Monthly Archives: March 2014

Contemporary Art in Tokyo


Yesterday my modern Japanese art class traveled to one of the most essential locations for contemporary art in Japan. Located in the Kiyosumi area of Tokyo prefecture, this industrial building houses the Taka Ishii Gallery, Hiromi Yoshii, Magical Artroom, ShugoArts and the Tomio Koyama Gallery.




While the outside of the building was pretty inconspicuous, the street art definitely suggested creative activity.




Entering the building revealed how industrial the space was. The first floor was filled with boxes of fine art.




We entered the elevator to the galleries, which was covered in art posters and ads for upcoming shows. It was a massive elevator, definitely designed to bring huge pieces up to the exhibitions. I really enjoyed the way the building enhanced the rugged, factory-like processes of setting up an art show.




After stepping out of the elevator, we arrived at the first floor of galleries. The space was simple and minimal, perfect for contemporary art.




There were around 3 – 4 galleries per floor, each an intimate space showcasing a single artist.




The range of work was amazing! This exhibit by Teppei Kaneuji in the ShugoArts gallery was especially interesting, as you can see.





We are so lucky to be able to experience the art and culture we discuss in class; it’s such a pleasure to be in Tokyo.





Each gallery had something different. The small room sizes and the variety of work provided something for everyone.




The trip was fantastic. Afterwards, we had the rest of the Saturday to enjoy the warm Spring weather!




Lots to do in Yokohama


On evenings when I have more assignments to complete, I find myself staying closer to home, as opposed to venturing farther out into Tokyo. This works quite well, fortunately, as Yokohama is just a short train ride away from Hiyoshi. Express trains depart frequently, allowing for even faster service to one of the area’s busiest cities.


The aesthetically pleasing passageway to Minato Mirai Station

Yokohama is a major city of Japan, located under Tokyo on a map. Hiyoshi is actually in Yokohama, not Tokyo. The bustling city can be reached by taking the Toyoko Line, among others, to Yokohama Station. A number of large shopping destinations can be found in Yokohama, most notably the Vivre building, which houses a number of clothing chains as well as a Book-Off. Other popular locations include a mall inside of Yokohama Station, a street full of Pachinko Parlors, and tons of dining options.


The Cosmo Clock ferris wheel is an iconic attraction in Yokohama

The image most frequently associated with Yokohama however is Minato Mirai (formally Minato Mirai 21), a popular tourist attraction near Tokyo Bay, just two stops away from Yokohama station. Minato Mirai station connects to multiple shopping destinations, including “Queen’s Palace,” a massive indoor mall with gigantic ceilings and a unique interior.


The massive World Porters shopping mall

Another notable mall near Minato Mirai is World Porters, a 7+ story building with floors dedicated to clothing, souvenirs, eateries, entertainment, home furnishings, portrait photography and even a spa. My favorite level was the fifth, where “Yokohama Broadway,” a New York-themed hallway lined with makeshift storefronts, led to upscale restaurants and a movie theater.


A row of game machines in World Porters

Claw and game machines in Tokyo come packed with a variety of unique offerings, including action figures and large stuffed toys. A line of game machines at “Yokohama Broadway,” however, offered luxury items, like expensive desserts, as prizes.


Possibly the most iconic part of Minato Mirai, however, is Cosmo World, a small amusement park that stretches around the manmade island. Just across the street from Minato Mirai Station are several smaller rides and a series of claw machines and arcade games for children. The park extends into the bay, accessible by crossing a large highway connecting Cosmo World. Here sits the massive ferris wheel “Cosmo Clock,” which can be seen all throughout Minato Mirai and is commonly definitive of Yokohama in photographs, advertisements and guidebooks. The name denotes the large digital clock in the center of the attraction.


A map showing the layout of Cosmo World

Situated on this half of the park are other several rides, including a log flume and a roller coaster that spirals into an underwater tunnel. A multi-floor arcade, carnival games, food options and tables with chairs atop a wooden deck overlooking the water top off this small but entertaining park. While a ride on the log flume cost over 500 yen, entry to Cosmo World is free, making it a fun place for spectators to visit.


A beautiful view across Tokyo Bay

Also worth mentioning is the very end of the line, Motomachi-Chukagai Station, where a large localized Chinatown offers unique restaurants and shopping.


One Friday evening I saw a performance by “Eyes’,” a singer who appears on television. She sang on a restaurant rooftop overlooking Tokyo Bay.

One warm Friday I hit Yokohama, Minato Mirai and Motomachi-Chukagai all in one evening. With a multitude of popular destinations in or around Tokyo to choose from, my time in Japan has been anything but boring.

Hiking Mt. Takao


One of the closest wilderness excursions to Tokyo while still remaining in the greater metropolis, Mt. Takao offers a beautiful set of hiking trails along with several shrines and temples.


After an hour train ride from the busiest station in Tokyo (not to mention the entire planet – Shinjuku station), we were suddenly surrounded with beautiful foliage and traditional Shinto and Buddhist pieces.


There are several shrines and temples throughout the mountain, each uniquely beautiful in its location.


Each statue was thoughtfully given a hat and cloak for the colder months.


The peak of Mt. Takao is 599m above sea level, which took us around an hour and a half to hike to. It was quite the trek but the scenery was absolutely gorgeous and the view from the top was breathtaking.


The sun was just beginning to set as we reached the top. It was a great moment.


The peak not only offered a look at the skyline of Tokyo (as you can see in the photo above this one), but also a view of a gorgeous mountain range that faded into the distance.


Taking a well-earned rest after our hike up the mountain, we ate some fruit and enjoyed the crisp weather.


Suddenly a friend appeared!


The mysterious cat decided to join us for our evening snack, although he was decidedly not interested in the mangoes.


Amazingly enough, another little creature ventured out as well: a tanuki! Also known as the “Japanese Raccoon Dog,” the tanuki is a beloved figure in Japanese culture with a well-established presence in folklore and legends. It is also absolutely adorable and friendly!


As we began our descent, we spotted the mysterious outline of one of Japan’s most beloved site: Mt. Fuji.

Exploring Tokyo: Daikanyama


An upscale neighborhood with a relaxing atmosphere and a wide array of luxury shops and residencies, Daikanyama is one of Tokyo’s trendiest areas.


Daikanyama displays some excellent examples of Japanese design, not just in the gorgeous products sold in the stores but also in the famous architecture.


Home to Maki Fumihiko’s Hillside Terrace complex, this area is an example of the successful concepts of Metabolist urban planning theories of “group form.” In this notion, architectural design is used to provide an all-inclusive series of buildings that enhance the surrounding area.


TUJ’s architecture students were thrilled to explore the neighborhood.


Each building is more beautiful than the next, especially on a day with such gorgeous weather.


As we strolled on the lovely spring day, we stumbled upon a trendy street-wear store that also happened to make an amazing cappuccino! Not only that, but the back of the commercial space opened into a great wood patio.


We were in heaven. The atmosphere of Daikanyama is relaxing and warm; it’s a perfect place to spend an afternoon of happy walking.


The view was a treat, and it was a perfect place to rest our legs.


Daikanyama oozes chicness, making it one of the best places to experience the trendy and luxurious culture of Tokyo without any stuffiness.


Street art and stickers dot each corner and sign, providing a satisfying juxtaposition with the bourgeois neighborhood. It is a perfect blend of street culture and high style.

Kamakura Festival



Finally, the main event: the evening of the Kamakura Festival in Nikko. Night fell in a blue haze over the mountains, which was beautiful to watch from our room as we relaxed.


We enjoyed tea and cookies on the amazing kotatsu, which is a small table over a light futon and heat source. It was so comfortable on the straw tatami mats!

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And then…our magnificent dinner appeared. It was a meal fit for kings, including udon noodles, tuna sashimi, amazing miso soup, smoked fish, pickled radishes, and tempura vegetables. It was lovely sitting on the floor to eat, but most of us couldn’t hold the traditional Japanese position of sitting on the shins for too long, so we crossed our legs. It was very relaxing!

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The karaoke machine was a hit!

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After dinner, it was time for the festival. There were hundreds of small snow igloos containing candles, it was a magical sight. This snow festival takes place in several locations around Japan during the winter. According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, “this 400 year old festival is said to have its origins in the traditional event of returning New Year decorations to the gods by burning them, and also in the custom of children chasing away birds damaging crops. Inside the kamakura, an altar is set up to honor the water gods and to pray for plenty of clear water, while sake and rice cakes are offered to the gods.” (

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Offerings of money were stuck right into the walls of the larger igloos.

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The atmosphere was surreal with the carefully designed lighting of each igloo. Even the trees were lit!

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Even the vending machines were held in the igloos! I was thankful for the opportunity to warm my hands with a hot coffee can.

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We had a lot of fun exploring each igloo, since every one contained something different. This one had a small sitting area inside, including a tatami mat!

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The most beautiful sight, however, was the array of candles in the main festival area. It was a spiritual experience to watch the flames glow across the landscape and eventually flicker out as snow melted into the candle holder. After being in the snow for several hours, we were definitely in the mood for the hot springs. Our trip to Nikko was a once in a lifetime sort of adventure.

Nikko National Park & All-You-Can-Eat Strawberries



As we continued on the journey, we stopped at Nikko National Park: home of the Kegon Falls!


It was foggy and blue, which was perfect for the mountain environment.


It was a bit too foggy to photograph the main waterfall, but there were countless smaller falls down the sides of the cliff. The noise was loud but still very calming.


We continued to brave the fog to arrive at one of the most exciting locations I’ve been to so far: the Nikko Strawberry Park, i.e. all you can eat strawberries for half an hour!


The greenhouse was a surreal blur, they smelled sweet and were comfortably warm.


The berries were beautiful! I was surprised at how sweet they were during the coldest month in Japan.


They gave us these thoughtful containers to carry the berries, along with a bit of sweetened condensed milk. The combination was absolutely perfect.


Kate was definitely in her element. Everyone had huge grins!


Everyone loved the excitement of picking their own strawberries, it was somewhat of a frenzy to scarf down the sweet morsels.


After our long first day, we finally arrived at the onsen (hot spring) hotel. It was beautiful and traditional, and our room offered a lovely view. We went straight into the hot springs to soak after sitting on the bus!

TUJ Nikko & Kamakura Trip: Ooya Stone Museum and Ooya Temple


This past weekend, the TUJ Student Activities office accomplished an amazing trip to one of Japan’s most beautiful northern regions: Nikko.


After an early bus ride, we arrived at our first destination: The Ooya Stone Museum. While the museum seems like a small space from the outside, entering the building gave us a huge surprise.


Out of nowhere, a staircase appears. As we stepped down, the temperature and the light level decreased gradually.


At the end of the stairs we found ourselves in a massive space that was completely overwhelming. The Stone Museum is about 20,000 square meters total: a labyrinth that is the remains of an expansive mining project of Ooya stone, which was halted as concrete became in higher demand in the 1970s.


There was also a fantastic photo exhibition incorporated into the mine itself.


After the Museum, we left to visit the nearby shrine. The distinct porous Oya stone was all around the area!


The natural rock formations around the shrine were breathtaking. We were told that these caverns were inhabited by humans thousands of years ago. More recently (but still extremely old) is the carving of Kannon, the Bodhisattva of Mercy and Compassion.


There was a lovely garden next to the shrine that looked spectacular in the rain.


There were smaller shrines and statues all throughout the garden.


I’m always enchanted by the artful blends of nature and artwork in Japan, it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced.


Right around the corner from the shrine is an 88-foot high image of the Kannon. This was carved out of the rock wall after WWII to be dedicated to the lost and for the hope of peace. It was massive!


We lit a candle to pay our respects to the icon.


While I wish I could let you experience how huge the work was, hopefully this can give you a better sense of the scale. After climbing the stairs up to the platform, TUJ student Molly Lloyd poses next to Kannon and considers a world as peaceful as the day we’ve had.

Convenience in Tokyo


A central aspect of life in Japan, I have discovered, is the embrace of and desire for convenience. Japan offers a number of conveniences that either differ from, or may not even exist in, other parts of the world.


7-11 is one of the major konbini chains in Japan

While convenience stores can be found aplenty in the US, in Tokyo they are far more abundant. It is not uncommon to see two, three or more “konbini,” as said in Japanese, on one street. And this sight is not necessarily limited to tight urban areas like Shibuya, as streets full konbini can be found in residential neighborhoods too, often in the center of town or near a train station. The stores I see most frequently are FamilyMart, 7-11, Lawson, Sunkus and K-Mart. Ultimately the brand I choose makes little difference, as each one looks nearly identical inside, stocks the same products and charges the same prices. Much like convenience stores in the US, konbini stock magazines, candy, a wide selection of drinks, and plenty of prepackaged food filled with preservatives.


A wide selection of drinks, candy and ice cream can be found at konbini

Chain diners are common to Tokyo as well. Eateries such as Yoshinoya and Sukiya offer inexpensive cultural cuisine, from soups to curry. The soups often consist of noodles, onions, spinach, egg, some form of meat, other vegetables, or a combination of all of these.


One of my favorite diner meals

Curry is served in a surprising number of ways, with vegetables, cheese, or even burgers on top. Similarly to konbini, diners of these sorts can be found on most commercial streets.


Ordering your meal from a machine is common in many local diners

Vending machines are probably the most common amenity in Tokyo, and each offers a large selection of drinks mostly uncommon in the US.


The blue tab below the bottles indicates cold, and red indicates hot

I’ve experimented with a number of juices and fruit drinks with exceptionally strong flavors from these machines, including peach, cherry and banana flavored beverages.


This energy drink has a strong sour lemon taste

The vending machines offer both hot and cold drinks, indicated by a red or blue lit button. Hot drinks consist of teas, coffees and various espresso drinks. “Boss” is a popular brand of coffee commonly found in vending machines.


Boss coffee can be found virtually anywhere in Tokyo

Even cigarettes and alcohol are available via vending machine, and without any form of age verification. Vending machines are ideal for students interested in exploring local neighborhoods, as a refreshing drink can be found nearly anywhere. Convenience often comes at a cost, however, as many of the beverages found in vending machines can be found at grocery stores for less.

Despite Tokyo’s many conveniences, a few notable inconveniences persist. Trash-cans are virtually nonexistent, even in restrooms, forcing me to dispose of my trash strategically (for example, throwing my candy wrapper away before I leave the Family Mart). Often I witness pedestrians leaving their trash behind in deviantly creative ways. I have seen magazines subtly left in bathroom stalls, beer cans tossed into bushes, and even an ice cream wrapper dropped down the sewer. Fortunately, recycling bins can often be found outside of konbini, with sections for combustible and non-combustible items. There seem to be specific efforts made to reduce trash altogether. Restrooms, for instance, rarely carry paper towels.


Sorting trash is a pretty big deal in Japan

While a lifestyle in Tokyo can vary greatly from one in the US, for better or worse, I have adjusted rather quickly to the city’s abundant conveniences.