Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2018

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Tokyo Sky Tree Construction Completed

Construction of Tokyo’s new tower, Tokyo Sky Tree, has officially been completed as of February 29th according to the company in charge of the project Obayashi Corp. It has now been handed over to TOBU Tower Sky Tree Co. who will finish fitting out the interior in time for its opening on 22nd May 2012. You can already pre-order tickets, and when I say can I mean it’s theoretically possible, but I wish anybody luck getting their hands on them as demand is predicted to be very high.

Completion of the tower puts it as the tallest tower in the world, topping the Canton Tower in Guangzhou, China. Construction was delayed slightly by the earthquake and events that followed last March. Amazing to think that there were workmen in cranes and on platforms working when the earthquake struck. I was terrified being on terra-firma, let alone being on top of a partially constructed tower.


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!


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.


METABOLISM – The City Of The Future

Metabolism, Mori Art Museum

I don’t know a great deal about architecture but I know what I like, and I’ve expressed love for the Nakagin Capsule Tower on more than one occasion on this very blog, so I couldn’t believe my luck when I heard about the METABOLISM – The City Of The Future exhibition at Mori Art Museum in Roppongi, featuring my favourite building. Not only could you see design drawings and advertisements for the Capsule Tower from the 70’s, but there was also a short film detailing the design and construction of the building and featuring interviews with a dapper, younger-day Kisho Kurokawa, the man behind the building. Moreover, there were buildings, designs on cities, marine cities and enormously ambitious living configurations (most of which have never been constructed) by a group of Kisho Kurokawa’s contemporaries of the Metabolism movement I’d never heard of. The exhibition also put on display the original architectural models, now practically antiques. The exhibition is as much about post-war to present-day graphic design as it is about architecture, so I was drooling over a wall filled with the participating countries’ pamphlets for the 1970 World Expo in Osaka. As well as being beside myself with joy at seeing the making of Nakagin Capsule Tower on the big screen, I was also made aware of buildings in Japan designed in a similar vein that I had never seen before, a couple of which are located in Kyoto. So, I’ve decided to take a trip to Kyoto as soon as I can. No need to rush, but do go and see this exhibition which is open until 15th Jan 2012.


Nakagin Capsule Tower Vol.2

Nakagin Capsule Tower Vol.2

I recently put up a new series of photographs of Nakagin Capsule Tower here in Tokyo as a follow-up to my original Nakagin Capsule Tower post from way back. The original series was shot on my old compact which I’ve since upgraded to a DSLR. The difference is huge with this new camera. The camera was in fact first bought because I was invited to display the pictures in a gallery in Berlin but I needed to re-shoot them in order to get the quality and size of print necessary for the space. That later fell through anyway, so here is the series originally intended for the gallery on my Flickr.


Warehouse Game Centre

Warehouse Game Centre

Moving out to my new neighbourhood means I’m just a little bit further from popular west-side areas like Shibuya and Naka-Meguro, but even in anonymous areas like Nishi-Kasai you can still uncover some interesting places. Take for example my local video game arcade which appears to be a huge rusting armour-clad fortress. The cliche is completed using the font that Hollywood murdered: Bank Gothic. Regardless, this is a BIG video arcade!

You just don’t get the planning permission to build stuff like this in other cities. It reminds me of what one travel writer said about Tokyo. They said “Tokyo is a city devoid of beauty”. They were exaggerating of course, but in the classic sense it’s true to some extent. You can visit any city in the world and see far more historic buildings and monuments, and you certainly wouldn’t see anything as outlandish as this. But, for some people this surreal image of the future in a city akin to a giant, sprawling theme park is far more appealing. I got more satisfaction from visiting Nakagin Capsule Tower than I did visiting any temple or shrine in the city. For me the real cultural landmarks are ones such as these. Giant robot statues, opulent shopping centres, and bright neon hoardings.


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.


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’.


Nakagin Capsule Tower – The Future Was 30 Years Ago

Nakagin Capsule Tower
Check out the full set of pics of the Nakagin Capsule Tower on my flickr.

There’s a building in Tokyo that, to my mind, represents Tokyo. When I looked at the Nakagin Capsule Tower yesterday and imagined what lay behind it’s rusting porthole windows, I realised that it fits with all of the pre-conceptions I had of Tokyo, of people living in tiny modular spaces, futuristic, geometric buildings, grungy concrete facades with anonymous, gloomy peepholes. Brutally modern, but still unmistakably Japanese in origin, the Tower has the same appeal as an old Casio digital watch. It’s obviously a past attempt at realising the future, but it succeeds at doing this on so many levels. It still puts to shame every shiny steel structure in the vicinity in terms of it’s presence. A brutal, decaying monolith sticking out between two high rise buildings in the Tokyo business district of Shinbashi.

Nakagin Capsule Tower Sign

The building was completed in 1972, designed by a young Japanese architect called Kisho Kurokawa. The designer himself said, in an interview with TAB, that the capsules were meant to be replaced and maintenance was supposed to be carried out every 25 years, but the building is now 37 years old, and nothing has been done since it’s original construction. For this reason, it has recently fallen into disrepair, with problems arising from water leakages and electrical faults, as well as the rusting and general degredation of the capsules themselves. The building has 13 stories, with each of the capsules which make up the floors being attached to the enormous central shafts by just 4 high-tension bolts. The idea was that the capsules could be individually changed without disturbing the others, fulfilling objectives of sustainable architecture rooted in the metabolist architectural movements popular at the time. The Nakagin Capsule Tower was the first of it’s kind, designed to provide affordable housing to office workers unable to make it back to their real homes on weekdays.

Nakagin Capsule Tower Room

When Nakagin went bankrupt some years ago, they were bought out by U.S. hedge funds. Now the companies behind the acquisition are planning to have it demolished. Some architectural preservation groups are campaigning to save the tower and have it listed as a world heritage site, and I agree with that. It’s unlike any building I’ve seen before – it’s got a kind of immortal quality, probably derived from its very sci-fi appearance. Trouble is, there are doubts as to whether the building is resistant to earthquakes, and there is some controversy over the possible use of asbestos in the building’s construction. Time will tell as to whether such a doomed building is possible of saving, or whether such a seemingly invincible, obtrusive, controversial structure is capable of being destroyed at all.

And so I’m stood in the side street with The Tower looming overhead and there are some business men in suits smoking cigarettes outside the convenience store at the foot of the building. I’m looking in their direction, and further up the street there’s a small shop or office which, on closer inspection, turns out to be a small real estate agent. I thought it would be too good to be true if they had an advertisement in the window for a capsule to rent in the Nakagin Capsule Tower itself, but there it was.

Nakagin Capsule Tower for Rent!

Check out the full set of pics of the Nakagin Capsule Tower on my flickr.