Roppongi Art Night: Take 2

Let me begin this post by saying that I am, at heart, an old lady. Early to bed, early to rise, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I barely even eat french fries. So when I stayed out past midnight attending Roppongi Art Night, it was a big deal. But honestly, it wasn’t a hard sell. Roppongi Art Night is hands down one of my favorite events of the year.

I still woke up with a bad “hangover” in the morning… and by hangover, I mean my body told me, in no uncertain terms, that it was very unhappy with me for missing my 9pm bedtime. (I don’t want to even imagine what it’d feel like to have a real hangover.)

But it was worth it.

As best I can tell, Roppongi Art Night is an arts festival with all sorts of exhibits by all sorts of people, some performances, and no sleep. Events were scheduled from sundown to sun up, and buses were running the whole night to shuttle people home after the trains stopped running.

This year’s theme was “Trip.” There were huge boat sculptures – and some actual boats – around Roppongi Midtown and Roppongi Hills, along with other sculptural pieces, performance art, and a brass band performance that we caught around 8pm.

I really liked this boat, made of a wooden frame laced with strings. You can see little bits of paper are tied to it, just like they have at shrines. At shrines, the idea is to tie bad fortunes that you don’t want to these strings. At this boat, the sign encouraged us to tie receipts.

We came to the performance just as it was starting, so the view is not so great. I did my best to get up on my tiptoes and hold my camera over my head to take a few shots.

The straw monster with tinfoil eyes you see above was moving around lion dance style, while girls in striped dresses were waving giant bananas (Chiquita style) and a brass band played. I’m not sure how to describe the crowd, other than to say it was a very fun one to be in. Though I almost always feel safe and comfortable walking around in Japan as compared to the United States, moments where I feel like I and the people around me are sharing something enjoyable are more rare. People were dancing and laughing and really having a good time.

It was well past dark by the time the show was over, and we wandered around to see a few more installations.

And of course, the beautiful night time sakura.

Google Offices: Tokyo

I had the great fortune of getting invited to lunch at Google’s Tokyo offices last month. You’ve heard about how cool and fun Google’s offices are, right? Well, it’s all true. I wanted to take a million more photos, but because I was a guest and it was the middle of the work day I felt a little awkward about it. Here’s the few I got:

As a friend of mine who grew up in Silicon Valley pointed out, they make it this nice, with all this free food and nap rooms and massage rooms and ping pong tables, so you never leave. And I said hey, that’s fine–I don’t even have a dog, let alone a husband or family, and the office was waaaay nicer than where I live. I’ll move in now. (Psst, Google, I will. You need a comms person? Call me.)

A big thanks to my tour guides for taking an hour out of their day to chat with me about their work and show me around.

Atago Shrine and Zozoji Temple

Saturday during my dad’s visit we met my old friends Hazuki and Makiko, who I met way back when I studied in Japan in 2007, and went to Atago Shrine and Zozoji Temple.

Atago Shrine is at the top of a 26-meter (above sea level) hill. Back in the day you used to have a great view of the ocean from the top, but needless to say modern Tokyo has obscured the view with skyscrapers.

The stairs up to Atago might be what a lot of people associate with Japanese shrines: long and steeeeep. Climbing to the top symbolizes achieving success in life. Hazuki told us a story about having to run (similar) steps in PE in school, and if one person stopped or couldn’t go anymore, everyone had to go to the bottom or start over. Ouch.

After Atago we went to Zozoji Temple, a famous Buddhist Temple in the area. Did you know American President Ulysses S. Grant came to Japan and gifted the country a tree? I did not! And apparently that tree is still going strong on the grounds of Zozoji.

The little child statues you see are for the spirits of children who died before they were born (miscarriages, etc). The temple sells the little red hats and capes, which is why you see so many of them matching, but each statue belongs to a different family, which is why there’s some personalization, too. The wind was blowing really hard that day and the windmills were rattling. Maybe it was supposed to be sad, but it was actually quite beautiful.

Roppongi Art Night

Last March Akiko and I went to the annual Roppongi Art Night, which is about what it sounds like: art, at night, in Roppongi. The featured artist was Yayoi Kusama, famous for her polka dots. The area underneath Tokyo Midtown was occupied by student work, and the grounds between Tokyo Midtown and Roppongi Hills had several larger outdoor exhibits.

And this is Jappyi, the Art Night mascot. There was a lengthy description of how they came up with Jappyi and how he embodies Japan, with the red hinamaru on his head, the Fuji-patterned pants, the “cuteness,” and the name that suggests both Japan and Happy… honestly I was surprised actual Japanese people came up with such a forced stereotype of “Japanese things” and crammed them into such a creepy character.

There were Jappyi kigurumi (people in Jappyi suits) walking around too. We gave them a wide berth.

A cold but really fun night. I’ll definitely go next year.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yesterday was my birthday in Japan, today is my birthday in America, so really I’m just gonna double up and keep celebrating.

But anyway, as for yesterday:

I met some friends in Roppongi Hills for lunch at Frijoles, the Japanese equivalent of Chipotle. While not real Mexican food, I appreciated the approximation. At the end of the day, when you’re in a foreign country and missing the American southwest, some beans, rice, guacamole, and spicy sauce’ll do. The spider (first row, second image) is an iconic statue in the area, though if you, like me, look at that spider and go “…why?” I cannot answer that for you. It’s Japan. Just go with it.

Speaking of “huh?” moments, on the way to our next stop we saw the six-story advertisement for McDonald’s Grand Canyon Burger (first row, third image). When I studied abroad here in 2007, McDonald’s had another campaign going for what I think was a seven-patty burger. Why Japan seems to have more obscenely large burgers than America, where one would think the people are more appropriately sized to consume such burgers, I dunno. There’s definitely more of a “food fad” culture here that might make this kind of thing popular. Plus, as far as I can tell, the local media doesn’t fly into a tizzy about these burgers destroying our children (or something else hyperbolic – not that I think fast food consumption doesn’t play a major part in a variety of public health problems in America, just that I think the news is ridiculous and frames things… how do I want to say this… stupidly). So that helps. My friends tell me people usually each such burgers as a novelty, and with help (ie people would split the aformentioned seven-patty burger, and probably the Grand Canyon burger too). The relative size of Japanese people to Americans makes me inclined to believe them.

Anyway, on to the Mori Art Museum. The museum opened in 2007 and was shiny and new when I first lived in Tokyo. It’s one floor of a… well, I don’t know how tall the building is, but it’s at least 52 floors because the museum is on #52. This is my first time back. Nostalgia! It was as nice as remembered, with a fraction of the crowd – the holiday doesn’t really start here until the middle of the week post-Christmas, so Tuesday found Mori pretty deserted. Last time I’d been it was on a weekend and it was packed, which is a little problematic when you have to wait in line for elevators to go up to the 52nd floor. (As if riding in a tiny box rocketing up 52 floors wasn’t spooky enough…)

The current exhibit is “Metabolism,” about an architectural movement in postwar Japan to create buildings that had a sense of “life” and integration with a city, as well as the ability to change and grow depending on a city’s needs. I really recommend it to anyone interested in architecture, or those who just like retro-futurism aesthetics. Most of the works on display were conceived or built in the 1960s-70s, so they have a fascinating, mod vision of the future. One friend I was with also commented some of the buildings made him think of Japanese steampunk, as Metabolism was big on taking traditional Japanese architectural elements and incorporating them into new designs.

Probably the most recognizable concept from Metabolism is the capsule:

The above is a mock up of one of the capsule rooms from Kisho Kurokawa’s capsule tower, on display as part of the exhibit.

The most interesting part of the exhibit was the fantastical designs – particularly ocean cities and elevated cities – meant to create artificial land and alleviate the straight up space problems of Tokyo and other rapidly growing cities. Because they were wildly expensive, of course, it’s the most ambitious designs that never happened, and so that still seem futuristic today.

I’ll scan the pamphlet from the exhibit when I have a chance, you really have to see some of these designs for yourself.

It was dark by the time we left the exhibit, and we took some (blurry, poorly lit) photos from the observation deck of the museum (included with the price of admission, woo~). My friends and I then parted ways, and I met up with some other folks at Bali Cafe Putri for tasty tasty Indonesian food. Chitose, who I haven’t seen since she left DC, was excited to eat spicy food – her kids are 10 and 6 and still like sweet Japanese curry. Overall it was super tasty and had a lot of excellent vegan options. In fact, when we first got the tempeh curry at the table, Chitose thought it was her chicken and didn’t realize it until she bit in.

We stayed out laaaaate – for me, anyway, I’m an old lady at heart – and finally shivered and walked back to the subway (spotting some leftover Christmas Illuminations on the way) around 11. Though I’m still missing home, overall a fantastic birthday.