Friday, September 28, 2007

49. Museum Review: Setagaya Art Museum

The Setagaya Art Museum, which opened in 1986, claims to give emphasis to art that 'exhibits the quality of naivety'. They also make a special effort to exhibit works from artists living in Setagaya Ward.

'Shinzo Fukuhara: Art and Shiseido' is the current special exhibition, running from September 1 to November 4. The exhibition was very interesting, and larger than I expected.

In the Permanent Collection, 'Gifts from the World of Dreams : Georges Rouault, Odilon Redon, Kiyoshi Hasegawa, Tetsuro Komai' is running from August 11 to December 2.
If you plan to visit this museum, I recommend packing a picnic lunch and taking some time to enjoy Kinuta Koen (park). Famous for magnolia trees, it is a huge park full of grassy lawns, forests, even a bird sanctuary. Bicycles can be borrowed free of charge.

Address: 1-2 Kinuta-koen, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 157-0075
About a ten minute walk from Yoga Station on the Tokyu Shin-Tamagawa Line.
Phone: 03-3415-6011

Hours of Operation: 10:00 - 18:00. (Opening hours may be extended during certain exhibitions.) It is necessary to enter the building at least 30 minutes before closing time.
Closed on Mondays (or the following day if Monday falls on a holiday) and the New Year's holiday.

(Both the permanent and temporary exhibition space may be closed during display changes. )

Permanent Collection: General 200yen
College and high school students 150yen
Junior high & elementary school students and those over 65 100yen
* Junior high & elementary school students are free on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays

For Special Exhibition: Charges are determined separately for each exhibition.

48. Garden Review: Midtown Garden & Hinokicho Park (Roppongi)

Midtown Garden and Hinokicho Park make up 40% of total area of the Tokyo Midtown complex. The architects of Tokyo Midtown did an excellent job creating a true oasis in the heart of Roppongi.
Once part of the Japanese Self Defence Agency, Midtown Garden contains over 140 trees from the former site. The garden contains huge grassy lawns, a playground, walking paths, fountains, sculptures, and even a mini basketball court. For those who want to work outside, there are wireless LAN access points.
Hinokicho Park was once a garden attached to the residence of the Mori family, part of the Hagi Clan of the Edo Period. Hinoki means 'cypress tree', and there are many on the grounds. The trees and greenery surround a small pond fed by a bubbling stream, which is overlooked by a traditional Japanese teahouse.
If you visit Tokyo Midtown make sure you take some time to relax in the garden. You won't believe that the dirt, grime, and noise of Roppongi is right around the corner.

47. Sightseeing Spot Review: Tokyo Midtown (Akasaka)

Tokyo Midtown, located on 569,000 square meters of land, consists of six main buildings filled with stores, restaurants, offices, a hotel, condominiums, museums, and more.

Previously home to the Japan Defense Agency, some of its current tenants include: Konami, Yahoo! Japan, Fujifilm/Fuji Xerox, and Cisco Japan. There is also a medical clinic associated with John Hopkins Hospital, and a 250-room Ritz Carlton Hotel is located on the 47th through 53rd floors of the Midtown Tower.
The Galleria, the main attraction of Tokyo Midtown, consists of five floors of stores and restaurants. The new Suntory Museum is also located here (see review #46 for details), in addition to Design Sight 21_21 - an exhibition gallery (free) and research workshop. Fuji Film / Fuji Xerox have two excellent photography galleries (also free) with often changing exhibitions.
Behind the entire complex is a beautiful 10 acre public park (see review #48).
I like Tokyo Midtown much more that Roppongi Hills. It is much easier to navigate and the stores are more appealing, especially those related to home interior. The restaurant selection is extensive - I was especially impressed with the selection of delicious, inexpensive choices below ground. Many of the more expensive restaurants upstairs have at least some 'open-air' dining, and they have great lunch deals.

46. Museum Review: Suntory Museum of Art (Roppongi)

Recently moved to its new location in Tokyo Midtown, the Suntory Museum of Art has been around since 1961. It's theme has always been based on 'Art in Life'. Their collection of over 3000 pieces includes lacquer ware, ceramics, paintings, glass, textiles, metal works, and more. Everything is 'connected to Japanese life', including their famous collection of hairdressing articles.

The museum entrance is located on Midtown's 3rd floor. Once tickets have been purchased, visitors are sent up an elevator to the 4th floor. The exhibition rooms have black walls, high ceilings, wood floors, black benches, and dim lighting. Leading down to the 3rd floor is a beautiful wood and glass staircase which is back lit by light seeping through a wall of vertical wood boards. The ceiling in this room are two stories high. I was impressed with the design and 'feel' of the museum.

(Sept. 1 to Oct. 21) The exhibition that I saw was called 'Biombo', the name for Japanese folding screens in Spanish and Portuguese. Some of the screens exhibited had been gifts to foreign governments, others came from private collections. They were some of the most magnificent and unique screens that I had ever seen. I cannot recommend this exhibition strongly enough!

Future exhibitions:

(Nov. 3 to Dec. 16) National Treasure: Choju-Jinbutsu-Giga Emaki (frolicking animals and figures), four famous screens from Kosanji Monastery in Kyoto and related articles.

(Dec. 23 to Jan. 14) 'Wa-mode' - the elegant costumes of Japanese women

(Jan. 26 to Mar. 9) Works of Toulouse-Lautrec, a leading Parisian artist from the late 1800's.

The museum was larger than I expected, and the exhibit was superb. I would definitely recommend the museum for those who visit Tokyo Midtown.

On the 3rd floor, beside the ticket desk, is a small museum shop and also a cafe. The cafe is run by 'Fumuro-ya', an establishment from Kanazawa that dates back to 1865. They specialize in 'Kaga-fu' (Kaga style wheat-gluten cakes) which were originally a meat substitute for Buddhist priests.

Address: Tokyo Midtown Gardenside 9-7-4 Akasaka, Minato-ku 107-8643

Hours of Operation: Sundays, Mondays, and National Holidays 10:00 - 18:00
Wednesday to Saturday 10:00-20:00
Closed on Tuesdays, New Year's Day, and during exhibition preparation periods. If Tuesday is a national holiday, it is closed the following day.

Admission varies by exhibition. Free admission for junior high students and younger.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

45. Park Review: Senzokuike (Ota-ku)

Senzokuike is one of those little Tokyo gems that I had never heard about, instead I just stumbled upon it. 'Ike' means pond, and Senzokuike is a lovely pond in Ota-ku, right near the borders of Setagaya, Meguro, and Shinagawa Wards.
A shaded walking path surrounds the pond. Along the way there is a playground for kids, a library, a restaurant overlooking the water, swan and row boats for rent, picnic tables, boardwalks over the water, a temple, and a shrine. There is also lots and lots of green, and no tall buildings will remind you that you are actually still in Tokyo.
I was lucky enough to find Senzokuike during the annual festival of Senzokuike Hachimangu Shrine, which was September 8th and 9th. Jindai-kagura (a sacred dance) was performed from 7pm on the 8th.
On the 9th, the shrine's mikoshi (portable shrines) were paraded around the local neighborhood from 8:30am, and returned to the shrine around 7pm. Kasai-bayashi (festival music) was also played on the 9th, from 2pm. 60 open-air food and game stalls were set up on both days.
I was able to enjoy the music and the open-air stalls. Most of the people at the festival were locals, and the atmosphere was very friendly.
Visiting Senzokuike during the festival is certainly best, but I recommend going anytime you just need a bit of nature, but don't have time to visit the countryside. Walk the circumference of the lake, have lunch on a deck overlooking the pond, and explore a bit in a paddle boat. An inexpensive and enjoyable way to spend a day in Tokyo.

Address: Minami Senzoku, Ota-ku.
5-min. walk from Senzokuike Station on the Tokyu Ikegami Line.

44. Sightseeing Spot Review: Ome

Located 70 km west of Tokyo, on the upper reaches of the Tama River, the town of Ome is virtually unheard of by foreigners in Japan. Most people in Tokyo only stop in Ome to change trains on their way to the popular Okutama area. This is a mistake, as Ome is also a great sightseeing spot!

According to legend, in the year 900, a prince fled to the district of Ome with the aid of a plum tree cane. The cane took root, and the fruit on the tree it became always stayed blue. So, the area was named 'Ome' which means 'blue Japanese apricot'. There is a famous plum tree garden, 'Yoshino Baigo', which is best visited from the end of February to the middle of March when the blossoms are in full bloom. I have not visited this garden, but I hope to in the future.
More interesting to me was the area just around Ome Station. The main street is lined with homes and businesses dating back to the early Showa Era. Many are decorated with huge paintings of movie posters from that time. Most advertise Japanese movies, but there are also Japanese ads for 'Bonnie and Clyde', 'Tarzan Returns', and more.
There are three wonderful 'mini' museums also on the main street. One is dedicated to the artist who painted the murals and was also the creator of a some famous animation characters. Right next door is a 'retro' museum full of daily goods from the Meiji era - kids toys, drink bottles, matchbooks, toiletries,... the list goes on and on. It was like stepping back in time, especially for my Japanese husband. He was so excited, "Ooh, I used to drink that, I had that toy,...".
The third museum, 'Retro Diorama World' was the best. It was a very small museum showcasing the handmade dioramas of the artist, Takaki Yamamoto. Depicting scenes from the Meiji Era, they were absolutely incredible. Check this website to get a look at some of his work: The museum is open from 10:00 - 17:00, closed on Mondays. The entrance fee is 200 yen.
Also on the main street is a small shrine which happened to be holding a small crafts fair the day I visited. Also nearby, there is a small glass art gallery, a temple, and a railroad park with model train sets as well as old steam locomotives and carriages.
Nothing is in English in this town and you will probably be the only foreign tourists there. But, everything can be enjoyed without translations. I plan on going back when the weather is cooler. A tourist information desk hands out hand drawn maps that are easy to follow without being able to read. I'd like to try the walking courses they recommend.

Getting there: Take the JR Chuo Line from Shinjuku, it takes exactly one hour if you get on one of the express trains that does not end in Tachikawa.

Japanese only website:

43. Museum Review: Okura Shukokan Museum (Minato-ku)

Kihachiro Okura, a collector of Buddhist artwork established the Okura Shukokan Museum of Fine Arts to hold and display his treasures. Kihachiro was a weapons dealer in the mid-1800's. He later founded the Okura zaibatsu, and the Tokyo University of Economics. He was also one of the main investors for the original Imperial Hotel. His son, Kishichiro Okura, was the president of the hotel during the 1920's and 30's. Kishichiro also developed the Okura hotel chain, and he collected many 'Nihonga' (modern Japanese painting), which were added to the museum collection.
Opening in 1917 as Japan's first private art museum, the Okura Shukokan houses over 2,000 works of art. Built on land that was formerly the Tokyo residence of the Matsudaira feudal lord of Naebashi, the building itself was designed by Chuta Ito and is a nationally registered cultural property.

Although I find the building itself absolutely beautiful, I think 800 yen is too much to charge for an exhibition of this size. The museum has two floors, and each floor is a large room with art around the edges. The exhibition I visited was called "Longing for Asia", and it included many Buddhist statues, a few Chinese paintings, and a selection of pottery. Although I'm sure the items are historically significant, I didn't find the exhibit that interesting.

Fortunately, I didn't have to pay the entrance fee as this museum is free with the Grutt Pass. I would definitely recommend visiting the museum if you have the pass. Perhaps a future exhibition will be more interesting (the next one focuses on hanging scrolls), and the building is definitely worth taking a look at.

There is also a path that runs around the museum. Large sculptures, lanterns, Buddhist statues,... are on display and it is not necessary to pay in order to view them. Guests of the Okura Hotel, which is right in front of the museum, can visit the museum for free.

Address: 2-10-3 Toranomon, Minato-ku
Phone: 03-3583-0781

Hours of Operation: 10:00 - 16:30 (last entry at 16:00)

Closed on Mondays (except when Monday is a national holiday, then it is closed the next day) and for the New Year's holidays.

Admission: Free for hotel guests
Prices vary depending on the exhibition.
Currently (Sept. 07): Adults: 800 yen. College & High School students & those over 65: 500yen.
Junior school students & younger - free

**Free with the Grutt Pass 2007 (#28).

42. Museum Review: Shinjuku Historical Museum (Shinjuku)

The Shinjuku Historical Museum is a dedicated to the history of Shinjuku Ward. There are artifacts and pottery from archaeological digs, art depicting Shinjuku in the Edo period, writings by famous people born in Shinjuku,... If for no other reason, visit this museum to see the huge model of Shinjuku as a post town in the Edo era. It was fantastic! I was also impressed by the life-sized Edo era store, trolley car, and a re-creation of rooms from a Japanese home.There is also a small garden outside the museum, a historical library, and an auditorium that can be rented by the public when not in use.Unfortunately, there is no English information. Luckily, many of the exhibits are enjoyable and understandable without translation.

Admission: 300 yen, elementary and Jr. high students 100 yen.

Address: San-ei-cho 22, Shinjuku-ku
7 minutes walk from Yotsuya Sanchome or Akebonobashi Station.
Phone: 03-3359-2131
Hours of Operation: 9:00 - 17:00, closed on Mondays.

**Free with the Grutt pass 2007 (#37)

41. Garden Review: Kiyosumi Teien (Koto-ku)

The Kiyosumi Gardens were originally the residence of Kinokuniya Bunzaemon, a powerful businessman of the Edo period. In 1721, the estate became the second residence of a feudal lord named Kuze-Yamatonokami. Some of the garden was created at that time. In 1878, it was purchased by the founder of the Mitsubishi Financial Group, Iwasaki Yataro. Mr. Iwasaki expanded the garden and a large pond was created. He wanted a place to host company employees and guests of honor.
Water was drawn from the Sumida River to make the pond, and stones were collected from all over Japan. Some of the stones were placed in the water to form pedestrian bridges, 'ishi-watari'. A lovely 'ryotei', or traditional Japanese restaurant, was made the focal point.

In the back of the garden, there is also a lovely wooded picnic area. In 1932, the garden was donated to the city of Tokyo.

I was very impressed with this garden. There are a number of viewpoints from which no tall buildings can be seen. It is not well known, so it is usually very peaceful. The gardening is immaculate and the stepping stones are enjoyable to walk along. I definitely recommend a visit to this garden. For a pleasant day of sightseeing, start at this garden. Walk down the main street to the Fukagawa Edo Museum. Continue on to MOT, and then take a walk around Kiba Koen. Or wander along some of the waterways that criss-cross Koto-ku.

Admission: 150 yen, 70 yen for those over 65 years old. Children under 12 and Jr. high students living or attending school in Tokyo are free.

Hours of Operation: 9:00 - 17:00

Closed during the New Years holidays

Address: 3-3-9 Kiyosumi, Koto-ku, Tokyo
Phone: 03-3641-5892

Access: 3 minutes walk from Kiyosumi-shirakawa Station of the Toei Oedo Line and Hanzomon Line.

40. Park Review: Kiba Koen (Koto-ku)

Kiba Koen (Park) is a huge and wonderful green oasis hidden among the flat, grid-like concrete streets of Koto-ku. It is not a sightseeing destination, but it is a great place for picnicking, throwing a Frisbee, or just running around in the grass. The park contains tennis courts, a open space for playing sports, a BBQ area, a flower garden, a large grassy lawn, playgrounds, a walking/cycling course,... A large pedestrian bridge breaks the park into two halves. MOT, the Museum of Contemporary Art - Tokyo, is located in the northern end of the park. The Fukagawa Edo Museum and Kiyosumi Garden are also nearby.
Access: 2 minute walk from Kiba Station. Paid parking is available in the southern end of the park, and at MOT.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

39. Museum Review: MOT - Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (Koto-ku)

I have never been a fan of museums with 'contemporary' in their titles because they are usually full of abstract art (of which I am not a fan). I made the decision to visit MOT because of a special exhibition of art by Kazuo Oga, the man behind the stunning animation art in 'Princess Mononoke', 'Howl's Moving Castle', 'Totoro',... It was a good decision.
I was pleasantly surprised by this museum. Located in a part of town not known for its architectural design, this is a beautiful building. Huge white rooms lit by natural skylights are mixed with natural wood and massive stone blocks. I agree with the museum's brochure that says 'the space itself is part of the art'.

The temporary exhibition gallery was also much larger than I expected. There were hundreds of examples of Kazuo Oga's art, spread out over two entire floors. In addition, there were films, places to take your photo with blown up copies of some of his work, a Totoro origami workshop,... I thought it was well worth the 1,100 yen exhibition fee.
With everyone viewing Oga's work, the permanent collection gallery was practically empty. Along with the standard abstract work that I do not really appreciate, there were a number of very interesting exhibits and displays that I did find very interesting. And, the museum has a number of pieces by famous foreign artists (Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein,...)
Currently the star attraction is a monstrous (and monster filled) work called 'Myth of Tomorrow' by Taro Okamoto. A very bizarre abstract, the sheer size of the piece was impressive. There are also many outdoor sculptures in the museum grounds.

In addition to the museum exhibitions; there is a restaurant, cafe, museum shop, art library, Internet cafe, and AV Gallery.
I would recommend a visit to this museum, even if your only purpose is to check out the architecture. Visit on a day the weather is nice and have a picnic in just outside in Kiba Koen (park).

**Advice concerning special exhibitions at any Japanese museums: Do not, under any circumstances, visit a special exhibition right when it opens or right before it closes. Also, don't visit on a Sunday or national holiday. Even Saturdays are mobbed. I arrived 15 minutes after the museum opened on a Thursday, there were already hundreds of people crammed into the exhibit, all of them lined up to look at each and every piece. As it was early, I just skipped the first two rooms and things thinned out. Unfortunately, this only works if you arrive just after the museum opens.

Hours of Operation: 10:00 - 18:00 (last entry at 17:30).

Closed on Mondays (the next day if Monday is a national holiday).

Admission for the permanent collection: Adults - 500 yen, University students - 400 yen, High school and adults over 65 - 250 yen. Jr. high students and younger are free.
There are discounts for groups over 20.
Address: Metropolitan Kiba Park, 4-1-1 Miyoshi, Koto-ku 135-0022
Phone: 03-5245-4111

Access: There are a number of subways stops nearby (Kiyosumi-shirakawa, Kiba, Kikukawa,...). There are also buses from Tokyo and Kinshicho Stations, and paid parking is available.

**Free entry to the permanent collection with the Grutt Pass 2007 (#41).
**Grutt Pass also has a discount coupon for special exhibitions.

38. Museum Review: Basho Museum (Koto-ku)

Matsuo Basho is one of Japan's most famous poets; he is credited with establishing the present form of haiku, and for helping haiku become accepted as a major literary genre.

A small museum was opened in 1981 to exhibit artifacts related to Basho and to other writers of haiku. The museum was built on land that once held a cottage that Basho used as the base for his journeys around Japan.

Unfortunately, to enjoy this museum, you must be able to read Japanese fluently. Most of the displays are haiku, but there are no English translations.
There is a small garden outside the museum. If you are in the neighborhood, walk up through it to the riverside, then take a short walk to the left. There is a nice memorial to Basho with good views of the Sumida River and some of the river's famous bridges.

Hours of Operation: 9:30 - 17:00. Closed on Mondays and from Dec. 28 to Jan. 4.

Address: Tokiwa 1-6-3, Koto-ku. About 7 minutes walk from Morishita Station on the Oedo Shinjuku Line.

Phone: 03-3631-1448
**Free entry with Grutt Pass 2007 (#40)

37. Garden Review: Kyu-Yasuda Garden (Sumida-ku)

In the late 1600's, the Kyu-Yasuda Garden was a feudal lord's residence. The pond was famous because it was fed by the Sumida River. With the Sumida's proximity to the ocean, the water level in the pond rose and fell with the tides (although still fed by the Sumida, the water level no longer fluxuates in the garden).
Later the land was owned by Zenjiro Yasuda who granted it to the public after his death in 1922. Unfortunately it was destroyed by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, but was renovated afterwards and opened as a park in 1927. Post WWII development polluted the Sumida River and the grounds of the garden were greatly affected, but they were restored again in 1971. Unlike most of the gardens around Tokyo, Kyu Yasuda Garden is a public park and admission is free. That said, I wouldn't recommend going out of my way to visit it. It is nice, but it is small and not so special. However, if you are visiting the Edo-Tokyo Museum or going to a Sumo tournament and you want to eat a picnic lunch outdoors, this is the spot.

Address: 12 Yokoami, Sumida-ku (Just behind Ryogoku Station).

Open everyday 9:30 - 16:30. Closed Dec 29 - Jan 1.

36. Museum Review: Edo-Tokyo Museum (Sumida-ku)

If you've ever traveled by boat up the Sumida River to Asakusa, you probably caught a glimpse of this huge, strange-looking museum. The building is actually modeled after a traditional warehouse with elevated floors. If you haven't visited it yet, make sure that you do!

The Edo-Tokyo Museum, as the name indictes, is all about the history and culture of Tokyo (once called 'Edo'). The exhibitions are excellent, and most are labeled in English. Many even have lengthy explanations.

What makes this museum so special is that it combines regular exhibits with lots of life-sized recreations; elaborate models, and a number of 'hands-on' exhibits.

Upon purchasing your ticket outside on the main (3rd floor) terrace, take the escalators up to the 5th floor. As soon as you enter the permanent exhibition space, you must walk across a replica of the original Nihonbashi (bridge). Looking down from the bridge, visitors can see life-sized replicas of a traditional Japanese theater and one of Tokyo's first Western style buildings. It is all quite impressive.

Across the bridge is 'The Edo Zone', with miniture recreations of Edo Castle and the city plan of Edo (and, of course, much more). Downstairs, 'The Edo Zone' continues with topics like: commerce, culture, daily living, amusement quarters,...

Also downstairs is 'The Tokyo Zone' which focuses on the changes that the city underwent during the 1900's - topics include: the industrial revolution, the Great Kanto Earthquake, Air raids and black markets,...

Keep an eye out for special exhibitions as well. If it is on the 5th floor, there is no extra charge. But if it is on the first floor, visitors must pay extra.

There are a number of restaurants and cafes within the museum grounds, but re-entry to the museum on the day of purchase is also ok (but make sure you get a 're-entry' ticket before you exit). I recommend trying one of the local 'chanko-nabe' restaurants nearby. The food of Sumo wrestlers, it is a very hearty and delicious stew. Many places offer a lunch serving for around 1000 yen.

If you are interested in a guide, portable English audio equipment is free (with a 1000 yen refundable deposit) or try one of the volunteer English guides. It is best to call ahead and make a reservation or they might not be available.

If I had to recommend only one museum to foreigners visiting Tokyo, this would be my choice. Even for those with short stays, it is a great way to familiarize oneself with this great city. For those with a bit of time, expect to spend at least half a day here.

Hours of Operation: 9:30 - 17:30, Saturday 9:30 - 19:30.
Closed on Mondays except during Sumo tournaments in the Kokugi-kan. When Monday is a holiday, closed the next day. Also closed from December 28 to January 1.

Admission: Adults: 600 yen, University students: 480 yen, Jr. high and high school students: 300 yen, and adults over 65: 300 yen. *There are discounts for groups of 20 or more.

**Elementary school children and younger are free. Jr. high & high school students who are residents of Tokyo are also free.

Address: 1-4-1 Yokoami, Sumida-ku 130-0015. Just outside Ryogoku Station.
Paid parking is available.

Phone: 03-3626-9974


**Free entry with Grutt Pass 2007 (#39), + discount ticket for special exhibitions.