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Feeling Footloose and Bohemian in Kichijoji

When visiting Japan from abroad, style-conscious friends frequently ask to visit the “Brooklyn” of Tokyo, hoping to find a myriad of alternative clothing boutiques and stellar dining. I always have to resist the urge to tell them there is no Brooklyn, because there’s no Manhattan nearby. Instead Tokyo is a fascinating urban sprawl with no focal center. There are instead 23 wards being “modernized” by the large corporations that operate the train stations along lines intersecting and connecting the vastness… Read more »

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Goldfish Galore – a Dazzling Exhibition of Japan’s Favorite Ornamental Fish

Goldfish have been a staple feature of Japanese summers since at least the Edo period (1603-1868) when wealthy merchants and samurai began to keep them in their ponds as pets. Small and easy to handle, unlike carp, to which they are related, wild goldfish are actually olive green but some turn out to be red,  orange or yellow,  due to a natural genetic mutation. People in ancient China began to selectively breed the brightly-colored and multi-patterned fish more than a thousand years… Read more »

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“The Aesthetics of Japanese Illumination” – Contemporary Japanese Art in a Traditional Setting

Traditional Japanese architecture is best known for its extreme minimalism, as exemplified by the austere but elegant simplicity of the classic tea house and perfected at Katsura Rikyu Imperial Villa in Kyoto, which is considered the quintessence of Japanese taste. But the Japanese architectural aesthetic is certainly not all about earthen walls, simple bamboo lattices and plain washi paper screens. At the other extreme is an aesthetic that celebrates extravagance, intricacy, even garishness, and reflects the same horror vacui, or… Read more »

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A Mesmerising Collection of Carp Streamers at the National Art Center, Tokyo.

Higher than the roof-tops are the koinobori The large carp is the father The smaller carp are the children They seem to be having fun swimming. Koinobori song, a popular Japanese children’s song (lyrics by Miyako Kondo) Japanese art lovers have long had a soft spot for Impressionism, which is the subject of the main exhibition at the National Art Center, Tokyo (NACT). “Impressionist Masterpieces from the E.G. Buehrle Collection,” has predictably attracted a large number of visitors eager to… Read more »

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Teien Museum Re-opens with an Intriguing Exhibition, “Decoration Never Dies, Anyway”

November marked the long-awaited re-opening of the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, where I recently had the luck of enjoying some behind-the-scenes access to the installation of a lively and challenging new exhibition, the intriguingly entitled “Decoration Never Dies, Anyway.” The exhibition, which brings together contemporary artists from around the world, has turned the museum, a private residence built in the Art Deco style of the 1930s, into a delightful journey of the unexpected, enabling visitors to explore over 60… Read more »

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Unearthing the hidden charms of Ebisu-Nishi

A little over a year ago my husband and I swapped the vibrant chaos of East London for the cosmopolitan tranquility of Tokyo, seeking to propel ourselves out of our comfort zone and experience life in entirely unfamiliar surroundings. Keen to have more opportunities to practice our fledgling Japanese, we decided to live slightly outside the usual expat circuit of Aoyama and Hiroo, and settled in an area formally known as Ebisu-Nishi, nestled between Ebisu and Daikanyama stations. The wider area is framed by the… Read more »

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Edo Kiriko – a Cutting Edge Experience

For centuries, Japanese craftsmen have, with a mix of remarkable dexterity, a keen eye for detail and a finely honed aesthetic sensibility, transformed all manner of material into works of art, in the form of pottery, textiles, basketry and even glass. While it takes countless years of dedicated practice to achieve even a moderate level of success in any type of craft, it is possible these days to find studios all over Japan where complete novices can try their hand… Read more »

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Bijinga – The World of Shoen Uemura’s Beautiful Women

Whenever I host foreign visitors in Tokyo, they invariably comment on the meticulous appearance of Japanese women. Depending on their viewpoint, my friends see this adherence to a particularly Japanese idea of beauty – elegant, modest, and feminine – as (usually) something admirable and aspirational, or (occasionally), evidence of a patriarchal society in which women are encouraged to conform to a tightly-defined aesthetic standard. Regardless of whether you think a focus on appearance is liberating or restricting for women, I… Read more »

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We are the Farm – an organic restaurant run by farmers

There has been a flurry of building activity this past year in Tokyo’s Azabu Jyuban neighborhood, where long-time mom-and-pop stores have been steadily replaced by flashier outfits. But it is not just the small, family-run businesses that are being pushed out – in the past year, one of the few, local supermarkets in the area was replaced by upscale French frozen and organic foods stores and a Tully’s coffee shop turned into a Dean and Deluca outlet. Among the more… Read more »

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Miya Ando

Artist Miya Ando grew up on the grounds of a Buddhist temple in Japan and in a remote area of California. Her spare and contemplative works in metal, glass and natural materials are filled with light and strength, revealing ancestral influences as the descendent of Nicheren Buddhist monks in Bizen, Japan and the 16th generation of a samurai sword craftsmen family. Her humor and warmth quite possibly come from her father’s Jewish/Russian lineage. Ando was born in the United States… Read more »

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Jinya – Home to Totoro’s Tree

Tokyoites in need of a break from the hustle and bustle of city life usually head to the hot springs and scenic comforts of Hakone or Izu, which are within easy reach of the megalopolis by car or train. But relatively few of them may know that there is an onsen, or hot spring town, which is even closer to Tokyo than either of the city’s best-known getaway sanctuaries. Tsurumaki Onsen is a small town in Kanagawa prefecture, which has… Read more »

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Stylish Ceramic Tableware and More at Utsuwa Kenshin

Despite being the capital of a nation obsessed with ceramics and contemporary design, Tokyo hosts surprisingly few shops that specialize in contemporary ceramic ware made by artists who, rather than following a time-honored aesthetic tradition, have developed their own distinctive style. So, it is always a joy to visit Utsuwa Kenshin, a small store located halfway between Shibuya and Omotesando in Tokyo. Here, the owner, Kenshin Sato, displays a carefully curated selection of handcrafted ceramics by artists whom he has… Read more »