Thursday, June 29, 2017

March in Tokyo: Roppongi Art Walks and the Benefits of Working Downtown

While I was still working I was all over the best-known parts of town and enjoying that as much as possible, so here you go, another monthly round-up, image-heavy post in addition to all the weekend ones from March!

This used to be my office view 3 - 4 times a week

And this was supposed to more more derp than duck but what can you do

And this was my favourite office on the massive expansive main floor 
occupied by the Swiss pharma company where I spent most of my time

Here's me genuinely loving my private sessions with their marketing manager, who I was warned was very shy and difficult to talk to but who ended up being hilarious and a full-on friend. She lives at the office and I ended up convincing her to get a massage at the end of every week; she seemed genuinely amazed by the difference it made lol

Here's an example of what I was doing all that time - 
in this case, explaining how to use relative clauses

Another selfie

Aaand a third work selfie, but this time with Women Who Run With the Wolves
this excellent (but long-winded) feminist classic Ale sent me for Christmas.

I also worked there at night, though my camera can't really handle nighttime pics,
so now you just get a creepy smile reflection selfie

One of the many very worthwhile and very free-of-charge galleries clustered in the shadow of the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills is the Ota Fine Arts location in the Piramide building, so named because of the three distinct (and I think very 90's, but then, that's kind of a given when we're talking about Tokyo) pyramidal structures on the open courtyard-style roof, which you realise are themselves roofs atop little gallery and work spaces that kind of look like tiny houses.
I don't know enough Japanese to appreciate Yutaka Matsuzawa adequately, but what he does is text- and plan-based, conceptual, and minimal, largely based in real and fictionalised social commentary.

He died in 2006.

I found this weirdly tragic one-armed Elvis statue stashed in a corner while looking 
for a vegan-friendly Tex-Mex restaurant that I only later found out was only open 
at night called The Pink Cow. 

These timeless Engrish classics were spotted at a high-end supermarket on the road 
leading from the main intersection in Roppongi toward Roppongi Itchome.

'But I do not like the nettle' lol who the fuck wrote these?
I don't even know if they mean, like "the landed gentry/ the aristocracy" 
or if they've just gone and fucked themselves on the letter 'L' again.

You need to turn in the alley going steeply uphill when you see this distinctive electrical box if you want to go to the gallery (in Roppongi Itchome) I'm going to tell you about next.

And since it was March when I went, it was still peppermint camellia season. 
I do love the wide variety of large, vibrant flowers here in Japan; these ones were 
nearly the size of my face.

So this uphill one is Gallery Side 2, and after my shift at Midtown I went to see an exhibition called "How We Choose Hearts" by Shizuka Mitsui. The interesting thing about this mixed media she's doing is how contrasting it is. Everything is pattern- and fabric-based, yes, but using something heavy like burlap to convey that creates an interesting juxtaposition to her delicate florals and very feminine figures. /artsnob

This is only about half of a wall-sized piece but I love the way she did those papers.

And, I mean, one should always consider the lobster.

The owner of this gallery is one of the only ones who's actually spoken to me. I've been to dozens of art galleries all over and around Tokyo, but just like with everything else here, everyone is very closed-off, stiff, and sequestered in their little respective scenes. It's true that I'm not competent enough in Japanese to discuss things like why that juxtaposition creates interest, but I can definitely have a basic conversation, ask relevant questions, and get my points and feelings across. The problem is that people are just not friendly or used to seeing foreigners, much less speaking to them.

Junko, though, is just lovely, very open and friendly, and an English speaker. She's chock-full of information about not only the contemporary Japanese art scene but that of East Asia in general. Gallery Side 2 is a really cool, minimalistic, open, unfinished concrete box of a space, but she told me she'd be moving over the summer and almost certainly has by now. But if anyone's reading this then there's a good chance you'd be interested enough to find her, and hopefully able, now that you know her first name and what her former gallery was called. She makes good use of Tokyo Art Beat as well.

This kind of scenery tends to be lurking just behind the kitschy neon light façade anywhere you go in Japan, carefully concealed by brand-name bags and the ever-present cigarette smoke haze in restaurants and cafés that often still seem to think it's the early 90's.

Now here's a weird stop on the Roppongi free gallery circuit: The Fukasaku Eye Institute. Wait what?

Yeah I know right. It's directly across from Midtown and these paintings are, I think, by Dr. Fukasaku himself, but directly to the right of the door there's also something that looks like a closet. Inside the tiny closet room and down the world's narrowest staircase (I've been around Japan plenty and I'm serious, this is the narrowest) into a second basement closet are areas for small exhibitions. Fucking Tokyo, man, Ikea room designing life into each and every nook, cranny, and crevice..

Also right at Midtown, directly across the street from the Eye Institute, is Fujifilm Square.
It's a large, freestanding building with two large sections of it devoted to photography galleries that you can just pop in and have a look at. 

I took multiple photos of this exhibition (working right there I of course went to a few) mostly because I was surprised by how mediocre it was. There were huge conspicuous ads for it all over Midtown and in the subway for a number of weeks, and most of those only stay up for one or two. I couldn't understand why. I know the Japanese are obsessed with cats, but come on.

The adjacent gallery, though, was full of bright, high-res images of the Japanese countryside, and that I enjoyed very much.

Inside Midtown Tower itself is the Tokyo Midtown Design Hub, an active workspace and exhibition hall open to the public. Because I'm a giant nerd and am really into packaging design, I went to the "Tokyo Design Ten"
"Ten" here is a triple or quadruple entendre: it was the tenth anniversary of the place itself, everything was within ten perspectives or themes related to the future of Tokyo, and 展 (also read "ten") means "exhibition". The possible fourth point is, well, "point", or 点, in reference to those ten aforementioned points or themes. I love stuff like this because I'm also a language nerd. It sucked me in, man. Sucked me right in. They got me good.

All of this particular packaging, though, was for unique products from the northern Tohoku region of Japan. They arranged them by which ones were chosen as winners first, followed my various rounds of runners-up and honourable mentions. Many squid. Very squid. So squid. Wow.

(-whispers- See? Much squid)

And from the same building and same between-shift wanderings I bring you... 
Dessert I Couldn't Resist Even Though I'm Not Supposed to Have Wheat #1: Pineapple-flavoured young doughnuts. "Young doughnuts"
Because they're small like babies. 
Oh my god.

Dessert I Couldn't Resist Even Though I'm Not Supposed to Have Wheat #2:
Tiny fancy cup parfait from 7-11 with matcha, strawberry, and an itty-bitty slice of cheesecake on top. To be fair though, this one had very, very little actual cake in it and was mostly light mousse >_>

Falafel Brothers is just a takeout restaurant, but they have a single plank of wood at the window with like three bar stools, and will let you sit there if you order a glass of wine. Have I ever had Israeli wine, I wondered the day I decided to try it? Eh, fuck it. 
Premium Mediocre©, here we come

Occasionally I actually went to restaurants for lunch like a normal person, figuring that I should treat myself while I had a little bit of money and that I should take advantage of the various vegetarian offerings in central Roppongi, since those are not particularly numerous in Tokyo. I think my favourite was probably Chien-Fu, the Taiwanese veggie (and almost completely vegan, also; just two or so dishes have a creamy sauce) restaurant down by where Pizzakaya is.

The Falafel Brothers owner(s) had large advertisements up about the restaurant being vegan and listed on international vegan websites and directories, but this concept is not at all well understood in Japan (or Korea) outside Buddhist temple settings. There was an older, hippie-ish looking guy sitting in there, too, and he pointed out as amicably (but still a bit pretentiously, because I mean, you know, vegans) as possible to the owner working at the time that the handmade sign on the counter given to them as an opening gift was made of leather. Just, you know, an unnecessary accessory, sitting right there and staring you in the face right when you walk in, instantly contradicting all of the enthusiastic signage and attempts to draw in foreign customers. They both looked completely startled when I agreed, clearly not expecting me to have been listening or to have understood, and the owner said something along the lines of, "Ahh! You're right, I wouldn't have even thought of that!" and hid it behind the counter. /story

As you can see, I was also reading American Nations at this particular moment in time, a fairly dense yet highly readable historical, sociological, ethnic, and economic account of the history of the United States and why this author claims that there are a total of eleven distinct regional cultures that comprise it (others claim seven, etc.). 
He also says, I think more than once, that if more level heads had prevailed during and after the Civil War, the U.S. would have probably divided into two or three countries instead of creating pretty much all of our current political and social problems with the Union and Reconstruction. I tend to agree and think that would have been better, but who knows how many people would have suffered for many more years as human property and then as lesser-citizens of an apartheid state if the South had been left to its own devices?

But then again, if you think about it, the United States was an apartheid state for less time than it's been free. And it was a slave society for longer than that. Shitty!

The conclusion of the book hit me pretty hard.
It was published in 2011.
Hello darkness, my old friend

But now onto lighter things and a casual walk through Nogizaka, down the street from Midtown. It's always really lovely to find spots and shrines and parks in central Tokyo that look like magical ancient forests. And that hot pink camellia was just sitting there like that, I didn't place it!

The most prominent feature of this steep little multi-level park is the 
General Nogi Residence. 

The man captured contested territory from both the Russians and Chinese, governed Taiwan for a while when it was part of Japan's territory, was a prominent war hero, and is credited with revitalising the samurai tradition of seppuku. He was suicidally loyal to Emperor Meiji and his super-traditional ideals to the point that he finally did ritualistically disembowel himself, at the age of 62, when that emperor died in 1912, and also to avoid outliving his master. I'm pretty sure he was the physical embodiment of Imperial Japan itself (er, along with the emperor I guess).

Can't say there's a whole lot about that I'm capable of admiring, but hey, his peaceful preserved house (which you can only enter on the anniversary of his death in September each year) and the reflections of the trees in its windows are pretty nice, and an unexpected glimpse back in time.

There are just so many weird buildings like this bridal shop (see the 
romantic carriage statue down there?) everywhere in Japan; knowing 
I would be leaving soon, I had started taking more pictures of them.

I'll probably never figure out who this artist was now; this phone picture isn't high-quality enough to zoom in on the placard. Aaaaand I also can't find the name of this gallery right now, but if anyone's reading this because they plan on visiting these places, it's on the other side of the street from Nogi Park and not far from Gallery Ma, in the Toto (yes, as in the toilets) building.

This were really neat but kind of hurt your eyes in person..

Math! Science!

Well, anyway, next is the National Art Center. Yes: the big one, the architecturally interesting one with the fancy exhibitions. Here's a tip, though: there are mini exhibitions like this kimono one (again, I don't have the artist's name anymore; I'll add it if I come across it) in the basement, along with a fantastic, if slightly, pricey museum shop.

Look at this cool-ass mushroom book for example.
If you're looking for a creative, interesting gift for someone and/or have some time to kill in Roppongi, just head to The National Art Center's shop! It's something interesting to do and qualifies as part of this free gallery circuit, because you don't need any money to flip through the books and stuff.

And this of course is just looking up at the entryway.

Now back to Roppongi Hills and the gallery complex I visited most frequently, complex665. It's a very inconspicuous, new, stylish, office-type building tucked in a quiet little alley corner behind Frijoles and Cinnabon (more options for vegetarians, by the way!) and houses the Shugo Arts, Taka Ishii, and Tomio Koyama galleries. Yet again I can't find the name of this artist, but these paintings are huge, and I thought they were hilarious.

Although, this one was just kind of creepy..

That does it for Roppongi and Nogizaka, onto Marunouchi and the Tokyo Station area!

Ohmygodwhaaaaat another work selfie I know 

This is that view from that office, which I was at a bit less often, in the Kitte building 
(JP Tower) attached to and directly overlooking Tokyo Station.

But my favourite part of going there was the Jimbocho Ichinoichi in the station 
(conveniently, right in front of the Kitte exit). It's a really neat store that also put on

The Kitte building also houses this absolutely fantastic, heavily Victorian gothic museum collection from the University of Tokyo (that opened last summer and that I'll talk about in a later post), and sometimes they had other things on display in the large, open, court-like center of the shopping and restaurant floors, like these random dinosaurs!

"Clever girl."

Onto yet another of the main areas I worked in, this is the ever-stinky Meguro river, placid at the bottom of its dingy concrete canal, cutting through the center of Tokyo. You might remember it from this post, about the first cherry blossom viewing we did in Japan shortly after moving there.

Anyway, I worked in one of those skyscrapers next to it every Wednesday morning, and went on this little walk because National Geographic had posted on Instagram that the blossoms were out. Yeah, they lied. Oh well.

One of Kittyzilla's slaps. 
(NiQui, Rejon and I were supposed to meet her at her little café exhibition in Jiyugaoka a few months after this, but she never showed or answered her phone even though she told me she'd definitely be there. She seemed to feel pretty bad about whatever had come up, and I told her that without her there the staff wouldn't sell me any of her little linocut prints, so she ended up sending me some along with some stickers in the mail :3 )

So Japan, such Japan, wow.

The large, curving, main street that goes down to and across the Meguro River from the station is on the one hand some pretty high-end real estate and houses lots of companies and skyscrapers, but the first layer of buildings on both sides, at least during the day, reminds me of the shuttered, run-down restaurant village in the abandoned theme park in Spirited Away. It's all shitty old wooden and/or crumbling ramen and izakaya places, plus this one random fruit stall, the only thing besides a daycare/kindergarten place or two, Starbucks, and the other cafés that's open in the morning.

Anyway, I walked past that box I liked enough times to take a picture of it.
That does it for Meguro, on to Odaiba!

For whatever reason this miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty is one of the main tourist attractions and selfie magnets on this artificial tourist island of shopping malls filled with shouting Chinese tourists and hotels far too expensive for any average person to consider. I mean, Tokyo Tower is a slightly larger replica of the Eiffel Tower, but this in particular annoyed me intensely when I meandered over to see it while waiting for my work shift to start, because it's so fucking disingenuous and shallow. I'll just go ahead and re-rant the rant I posted on Instagram:

It's bad enough that the U.S. is in such an obvious state of decline and that the current administration doesn't give a shit about the inscription on the Statue of Liberty or about anything but corporate profits for that matter - but Japan erecting a replica is even more of a joke. Unoriginal, small, and for whatever reason an Odaiba tourist attraction I walked past it for the first time yesterday on the way down to the water to read my book.
Japan, closed to the rest of the world for centuries and still bitter about having been forced open. Japan, bastion of militant nationalism and Nazi-adjacent ideas of racial and cultural purity. Japan, the country that accepts a grand total of fewer than 15 refugees per year. Japan, so racist that it is desperately trying to develop an entirely new generation of advanced robotics to care for its geriatric population instead of letting in the countless young professionals lined up outside and wanting to work, because they are brown.

But hey, even in a nightmarish alternate reality soaked in willfully ignorant racist populism 
that never should have been allowed to happen, one can still enjoy the simple things.

Check out this boat tour chugging along past the Rainbow bridge.

Now with pine and other assorted foliage!

Now with pine and assorted water fowl!

Now with another random selfie!
I was still reading Women Who Run With the Wolves at the time and had tried to take a selfie
 with that but couldn't - hence the other, earlier one.

Is this a quality target slogan poster, guys? Do you really think that?

Tokyo Teleport Station has a really cute, kitschy seasonal display that kind of reminds me of an elementary school diorama and changes monthly.

Now, back to East Shinjuku and Shin Okubo, the area where my actual company's headquarters is located..

Directly across the street is the fucking Scientology building.
Terrible, right? At least I've never seen anyone go in or come out, though.

A bubble tea place opened on the other side of the train overpass!

Continuing along the train tracks the back way to Shin Okubo, as I often did, I finally decided to stop and try the lonely little Korean restaurant nestled about halfway there, instead of shoving my way through the K-Pop and cosmetics-ogling tourists along the main drag and paying like $12 for my bibimbap. I would definitely recommend it; I just wish I knew how and why it was run by a Chinese woman, in Japan. 

NiQui had posted a couple of latte art pics from Coffee Prince on Instagram, 
I think when she took a friend there who was visiting Japan, so continuing 
right along in Do All the Japan Things While You Can Mode, I went too. 

The place took fucking forever to find; it's one of those ones without any kind of sign or anything that's behind a totally random-seeming, unmarked grey door that could be anything else, like an office space or apartment. Because I was a little flustered from trying to find it I forgot to order my latte with soy milk, but that's okay. Look how concerned Totoro looks when you drink his foam out from under him!

The place has all this cute window art and the interior is sunflower-themed.
I also realised once I was ordering that it's probably called Coffee Prince and is 
a popular destination because they hire Korean pop-star looking guys to work there. 
Zero fucks given, to be brutally honest lol

What a charming springtime walk and lunch that was!

From there it's just a few stops on a couple of trains back home to Ekoda.

My narcissus started blooming again :3

My face when I found out that a big glutinous glob of fava beans is considered a dessert

Hannes' face whenever we went to Al Andalus and extravagantly ordered sangria, 
patatas bravas, and tajines.

All those acclaimed foreign restaurants clustered around our station were a real treat.

I'd never even noticed Café Escape before, but 
Hannes found it on one of his little solo Sunday walks.

It's not cheap and the portion sizes are pretty typically Japanese, 
but their New York-style baked cheesecake is awesome.

I honestly miss the cheap, fast, Indian/Nepali restaurant, too; I took pictures sometimes 
even though the food was nothing to write home about because I knew I would.

Fish painted in traditional Japanese style are always so derpy and hilarious

Our neighbour's spectacular magnolia tree

And an absolute explosion of plum blossoms - this was shortly before the rain did away with them
 to make room for their more famous, very similar-looking cousin.

Here's me with terrible insomnia

And that was some of (last) March in Tokyo.