It is commonly known that TV does not reflect the reality. The pictures we are brainwashed with every day make us insecure with what we have, who we are and where we belong. Cartoons are different- fiction is accepted and even expected. I always thought that this applies to anime as well and realized how wrong I was when Tokyo and its people turned out to be very much like in Osamu Tezuka’s or Katsuhiro Otomo’s creations. The sci-fi architecture and infrastructure, the rush, the food, the facial mimics, the cats with very human sulky expressions… I had all of it in front of me and I loved it!
Tokyo International Forum by Rafael Vinoly Architects (above and below).
Omotesandō is a real magnet for architects and fashion victims :) It is an avenue, and neighborhood in the Minato and Shibuya wards in Tokyo Zelkova trees, lining both sides of the avenue, are almost as characteristic as fancy ladies with Guci bags. It is often being refered as “Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées“.
Today, Omotesandō is known as one of the foremost ‘architectural showcase’ streets in the world, featuring a multitude of fashion flagship stores within a short distance of each other. These include the Louis Vuitton store (Jun Aoki, 2002) Prada building (Herzog & de Meuron, 2003), Tod’s (Toyo Ito, 2004), Dior (SANAA, 2004), Omotesandō Hills (Tadao Ando, 2005) and Gyre (MVRDV, 2007), amongst others.
Architect Toyo Ito designed the flagship store for Tod’s (above), whose criss-crossing concrete and glass façade imitates silhouettes of the zeklova trees lining Omotesando’s main avenue.
Prada store (above and below) by Herzog and de Meuron, Omotesando- Aoyama.
Here is a fantastic website for those who like sightseeing with an ‘architectural lens’: http://www.architravel.com/architravel/city/tokyo
On our way to OSAKA we took a super fast Bullet Train, known as Shinkansen, which gains up to 320 km/h speed. The traveling experience is considered one of the biggest tourist attractions in Japan and tickets for the foreigners are 40% cheaper than for the locals. JR passes with tourist discount, however, cannot be acquired in the country, so don’t forget to apply for them a few weeks in advance!
For weeks now I’ve been wondering what to write about our trip to Osaka. The city is big, busy and has a little bit of everything: historical sites, surrealistic buildings, futuristic towers, boring city centre and mind-blowing night life.
(above and below- the remaining tower of the Osaka Castle),
Umeda Sky Building.
After sunset, Osaka showed it’s different- better- face. Considerably a lot of effort was put into the city lights, just as if the inhabitants, architecture and infrastructure were destined for the ‘by night’ perception. The streets network turned out to be logic, the buildings gained form while the people became energetic and alive.
The most amazing shrine in Osaka- the figures are covered with moss. On the way from work the residents stop by to say a quick prayer and to water the statues with water.
Future telling on the streets of Osaka.
The City of Light is full of love hotels, which rent the rooms for hours.
Temple of the Golden Pavilion or Kinkaku-ji surprises, marvels, puts in doubt, makes you wonder, then astonishes again…
The view from the entrance area could not be more picturesque. Yes, here it is clearer than ever: the Japanese culture is known for its exquisite landscape design and the constant search for beauty and perfection. Looking at the Golden Pavilion, however, i had a disturbing feeling that all in all it is a little bit too much for me. I kept wondering why do I dare to feel any kind of discontent having seen such a beauty, and I was lost. The only possible answer might have been the visiting experience itself. Kinkaku-ji is like a jewel box- richly looking, shiny outside and inside and closed to the outsiders. I realize how much more do I enjoy minimalistic and humble architecture, which I can experience with all my senses?
From Kinkakujicho we took a small train to Arashiyama forest. Since Tenryu-ji temple was closed due to renovation, we walked around the gardens on our way to the famous bamboo grove.
In the afternoon we went back to Gion, knowing how much more we have to see.
Chion-in temple above and below.
Shoren-in temple with beautiful floral paintings on the wall was almost completely abandoned. Those atmospheric interiors and garden tempted us to pose a bit for a few pictures :)
Spotting a real geisha is not easy; they are like butterflies- beautiful, colorful and ethereal.
Despite the differences in the cultures, everyone, sooner or later, starts to admire their elegance and strive for perfection. Gion in Kyoto is the most famous geisha districts in all of Japan, where a chance to see a real one are pretty high. It is a place, where kimono rental shops grow like mushrooms after rain, offering a glimpse of a traditional life style to whoever desires it.
Geisha means ‘artist’ and refers to Japanese female hostesses who serves and entertain powerful, wealthy male businessman and politicians- the ‘modern samurai’. The ones who live in Gion are called geiko, understood as ‘a woman of the arts’. The geishas still in their training period are called maiko– ‘dance child’ and usually receive only half of the geisha salary. It takes years to master traditional Japanese arts such as dance, classical music, art of games and conversation, before an apprentice becomes initiated into the geisha community.
After hours of a ‘Geisha Hunt’ I lost hope to see one. The moment I complained aloud a geisha almost run into me. She was in a big hurry, apparently trying to reach the pick-up spot, which was exactly where we stopped a few seconds earlier. I stood there not believing my luck. Feeling like an intruder in her presence, I was brave enough to take only this one picture (above). A few seconds later another geisha rushed by (below). Honestly, photographing running cheetahs was easier, and even though the pictures could have been better I was extremely happy to see real geishas in an atmospheric Gion district.
Gion remains an enclave of old-style Japanese houses called machiya, some of which are okyia– the geisha houses. There are also ‘tea houses’ called ochaya, where geishas work in the evenings. The most famous one- Ichiriki Chaya, is located right at the entrance of the Hanami-koji street. It is one of the oldest and most exclusive in the country, thus the access is strictly invitation-only. It became famous because of the story of 47 Ronin and their leader- Oishi Kuranosuke’s, who spent time there trying to mislead the potential spies. Some of the most prominent scenes from the ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ were also located there. It is easy to recognize thanks to the groups of tourists waiting in from of it with their cameras on a stand by :)
The ochayas usually have no kitchens, therefore, the food is being delivered from the nearby restaurants (below).
A scene form the ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ Movie; Ichiriki Chaya in the background.
The Last Samurai is not my favorite movie with the Japanese culture in the background (since Tom Cruise is the leading actor). However, I always appreciate this film for portraying Japanese culture and lifestyle in the surrounding of traditional, country side houses. The interiors are created with care of details. And the scenes in the snowy weather are exquisite!