Saturday, May 31, 2008


Have lunch with a friend at Kioku, a restaurant in the entrance lobby of Hotel Claska on Meguro Street. It's got a nice ambience, perfect for Saturday branch, and the food is good enough (if not excellent).

Meguro Street has attracted many furniture and interior goods stores. Brunch+time stands out among them. It stocks many table boards made of one piece of natural wood (i.e. not engineered wood), reminding me of the beauty of wooden pieces of furniture.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Supermarkets in Tokyo

I follow my mother to buy foods and other daily stuff at supermarkets in the neighborhood. Three things surprise me.

First, the package of vegetables allows you to see in your mobile screen the face photo of farmers who produced them. The package has a QR code on it. Scan the code with your mobile handset, and you'll see the farmers' face on the mobile screen. (QR codes are everywhere in Japan now.)

Second, after passing the till, ice cubes are on offer for free of charge so customers can keep vegetables etc. cold and fresh on the way home.

Finally, Ito Yokado, one of the major supermarket chains in Japan, delivers what you just bought to your home on the same day for just 100 yen (0.61 euro). What's more, for what need to be kept refrigerated, they keep them in a special bag that keeps the inside cool.

Do you want to live in Tokyo by now?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Emily Kame Kngwarreye vs. Turner Prize Winners

Roppongi has become a place for art lovers. Located within a walking distance are three major art museums in Tokyo. I visit two of them today: The National Art Center Tokyo and The Mori Museum. (The third museum is The Suntory Museum.)

Photo: The lobby hall at the National Art Center Tokyo.

The National Art Center Tokyo exhibits the works by Emily Kame Kngwarreye, an Aborigine painter. The exhibition collects about 100 pieces of her work, spanning her entire career.

The first glance at them puzzles me. All the paintings are very abstract, presenting a very different world. The curator's explanation in a video playing in a separate booth from the gallery helps me realize that her paintings reflect the place where she lived in her entire life: a desert in the middle of Australia. She basically drew what her eyes had always caught. Once I'm used to her ways of expression, I start noticing her mind-blowing sense of color. She mixes different colors in a pleasant way. This aspect of her talent blossoms in Earth Creation. Now that I have had an experience to seeing green leaves and colorful flowers burst into blooming suddenly right after the end of winter in Stockholm, I can appreciate what Emily painted in this work.

Another aspect of her talent, the use of dots to paint a canvass, allows the picture to look three-dimensional. The best to watch her paintings is from a distance. (And this exhibition is laudable in that it allows viewers to do this by using the vast exhibition space fully.) It is like when we see the cityscape from the top floor of a skyscraper as beautiful. Each dot is rather ugly, but when these dots get together and viewed from a distance, they produce a beautiful picture. How did she manage to envision this effect when she was drawing on a canvas on the ground (that's her way of painting)?

Once she established her fame in the contemporary art world by the early 1990s, she changed her style. That was when she was over 80 years old. She stopped using dots. Instead, she focused on line drawing. The exhibition shows her pieces of work during this period, which are honestly speaking not very good. But she made a break-through by painting Big Yam Dreaming with white lines on a black background, that is, by ditching what made her famous: dot painting and the incredible use of colors. That was just one year before her death in 1996.

Even after that, she tried a new approach. In the last series of paintings (drawn just two weeks before her death), she discarded even line drawings. She attempted to create a new world just by her keen sense of color. Would you start doing a new thing when you expected the end of your life in the very near future?

The pictures of her painting are scattered on the web. None of these do her any justice. Her works are best appreciated by watching the original from a distance. If your city invites her exhibition, do visit it. You won't regret it.


After Kngwarreye, contemporary art pieces by Turner Prize winners displayed in the Mori Museum inevitably look small-scaled. Each artist does reveal something new. In Mother and Child, Divided, Damian Hirst, for example, makes me realize the difference in what is inside the body between a cow and a calf. It's not like every part of the body becomes larger when one grows up. In a project House, Rachel Whitered managed to visualize the space inside a house that is going to be demolished, that is, something nobody cares about, by making a concrete cast. In a video entitled Deadpan, Steve McQueen shows what each person cares most about is different. (And I realize one of the video works that I saw in Venice Biennale 2007 (Sophie Whettnall's Shadow Boxing) is basically a copycat of McQueen's work, although I prefer Whettnall's.)

Overall, however, what Turner Prize winners try to convey to viewers appears to be rather trivial in comparison to Kngwarreye's works. Maybe because Turner Prize winners fail to produce beauty.


Tokyo is not just a city for great foods and amazing shopping experience anymore. It is now a place to allow the luxurious comparison of totally different strands of great art. Chanel has chosen Tokyo as the second city to exhibit Mobile Art. Tokyo allows its residents to keep up with what's happening in the world.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


During the past one year, the most dramatically transformed area of Tokyo is Ginza.

First off, I visit Marronnier Gate, opened on September 1, 2007. This 12-story shopping and dining complex surprises me in two senses. First, each of the top three floors for dining features different types of cuisine: the 10th floor for European, the 11th for Asian, and the 12th for Japanese. I'm not aware of any other buildings in Tokyo that organize their restaurants in this way, but it makes real sense. You usually feel like eating a particular type of cuisine, so you don't want to browse Japanese, Chinese, and Italian restaurants together around, do you?

Among the Japanese restaurants on the 12th floor, I try Sou, serving vegetable dishes from Kyoto with stylish decor of Japanese minimalism. My choice is "One Soup Three Vegetables", a lunch menu available only on weekdays. The vegetable soup with white miso in Kyoto style is superb. The price is just 1,500 yen (9.3 euro). By Tokyo standards, this is not cheap for lunch. But neither London nor Stockholm manages to serve a lunch dish that can be described as "superb" for this price.

Downstairs, Tokyu Hands occupies five floors from the 5th to the 9th of the Marronier Gate. Tokyu Hands is a well-established chain for homeware and DIY goods, sometimes selling quirky stuff. But it's never associated itself with style. In its newly opened Ginza branch, that's not the case anymore. It signifies the recent change in trend in Tokyo towards a better quality of life.

Walking on Marronier Street to the east from the Marronier Gate, you'll see De Beer's first store in Asia, opened on March 20, 2008. Just have a look at its wavy facade:

A further change to Ginza's landscape is Swarovski's flagship store, the first for the brand, on Chuou Dori (Central Street). Opened on April 1, 2008, Tokujin Yoshioka designed the store interior under the theme of crystal forests.

Ginza has also seen Giorgio Armani, Cartier, Bvlgari, and Dunhill open or renew its flagship store during the past one year, and they are not just another store in this world. They feature good design and something only available in Tokyo.

Nowadays, anything that is hyped or proves to be popular in the West comes to Tokyo. H&M will finally open its first store in Japan, again in Ginza, this September. Channel's much-hyped mobile art exhibition comes to Tokyo at the end of this month, before any European cities (but after Hong Kong). Plus Tokyo offers great and inexpensive eating-out experiences and excellent services even at budget stores, both of which are unthinkable in the West. What is the reason for not living in Tokyo?

Monday, May 26, 2008

A day in Tokyo

Leave my parents' home around midday. Have takoyaki (octopus balls) at Gindako for lunch. Eight balls of takoyaki for 500 yen (3.06 euro). Gindako is a nationwide chain. My hometown branch is located in a part of the railway station building that lunch takeaway stores occupy. Your choice includes Chinese, udon noodle, yakitori (grilled chopped-and-skewered chicken), croquettes, and bento boxes. All cost at most 1200 yen. It is hard to believe that everybody eats sandwiches every lunch on weekdays in the capital of some country in Europe. It'd be hard to believe for people in Stockholm, too, where almost every lunch place serves the same set of foods.

Pass the ticket barrier of the station and walk up to the platform where Juicer Bar sells freshly squeezed fruit juice: mango, melon, banana, etc. Take a 100ml cup of mixed fruit juice for 150 yen (0.92 euro). The store board says, "We will raise our price by 30 yen due to the recent world food price surge."

Take the Sobu line, and a 33-minute ride to the west takes me to Yoyogi station. Use the east exit of the station to walk to Shinjuku Takashimaya Times Square. Buy a bilingual art magazine Art It at Kinokuniya book store. Buy a pair of scissors at Tokyu Hands. The latest trend in scissors in Japan is fluorine-coated ones so that tapes and glue won't stick to scissors.

Go back to Yoyogi station and take Yamanote line. One station to the south is Harajuku. Get off the train and walk down on Omotesando boulevard to the east. Arrive at Tornado Mart where I asked to adjust the length of a pair of trousers that I bought last Wednesday. In addition to picking up the trousers, buy a black, tight, uniquely-designed jacket.

Walk down south to Shibuya. While the north side of Omotesando boulevard is packed with cutting-edge small boutiques for young men with Japanese original brands in stock (as written last Wednesday), the south side sees boutiques for Japanese people dreaming of Europe and America. These stores are horribly boring to me. I can find these stores in London, Stockholm, San Francisco, and other major cities in the West. Those on the north side are hard to find in the West.

Arriving in Shibuya, stop by at Tower Records. Buy a CD of gagaku music. Then stop by at Sakuraya where I browse USB flash drives. Japan produces a wide range of quirky USB flash drives like those shaped like sushi. I'm looking for a stylish one, and find IO Data's ToteBag series.

It's time to go home. Take the Hanzomon line to Kinshicho. Buy three cream puffs at Maple House in the railway station building. Beard's Papa is not the only cream puff available in Japan. Maple House's version has a cinamon flavor. Back at home, I eat it with my parents. All of us like it. And one cream puff costs 150 yen (0.92 euro). This is the kind of things Stockholm never offers me with...

Cheap but decent foods, cutting-edged design clothes, user-friendly stationery, and good-looking electronics items. That's what Tokyo offers. It's a paradise for materialistic people as we Japanese are.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


My parents' home is located in eastern Tokyo. It takes about one hour (15 minutes by walk to the nearest station and 45 minutes by train) to major districts of Tokyo like Shinjuku and Shibuya. I finally understand why I got exhausted everytime I stayed in Tokyo for a couple of weeks. I'd go to such major districts of Tokyo almost everyday. My travel time was as long as 2 hours every day.

The situation has changed a bit. Kinshicho, another district of Tokyo just 30 minute away from my parents' home, has become a trendy spot during the past couple of years. And I'm quite satisfied by the shopping experience in this area today.

The Kinshicho branch of the Marui department store is not that different from other Marui branches in Shinjuku and Shibuya anymore. I manage to find good-looking pieces of clothes at Rupert (a dark turquoise t-shirt with long sleeves and a zipper neck hole), Michel Klein Homme (a khaki flax jacket with slightly short sleeves), TK (a white t-shirt with Japanese traditional patterns), and Comme Ca Men (a white t-shirt with a black and purple abstract art print).

And I visit Olinas, a recently opened shopping mall in Kinshicho. Quite a few fashionista girls walk into the mall, a scene unthinkable for Kinshicho until a few years ago. The mall is crescent-shaped with a double-height structure (you can see the top ceiling of the building from the ground floor), designed by RTKL. Although women's wear boutiques form the majority of the shops, several interior good stores are also found. There are some cafes I haven't seen before anywhere else in Tokyo. Surely this is a better shopping mall than the Brunswick in London, which just collects all the major, boring high street shopping chains.

Kinshicho beats London.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Sumo wrestling

Today I stay at home all day because it rains outside.

The professional sumo wrestling tournament is broadcast on TV. Koto-oshu, a Bulgarian sumo wrestler, becomes the champion for this month's tournament. One third of the top 40 sumo wrestlers are now non-Japanese (mostly Mongolians and east Europeans).

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tokyo Dining Scene

Have dinner with Reiko, a friend of mine living in Tokyo. When we decide where to eat, she suggests the following: motsunabe, jingisukan, free-range chicken from Miyazaki prefecture (southern Japan), Okinawa cuisine (Okinawa is one of the southernmost islands of Japan), dojo (oriental weather loath), lamb shabu-shabu, game barbecue, shamo, oden, macrobiotec diet, and so forth. Can you believe such a wide variety of options available in Tokyo? People in Stockholm, where good dinner is almost always in French style, certainly wouldn't. Bear in mind that what Michelin Guide Tokyo revealed is just the tip of iceberg.

I pick game barbecue. Known as gibier in Japan, it has recently become popular in Tokyo because game meat contains less fat than standard meat. Fat-conscious Japanese girls love such food. Reiko takes me to a gibier restaurant named "Matagi ga machi he oritekita" (meaning that matagi has come down to the city; even by Japanese standards, it's unusual that a sentence is the name of a restaurant...) in Nakameguro, an area of Tokyo which has become trendy during the last five years.

The restaurant has a minimalist, stylish decor with aluminum pipes hanging from the ceiling above tables. Shichirin on which game meat is barbecued is placed under the pipe so the smoke goes out of the restaurant through the pipe. Tokyo and Seoul have many restaurants like this, but for the first time I see a restaurant that places such indoor barbecue pipes in a stylish way.

We have pheasant, boer, and moon bear. I never thought I would eat moon bear. Pheasant, boer, and moon bear taste like chicken, pork, and beef, respectively, but the texture is more consistent to the extent that it is still easy to bite. Meat is served with yuzu pepper, a spice that has recently become very popular in Japan. It goes quite well with barbecued meat.

Including half a bottle of Chilean red wine, two plates of vegetable, and homemade salted pork, we pay 9,000 yen (55.21 euro) in total. Given what we eat (i.e. something unusual to eat), do you still think Tokyo is the most expensive city?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tokyo National Museum

Ueno is a unique area of Tokyo. To the north-east of Ueno railway station, a number of museums are surrounded by trees and grass. To the south-east spreads Ameyoko, very Asian market streets full of food and clothes shops.

One of the museums in this area is Tokyo National Museum. The museum consists of four buildings, one of which is the Gallery of Horyu-ji Treasures designed by Yoshio Taniguchi before(?) he became famous for his redesigning of the MoMa in New York. I'm struck by his modernist approach to architecture. These days, new buildings almost always feature some curvature in them. Taniguchi's design escapes from it. Although foreigners (Wallpaper* City Guide, an FT columnist) praise this building, I'm not particularly impressed. But that's probably his aim: a building that does not obstruct or intrude into your mind just like kaiseki cuisine, which is actually quite difficult to achieve.

The exhibition inside is a bit disappointing. The explanation for each set of items on display is rather confusing. But some pieces of art are impressive.

Gallery 2 houses nearly 30 gilt bronze statues of sexy Guan-yin (Avalokitesvara in the female form). Local warlords in Japan back in the 7th century possess and worship these statues (about 50cm tall). 1400 years on, some Japanese people today possess figures of anime characters. Our preference does not seem to change much over the long history of Japan. :)

Another impressive piece is Kaikikyo (in gallery 5). This is a mirror given to Horyu-ji temple by Empress Komyo in 736. It depicts a sea with four islands at the edge in a 90 degree interval. The center is the sky while the edge is the ground. Within waves of sea and islands, animals and human beings are inserted. This is a piece of art back in the 8th century of Japan. It's beautiful. Its pictures on the web do not do justice to its beauty. You have to look at it with your own eyes.

The Museum Shop is unexpectedly good. Various items featuring pieces of Art in the museum are on sale. Dancing People catches my eyes. These figures (called haniwa) are made of clay and buried in the tomb of important figures back in the 6th century. I buy a keyholder of this pair of haniwa.

Then I go to the gallery where the Dancing People is on display. On the way is a gallery of Japanese art in the early 20th century. The gallery is spacious without too many objects so viewers can watch pictures from a distance. There are quite a few good and interesting pictures drawn by artists like Yokoyama Taikan. These guys take the Japanese drawings to a next level by incorporating Western ways of painting. One of Yokoyama's paintings draws Buddha preaching his followers in two hanging scrolls side by side. Buddha is in the the left scroll, and all the followers in the right, suggesting the difference in the level of enlightenment between the two. Although the way these figures are drawn is quite traditional Japanese, Yokoyama uses very vivid color of green, unusual for traditional Japanese paintings, to paint tree leaves above Buddha and the followers. The mixture of previously incompatible things, and the use of canvas (scrolls in this case) to suggest something more than what the picture itself tells, is very much like today's contemporary art.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Omotesando & Ura-harajuku

The only time I buy clothes is when I visit Tokyo, the world's most friendly city to anti-brand male fashionistas (i.e. fashion-conscious men who don't want to wear Paul Smith, Dior Homme, Giorgio Armani, etc.).

Ura-harajuku, off Omotesando boulevard, is the place to go for such men. Small alleyways are lined with myriads of small-scale boutiques for men (amazingly, there are more shops for men than for women). Various styles are on offer, and they are often creative.

What attract me this time are: a draped long-sleeved t-shirt with two strings hanging from both sides of the crow neck at Jackrose Luv Maison; yukata with contemporary patterns at Tokyo 135; a silver long-sleeved t-shirt at World Exe; and a bell-bottomed pair of trousers at Tornado Mart.

I also stop by at Omotesando Hills. As before, the ad campaign undermines the beauty of the inside of the building designed by Tadao Ando. In the photo below, the ad part is cut off from the frame although this is not the best way of framing the interiors of Omotesando Hills.

But I now learn there are some interesting stores which I can recommend.

Hida Omotesando (floor b2) displays expensive, but elegant wooden furniture made of Japanese cedar from Hida region (in the middle of Japan) designed by Enzo Mari. The grain of cedar makes these pieces of furniture look very unique and beautiful. The collaboration between Japanese traditional furniture makers (which have excellent skills of processing raw materials) and European designers like this one is an emerging trend in Japanese interior design.

Another interesting shop in Omotesando Hills is Kisara (floor b2), selling Japanese traditional textile and other handicrafts presented in a contemporary fashion.

Omotesando Saryo, a cafe at the main entrance of Omotesando Hills, serves Western sweets, pastry, and sandwiches with the decor inspired by Japanese tradition. For 1250 yen (7.67 euro), a croissant sandwich, a small bowl of salad, and yuzu (a kind of citrus only available in Japan) smoothie fill my stomach. The kind of cafes Stockholm never offers me with...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Tokyo Midtown revisited

For the second time I visit Tokyo Midtown. I now come to like its decor. It's not conspicuous, but getting used to it reveals its aesthetics. See these pictures:

And Tokyo Midtown is not just about its appearance:


It's near 2pm when I arrive at Tokyo Midtown. I haven't had lunch yet. Among several Japanese restaurants inside the Midtown, Edo-kirian becomes my lunch place today. It's a soba noodle place. The price is very reasonable. For 1080 yen (6.66 euro), I have ebi kakiage seiro (cold soba noodle served on a bamboo steamer with shrimp and sliced vegetable tempura). I'm not particularly a fan of soba noodle, but I'm impressed by the consistent texture of the soba noodle at this place. They also serve soba-yu (hot water used for boiling soba noodle). We drink this after eating soba noodle.

Hinokicho Park

With the full stomach, I take a walk to Hinokicho Park. It is a Japanese style garden, but the garden was just constructed along with the creation of Tokyo Midtown. So it only gives me a superficial impression. Having said that, sitting on a wood bench under the roof of azumaya (a wooden hut meant for garden visitors to take a rest), watching a spacious pond with Tokyo Midtown's contemporary high-rise buildings behind, and listening to the sound of streaming water in the garden makes me relax in the middle of the bustle of megalopolis Tokyo.

Next to Hinokicho Park lies Midtown Garden, which features avant-garde swings and slides for children.
Walking on a slowly curved footpath leads to the low-rise concrete building of 21_21_Design_Sight, designed by Tadao Ando. The curvature of the footpath is well-designed so the horizontal spanning of Ando's building is fully appreciated.


The current exhibition at 21_21_Design_Sight is "XXIst Century Man" curated by Issey Miyake. No photo is allowed at this gallery, but Excite Ism, a Japanese web magazine on design, takes picture of most works on display. Below I link these pictures from the title of each work (except for Tim Hawkinson's Dragon, whose picture comes from The Huffington Post.

There are several key words popping up in my mind while exploring this exhibition. First, recycling. Issey Miyake's "Myth of the 21st Century" uses pieces of paper used during designing clothes. "Cabbage Chair" by nendo utilizes used pleated paper. Koutarou Sekiguchi's "It's a departure at a bright night." is made of only newspaper and duct tape. "Dunan Endeavor" by Yazou Hokama also recycles paper used as a container for industrial material.

Next, what can be called the 21st century version of antimodernism. Ron Arad's "PizzaKobra" reveals a beautiful snake as a result of pursuing the state-of-the-art technology. "The Wind" by Issey Miyake Creative Room transforms parts of Dyson cleaners into human beings who wear the clothes inspired by parts of Dyson cleaners. Ben Wilson's "Monocycle" puts a driver inside the large single wheel, rather than on the top of it.

Third, the creation out of nothing. "Dragon" by Tim Hawkinson is not really a picture of a dragon if you look at it closely, but if you look at it from a distant, it's nothing else than a dragon. "Beginning of Time" by Yasuhiro Suzuki consists of two bronze branches which produce water out of nothing (because we do not see water vapour in the air: bronze induces dew condensation).

Finally, a human body. Isam Noguchi depicts "Standing Nude Youth" in ink brush painting. Stickman creates "Dui Seid" with wood branches as bones and blood vessels.

What should we take from these? Issey Miyake writes, "It is only through the miracles of creativity and imagination that this Earth will see dreams realized..." With environmental issues more serious than ever, we need to be more aware of ourselves as human beings in relation to the nature and what modernism brings to us. And only creation beyond most people's imagination can achieve it. That's my take.

It is a very well-curated exhibition. It would be perfect if visitors couldn't see Koutarou Sekiguchi's "It's a departure at a bright night." until the very end. Due to the space limitation, I suppose, this dream-incubating work of art has to be placed in an area where visitors go downstairs to start a visit. The sight of Sekiguchi's work at the beginning undermines the role of this work as a burst of hope after deep consideration.

Koots Green Tea

After being slightly tired from appreciating art and design, a Japanese tea cafe with an interesting concept refreshes my mind. Koots Green Tea is a perfect copycat of Starbucks in terms of the cafe decor and the presentation of drinks. But it doesn't serve espresso but matcha green tea. Matcha latte comes in several forms including the one topped up by kuromitsu (thick brown sugar in Japanese style) and kinako (soybean flour). Koots's version of Frappuccino is called Korichio (but not espresso but matcha green tea, red bean, or black sesami). Instead of sandwiches, they sell onigiri (rice balls wrapped in sea weed). Instead of biscotti, various Japanese sweets can be ordered. What's interesting is you can order an extra shot of matcha. I love this ridiculousness.

In addition, Koots sells fantastic matcha financiers. This is how Japanese people take French pastry to a next level.


Although I was disappointed by the overall inferiority of interior design shops in Tokyo Midtown compared to those in Stockholm, there are two shops worth revisiting. Time & Style sells stylish towels. Hashicho sells myriads of Japanese chopsticks including traditional ones with contemporary design twists.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Guggenheim Museum

After spending a rather boring hour at the Met, I head for Guggenheim Museum by following Emilia's suggestion. She's right. This museum asserts itself with its spirally sloped gallery. What's more, the artist in the current exhibition, Cai Guo-Qiang, uses the spiral structure effectively to locate his works. (Instead of myself reviewing the exhibition, I let you read one by Nicole Wong published in Art It magazine (Spring/Summer 2008 issue).)

I will come to this museum everytime I visit New York.

Alice's Tea Cup Chapter III

On the way back from San Francisco to Stockholm, I stop over at New York, spending about 10 hours in the city. Emilia, who will be a colleague of mine this fall, takes me to a nice tea place called Alice's Tea Cup Chapter III for brunch. They serve more than 100 kinds of tea. I go for African Dew, a black tea without any stupid herbal flavor added. Still, it smells very aromatic and tastes excellent. And also excellent are smoked salmon and scones with poached eggs, rosemary hollandaise sauce, roasted asparagus and pears. There's no cafe like this in Stockholm...

Lipstick Building

At 885 Third Avenue, New York. Designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee in 1986.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Valencia Street

Although I do not have time to explore deeply, Valencia Street in the southern part of San Francisco known as the Mission appears to have a lot to offer. A restaurant named Conduit (at 280) has an appealing interior. Jack Hanley Gallery is on this street (at 395). Further down south, an Ethiopian restaurant Cafe Ethiopia at 876. Trendy cafes, boutiques, interior good shops and the like are lined up occasionally.

Murals on Balmy Alley

Balmy Alley in the Mission area of San Francisco (between 24th and 25th Streets) is an open air exhibition space for local mural artists. Below are my favorites:

Transamerica Pyramid

San Francisco's iconic skyscraper is best looked at through between its neighboring skyscrapers.

Hyatt Regent

The lobby of Hyatt Regent San Francisco is gorgeous, a typical example of modernism architecture during the '50s and '60s: the combination of straight concrete with plants interspersed. Eclipse, a round-shaped huge sculpture by Charles O Perry, matches with the atmosphere really well.

Modern Tea

An impressive cafe on Hayes Street (at Laguna Street). They take tea very, very seriously. Try to get a bar counter seat. As if they are serving a glass of cocktail, "tea bartenders" brew a wide variety of tea (from Assam, Darjeeling, Keemum to Japanese and Chinese green tea) in front of you. For each kind of tea, they have a different way of brewing: what tea pot to be used, the degree of temperature of hot water, the amount of tea leaf. For black tea, you need to brew with absolutely boiling water. They exactly do it. They also heat up tea pots and cups by generously using hot water in front of you as the bar counter table is fitted with a long narrow sink covered by a wooden lid with slits. Finally, they don't serve you a tea pot with tea leaf inside. They remove it so tea does not get too strong by the time you have the second and third cups of tea. Splendid. So splendid that I start up a conversation with a bartender (which is very unusual for me).

Tea drinkers are mistreated by way too many cafes around the world. Tea salons like Modern Tea should be more widely available.

Hayes Valley

It is true that Hayes Street between Laguna and Octavia Streets attracts edged boutiques and cafes alongside a contemporary art gallery and a Japanese sake shop, although furniture stores here do not keep up with the high standard of Stockholm. A short tree-lined boulevard in Octavia Street (between Hayes and Feel Streets) is pleasant on a sunny day.

St Mary's Cathedral

This is where liberal and hippy San Francisco meets Christianity. From outside the cathedral looks like a concert hall (see the photo below). Once you get inside the building, it's just mind-blowing to look up (see the photo above). I was tempted to believe in God.


A very ugly building. So ugly it's not worth being taken picture of. It reminds me of the costume of a dancer in an anti-modernism film The Triadic Ballet by Oskar Schlemmer (like this), which means it makes you puke.

Contemporary Jewish Museum

A building I happened to encounter in San Francisco (On Yerba Buena Lane, off Market Street between Third and Fourth Streets). Log on to for detail.

And Beard Papa, a Japanese cream puff chain store, is located on the same street.

Cafe de la Presse

Following the 24 Hours section of Wallpaper* City Guide for San Francisco, I had breakfast at this French cafe in front of the China Town Gate (what an irony). Vanilla French toast with warm berries was beautiful. With a wide variety of international newspapers and magazines on offer (I took FT) and very pleasant waiters and waitresses, you can spend an intelligent but relaxed morning time here.

Saskia Leek @ Jack Hanley Gallery

The Center on Institutions and Governance at UC Berkeley invited me to present my work at their two-day workshop. As UC Berkeley is located near San Francisco, I take this opportunity to explore San Francisco after the workshop was over.

The first visit is Jack Hanley Gallery, recommended by Wallpaper* City Guide. The featured artist is Saskia Leek.

The first look gives me an impression that each picture draws a familiar object like a cat, a bunch of grapes, a plant, etc. The more I look at them, however, the more unfamiliar the pictures become. The sequence of impressions on a piece of contemporary art is usually the other way around. Very unfamiliar at first, but then you realize what it is about (or you never understand what it is about).

Now I head to Golden Gate Park.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Golden Gate Park

Tourists in San Francisco usually do not explore the western part of the city. Therefore I do.

Taking a bus to the west (pay 1.5 dollars in exact amount of cash, and you'll get a paper slip which allows you to take a bus again during the next 90 minutes) takes me to the eastern edge of Golden Gate Park. It is a loooong park. It takes more than two hours to walk from one end to the other. I only managed to walk over the eastern half. I encountered three memorable things.

First, pick-up drum jams on the Hippie Hill. There were about 10 people jamming with various kinds of drums. It sounded like each participant was hitting their drum on their own. As a whole, however, the drums sounded quite interesting. If I were a resident in San Francisco, I might be willing to join them.

Second, De Young Museum. (See the two pictures above.) Some hate it, but I love its building covered in perforated and textured copper, designed by Herzog & de Meuron. The copper cover creates a very surreal impression of the building's appearance. With mist floating around the building, it looks as if it wasn't there. It looks like a mirage although it stands just in front of you. I never saw such a building before.

Finally, Stow Lake. Deep green water with Far Eastern plants like a narcissus made me forget where I was. Again mist floats over the water. The whole scenery looks like the one deep inland in China where a Chinese wizard hides himself from the world.

A caveat of this park is that many driveways crisscross the park, but that's the only thing that reminds you of where you are: car-infested America.

Friday, May 02, 2008

10th Anniversary: Part II

Dear hide-san,

Ten years on, what you invented in the Japanese pop music scene is now invading not only East Asia but also North America, Europe, and even Latin America. Thanks to this, I feel less lonely by living in the West. Growing up in Japan makes me feel very different from anyone I meet here in Europe. Now, however, I can share with some people here one thing I was passionate about during my adolescence and thus the one shaping my thoughts, attitudes, and feelings.

I thank you for this. You'll be remembered by many around the world. Rest in peace.


10th Anniversary: Part I

Dear Tomo-chan,

It's been 10 years since you left this world. I remember you and I, with some other college classmates of ours, were talking about our future. You said, "I'll take care of Japan. You take care of outside Japan." I'm not sure I realized what you said, but at least I manage to walk on the path that few other Japanese people follow. I hope you are happy with this.

I never forget you. I'll visit you in Tokyo soon. Until then, rest in peace.

With love,