In Tokyo, day 2: meeting, MOT, Imperial Palace, International Forum, Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Tokyo Station, Character Street, and Tokyo SkyTree
NOTE: For some reason WordPress does not show all the pictures from that day (September 5), but you can access MORE PHOTOS HERE: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jcortell/sets/72157647266817555/
I woke up early, but I had a ton of emails to reply to, so I left my room quite late. Instead of breakfast, I had octopus balls for “brunch” on my way to a business meeting with Komaki-san at the Royal Park Hotel.
The meeting went quite well, and after that I went to the hotel, dropped my laptop, changed out of my suit, and headed to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOT). I had already been there before, but since I could not see the whole museum (long story, I was not alone on that trip…), I decided to tackle it completely this time.
I remembered how, although it is not that easy to get to from the subway station, there are plenty of signs that do lead you there. This time the streets were lined with cute large size figures made by area kids.
When I finally got there, I was extremely disappointed to see that the museum was going to be closed for 25 days. I found out later that they were changing exhibitions, but at the time, all I could see was a sign that said “Closed” and a bunch of Japanese kanji. Not a good way to start the day! But I smiled at the thought of those street figures being all the art I needed to start the day, and I went back to the subway station to go to the Imperial Palace.
Obviously one “does not simply enter the Imperial Palace”. But the gardens are beautiful, and the palace and walls from the outside are nothing less than iconic.
Then I headed to the Tokyo International Forum. Its amazing architectural structure made it easy to find. Outside, the main stage for the Tokyo Jazz Festival had just been set up, so I enjoyed the first concert, and while I could have just sit there for the next three days, I had to move on: too much to do and see to remain still!
Inside the Tokyo International Forum I enjoyed the zen calligraphy of Mitsuo Aida, and then, after wondering how can the Japanese keep everything SO clean (and I mean even under the train tracks in passageways!) I moved on to Loft and Muji. Loft was full of interesting stuff, and I bought a couple of souvenirs there. On the other hand, Muji is everywhere, so I almost passed on it, but a pair of jeans called my name, so I got them too.
Before heading back towards the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, I decided to see the Godzilla statue. That proved to be difficult! Since most Japanese do not speak English, and my Japanese is useless outside a restaurant, my asking for directions gave way to many funny situations. You see, the Japanese tend to disguise their feelings and thoughts quite well, so to get reactions out of them is no easy task. But asking for “Godzilla” downtown Tokyo surely does the trick. None of them knew they had a Godzilla statue in the neighborhood, and some, by the wacky look in their faces, must have thought I believed Godzilla really existed and was asking for directions to its lair. Suimasen!!?!!?? ^_^ But finally this otaku made it, took the picture of the small statue, and left.
The style of the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum was visible from very far away, since it is a 2009 reconstruction of the original building of the Mitsubishi Ichigokan completed in 1894 and designed by British architect Josiah Conder. I did not have it amongst my required stops, even with its over 200 Henri Toulouse-Lautrec works (I just saw a nice Henri Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition at MoMA in New York a week before!), but they are currently exhibiting Félix Vallotton – Fire beneath the ice, so I had to see it. And it was totally worth it.
The next stop was Tokyo Station. It has recently been renovated, and it looks great. But I was looking for something more “pop”: Character Street in 1st Avenue Tokyo Station.
Tucked in the underground level (B1F Yaesu exit) of the subway/train station, in the commercial gallery, there is a full street of kawaii, store after store dedicated to fictional characters from movies, TV shows, manga, and anime: Ghibli characters (in Donguri Garden), Riakkuma, BooBo, PlaRail, Tomika, Dragon Ball, Domo, Wallace and Grommit, Curious George, Miffy, Ultraman, Mono, One Piece, Crayon Shin Chan, Doraemon, Despicable Me Minions, Pokemon, Tamagotchi 4U, Lego, Snoopy, etc, you name it, it’s there. They even have a kawaii character that is… and egg!! Fried, broken, in the shell, the cutest egg you have ever seen. And how about the fruit store that sells kawaii-shaped watermelons, like Olaf from Frozen, or a heart-shaped watermelon? Of course I got my kids some stuff there. To top it off, the Gundam cafe, where even the food they serve has robot face-shape.
The most unbelievable sight of all, though, was the incredible long line to purchase gourmet pop-corn at Garret. Insane! Now I don’t feel so bad when someone points at the absurdity of trend-following New Yorkers and their ridiculous lines.
On my way back to the hotel, and since it was a clear night (remember: don’t do this on a cloudy day or night) I decided to go to the top of Tokyo SkyTree, outside of which I see a sticker on the sidewalk reminding everyone that in Sumida it’s against the law to smoke in the street. Way to go!
Opened in May 2012 and rising to a height of 634m, the Tokyo Skytree is officially the tallest tower in the world, beating down its rival in Dubai (the 828m Burj Khalifa is technically a ‘structure’).
I’ll just say this: you HAVE TO go see it. Hop on a plane and travel to Tokyo right now. OK, I’m biased because I love that city, but still: un-fucking-believable.
Warning: when the elevator, which travels at 600m/min, opens its doors and you see right there, in front of you, the breathtaking sight of never-ending Tokyo at night, your heart will skip a beat, and you may shed a tear. I did. It means you are alive after all, or at least that’s what it means in my case.
As far as the eye can see, all 360º, the sight is incredible. Unbelievable. Indescribable. Although I keep trying, I have no words for it.
As a nice bonus, the interactive multi-touch large LCD screens scattered around the observatory allow you to zoom-in, to see it at day or night, and to tell you the story of that particular view. Another great feature: the glass floor where you can look straight down. Wow.
I meant to spend a few minutes there. By the time I looked at my watch, it was nearly two hours later. I had been going around and staring into the twinkling lights for two hours, and it felt like a second.
I doubt anyone can see that and not have deep philosophical questions rise in their heads. I will not share mine here. Not the time or place. But it made me think. A lot. About many things. And it made me say one sentence that I repeated several times this trip: “I wish you were here”. I wonder if she heard me in her dreams.
Before hitting the futon, I had sushi and green tea mochi on a stick. Too bad nana’s green tea was closed, because I could have enjoyed one of their 60 drinks in their menu. Oh, well, it’s not like in this trip I have not had half a dozen of great green teas already 😉