Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2017

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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.

 

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!

 

New Loft Store Opens In Yurakucho

Loft Yurakucho

As of tomorrow, Loft will be opening their doors to customers in their giant new store right next to MUJI in Yurakucho, central Tokyo. If you’re not familiar with Loft, let me direct you to their website – but if you can’t be bothered to click, they’re basically a designer homewares and stationery store. I usually go there to get my diaries and planners that I usually end up not using. I’m going to try to pick up one of the new Harris Tweed Hobonichi Techo if I can beat the crowds.

Loft Yurakucho

 

MUJI Flagship Yurakucho New Interior

loft-muji-1

Two MUJI posts in a row? Bear with me, this is important. Well, the interior is not completely new but it’s a major refurbishment with a lot of new sections/features. As well as the entrance area on the first floor being completely changed, and the layout altered, there’s also a new MUJI Megane (glasses/spectacles) department, Atelier MUJI has been updated, MUJI house has been completely changed plus loads of other cosmetic changes. All this via MUJI’s Facebook page. I’ll be there tomorrow to take a look and to see the new Loft store in the same building. That opens tomorrow (1st September).

loft-muji-2

loft-muji-3

 

A Lot Can Happen in a Year in Tokyo

Ginza MitsukoshiMitsukoshi Department Store, Ginza

In addition to the multitudes of building projects taking place in Tokyo right now, not to mention the rebuilding of the Kabuki-Za and the construction of the New Tokyo Tower, there are areas that see concentrated redevelopment, one of which is Ginza’s Chuo Dori, a.k.a. Ginza Street.

In just one year lots of new buildings have shot up along this famous shopping thoroughfare. Most of the new development has come at the Shinbashi end of the street where the fast fashion and middle level brands have asserted their presence. This seems to be in line with the current decline of the luxury brands in favour of cheaper alternatives that has followed in the wake of the economic crisis.

Still, the rate of change has been staggering. The first major project you see as you walk from the Kyobashi end towards Shinbashi is the Mitsukoshi department store renovation with its new building at the rear. The new building is even larger than its predecessor which has had a facelift and the interior completely replaced.

Mitsukoshi Department Store Annex, GinzaMitsukoshi Department Store Annex, Ginza

Then, if you walk fifty yards further on, you come to Uniqlo which has expanded this year to occupy two buildings instead of just the previous one which is next door. This means menswear gets its own building now, also featuring the +J range.

Uniqlo GinzaUniqlo, Ginza

Down from Uniqlo is a controversial new store, Abercrombie & Fitch. They caused complaint after their store opened this year due to the loud music and the overpowering odour of Abercrombie & Fitch aftershave that wafted from the entrance. Walls, floors, racks and displays are all sprayed at regular intervals and rumour has it that it is also expelled from vents and air conditioners. In the warmer months the guys on the door (there are always two guys standing at the entrance) are bare-chested and look uncomfortable as they try to jig along to the awful dance music blaring inside (staff’s orders). Apparently you can find the same inside but I’ve never been able to bring myself to enter. Still, the building is impressive enough and the brand seems to have survived its first year to the chagrin of many fashion and marketing aficionados.

Abercrombie & Fitch, GinzaAbercrombie & Fitch, Ginza

The final major new building is a little further down the street next to Zara and H&M. Yamaha has built a huge store there with instrument showrooms on several floors and a 333 seat concert hall. My favourite section has to be the electronic instruments and accessories, but all musicians should visit here for range of products often not available outside of Japan and the interior is as impressive as the exterior.

Yamaha Store, GinzaYamaha Store, Ginza

So, all-in-all it’s been a busy year on Ginza Street with lots of changes and interesting new shops that have reinforced its reputation of being one of the most upscale, upmarket and vibrant shopping districts in the world. The scale of construction in this area alone has been massive but there are yet other pop-up shops and smaller construction projects I haven’t mentioned such as the Asahi Extra Cold Bar that was around temporarily during the summer and the construction work still going on in secret behind screen walls and advertising hoardings probably due to be unveiled in the new year, so the pace of progress shows no sign of easing.

 

The Rebuilding of Ginza’s Kabuki-za

Kabuki-za

I was going to mention this before it actually happened, but I didn’t get around to it: Ginza’s Kabuki-za is now closed, the final farewell performances having been played out and the doors closed to the public for the last time. Now begins the huge task of preparing the building for demolition, which primarily involves emptying it of all the furniture, equipment, Kabuki accoutrements and priceless objects. In the above picture you can see how it looks now, and at the end of this post how it’s going to look when the new building is finished.

For those who are unaware, Kabuki is a highly stylized form of Japanese drama often involving music and dancing. Costumes and makeup tend to be extravagant and the dialogue, an illegible form of archaic Japanese. The practitioners are usually part of a dynasty of such performers and highly revered. Take for example actors such as Nakamura Shikan VII, Sakata Tōjūrō IV, Nakamura Tomijūrō V, Onoe Kikugorō VII, and Ichikawa Danjūrō XII. The latter of which is possibly the most famous.

The company that owns the building, Shochiku Corp., claims the rebuild is due to concerns over whether the building could withstand a major earthquake, but I suspect there are other motives. Land in Ginza is the most expensive anywhere in the world, and the current low-rise Kabuki-za sprawls over a large area. It’s obvious that the land could be better exploited, and as you walk around the back of the Kanuki-za it actually looks a bit tatty in places. Personally, I like it. It reminds me of the bathhouse from the famous Studio Ghibli anime Sen to Chihiro no Kami-kakushi (Spirited Away). The project is expected to be finished in 2013.

New Kabuki-za

 

New Uniqlo Shibuya Dougenzaka

Uniqlo Shibuya Dougenzaka

When I bought my UT Four Tet T-shirt the other week, the bag was advertising a new Dougenzaka branch. A little research on the internet confirmed this. There’s now a big Uniqlo on the Dougenzaka thoroughfare of Shibuya. With all the Uniqlo stores dotted around Tokyo, you’d think this was of very little importance unless you live near in or around Shibuya, but I’ve noticed that the big stores do tend to cater for their respective neighbourhoods. It’s the same with other ‘fast fashion’ brands like H&M – Harajuku is stocked differently to Ginza. Also, in the smaller stores, popular items sell out fast, whereas you have more chance of finding the best of the new season at the really big stores in Shinjuku, Ginza, Shibuya and the speciality UT (Uniqlo T-Shirts) store in Harajuku.

This new store opened just this month, on the 5th of March and is being referred to as the new Uniqlo flagship store. It’s attached to Shibuya Station apparently although I’m not sure yet as I haven’t checked this out for myself. It’s also rumoured to be stocking items only usually sold in the London stores (although I think this may have been a limited offer and may already be over). On top of this, it’s supposed to also specialise in the sale of Uniqlo’s range of jeans, UJ.

 

Uniqlo x Domino Records T-Shirts: Four Tet

Uniqlo Four Tet T-Shirt

I was in the Ginza Uniqlo store, recently expanded with a dedicated building for men, this is now one of the best Uniqlo stores in the city (the others being Shinjuku, and the newly opened Shibuya Dougenzaka store). Whilst browsing I saw the new Uniqlo x Domino Records collab featuring T-shirts of The Kills and Four Tet. I love Uniqlo and I love Four Tet, so this is a win-win situation for me this spring. Plus, they only cost ¥1500 (£11 / $16)! Perfect wear for Hanami season. Visit the Domino Records website.

UPDATE: If you head to the Ginza store and are wondering where the +J range has got to, you can find it on the 5th floor of the women’s building next door.

 

Facebook’s New Offices

Facebook's New Offices

Personally, I’m a user but not a fan of Facebook. It’s obviously one of the most sophisticated online applications and also one of the most visited sites in the world – but I can’t help feeling that it’s somehow evil. It’s pretty spammy at times and has caused me no end of troubles, not to mention the wasted hours resulting from the voyeuristic tendencies it fosters.

That said, you can’t knock their offices. Designed by studio o+a, it’s a rambling facility of entertainment rooms, modern interiors, recreational facilities and hippies riding skateboards. Whether or not this multi-million dollar playhouse will increase productivity is another matter. It’s now generally accepted that a happy workforce is a productive one, but I think you have to draw the line somewhere. With too many distractions it becomes impossible to get focused on what it is your supposed to be doing (i.e. not table football).

See more photos at either cpluv.com or officesnapshots.com

 

Karigurashi no Arrietty

Karigurashi no Arrietty

There’s a new Studio Ghibli movie coming out and it looks to be loosely based on the classic, British children’s book The Borrowers. This isn’t the first time a Ghibli movie has been based on children’s books written in the UK either; Howl’s Moving Castle was based on a book written by Diana Wynne Jones.

The title of the movie is going to be 借りぐらしのアリエッティ (Karigurashi no Arrietty) which translates as Arrietty the Borrower – the official website is here, for what it’s worth. It will be directed by Hiroaki Yonebayashi, and not by the great Hayao Miyazaki, although Miyazaki will be responsible for writing the script. Apparently, the idea for the movie has been discussed before a long time ago by Miyazaki and his team, but only now is it being put into production. Miyazaki stepping back from the directing duties is interesting, as he has already retired once before and looked to be trying to appoint individuals capable of carrying his legacy forward, most famous of which being his son, Goro Miyazaki who took directorial duties on the movie Gedo Senki – Tales from Earthsea (which was also loosely based on a series of books by American author, Ursula K. Le Guin). As he relinquishes control on Karigurashi no Arietty it will be interesting to see if he will be able to keep his hands off the drawings and animation all the way through production, without seizing control of at least one of these aspects as he has been alledged to have done on past features (where he was supposedly not going to be involved in either).

Finally, the story (in a nutshell) is going to be about a boy living in a house in Koganei, Tokyo (the real-life location of Studio Ghibli) who has a tiny girl called Arrietty living under the floorboards of his house, and presumably she ‘borrows’ stuff.

 

Happy New Year 2010!

Tokyo from Mori Tower

It’s the end of a decade and as you can probably tell, I’m in Tokyo. I saw in the new year on the top floor of the Mori building in Tokyo, at a party that featured DJs from United Future Organization and Kyoto Jazz Massive but I couldn’t tell you for sure if I caught the performances of either one. It was mayhem and the place was absolutely huge. You couldn’t miss however, the stunning panoramic views of the city and the famous Tokyo Tower. The night was not so cold and crystal clear and it was a good chance to remind myself just how massive Tokyo actually is. In this new year I’m going to try to see much more of it, projects allowing. At the turn of midnight, Tokyo tower lit up in white displaying ‘2010’.

Tokyo Tower 2010

Having cleared my head after the actual event, it was then time to participate in the traditional practice of ‘Hatsumode’, where people visit shrines and temples to pray for good fortune and purchase religious trinkets and lucky charms. I got myself an all-purpose talisman and threw some coins in offering and of course prayed in front of the shrine. In order to do this I had to wait for 2 hours, but I was able to watch a documentary about the shrine (Meiji Jingu near Harajuku) on a huge TV screen to kill the time as we all shuffled slowly up the approach.

Meiji Jingu Hatsumode

And then all that was left to do was to file back out and get back on the train, but not before sampling some of the festival fare on offer at the many traditional food stands lining the route. I ate buttered potato to try to warm up enough to make it as far as Yoyogi station. I feel very positive about this year – it was definitely a good thing to be here in Japan for the transition as I plan to be here for the foreseeable future, but I’ve got a lot of work to do this year if I want to achieve my goals. What they are exactly are only known to me and the Deities at Meiji Jingu.

Leaving Meiji Jingu

Happy New Year, and good luck in 2010.

 

Merry Christmas 2009

Merry Christmas 2009

Today is Christmas Day, and this year I’m spending it in Japan. This morning I watched Tom & Jerry’s The Night Before Christmas and Disney’s A Christmas Carol while eating one of the two Christmas cakes from the fridge, played the fresh copy of Super Mario Bros. Wii for an hour, then went to Tokyo Midtown for the illuminations and the Christmas market. The picture you can see at the top of this post was taken there. I’m about to have dinner, but unfortunately it won’t include roast turkey this year. That’s OK, it’s been a pretty good day!

Merry Christmas and a prosperous and productive New Year from Tokyo Story!

 

+J and Uniqlo Tunes

+J and Uniqlo Tunes

Some Uniqlo news now. I was in the newly expanded Ginza branch yesterday and had the good fortune to see the new +J line of clothing at the back of the new mens’ section. I tried on some of the outerwear, and I liked it very much. Although I didn’t buy anything (yet), I was taken by the fine tailoring and the details. This lead me inevitably back to the Japanese Uniqlo website where I saw the new Flash toy launched this Autumn – Uniqlo Tunes. It plays video in time with MP3’s, and you can even upload your own. As usual you have the option of integrating it into your blog. This new music toy joins a small collection of other Uniqlo Flash virals and microsites.

 

New Tokyo Tower (Tokyo Sky Tree)

New Tokyo Tower (Tokyo Sky Tree)

Construction is well underway of the new broadcasting and observation tower, Tokyo Sky Tree – it now stands at around 100m tall. Designed by Tadao Ando and costing a whopping ¥60,000,000,000, the tower will be one of the world’s tallest at 634m and, judging by the CG mock-ups, looks like the kind of tower you would see on the front cover of 80’s sci-fi novels. You can see the current state of affairs in the bottom right of the picture (inset).

The tower is located in Oshiage, Sumida-ku, on the east side of the city, also known as Shitamachi or ‘Downtown’.

 

Shinjuku Marui’s All New 6

allnew6

Marui department store has a poetic and beautiful new promotion in the form of ‘All New 6 (senses)’. I didn’t have the perseverance or the time to decipher the Japanese text juxtaposed over the sepia toned stop frame animations of small model characters living out their lives in various locations in Tokyo, but that didn’t matter. The music and the atmosphere of this piece will draw you in, and then demonstrate to you a side of the marketing sensibility in Japan not often seen in other countries, certainly not in the west. One of haunting, wistful moodiness. A bit strange and sinister. It reminds me of watching those strange eastern European animations on TV when I was a kid.