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IDEAS / travel

Tokyo. Time To Return

30 January 2018

words:  Natalie Donat-Cattin

photos:  Jian Yong Khoo

Close your eyes. If you do so you will hear the noise at the Shibuya Crossing and the smell of the sakura flowers in bloom in Shinjuku on an April’s day, while walking around Gyoen National Garden.

Close your eyes tighter. Do you feel the spatial tension? From the small labyrinth-streets of Nakano to the huge Roppongi’s skyscrapers, Tokyo paints the 21st century Japanese society on one single canvas. If you are willing to get lost in the city, do not stay on wider avenues. Follow less traced paths: you might find yourself turning the corner of a glass building to then end up on a narrow paved street, guarded by a series of human-animal-shaped sculptures. Suddenly everything is peaceful. Time has stalled. The only tinkle is that of the go-(y)en thrown in the name of hope (and luck!).

Close your eyes tighter, breath in. Tell yourself that you are still in Tokyo. Or tell yourself that you will be there again soon: the day after tomorrow. It is midnight and the city shines more than in the midday sun. The streets still teem with life and the karaoke windows come alive. If you dare to bike at 2am, you can watch them from the streets of Okubo, but be aware of the police. They might stop you if you appear suspicious: even bikes in Japan have to be registered like cars.
Close your eyes tighter, breath in and let your imagination out. In this far away world, people wear funny checkered raincoats and funky socks on their bikes. The washing machines are outside the doors and the smoke of the cigarettes inside. On the street, smoking is only allowed within some designated areas.
This is the country where metabolism meets traditionalism. Where la dureté of the béton brut learns from the fragility of timber, becoming ethereal and ephemeral in its mass. Where the tatami, as Ando teaches us, is still the unit of measurement. A reality where the notion of architects still comes alongside the one of carpenter. An archipelagos of islands where emptiness and light shape space, giving it meaning and plasticity.

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FURTHER READING / essays, ideas, photography and more!

Looking East. The Japanese Aesthetic

A cultural oddity, the sense of mysticism surrounding Japan has captivated us for generations; and in it we seek to decipher this elusive quality, of which is believed to somehow offer profound ‘answers’ to life’s toughest questions. This fascination is curiously unusual: with the ever-expanding wealth of knowledge available in the virtual environment, a culture so distant is instantaneously made accessible. The relentless flow of images and anecdotal accounts on mainstream media allows one to transport one’s self into a culture thousands of miles away. A fleeting immersion, which no doubt sows the seeds for preconceived notions and judgments.

La Tour Eiffel. 125 Years Of Love

La Tour Eiffel – Paris is an old romantic man. Two things distinguish him as french: a baguette under the arm and a revolutionary spirit in the chest. A bit Bohemian, a bit Jacobin, but with one motto: liberté, egualité, fraternité. Like all men – or all lovers I should say – he has two weaknesses: absinth and women. But it is known that every Casanova has one true love. Paris’ everlasting one is a lanky old lady with an iron soul.

Water Temple. A Found Ruin

Water temple, designed by Tadao Ando, hides in the inland of Awaji Island. Despite its close proximity to the sea (only a 15 min walk) the building turns its back to the ocean to embrace the hillside. The road to reach it, is deserted and steep: a series of greenhouses and fields are the only panorama’s highlights.

Museum Of The Ara Pacis. Cages Or Freed?

The Ara Pacis was and is an altar to the greatness of Rome, an altar of ideals and hopes. Forgotten but rediscovered. Rebuilt but eradicated. Idolised but caged. Now it sits imprisoned behind white bars, while the citizens invoke freedom for it. Criticism resonates from every part of the capital, loud and clear not unlike most Italians.

architasters / project by Natalie Donat-Cattin and Jian Yong Khoo. It is a platform for speculation and discussion, functioning as a complementary repository for their design work.