I needed another six months in Tokyo at least. There’s so much to see and do, even if you’re not into museums. I AM into museums (not just because they’re air-conditioned but I barely scratched the surface and I was a committed museum-goer whilst I was in Japan. There are many temples and shrines to see ranging from the small neighbourhood shrines to large imperial temples, plus so many other places of interest: a spa/thermal bath amusement park, Tokyo Disneyland, the Sapporo beer factory, Sake-making tour, kimono trying-on events, ikebana (flower arranging) classes, tea ceremony, Kabuki, the Robot Dinner Theatre, Panasonic Centre, the Tokyo Tower, Roppongi, Asakusa, the Imperial Palace, my old neighbourhoods, Sumida River Tour, not to mention all the local festivals, sumo tournaments, shopping and Obon (festival of the ancestors) which I’ve always wanted to see. My mum was going to come to Tokyo to visit us because she loves Japan (and probably missed the grandchild too). She visited Japan in 1990 when I was living there and we had a fabulous time touring all over the place…though I was exhausted and had to rest when she went home! This time around it wasn’t the best timing as the heat was a big factor–my mum is an intrepid traveller but brutally high temperatures with high humidity isn’t her cup of tea. I can’t imagine it being anyone’s cup of tea though, unless you’re on a beach somewhere.
I really wouldn’t recommend coming to Japan in the summer. Ever. It’s too hot to enjoy so much of what Tokyo and Japan has to offer. I’d come for the cherry blossoms in the spring or for the shichi-go-san festival (3-5-7) in the fall which is when girls (age 3 and 7) and boys (age 5) go to the shrines in full kimono for a ceremony…cutest thing ever! The weather is decent in both the spring and the fall and at least you can go outside without perishing from heat exhaustion!
In the photo, Karis is leaning against the ad for an exhibit I wanted to see but didn’t get time. The Tokyo National Museum is in Ueno Park…I walked past it on my way to the National Museum of Western Art but even I have my limits. Can’t do two large museums in one day. Smaller ones (like the Bridgestone, L’Orangerie in Paris) yes, but most of the museums in Ueno Park are huge and deserve at least a day to themselves. Not that you’d be staying at the museum for the whole day, but it certainly takes a dedicated art lover with a pliable mind to take in two large museum’s worth of art in one day 😉
Hottest day ever…almost too hot to pose and definitely too hot to cross the street and get a closer picture of that large metal giraffe.
In Japan oftentimes large corporations have significant art collections–one of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers is owned by a Japanese insurance company and the Bridgestone Museum, which houses a lovely collection of French and European 19th and 20th century art, is owned by the tire company. The museum was founded in 1952 by Ishibashi Shojiro to house his private collection which he later donated to the Ishibashi Foundation which has expanded the collection regularly.
I love this museum because it’s small, it has a carefully curated collection with paintings from most major impressionist artists, a small sculpture gallery as well as a very respectable collection of realism, post-Impressionism, modernism and even some abstract art. The best thing was that the museum also houses a collection of Japanese art-works of the time that were painted in the western style. Fascinating. I’d never seen or heard of any of these artists so I learned a lot and saw some paintings I’d never seen or heard of before today.
It was ridiculously hot today though, hard to even walk a couple of blocks from the metro stop. Happy we did walk as there was a very cool stationery store staffed by the tiniest and cutest elderly Japanese lady ever—she wrapped Karis’s stuff separately so she could have her very own package ;-). We also saw a random museum and cafe celebrating the history of Pilot Pens. Did you know they have the first and only retractable fountain pen? Didn’t buy one, mostly because they weren’t for sale. Talk about a missed marketing opportunity….
One of the best things about Tokyo is the fact that there are actually a decent number of things you can do for free or almost free. For example, most department stores have gallery and exhibition spaces and host a variety of interesting and well-curated shows. There are also other exhibits in various spaces all over the city such as the Lingerie Francaise Exhibit I saw on the weekend in Omotesando.
I read about this exhibit in the Savvy Tokyo site and thought I’d check it out. It was free but very well done and also offered a detailed brochure in English. It has some big sponsors in the lingerie world: Aubade, Barbara, Chantelle, Empreinte, Implicite, Lise Charmel, Lou, Maison Lejaby, Passionata, Princesse Tam.Tam and Simon Perele just in case you were wondering who the world leaders in underwear are.
Basically it looks like there’s not too much new under the sun. Many of the current corset styles are based on some of the first corsets made over a hundred years ago, though the invention of elastic, nylon and Lycra has made things a lot more comfortable. After WWI the corset was replaced by a bra and girdle (often custom-made) which evolved into machine-made versions that were designed to create whatever female silhouette happened to be in vogue at the time–slim hipped, curvy, hourglass. Which is where we are now…whatever your preference happens to be, there is likely a lingerie designer/manufacturer that produces your ideal underwear.
In Japan the preference happens to be very lacy and embellished (ruffles, lace, ribbons, beads) and almost always padded or heavily lined. The idea of the T-shirt bra (i.e. very smooth to allow for a clean line under a t-shirt) does not seem to be a look they are interested in exploring. Also thong underwear is not popular and is difficult to find…also very expensive. The 5 for $25 deal that is commonly seen at La Senza and Victoria’s Secret simply doesn’t exist here in the land of the rising sun. Make no mistake, there is some very lovely lingerie here but it tends to lean more towards the ‘granny knicker’ size than the ‘G-string’ end of the spectrum. Also tends to be cute (kawaii) not sexy…Karis and I actually saw a bra and knickers set made of terry cloth. Yes, for a grown-up 😉
If you’re into art, Tokyo is a great place to be. Not just Asian art, but ALL art. Back in the heyday of the Japanese economy, there were many successful companies and businessmen in Japan. Many of whom bought art. The National Museum of Western Art came to be as a result of one of those early and inspired collectors, Kojiro Matsukata (1865-1950). Matsukata was a wealthy shipbuilder, who was educated in America (Yale) and travelled widely in Europe. He began collecting in the middle of WWI and continued until the late 1920s. His goal was to create a museum to share these great works with the public and indeed, he began plans to do so; however, the economic crisis of 1927 forced him to sell the majority of his works except for an unknown number of pieces that remained stored in Europe. Many works were lost in an undocumented fire in the UK, but the French government confiscated approximately 400 works stored in France as enemy property at the end of WWII. They were housed and cared for at the Musee Rodin and eventually returned to Japan by the French in 1959 with the proviso that a museum be built to house them. Thus the National Museum of Western Art, designed by Le Corbusier, opened in 1959 to showcase the Matsukata Collection.
The museum itself is an amazing building filled with natural light, pillars to allow the free flow of air, a large ramp (instead of a staircase) from the entrance to the first floor to encourage visitors to take in the vista of the changing levels, various mezzanines and long horizontal windows. Le Corbusier created the modular system of proportions and used it to design the museum. Click here for more on Le Corbusier and his design.
So back to the museum. It was lovely, the art was beautifully displayed, it wasn’t crowded and it was mercifully cool. The had a special exhibition of rings (jewellery) from the Hashimoto Collection which was very well done as they incorporated clothing and paintings that corresponded to specific pieces which made it much more interesting…I find endless displays of jewellery and artifacts a little tedious. The Louvre comes to mind. A heathen, I know.
Anyway, this is only one of many museums with Western art in Tokyo. Last week I went to the exhibits at The National Art Center, but there’s also The Bridgestone Museum of Art (yes, the tire company) that has an amazing collection of 19th century European art; and the Sompo Japan Museum of Art (yup, an insurance company) that houses one of Van Gogh’s Sunflower paintings and other 19th century European painters as well as Japanese artists. Not to mention the amazing collections of Asian art, sculpture, Japanese woodblock prints, contemporary paintings and installations, calligraphy and don’t forget the PAPER MUSEUM! Stay tuned…
Another art gallery/museum day today. It was ridiculously hot and the museums are like refrigerators so I thought it would be a practical expedition. I had taken a few notes on Ueno Park earlier and noticed that there were a lot of museums there AND quite a few temples and shrines as well. It never sounds that big on paper. I think it would realistically take a few days to see them all. It’s huge. Like Stanley Park but with museums. Maybe bigger.
I headed out at 1pm, paid my 200Y and hopped on the Yamanote line which is the circle line that goes around the city. It’s above ground and I wanted to check out the scenery which is why I chose it instead of the subway. So arrived at Ueno and thought I’d head to the Shitamachi Museum first (free with my Grutto pass). Exiting the station, the heat is like a wall…so ridiculously hot.
The Shitamachi Museum was pretty cool. Very small. It’s a replica of what the area would have looked like in the Edo period showing houses that ordinary people would live in as well as the merchant class and the working class. Much like the old-fashioned street scene at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. Sorry the pix are a big blurry but I couldn’t use the flash. You could actually take your shoes off and walk around in the rooms. Very little floor space but super-organized. Not that I expected anything less 😉
Incredible detail and imagination…made me think of Enigma Aracana #rayandjane
The Monet painting he had to use as collateral for his rent 🙂 #mylandlordisanidiot
A most excellent day at a most excellent museum…The National Art Centre in Roppongi. Two great exhibitions: Ballet Russe-The Art of Costume and The Birth of Impressionism Freedom in Painting: Masterpieces from the Musee d’Orsay. Both were excellent but I’d have to say I liked the Ballet Russe one a bit better as I’ve never seen anything like it before. The paintings from the Musee d’Orsay exhibit were not any of their major pieces but they still had some of my favourites by Monet, Caillebotte, Cezanne and Sisely.
I learned a few things I didn’t know…always nice, makes it all worthwhile. First, in the Impressionist exhibit, there was a huge painting by Monet that was in two separate pieces. It was styled after Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’herbe as a tribute to both the painting and the artist. The reason it was cut in pieces is that Monet was short of cash and had to give it to his landlord as collateral. When he got it back, it was damaged and he had to cut out the damaged parts and it ended up as two paintings.
In the Ballet Russe exhibit I learned a lot more, as I knew very little about Diaghilev and the Ballet Russe. Most interestingly I learned that a French painter I’ve always liked, Marie Laurencin, was a costume designer for the Ballet Russe. The costumes are the property of the National Gallery of Australia. They’re amazingly detailed and imaginative…not surprising I guess since Ballet Russe was a group of incredibly talented group of artists, dancers, choreographers, designers, painters, musicians who were on the cutting edge of art and culture at the time.