Things to do, eggs to lay.


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 😉

Renoir, Monet and the Tire King.

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.

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….




Toire-wa doko ni ari masu-ka?

Amazing toilets

Literal translation is “Where does a toilet exist?” Luckily, in Tokyo, almost everywhere. If you are in need of the facilities, there are decent toilets to be found in many places such as department stores, coffee shops and train stations. The ones in department stores are usually quite lovely, many equipped with a handy baby/toddler chair (also good for umbrellas), baby change table and a fold down platform that provides you with a clean area upon which to stand should you need to change your clothes.

Japanese toilets are probably the best in the world sadly they don’t export the most majestic models but you can find lovely TOTO models in Canada. Even the base models, found in public places like train and bus stations, have automatic flush or an electronic flush activated by movement. Many also have heated seats, a built-in bidet (with controls for temperature, pressure and angle of water), a dryer and a recording to mask any embarrassing sounds you might make. There is also a toilet seat cleaner that automatically dispenses a spray of antiseptic for you to wipe the toilet seat; however, many higher-end toilets clean themselves after each use.

Most restrooms also offer at least one squat style toilet for those traditionalists who say it’s more hygienic as your body isn’t touching anything. Personally, I find it odd to see a squat toilet in a fancy washroom surrounded by marble and mahogany but hey, it’s great to have choices in life. If you’re feeling a little tired and in need of a rest, many restrooms in stores and museums offer sitting areas with comfy couches and make-up areas. Surprisingly there are no refreshments served.

The only thing missing in most train station restrooms is a hand dryer…which is usually a great opportunity to put all those packages of free Kleenex to use.

Art Attack. Ueno Park, part 4.

national museum of western art

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…

Ueno Park is big. Bigger than I remembered. Part 1.

ShitamachiAnother 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 😉

Culture Club in Tokyo

Incredible detail and imagination...made me think of Enigma Aracana #rayandjane

Incredible detail and imagination…made me think of Enigma Aracana #rayandjane

The Monet painting he had to use as collateral for his rent :-) #mylandlordisanidiot

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.