Sunday, December 30, 2007


Tokyo has undergone urban redevelopment projects in many of its areas during the past decade. I think the first was Ebisu Garden Place, followed by Shinjuku Southern Terrace, Ueno station, Shibuya Mark City, Akihabara station and its surrounding area, Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown, and Marunouchi.

Shiodome is another example of this. Unlike other newly-refurbished areas of Tokyo, however, Shiodome feels inorganic because it simply consists of several skyscrapers and is cut off from the surrounding area resulting in the lack of historical and cultural connotations. Visiting the area this time makes me re-consider this impression I have had.

On Christmas Day, I visited one of those Shiodome skyscraper, Caretta Shiodome, to see its Christmas illumination at the entrance to the building. It employs 300,000 light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, mostly blue, creating an image of ocean waves. The ocean of blue LED light is quite impressive. See the photos I took.

The illumination also features a 10-minute light and music show produced by Hideki Togi, a Japanese gagaku musician, which sucks. Gagaku is a Japanese traditional music for imperial court. Hideki Togi has reinvented it by incorporating pop music. The music played during the show, however, mainly features Western-style sounds with very little of the gagaku elements. Perhaps he is scared of the general public's response. This is very disappointing. If he composed a more traditional piece of music for this illumination, the cross-over of totally Western-inspired Christmas illumination and Japanese noble music would sure be mind-blowing.

After buying matcha castella of Gion Tsujiri tea shop inside Caretta Shiodome, I head for Shinbashi station to go home without expecting anything more. But I discover another set of Christmas illumination in front of the Nittele Tower (another skyscraper in Shiodome which houses the headquarters of Nihon Television, one of the four private nation-wide television channel networks). This one is totally white, creating an image of snow-covered woods. It's actually more beautiful than Caretta Shiodome's blue illumination. See the photos I took.

Obviously, the two skyscrapers in Shiodome compete with each other for the best Christmas illumination. There are some street performances, too, adding a more organic feeling to the Shiodome area.

Today, I go back to Shiodome, this time with Reiko, for a drink. We climb up the Shiodome City Center, yet another skyscraper in the area. On the 41th floor sits Japanesque Bar Gekka. The bar represents what Tokyo is all about: the combination of Japanese tradition, advanced technology, and Western culture taken to the next level by Japanese sensitivity.

It represents Japanese tradition because, first of all, customers need to take off their shoes to enter the bar. Reiko and I sit at a counter without folding our legs. And the bar serves what we call tsumami, small dishes accompanied with alcohol drinks, catering to the Japanese way of drinking. We usually don't just drink. We eat proper food, too, something more than just some snacks.

It represents advanced technology because, thnaks to the skyscraper, a glittering night view of Tokyo, mainly the Ginza area, spreads in front of us. Such a bar is hard to find in Europe where skyscrapers are scarce. (Even if there are, like in London, the owners of skyscrapers do not seem to be interested in making their top floors accessible to the general public.)

It represents "Western culture taken to the next level by Japanese sensitivity." The food the bar serves is deep-fried almond-crumb chicken. Almond is a Western thing, but chicken is deep-fried in Japanese style, which means a much better taste than its Western equivalent. The bar stocks almost all kinds of alcohol drinks: champaign, beer, wine, whisky, brandy, sherry, gin, volka, rum, tequila, and cocktails in addition to Japanese sake and shochu. For each, a wide range of choices are available. A bartender serving us manages to make proper glasses of cocktail. Although he doesn't know a cocktail I liked at Pet Sounds Bar in Stockholm (he says Nothern Europe is at the fore-front in the world of cocktail), the fact that he looks quite dejected by his failure to meet my request suggests that he's really professional.

So it's a pleasant evening. Shiodome rocks!

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