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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.

In Praise Of Shadows.

In Praise Of Shadows – “…what strikes the eye is the massive roof of tile or thatch and the heavy darkness that hangs beneath the eaves. Even at midday cavernous darkness spreads over all beneath the roof’s edge, making entryway, doors, walls, and pillars all but invisible.”

Yayoi Kusama. Pumpkin Magic

Kusama Pumpkin, Naoshima – The pumpkin often has a connection with the magical world. In Cinderella, it turns into a beautiful white carriage, darting towards the dance. In the same way, it could easily be one of the strange and wonderful inhabitants of the Lewis Carroll world – out of scale, context and with no apparent purpose. If the pumpkin could talk it would ask nonsensical questions while giving absurd non-answers.

Garden House. A Vertical Forest

Exit the metro station at Hatchobori and walk along the main road towards the Kamejima River. Just before the bridge take a right turn, you might end up in a narrow street where you will stumble upon a curious object – squashed between two housing blocks: an urban vertical forest. It is the Garden House, designed by Ryue Nishizawa.

The British Museum. Never The Same

Walk up the steps, cross the pronaos, rush through the first room, enter the main courtyard and look up: you will be rendered speechless. The modern roof designed by Fosters and Partners hovers above you. 3312 glazing panels frame 3312 triangular slices of sky. This is the heart of the British Museum.

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.