and ideas flow freely between different peoples and cultures.’
Research revealed the nearest metro station to be Edogawabashi Station on the Yurakucho line. I’d not been there before, and although I am fully aware that the vast metropolis of Tokyo has areas of inaccessibility, I find it no hardship to enjoy the bits I can reach.
The variety and abundance of accessible ‘stuff’ has probably dulled my radar, it never even occurred to me to question Edogawabashi as an accessible destination.
No warning flags were raised when I announced my destination to the assistance crew that boarded me at my local station. Arriving and enquiringly after exit 4, I was met with a blank face which cleared to a troubled frown. He waived an arm to his left indicating I should seek assistance. Anticipating the worst, I headed down a corridor that ended in steps; steps with no clear ending as the flight changed direction and disappeared.
Men appeared, closed off the entrance to pedestrians, both bottom and top, as I would discover when I got there, and called down the platform that would function as a stairlift for me and my wheels.
My slow, bleeping ascent was, to me an embarrassment. The two long flights of steps were steep and I could understand that Health and Safety would require that the entrance be closed to ambulant traffic while the lift was in operation. But still, I was uncomfortable with the situation.
Maybe my discomfort coloured my perception, but my first glimpse of the surrounding streets was very negative. Rough surfaces, twisting slopes and dodgy dropped curbs rattled my spine. The grey surroundings brought me further down, this was surely a mistake.
I realised I’d made an assumption based on the station name: Edogawabashi – assumed that I would find myself alongside the Edo river in flat accessible terrain.
I found the river, rolling through its grey concrete channel between a fairground ride of wonky roads and overhead trains and followed it.
It was with a great sense of relief that I finally found the Toppan Building. The exterior bore little resemblance to the ‘estate agent style’ photograph on its website, and the presence of a gallery was immediately obvious.
I began to suspect that the exhibition was maybe not intended for the general public, but more an in house treat for Toppan customers.
Wheelchair access required a staff member with a key to the internal lift system and she was a very short, helpful person with a walking impediment.
I was totally absorbed by the permanent history of printing exhibition. I could have stayed a day or two, but it was too physically demanding – not being displayed with seated (or even short) people in mind. Glass toped benches with displays were too high, wall exhibits, in the high-ceilinged building, were too high, video display pods to peer down into were too high and required painful leaning and the interactive stuff was too high and too far into the centre of the work tables. My neck became desperately uncomfortable and I was forced to depart.
I was determined to find an alternative route home and rolled on from the Toppan building towards the next station – which had a rather confusing entrance, but was nevertheless comfortably accessible.
The route was also a little easier, and certainly no further. I passed a surreal helter-skelter swooping up into the Tokyo sky and dipping down into a building for access.
The station entrance was via a tiny shopping/souvenir/food mall. Japanese train companies own the retail outfits that populate the station complexes, or rent out space to franchises.
This one had a selection of fresh vegetables, jewellery, souvenirs, and some strange cake/marshmallow sandwich delicacies in chocolate and strawberry flavours. The nearest I’d previously seen to that particular ‘treat’ was probably in Disneyland.
Disneyland Tokyo has quite a slick presentation, but this area looked a little shabby. It was still spotlessly clean and busy, but lacked definition.
I was struck by the difference between this part of Tokyo and the areas I’m more familiar with. Tokyo does have a lot of clearly defined ‘cities’ and I do tend to head for the specialisations that really interest and absorb me – making for quite a narrow selection.
I arrive here hungry for so much that is inaccessible to me in Uk. Maybe if I stayed longer, or somewhere less central, I would have to be more curious…
Julia Margaret Cameron:
The Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Tokyo, is an art museum in Marunouchi’s Brick Square. Although dwarfed by the buildings around it, it sits higher than the rest of the square, it’s many small windows looking down on the quiet garden where I frequently sit.
Green public spaces are OK places to eat or drink and Brick Square accommodates many local workers with bento boxes and home prepared food as well as locals and tourists eating at its restaurants. Like me, people purchase chocolate ice cream from the Spanish chocolate specialists, Sampaka, and sit in Brick Square’s generous green shade to eat it. In Summer 2016 they would have looked up to a giant poster of Julia Margaret Cameron on the side of the museum, promoting an exhibition of her photography.
A nineteenth century British photographer, she was renown for her innovative approach to photographing the celebrities of her time. The poster successfully lured me inside. With my western hat on I’d have leaned towards calling this place an art gallery, except that the architecture, a series of small interlinked rooms on several floors, does whisper ‘museum’
The decor has changed since the last time I was here. It is quieter, more discrete, no longer fighting the exhibitions.
The black and white chequerboard floor tiles that made my head spin, the blood-red walls and golden parquet floors have all gone.
The eccentricity is gone, although the interior still looks like a recently abandoned home and reminds me of places like Bournemouth’s Russel Coates museum in the Uk
Julia Margaret Cameron’s faded, scratched and out of focus, sepia photographs are well able to dominate the rooms.
I’d taken advantage of the free tartan wool blankets on loan at the entrance, the interior is cold, but shortly into my viewing found myself sneezing. One of the attendants rushed off to collect two more blankets and proceeded to wrap me snugly in them. This was not done intrusively and to my surprise I did not object.
Julia Margaret Cameron’s photographs fascinated me, her bold eccentric personality, shining through her correspondence and achievements, was a wicked delight and her circle of celebrity acquaintances, most impressive.
From just being a name I was aware of, she came to life quite vibrantly in this quirky art museum.
On my way out through the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum’s rather creative souvenir sales shop, I made the surreal purchase of Doset Knobs and Oxford Breakfast marmalade.