Melissa Hope Matlins

Personal Tokyo Recommendations
November 7, 2006, 10:22 pm
Filed under: Japan, Travel

I have received requests for a sort of Japan rough guide, Tokyo in particular. Here is a first draft of this post. Let me know what you think!

For getting about.
I never got one, but you would have a much better time getting around if you get a tourist map of Tokyo, available at the Tokyo train station. If you take the Shinkansen(bullet train) you will arrive there. There will be a sign for an information counter where the maps are!
For staying:
I stayed at the Cerulean Tower which is a pretty grand western style business-y hotel with large, clean rooms located centrally in Shibuya. Everything about the place was great but it didn’t have a lot of character. However everyone there was very helpful which is what I needed to get oriented when I arrived. The hotel is right near the station, and this is one of the 2-3 main train stations in Tokyo on the JR “loop” line that gets you almost everywhere.
Other recommendations are the Asia Center of Japan, which has very inexpensive rooms, but I hear a lot of good things about it. There is also a boutique hotel, Claska, that I wanted to try but it is a bit out of the way, in Meguro. I will probably stay there next time. If money is no object, the Park Hyatt or Grand Hyatt is the obvious choice.

For eating and drinking.
Tenmatsu was the best tempura I have ever had. This is right near Shibuya station, but definitely get directions and make a reservation if you can (requires a Japanese speaking person), as they only have seating for about 10 at a time. 1-6-1 Dogen-zaka, Shibuya-ku, 03-3462-2815
Sukeroku is some of the best sushi in the world. I am sure I am not biased as the sushi master and his family has shown me unbelievable hospitality. Please try to visit and let them know that Melissa-san sent you! Definitely get directions for the train (Kameido station on the sobu line, east exit I think) and also an area map for the street as there is no sign on the restaurant, just the address. People in the neighborhood can help you find it too as it is well known. 6-22-8 Kameido, Kotoh-ku, 03-3638-1169. Also his assistant is Kobori Takashi and he speaks a little english.
Daiwa Sushi is just outside of the Tsukiji Fish Market, and is best before 8am otherwise it gets crowded. (I know, lines for sushi breakfast, its weird) So after you see the market walk outside of it and you should see numbered buildings – it is in building 6. This is the outer market where they sell vegetables, trinkets and tea and such, the inner market is just sushi. Try to get to the central fish market around 5am for the tuna auction. Check with the hotel where you are staying and make sure it is open when you are planning to go, it is closed on random days.
The Pink Cow in Shibuya is like home, or at least a California hippie version of home. Everyone here is sooo friendly and Traci (the owner) is a doll and will welcome you and is a wealth of information about the city. It is off the main drag so look at their website for directions from where you are.
For nightlife check out Superdeluxe (loft-like bar), Alife or The Baron (bar in the back of this club) or Yellow, all in the Roppongi area. Just be forwarned, if you are out past midnight you will probably be out until 4:30 when the trains start running again. After the witching hour bars and clubs take on the atmosphere of a school lock-in, with alcohol and a bunch of people that you mostly can’t understand that is.

Tokyo National Museum in Ueno, the worlds largest collection of japanese art. Dont miss the gallery of Horyuji treasures (yes the same Horyuji as in Nara, minus the deer and plus the treasures). Harajiku and Aoyama area for the fashion and the fashionable, especially on weekends. And a visit to the Meiji shrine in this area. There is a great tshirt shop here, Graniph, and the english sayings on the shirts mostly make sense, which can be a rarity. If you are into home design Muji in Ginza is not to be missed. If you are in to luxury goods, Mikimoto (the new building), Hermes and Prada all have a fantastic selection of bank-breaking items, and the great architecture of these buildings is an added bonus.
The Hama Rikyu gardens, this is near the fish market and is good for a walk after sushi breakfast. They have lots of poison flowers, an ancient cypress that is barely standing, giant aloe plants and a shogun inn where you can have tea.

Outside Tokyo.
I wish that I had the time to visit Hakone, Nikko or Mashiko around Mt. Fuji, all have great onsen (baths) and views. Let me know if you make it there I will be envious.
Of course if you have 2 days or more to travel outside of Tokyo, Kyoto is a must.


Rain in Kyoto
October 1, 2006, 4:20 pm
Filed under: Japan

I arrived in Kyoto a bit exhausted from my Tokyo experience. I was eagerly anticipating my first ride on the shinkansen bullet train, sure that I would be transfixed by the view from my window seat. The swift and practically silent movement instead lulled me right to sleep for the duration of the trip. Also looking out the window is a bit like watching a movie on fast forward.
Hiiragiya is my first Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) experience. A few incidents of note:
The paving stones at the entrance gate are always wet. I am convinced that it is someone’s sole responsibility to keep them this way at all times. It must be considering that the paving stones are in a covered walkway.
My shoe collection is kept in a little locker near the entrance, can’t wear them inside, instead you wear these impossibly trendy leather slippers. I feel short without heels. However when the porter hands me my shoes delicately, as if they were the crown jewels, I forget about the height issue altogether.
My room smells of fresh cedar wood and the hallways smell of incense. All the time. Even now in the middle of the night when I am typing this, with tea that they brought to me because I think they are trying to get me to go to sleep already. Crazy american insomnaic.
The rain is actually pleasant. It makes a lovely sound on the roof, and in the gardens of the castles and shrines the colors of the buildings, rocks and greenery pop against the gray sky. The rain falls off the eaves and into artfully designed drainage channels, often filled with pebbles.

Fish Market re-run
October 1, 2006, 4:07 pm
Filed under: Japan

I visited Sukeroku, Kugo-san’s restaurant. I had the pleasure of meeting him in New York and it was an honor to dine there and to experience their exceptional hospitality.
I made a return trip to the fish market with them the next morning, also visiting Hamarikyu Teien. Thanks also to Kobori Takashi for his valiant efforts to communicate with me despite the fact that I know three words of Japanese! I thought I had the best sushi of my life the day before at the market and I was mistaken. Their restaurant was even better.

The Consumer is a God
October 1, 2006, 3:29 pm
Filed under: Architecture, Design, Japan

There is a saying here that I believe roughly translates to “the consumer is a god.” In practice, this involves an excessive amount of bowing, greeting and overt friendliness, at least by western standards. More importantly, from an architectural perspective, the Japanese build lovely temples to their gods! I was fortunate enough to tour the consumer temples of Aoyama, Harajuku and Ginza with Blaine Brownell, Fulbright fellow and author of the amazing book, Transmaterial.
Highlights included Ando’s HH Style, featuring some of the most exceptional work in concrete I have seen to date, with tight, triangular shapes framing the interior staircase. Though no pictures were allowed in the store, the black metal exterior is equally striking.
Mikimoto is literally the pearl in the Ginza oyster, a standout design from accomplished architect Toyo Ito. The building exterior is a soft pink lacquer, punctured from top to bottom with irregular window shapes.
A dramatic curved stair wraps around a mobile lighting element featuring a crystal fringe, the effect is almost psychedelic.
The Hermes complex showcases glass block in a way that I didn’t think was possible, to quote Blaine, “It makes me enjoy glass block again!” There was also an standout window display constructed from thousands of white plastic drinking straws, creating a cloud-like effect around what must be the largest birkin bag ever made.

Edible Landscapes
October 1, 2006, 4:10 am
Filed under: Architecture, Design, Japan, Urbanism

The Nakajima-no-ochaya teahouse in the Hama-rikyu Gardens is a new/old structure. New/old structures abound in Japan, a much misunderstood but lovely concept whereby buildings destroyed by fire or similar disasters are simply replicated. There isn’t much fuss made over authenticity – this is understood to be more of an ideological concept than an architectural one. The setting is almost surreal, as the teahouse overlooks both the Shiori-no-ike (seawater pond) and the downtown Tokyo skyscrapers beyond.
I stopped here for a “sweet” with Koburi Takashi and he explained the design on this green tea and adzuki bean cake as such: A moon over rollling hills, with a firefly. Edible landscape.

View from above
September 27, 2006, 3:14 am
Filed under: Japan, Uncategorized

Woke up to all of Tokyo outside of the hotel window. A misty fog has settled over the metropolis and this can only mean more rain. Much like New York City however, Tokyo is beautiful in the rain in a noir fashion. I am beginning to feel like the tragic character in a mystery novel. At least I had the best tempura of my life last night at a lovely place called Tenmatsu, where I was commended for both my chopstick skills (this was obviously just Japanese hospitality) and my culinary adventurousness (this part was accurate.)