Category Archives: Tokyo

Tokyo Midtown Design Touch: Graphic Trial 2015


Japan is known to be one of the artistically and technologically leading countries in the world– and with good reason! For a country that is so urbanized with its countless skyscrapers and constant improvements of functionality in everyday objects, they make room for a surprising amount of art. You can walk around almost any part of Tokyo and find something new and visually challenging.

The other day I was visiting a friend at Tokyo Midtown, which is a large shopping center in Roppongi, and we stumbled upon an art show called “Graphic Trial 2015,” a part of “Tokyo Midtown Design Touch.” It’s probably not one of the larger or more well-known shows (Takashi Murakami is showing at the Mori Art Museum right now, by the way!), but in a smaller gallery called the Design Hub. The following text is an excerpt from their pamphlet:

“Graphic Trial” began in 2006 as an attempt to capture new means of expression by examining in detail the relationship between graphic design and printing techniques. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the project, this exhibition will showcase a total of 210 posters created through collaborations between 42 groups pairing a creative artist with a printing director of Toppan Printing. The posters will be accompanied by various ‘printing experiments’, and will go on show in two terms.

Prints of big animals made from tiny lines

Honestly, I forgot to take down the names of the artists because they were written in such tiny print beneath on the floorboards, but the details in these prints were crazy. It’s hard to see from the distance that this photo was taken, but the jellyfish are made of a bunch of thin lines. Basically all these animals are made from tinier little drawings!

A colorful, minimal depiction of the printing process

This one somehow made me feel more at home just because it feels slightly more reminiscent of Kandinsky. This modern interpretation of the printing process seemed like a foreigner in this art space (like me, harhar), when compared with the other works exhibited.

Prints of children that look bubbly and fresh

This one looks more “characteristic” of Japan. Youth is of big value here. I think originally this was shown in 2013 in “Graphic Trial” (an annual exhibition of graphic works at the museum), so a lot of these prints were brought back from past shows to make one mega-collection of past Tokyo Midtown showings.

Anyway, we spent about a good hour here (the space isn’t that large), but we got to see a lot of different kinds of art; and next door in a glass studio, there were some Musashino Art Center students getting some work done. I couldn’t see exactly what they were doing because their workspace was so blocked off (it was probably also their midterm season), which somehow excited me. It’s nice to see people in their natural environment, focused on something they (hopefully) love .

We felt so renewed after having walked around Roppongi’s urban jungle. I honestly think that little spaces of art like this are something that Japan does really well (and maybe a little underappreciated in America). Imagine if we had nothing like this to look at! Our brains would go crazy from all the technical parts of life and mundane desk jobs (unless you enjoy that. Then all the more power to you). So take that beaten path! Check out the little gardens on the side of the building! Japan is almost bursting with art.

Other recommendations (though their exhibits will always be changing):
– Mori Art Museum (Yayoi Kusama was showing here, but I just missed it. SO BUMMED…)
– National Art Center
– 2121 Design Sight
– Ginza for cool modern architecture
– Meiji Shrine for traditional, wooden architecture (and nature!)

Mt. Takao/Mt. Jimba – A Mountain Adventure


Adventurer’s Log   -Oct. 8th-

I have embarked on journey seeking something other than the endless buildings that comprise Tokyo. Today, I have found a small patch of wilderness that those of the area call “Mount Takao.” A meager 45 minute train ride from Shibuya, I was shocked by how popular this particular mountain was. I recall seeing 2 folks dressed up in hiking gear at Shibuya station and thinking to myself, “they’re probably going to the same place as I am.” The first 2 were joined by another 2, and then more and more kept appearing with each station we passed in our small train car. Eventually, it became so that I had to struggle to get through all of the hikers blocking the doors to the platform because so many had congregated on that day.

After my little warm-up of worming my way through the crowd, I saw the sign that finally notified me that I had arrived. In big kanji characters, the sign made no effort to be discreet and letting all who had arrived that they had indeed arrived at Mt. Takao. At the base was a lovely cable car, but my hiker spirit told me to take the trail, to which I was not disappointed. The path led up a creek with little blocks in place that you could step on so that your footwear wouldn’t get soaked. The summit of Mt. Takao (3km from the base) was lovely and gave a great view of Mt. Fuji, but I wanted something a little more intense, so I undertook the voyage (another 16km) to the next mountain: Mt. Jimba.

Along the way, there were several other “summits,” which were more-or-less small rest stops that had amenities and benches. It was between these that I recognized a certain hiker that I happened to be hiking behind for most of the hike. About halfway to Mt. Jimba, I introduced myself, and we struck up a passionate conversation in our mix of broken Japanese and English about our hiking experiences. Turns out my new-found friend, Ogihara-san, had done this particular hike several times before: 27 times to be exact. I was astonished by his resilience and endurance to be able to do this long hike so many times! When I mentioned my age, he was also surprised because he had never met anyone as young as me undertake this hike, and he was happy to take a photo with me at the summit (depicted below). It was great to make a new friend and enjoy the outdoors so close to Tokyo; you never know what you’ll run into if you just get out there!

Mount Takao-Station Sign-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

Big letters, difficult to miss

Mount Takao-Butterfly-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

Nature, it’s so beautiful

Mount Takao-Trail Head-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

The cable car station; so quaint

Mount Takao-Jizo-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

Just some Jizo statues on the side of the trail

Mount Takao-Kanto Plain-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

What a view of the Kanto plain

Mount Takao-Onigiri Set-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

A light lunch to keep the legs pumping

Mount Takao-Rest spot-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

One of the “summits” for the weary traveler

Mount Takao-Valley-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

Mountains, valleys, fresh air; what more can you ask for?

Mount Takao-Closeup summit approach-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

Approaching Mt. Jimba summit, the summit-house looks so inviting!!

Mount Takao-Photo at the Summit-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

A picture of Ogihara-san and I at the summit! 857m above sea level, 19km from the station!

Mount Takao-Goat Statue-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

Is it a goat? Is it a ram? Or is it a Giraffe? Most importantly, how did they get it all the way up here???

Mount Takao-Sunset-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

Long days and lovely sunsets are what I live for…

Adventures in Yokohama!

A cool building in Yokohama! It looks like a citadel in a castle almost.

A cool building in Yokohama! It looks like a citadel in a castle almost.

The problem with iconic cities in a country (such as Paris, London, or New York) is that tourists want to go to these cities and rarely venture outside of these areas. This leads some tourists to believe the city represents the rest of the country, which sometimes irritates people who live outside of these major cities.

This is also true in Yokohama, where people don’t like being associated with Tokyo.  Why should they be? Although trains in Tokyo do go to Yokohama, the city is in another prefecture. I had the pleasure of seeing this city, which is near to Tokyo, but different in quite a few ways. My friends and I met at the train station around noon and went to the Ramen museum. I expected the museum to be just about ramen. Much to my surprise, it wasn’t. It was about the creator of instant ramen and the important impact he made on the world. The museum not only gives people a history lesson about the importance of instant ramen in history, but also encourages others to invent things and be inspired by the world around you. I was not expecting that. I was also not expecting the museum to be so aesthetically pleasing. Looking around the museum, one could tell that the museum was well thought out.

Zen Temple Gate

Zen Temple Gate in Yokohama.

Statue of Amida Buddha in Yokohama Buddhist Temple. It was quite impressive.

Statue of the Amida Buddha in Yokohama Buddhist Temple. It was quite impressive.

After a ramen lunch at the museum cafeteria, we decided to head to a famous zen Buddhist temple. We got lost while trying to find it, but eventually did find it. When we entered the temple grounds, it became hard to justify why we couldn’t find the temple. The place was enormous and beautiful. Being the architecture nut I am, I was happy to see how beautiful the temple was. One of the monks at the temple was very friendly and answered our questions about the temple in perfect English. The place was quiet and he invited us to stay and watch a ceremony. So we did. The ceremony was interesting to see and it was cool to watch a sect of Buddhism perform rituals that have been around for over 1,500 years.

After thanking the monk who happily gave us a tour, we headed towards China Town. I was curious to see how this compared to the China Town in LA, near where I live. Needless to say it was different. It was beautiful and along the route with shops and restaurants, there were also cool shrines and a couple of Chinese architecture inspired temples. We walked around for a little bit and then chose a restaurant that looked good and had dinner. After dinner we left Yokohama.

Although Yokohama is close to Tokyo, it has its own unique flair. The city is a great spot for anyone to come and I had a great time. I recommend to anyone vacationing in Tokyo to get outside Tokyo once and go to different places such as the countryside or other major cities. Then get lost in that area–you might like what you find.

Spirited Away (and Back)


Soooo… it’s been a while since I’ve written anything sappy and introspective. A bunch of my recent posts are about touring Japan’s coolest and weirdest sites – and most likely, your emotional state is going to feel quite similar! In the beginning of being here, you think about how different you are and it’s easy to focus on how much you’re struggling to be a part of a country that you don’t feel you belong to (not yet at least; I know a lot of foreigners who have integrated pretty seamlessly into the community by now). But it’s quite humbling to see the other Japanese students working twice as hard to put their English knowledge into use.

And all of a sudden you want to go explore everything when you realize that things are not as terrible as you’re making them seem! You also realize that you don’t have a lot of time left and then try to pack everything in on the weekends and experience things, while still trying to keep yourself together (and not completely try to assume the form of a Japanese tourist, because you want to be a local, not just another gaijin!) I don’t know about anyone else because, in my experience, people don’t even talk about adaptation at this point in the school year. Just like that, the culture shock is gone and so are the cloudy eyes! I think we’re all a bunch more capable than we think we are. :)

Although.. you do still feel homesick from time to time. Autumn marks the start of the holiday season (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, other religious holidays, etc.) and while everyone thinks about the craziness that will be in Shibuya, there are obvious differences that make you think of home more than you usually do. For one, people might not understand your Halloween costume, if you’re referencing something more obscure in American pop culture. Kids don’t go trick-or-treating and instead, the holiday becomes celebrated by a majority of adults (something about that makes it feel… like the holiday has changed in its purpose? But anyway, I digress again).

But when it comes down to it, Halloween is not that much different! I heard that Halloween used to not be big in Japan, but it definitely is now. The Japanese Don Quixote (pronounced donkihote here) shops start laying out their Halloween promotional items at the end of September, and pumpkin starts taking over as the seasonal flavor. If anything, it seems like Japan goes harder than America in the costume department – so much face paint and glitter and metallics!! So while the holidays make you miss home, the differences between the country in which you’re studying abroad and your home can become less apparent.

Happy Halloween! This is the storefront of a little shop in Shibuya before the festivities. (And yes, there are still tons of girls dressed as cats.)

Kiba Square Log Rolling


Before midterms got rolling around a couple weeks ago, I had some free time to explore more of Japan. The weather was still in its few good days (and hopefully we’ll get some more before the winter chills!) and I’m always looking for interesting/new experiences here in Japan. A lot of people like to pick up tips from local residents, but a lot of the events I’ve actually been to were found in the little magazines that restaurants leave for waiting customers! This time around, I found… the Kiba Square Log Rolling at Kiba Park!

Some history on this activity/event: The Kiba area of Koto-ku derives its name from the once prolific lumberyards and warehouses. (Kiba is literally “lumberyard.”) Kiba no kakunori, or square log rolling, developed as a folk art from this unique background. It sprang from the process of assembling rafts for transport, in which the lumberyard workers maneuver thick, massive logs with only a single fire hook. Apparently, it’s a huge part of Kiba traditional culture (isn’t it surprising how different Japan’s regions – and even districts – are?).

Probably one of their best known tricks:

(Sorry about the terrible quality of these pictures; I was quite far back in the crowd and had to zoom in a lot.)

The log rollers are all a bunch of older men considered “masters” at the art. They started off with simple tricks, like a pair of two guys stepping on the logs in synchronization. If one of them oversteps even by a second, the whole rhythm is thrown off and the team is at risk of falling into the water! A few actually did, but were really good sports about it – it was a hot day after all, so the water was probably really refreshing.

But the tricks started getting more and more intricate (and looked more dangerous) near the end of the log rollers’ showing. They started to forego their fire sticks (eliminating their sense of balance and relying only on their own) and carried umbrellas and fans (though as much as they tried not to look nervous, we can tell they were, haha). Then a few of them started wearing geta!!!–those traditional Japanese block sandals! Walking alone in those are hard, but they rolled those logs!! In basically heels! I’m still baffled thinking about it.


The log rollers had their own little protégés – the smallest and youngest, probably being around twelve. At the end, two of the older log rollers carried the boy in a traditional carriage while on two separate logs. And another jumped off from the end of one log onto another!!! Crazy coordination!! And afterwards, there was a large flea market (I snagged a nifty $5 windbreaker) and lots of food vendors to get some tasty yakitori and other grilled goods.

There’s so much that can go wrong in log rolling, but these guys made it look so easy!

People in Japan Celebrate Halloween? Sort of.


One day at school I heard that Halloween, in a well known part of Tokyo called Shibuya, was a lot of fun during Halloween. My friends and I heard that practically everyone at Temple University Japan was going, so we all decided to go, as well. I arrived first around 8 0’clock because I had heard it was crazy and crowded beyond all belief. Nothing could have prepared me for the crowd. It was crazy. It was extremely difficult to move–every square space seemed to have people on it. After going through much trouble to find my friends in the crowd we set off to “walk” around.

This picture does not show how crowded it was too well. It was so bad that it was difficult to walk!

This picture does not show how crowded it was too well. It was so bad that it was difficult to walk!

This involved people shoving us and our group shoving to get around. It was very difficult to even walk. We walked around and saw some of the most incredible costumes. Many people, both foreigners and Japanese, had put a lot of effort into their costumes. Some of them looked as though they had taken hours upon hours to complete. Others were simple, but very creative, such as a group of Charlie Chaplins I ran into, and they loved that I knew who they were. It was fun for me to see that people still appreciate Chaplin’s humor and movies. Many people also had costumes from TV Shows, movies, and Video Games that looked incredibly authentic. I ran into an Australian dressed as “Mad Max” from the “Mad Max” movie series. The fact that he was Australian made it even better. After a while many of us in our group had seen our share and were becoming claustrophobic because it was impossible to move in many places.

When I left I began wondering about Halloween in Japan in a larger historical and cultural context. Mind you, that Halloween is not widely celebrated in Japan. Most people know what it is, but don’t celebrate it. Over the past decade, according to my host family and Japanese professor, it has become more prevalent in Japan and more and more people are celebrating it. However, Japan has always had a way of adopting things from other cultures and making it their own, whether it’s technology, language or religion. Even some holidays are adopted by Japan. For example, Christmas in Japan is similar to New Years in the United States. Lovers typically spend this time together and people host parties at their house or elsewhere. Christmas in Japan has a unique Japanese flair to it and customs different from the United States or Europe. New Years in Japan is similar to Christmas in America and Europe because people typically go back to their families houses and spend time with their extended family and it is considered a sacred holiday in Japan.

Many people on Halloween in Japan go to Shibuya to have a good time and meet other people. Halloween in Japan has its own unique qualities and customs that makes it uniquely “Japanese.” Japan has adopted things over the centuries and integrate it into its culture, who knows, Halloween may be next.

7/11’s in Japan: The Pinnacle of Convenience


If you ask anyone who has ever been to Japan or stayed in Japan for an extended period of time and ask them about convenience stores in Japan, they will all give rave reviews of convenience stores. Convenience in Japan is quite incredible and the 7/11’s are the pinnacle of convenience. To give you an idea of how convenient Japan is, In my local neighborhood there are three convenience stores, my house, a bookstore, three bars, many restaurants, and several vending machines. This is just on the walk to my house alone. There are about five on my walk to school. Every place in Tokyo has its own different kind of bars, restaurants etc, and they are unique, but everything you could ever want is in your local neighborhood in Tokyo. The convenience stores in Japan are quite different from the ones in the West.

Convenience Stores like this one are all over Japan. It's quite a sight.

Convenience Stores like this one are all over Japan. It’s quite a sight.

For example, the convenience stores often carry many different kinds of food items, not just junk food. In theory you could do your grocery shopping in here. Some stores have fruits, vegetables, and meats right there in the store (on a side note, the pears and other fruits in Japan are legendary and taste much better than the ones in the U.S., seriously, they are so crispy and sweet it’s like eating candy). They have so many varieties of teas, sodas, alcohol, and water brands it’s easy to be intimidated if you are thirsty and just want a simple drink. If you want a quick lunch you are in luck. The meal options are often very varied. There are breads (so many kinds and fillings, it’s hard to tell what they are half of the time if you don’t read Japanese), sandwiches, onigiri (Japanese rice balls), curries, meat and rice bowls, meats, noodles, ramen among many other meal options. Some of the stuff looks so fancy and so good that it’s often hard to decide, at least for me. Almost all of the time it is guaranteed delicious with whatever you get it.

Service is often a lot friendlier, as well. Japanese courtesy plays a huge role here and store attendants are often very helpful if you can’t find something. The stores themselves are very neat and organized when compared with convenience stores in the West, in my experience. The stores in the west are not typically known for being the cleanest or most neat either. In Japan, store owners take great care and pride with cleanliness and it’s common to see an attendant cleaning just a small speck off the floor just because it bothers them that a part of the store is dirty.

Convenience in Japan is quite amazing, yet it also has led to some far reaching issues. Since many people want to come to Tokyo for not only its convenience, but for jobs, it leads to a depopulation of the countryside, which is fast becoming an issue in Japan. Perhaps convenience is not as good as we might think. The Japanese country side is quickly depleting in size and vegetation is noticeably growing over some of the older houses and abandoned houses are not hard to find in rural Japan. It also leads to the danger that too large of a concentration of the population is extremely vulnerable in a natural disaster. In Japan’s case, natural disasters come all too frequently. Having millions of people in a small area that is difficult to evacuate isn’t a good plan. This also affects food production in Japan. Farmer’s children sometimes don’t want to become farmers and their parent’s sometimes don’t want them too either. They go off to the city for college, high school, and work only returning for visits. This leads to a smaller tax base and less revenue for rural Japan. However it is not an unsolvable problem. If rural Japan makes changes and makes it more accessible to foreign visitors, there may be a chance they people will come back to the country side (trust me when I say if you don’t speak Japanese, it is next to impossible to get directions or help). Rural Japan is gorgeous and has so much to offer from its scenic views, beautiful mountains and forests, to its people who are very friendly. It is my hope that some day rural Japan will make a come back.