Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2018

Bonzai Inspired Sculptures of Takanori Aiba

I heard about this guy called Takanori Aiba through a reader of Tokyo Story and was totally blown away by his work. He creates sculptures and artworks-cum-architectural models partly inspired by the traditional Japanese art of Bonsai. He’s had a really varied career having graduated in traditional Japanese textile design and dyed clothing, then moving onto illustrating for fashion magazine POPEYE before starting his own company called Graphics & Designing. He has since expanded his creative endeavours from art director and concept designer for architectural spaces to exhibiting artist.

What strikes you about his work straight away is the incredible level of detail. Each one is a fantasy world based on reality which resemble real-world buildings and structures but in a quirky microcosm. Some of his works remind me of the worlds conjured up in Ghibli movies.


Thermae Romae

This is a new anime that I’ve been watching recently, and it’s hilarious. It’s about a guy in ancient Rome called Lucius who is an architect responsible for designing the empire’s public hot spa baths. He gets criticized by the emperor for having ran out of ideas and inspiration for how to develop the bathing culture further and reflects on this during a hot bath when suddenly he’s pulled underwater by a mysterious force. When he resurfaces he finds he has warped to present-day Japan and finds himself either in a Sento (public bath) or an Onsen (natural hot spring) or some other location particular to the Japanese bathing culture, depending on the episode.

During his short time there he picks up ideas and is routinely astounded at the technological advancements he sees. After warping back to Rome he employs the ideas in Roman baths and becomes the toast of the empire. For each episode, rinse and repeat!

NOTE: As of writing this post, you can watch episodes on


Tokyo Gate Bridge

There is a new bridge open in Tokyo as of yesterday. It’s called the Tokyo Gate Bridge and crosses Tokyo Bay linking Wakasu in Koto Ward with Jonanjima Seaside Park in Ota Ward. You can see Mt.Fuji and the New Tokyo Sky Tree (due to open on 22nd May this year) from the bridge, and like the rainbow bridge, I’m guessing it also offers a good view of the high-rise buildings and lights of the city. Construction began in 2003, so it’s taken a fairly long while to build. There’s also a walkway that crosses it too, so I’m planning to cycle over it in the near future, as it’s quite close to where I live.


Washed Out at Liquid Room, Ebisu – Tonight

Just wanted to quickly mention for chillwave and dreampop lovers out there, that Washed Out will be playing at Liquid Room in Ebisu tonight. It’s ¥5,500 in advance, but it looks like tickets on the door will be the same price. i was really thinking about going down myself, but I really am too busy to go. If you do have time, I heartily recommend you go and catch this – starts at 7:30. Full details can be found on Liquid Room’s page for the event.



Recently I was introduced to this animation which airs on MTV Japan called USAVICH. As soon as I saw it I was addicted and I’m now in the process of watching all the episodes on the MTVJ website before they disappear. The name comes from the Japanese word usagi meaning rabbit (anyone remember Usagi Yojimbo?) plus the Russian family name suffix vich. So basically the story is about two rabbits Putin and Kirenenko who are trapped in a soviet prison in some other twisted parallel reality. Each episode is 10 minutes long and deals with their daily goings-on in their prison cell, and eventually their time on the run after escaping. No more spoilers, get watching.

Usavich is made by the talented Satoshi Tomioka of Kanaban Graphics.


Asakusa Culture & Tourism Center

This year will see the completion of a really interesting new piece of architecture in one of the old parts of Tokyo, Asakusa. Built in so-called shitamachi (downtown), and coinciding with something of an injection of life into the area due to its completion at roughly the same time as Tokyo Sky Tree due open this may, the Asakusa Culture & Tourism Center starkly contrasts its surroundings with its modern, glassy facade and unconventional form.

It’s designed by Kengo Kuma and as you can see from the picture is made up of seven individual units stacked on top of each other. It sits directly opposite Asakusa’s most famous tourist attraction, Kaminarimon which leads through to Nakamise Dori and eventually Sensouji Temple. The building will be built on the site of what was the original Asakusa Culture & Tourism Center fronted by the Karakuri-dokei, an extremely kitsch mechanised clock from which animatronic figures would pop out on the hour like a nightmarish cuckoo clock. Obviously a big improvement, but I’ll still miss it anyway.

Such is the way of things in Tokyo. Old buildings disappear and new ones spring up in their place. It was only last year Kabukiza was demolished to make way for its modernised replacement. There are in fact a handful of new architectural projects taking place all around the city which I’ll try to post on if I get chance.


The Fox Is Black Desktop Wallpaper Project

Personally, I don’t like to keep the same wallpaper on my desktop for more than a week, tops – so I was lucky to find this excellent collection of wallpapers by various creatives so I didn’t have to! I strongly recommend you check this out, but be careful as I spent far too long going through the entire category of posts looking at these. If you’ve found a desktop you like you should also check the mixtape section as it’s also really great. All you need to get on: a fresh desktop and an array of tunes to work to.


Kuniyoshi Exhibition At Mori Art Museum

Rapidly becoming my favourite gallery recently, due to the fact that they had Metabolism – The City Of The Future and now the warped ukiyo-e of Kuniyoshi, which looks like it’s going to be great – Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills is hosting a two part exhibition, the first of which ends tomorrow (17th January 2012). So firstly sorry for the late notice, but the second part is on until 12th February so plenty of time to catch it.

Kuniyoshi has been coined Edo’s ultimate graphic designer, and if you look at some of the work on the exhibition’s website it’s easy to see why. He certainly stands out from his better known contemporaries Hokusai and Hiroshige with his depictions of ghosts, demons, fantasy stories, folklore and other such lurid subject matter. It seems he was also a cat-lover.

I wasn’t familiar with him until this exhibition started, although I recognize a few of the works. but now I’ve seen it I’ve been looking through the other pieces by this artist on Wikipedia and they’re unbelievable. When you consider when these were made and when you consider the state of Japanese visual communication nowadays, you realize just how important this guy was.


SoftBank Ramen!

Mobile phone provider SoftBank is now offering instant ramen in store featuring the famous white dog on its packaging. What’s more, all you have to do to get your hands on some is go into the shop and show interest in a product or service! I don’t know exactly what this entails, but you can bet they are going to run out of these pretty damn quick, so get down there as soon as possible if you’re in Tokyo and want to get your hands on one of these surely collectable instant ramen pots!


Japanese Kanji for 2011

At the end of each year the Japanese public chooses a kanji that best sums up the year as a whole. The kanji for 2011 has been chosen as kizuna meaning bond or connection between people. The kanji is then ceremoniously calligraphed onto a large white canvas at Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto. I was there in December so I was aware it was going to happen but I had forgotten to post about it until now.

The reason for the choice has been put down to the strengthening of bonds between the Japanese as a nation and between Japan and the rest of the world as a result of the earthquake and tsunami and the aftermath of which dominated 2011. I’m definitely glad it was a positive one in the end. It would have been so easy to have selected something negative after what happened last year.


2012 Update

I know I’ve been threatening it for a long time, but the new version of Tokyo Story is coming VERY soon. It’s in the final stages of development right now, with some new features to make it easier to explore the content on the site. Posts have been really slow over the course of last year, that will change too.

The new features will include slightly improved typography and colour schemes, a search box, better pagination, easy access to all podcasts and videos, and new categories for posts with navigation in a new sidebar. On top of all that, a much needed facelift all round which I hope doesn’t compromise the atmosphere of the blog, which I’ve always been happy with. I always wanted to keep things simple and not detract from the main content, but I feel now that the site is too ‘bare bones’ and this gives it a slightly lifeless quality which I want to remedy. It feels static, and I think the new inclusions will add a bit more vibrancy. If anyone has any suggestions, requests or recommendations please feel free to put them in the comments.

Looking further down the line, I will be pushing the freelance web design side still more and seeing where that will go. I’ll also be creating one or more WordPress themes which I might even offer for sale if they turn out OK. As a platform for these things, the website languishing in the root folder of this server will change completely, as it damn well should. This will be built on WordPress and will feature articles detailing side projects, client work, and written pieces about web design and development as I see it, as well as of course offering my services.

I’ll be making more videos too. Now 2011 is behind us, setsuden is over with, the lights are back on, the video screens over Shibuya crossing have flickered back into life and the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant has acheived cold shut down, there’s a renewed air of optimism in Tokyo again. With due reverence to those that lost their lives in the disaster and all those affected by the aftermath of the biggest earthquake in recorded history, we can tentatively look forward to and hope for, even expect, great things from 2012. There’s a lot more energy around already – and it’s only 3rd January.

Radio Tokyo Podcasts will continue as planned without any particular interval. I’ll fit them in when I can and when the mood takes me. The key to all of this stuff for me is striking a balance between having it a passion and making it a chore.

I’m in the process of elaborating on an idea for what I like to call a geographical bookmarking tool for us city dwellers that will, providing the model stands up under scrutiny during the early stages, make an appearance in open beta form with the eventual plan of having a partnering iOS app. I have other ideas for web services and apps I’d like to see, purely because I’d like to use them myself, and that’s the best reason to build one. And build them I shall!


Happy 2012!

The dust has finally started to settle from the New Year’s and Christmas celebrations. I spent Christmas in the UK then flew back to Tokyo for New Year’s Eve. Didn’t go to a party as such this year, just ventured into the city and saw where things would lead. I ended up at the foot of Tokyo Tower for the countdown. Having been there just recently I was able to find my way back there despite the champagne and beer haze. That however probably explains why the picture above is so poor.

Fortunately, before I went out, I had lined my stomach with Toshi-koshi Soba (New Year’s soba, lit. year-change soba) as is customary. The only things I haven’t had yet is Osechi-ryouri (New Year’s Dishes), Oshiruko (sweet red bean soup), and Ozoni (savoury soup with Mochi rice cake floating in it). I managed to eat some crab at a sushi restaurant I went to after I finished at the shrine as crab is traditional and sushi is pretty popular to eat during new year in Japan also.

On New Year’s day I did the customary Hatsumode at Nishi-Arai Daishi Shrine. That went pretty smoothly as I was lucky enough to have a ¥5 coin in my pocket. After that, I bought an Omamori (lucky charm) / Omikuji (fortune) combo and got Daikichi (best possible outlook) and a Manniki-Neko (lucky cat) charm which is supposed to bring money and success in business. All-in-all, regardless of whether or not you choose to believe in such things, feeling very positive about 2012. I think it’s going to be an awesome year!

Here’s hoping you get everything you wish for in the coming year and best wishes for 2012, the year of the dragon!


Kyoto International Conference Center

I was in Kyoto last week for a two day trip. It’s supposed to be good this time of year because the leaves are red in the autumn, but actually I didn’t really go early enough and I just caught the end of it. Some of the trees had already lost most of their leaves, but because it wasn’t the ideal time to be there, it wasn’t so crowded.

Having just been to the Metabolism – City of the Future exhibition at Mori Art Museum, there was no way I was going to visit Kyoto and not go to the Kyoto Kokusai Kaikan known in English as Kyoto International Conference Center. Of course, I visited a lot of shrines and temples and the usual sightseeing spots, but when I arrived at the site of the conference center I was the only tourist there. The only other human beings there were politicians attending the Fifteenth Asia-Pacific Regional Meeting who I saw taking smoke breaks at the back of the complex from where the two pictures you see here were taken.

The building was designed by architect Sachio Otani, who worked under the better known Kenzo Tange. The building is unique in that it has few vertical walls or pillars. Personally, I was blown away by it, and seeing it was the highlight of my trip. Whilst I was there I couldn’t help feeling that I was on the set of Star Wars. This building was built not long before Star Wars came out, so it makes you wonder if George Lucas saw this too, back in the mid-1970’s before he made the first three films. After all, virtually everything else about the movie was inspired by Japonica. Future visitors to Kyoto should also make the effort to visit this building, it’s incredible.


Western Movie Stars in Japanese TV Ads

A couple of TV advertisements have been showing in Japan just recently featuring some major stars from the west. First up, we’ve got an incredible spot featuring non other than Jean Reno as Doraemon! This one’s for Toyota I think.

To follow that, we’ve got Bruce Willis promoting the Daihatsu Mira e:s, which we are led to believe is a car. How the stars actually entice you to buy one of their cars isn’t clear to me, but they get people talking, and they end up going slightly viral, or ending up on blogs like this one.


Tokyo Tower! (At Last)

Tokyo Tower

Even though I’ve been in Tokyo for almost 4 years now, on this last Thursday 27th October I paid my first visit to Tokyo Tower. It was made especially good due to the fact that it’s actually pretty old for a building in Tokyo, having been built in 1959, so it’s pretty retro in places. Especially the elevator between the middle and top observatories. I took loads of photos from the observatories but it was a bit hazy so there’s nothing particularly worth uploading, but that added a bit of meaning to the trip. At least I can say I’ve done it now, and I must say I like the the way Tokyo Tower looks. I think I prefer it to the New Tokyo Sky Tree they’re building in Oshiage. I’ll still definitely be visiting that though, as soon as the crowds die down enough to get into it when it opens next year. It’s going to be almost twice as big as Tokyo Tower, but for me the orange and white original will always be no.1.