Sunday, January 9, 2011

Peaceful start to another busy day in Tokyo

On the way to breakfast we passed this entrance way, sandwiched between two tall buildings. The sun was illuminating the courtyard and chair and it looked so calm and inviting, the perfect place to contemplate the coming day.
After breakfast we headed south to the Zojo-ji temple. I hadn't expected to find such an imposing entrance right on a busy junction.
I now begin to understand what they mean when they say 'Temple complex' on Time Team. There is a main temple building but there are also lots of smaller sub-temples and shrines within the boundary walls. I assume that the main bell is only rung on major ceremonial occasions, hopefully one day I shall hear one of these amazing features in action.
Having enjoyed the peace and tranquility of the minor shrines I was rather taken aback by how ornate the central area of the main temple was, very beautiful but I simply hadn't expected all of the gold and ornate decorations.
One of the surprises for me in Tokyo has been the amount of greenery, mature Ginko trees lining so many of the roads were not what I had expected. Many of them are relatively old and some were dropping huge leaves. This multi-trunked one in the temple grounds was especially beautiful with the sun on its canopy.
Today I finally got the hang of the subway system. Alternate track side signs have the station names in English. We were starting from Daimon and the arrow meant that the next stop on this track would be Shimbashi so you could tell that you were heading in the right direction.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Omotesando Hills to Harajuku Dori - Tokyo window shopping

Window shopping is not usually my idea of fun but seeing the contrast between the flashy modern shopping mall at Omotesando Hills and the wacky youth culture of Harajuku Dori was fascinating.
Omotesando Hills was a twinkling wonderland of reflections from the glitter-ball baubles suspended from the roof and the enormous Swarovski Christmas tree.
On either side of the stairwell below the tree were showcases featuring elaborately decorated cakes and images of the chefs who had created them.

My favourite outlet was a very elegant homewares shop that sold a delightful array of tableware and red, white and gold paper decorations like the one at the bottom left of this picture which I was very tempted to add to my own Christmas tree.

A few doors away Carol Quarini photographed this shop dedicated to dogs apparel; coats, hats, dresses and jewellery

From Omotesando Hills we headed towards Harajuku Dori to take in the youth culture.

I was already finding 'Christmas' in Japan a slightly strange experience when I came across this window display featuring a neon skull and cross bones surrounded by a Christmas wreath - definitely very peculiar.

I was rather more taken with the use of lights inside large, drilled, bamboo canes as a local variation on the traditional Western fairy lights.

Harajuku Dori and Takeshita Dori are the heart of Tokyo's youth culture district. According to one of the guide books; shops here sell a most extraordinary blend of goods reflecting the Japanese notion of "cute", "cool and American" and "rebellious British". In other words a strange mixture of Hello Kitty, hip-hop and the infamous British punk. As for the shoppers; well, any form of fancy dress goes.
On seeing the window display of dresses (above) Beverly Ayling-Smith commented that they were very 'Greyson Perry'.

Back on one of the more main streets we came across a large street stall selling one-off, handmade clothes from recycled materials.
They may have been sold under canvas but there was nothing cheap about these unique items, the dresses being about £400.

I'm not sure that the stocking neck tie would catch on in the UK but I loved the multi-layered dresses.

Nezu Museum, Tokyo

A small street-corner shrine, Prada and Chloe shops, a modern museum and a hidden garden - this must be Minami-Aoyama street. An array of up-market designer clothes shops punctuated by a local shrine (with a Pomegranate tree) and a busy junior school terminates at the wonderfully modern building of the Nezu Museum of Art and its beautiful hidden garden - truly a street of contrasts. Stepping off the main street into the sanctuary of the small shrine (above) was an unexpectedly calming experience you'd stepped into another, less hurried, time and place.
Within yards of this Shrine were the ultra modern fashion temples of Prada (left) and Chloe (below), I declined the opportunity to enter either.

For me the object of being in the area was visiting the Nezu Museum of Art which was showing 'Living on Paper: Daily life as expressed by Japanese Medieval and Pre-Modern painters'.
Even the entrance way to the museum (below) is a delight with its tiny garden and long bamboo lined walkway. Inside the displays were minimal but of the highest quality, although it did take me a while to get used to seeing breakables such as ceramic statues tied down in every direction to prevent damage during earthquakes. The Paper exhibition was very enlightening; the scrolls, hangings and screens so often seen in books or museums in the West usually depict the lives of nobles or scenes of natural beauty, to see daily life portrayed as something to be celebrated was fascinating.

For me the most wonderful surprise was the vast garden hidden behind the museum building. Although we'd missed the best of the autumn colour we were lucky enough to catch the tail of it.
The carefully manicured conifers,

reds of the acer leaves,

autumn flowering camelias,


and bamboo groves combined to make this a dream visit for me.

It was whilst enjoying lunch in the contemporary glass 'Tea-House'
that I experienced my first earth tremor; a gentle swaying of the table confirmed what my ears were telling me, the earth was definitely moving! This was confirmed by the bronze cauldron outside where some of the carefully arranged leaves had been washed onto the lip of the vessel which had been dry and leaf free when we entered. The Japanese didn't seem to register the event - evidently too minor to bother about.