Thank God for hipsters. When all else fails and the media is amok with already notorious reports (supported by dubious stats) that Japanese people apparently no longer have sex, you can always at least rely on the fashionista to still find ways to enjoy themselves.
Tweed Run Tokyo took place on October 14th, featuring some 150 tweed-dressed cyclists going for a ride around the city. No, they weren’t out on some stag hunt, nor was this a Sherlock Holmes fanatics’ event. It was actually part of Fashion Week and is a spin-off from the original Tweed Run in London. The British version started in 2009, while the Tokyo “run” happened first in 2012 and with the amount of publicity it generated, surely next year’s edition is a sure thing.
“It’s so Tokyo, I would say,” one of the participants told the media. “We are using this traditional fabric in many modern ways. It’s part of the diversity of fashion.”
“So Tokyo”? Well, I wouldn’t say that. Except for the odd bit of Aoyama backstreet tomfoolery, you’d be hard-pressed to find many regular folk dressing as dapper as this. Still it makes a change from the usual exquisitely, expensively decked-out runners and cyclists that can be glimpsed around the Imperial Palace.
Given that this is the nation that created the culture of cosplay, we shouldn’t be in the least surprised that 150 cyclists jumped at the chance to dress up for a group bike ride.
This year’s event saw the costumed bikers tour leisurely from Gaienmae to Ginza over a couple of hours, and the participants seemed like a reasonable mix of ages, though it was clearly male-dominated.
We wonder whether they could introduce some sort of Japanese flavor to the proceedings. How about cycling around in kimono? Oh, hang on…
Anyone who lives in Nagoya can check out the city’s own version of the Tweed Run — remember, it’s cycling, not jogging — on October 26th (barring another typhoon).
On August 19th, Sega, one of Japan’s biggest gaming companies, and BBC Earth celebrated the grand opening of Orbi Yokohama. Located inside Mark Is Minatomirai, a shopping complex in Yokohama, Orbi presents itself as a natural history museum that has never been seen before.
It combines Sega’s cutting edge technology and BBC Earth’s expertise in capturing nature and wildlife, which altogether gives visitors a wide variety of immersive experience ever possible.
Visitors will explore this walk-through museum in three parts: Exhibition Zone, Theatre 23.4 and After Show.
First, they will go through the Exhibition Zone which is made up of twelve themed habitats on earth such as sky, ocean, jungle, and polar regions. In the area called “40,000″ they will take a virtual flight around the Earth (the Earth’s circumference is about 40,000 kilometers).
In another area, “1,300,000,” they will experience what it’s like to stand in the middle of a herd of 1.3 million gnus.
The “10,994″ area, meanwhile, will take you to the world of the ocean presented on a 12 meters wide, 2.4 meters high screen. Just for the record, the number 10,994 represents the deepest ocean point (10,994 kilometers, natch) ever recorded in history.
As we can see here, each area is named after a number representative of facts about earth and its inhabitants.
Next, visitors will enter Theatre 23.4 (the number here represents the Earth’s axial tilt) and watch BBC Earth’s nature film projected on a huge curved screen that is 40 meters wide and 8 meters high, and on two other screens on the sides.
The current “Ice World” program shows the world of the polar regions, which originated from BBC Earth’s TV series “Frozen Planet.” Combined with Sega’s technology that allows viewers to feel the wind on their face, the vibrations of the Earth and even smell the air of the frozen wilderness, this film is surely one of the highlights of Orbi.
And there’s still more to explore. In the After Show & Service zone, visitors can see the behind-the-scenes of BBC Earth’s nature films, buy Orbi souvenirs or chat in a café.
While at the museum, visitors will be asked to wear a wristband which will be used to interact with some projections in the Exhibition Zone and to track each visitor as they take composite photos with all kinds of “animals.” All photos can be viewed and purchased later in the After Show & Service zone.
Admission fee is 2,600 yen for adults (anyone above high school age) and 1,300 yen for elementary and middle school students. Although it might not be the best attraction for kids who might expect more gaming aspects from Sega (or even a Shonen Jump theme park), Orbi serves a new example of learning experience that combines education and entertainment.
It seems like Tokyo Tower has yet to concede defeat to the Tokyo Skytree, holding tightly to its self-acclaimed title of Best City Landmark. Whereas the newer east Tokyo attraction seems to prefer plastic food samples, Tokyo Tower has put its efforts into bugs and creepy-crawlies. Yes, in celebration of its 55th anniversary, they are now holding an insect exhibition (from July 20th to September 1st), the biggest of its kind in Tokyo, attracting insect lovers of all ages.
More than 16,000 specimens are on display, but there are a couple other highlights as well. The most appealing one perhaps is the “Insect Jungle,” a giant insect cage set up on the site where visitors can go inside and interact with more than 100 live insects.
The exhibition is held at Foot Town, and the admission fee is 1,000 yen for adults (above high school) and 700 yen for kids (4 years and above), though there is no fee for those under 3 years.
Why would anyone ever bother to see insects, let alone pay money to be surrounded by them?
Of course, insects or bugs can be found anywhere, from the public bathroom to even the most luxurious hotel suite. Yet there is something about insects, one of the oldest inhabitants on this planet that attracts people, perhaps in a similar way that we all wonder about the origin of life. No matter how advanced or developed we think we have become over the long course of human history, we still can’t even recreate the life of a fly. This is a statement I once heard which seems to symbolize the mystery of life, all compressed in the form of a tiny bug.
We should also note here that Japan is home to a lot of insect collectors (or freaks?) as well. While the young ones keep them as pets (rhinoceros beetle and stag beetle are the all-time favorite), the adults also seem to appreciate the great wonder of a bug’s life, both in its live and deceased forms.
At the exhibition, visitors can catch their own favorite beetle using a “bug-catching” rod. The beetles in the box are on sale for 600 yen (male) and 300 yen (female) each.
There is also an exhibit panel explaining the difference between gai-chu (pest) and eki-chu (beneficial insects). There is obviously a hierarchy in the bug’s world too, it seems, though we should always keep in mind that it is a system established and maintained by us humans. The bugs are none the wiser and happy just to go about doing their thing!
Last weekend I jumped on the Fukutoshin Line and headed down to Shibuya to check out Keitai Mizu (“mobile water”).
From what I had read, the event at Jingu-dori Park was set to be a mobile game, a treasure hunt for art. Players were given fifteen minutes to go through the parkette, search for artist-rendered sea creatures native to Tokyo, snap photos and send them to the Spatial Dialogues Twitter account via Instagram.
When I arrived at the park, I got much more than that. I was lucky enough to get a tour through the entire installation by Larissa Hjorth, one of the coordinators of the event.
The art and the park were put together in a meeting of worlds, of sorts. When you walk by Jingu-dori Park, it’s easy to spot the little bits of rubbish scattered amongst the shrubbery. The participating artists, such as Simon Perry and Kristen Sharp, used found objects to make their underwater animal creations, giving the hunt a real trash-to-treasure feel.
You might be wondering, though, what’s with the sea creatures? Why all the water? Not only did I receive a tour, but also a bit of a history lesson.
Did you know that once upon a time, a river ran right through the middle of Shibuya? It was a channel of natural beauty flowing through the city. Economic power and developmental change brought pavement. The river was forced underground and out of our minds.
I feel lucky to have met the creative team behind such a conceptually interesting event like Keitai Mizu. Throughout the rest of June you can check out other Shibuya: Underground Streams events happening in Tokyo.
We blogged last autumn about the opening of the Art Aquarium in Tokyo in 2012.
After the exhibition pulled in a whopping 200,000 visitors, it’s not surprisingly coming back to the Nihonbashi venue, this time from July 13th to September 23rd for seventy-three days.
As before, the emphasis is on the colors and magnificence to be enjoyed in goldfish, who are lumbered with a far more humble reputation in the west than their Japanese peers.
Produced by Hidetomo Kimura, the event puts the spotlight on kingyo, the fish beloved by Japanese since the Edo era. They feature prominently in art and design, and also traditional places like matsuri festivals, where they are often sold at stalls.
The first exhibition was in 2007. The numbers of fish in 2012 increased from previous years by 1.5 times to some 5,000, their fins and scaly bodies floating hypnotically in the darkness.
Here’s a promotional video for a previous year.
This year’s event will see more of a harmony of goldfish and the lighting. The venue will also be open at night time, making this perhaps the top Tokyo date spot for couples over the summer.
Play hunt the lost ship in Osaka this weekend.
At the Creative Center Osaka (the former Namura Shipyard) there will be a “Vanished Ship Plan” event on January 27th.
Participants will be divided into teams and then you have to find the vanished blueprints over the course of sixty minutes.
It’s of course wholly appropriate that the mystery in the game is a lost ship as the Namura indeed now does not have any vessels, whereas once it was a thriving harbor.
The same could be said about much of Osaka, famed historically for its waterways but actually now home to a vacuous and depressing port area (heard of the World Trade Center Cosmo Tower, anyone?), and canals and rivers almost never used except when Hanshin Tigers fans want a place to jump into as part of their victory celebrations.
I used to live in Osaka many moons ago and often went down to the Namura, a former shipyard that now plays host to temporary events like art exhibitions, site-specific performances, and music events.
It’s actually one of the city’s best-kept secrets, not least due to the journey required to get out to it — a trip on the subway right down to the south of the city, and then a walk along alleys and through an industrial estate. It reminds you that Osaka was a real working city once upon a time and also just how much emptier and poorer the south districts are compared to the northern suburbs.
Other inventive uses of disused facilities include several art venues in Tokyo, such as the 3331 Arts Chiyoda space in a former school, the Nishi-Sugamo Arts Factory performing arts community center, likewise housed in an old school in Toshima (and which has amazing events like this “immigration camp” experience last autumn), and the old warehouse in Asakusa that is now home to Gallery ef.
Just because the Japanese economy and population are changing doesn’t mean things have to die! Let’s re-use all these great facilities rather than letting them stand derelict.
“You will experience a totally new cool art aquarium space where you can enjoy the beautiful kingyo in the stylish performance of Edo at Tokyo Nihonbashi Mitsui Hall.”
Okay, we can forgive the slight sense of Jinglish in that sentence but this Art Aquarium is undeniably cool — and spectacular too.
Those with subtler palates will likely want to stay away from this but if you have ever wondered what happens when the vibrant colors of Edo era Tokyo (i.e. “Edo”) meet with a host of fish in glass tanks, hope down to see this before it closes later this month.
It is of course very reminiscent of Mika Ninagawa and her typical furore of garish colors, opulent pinks and oranges, and always with some gold fish swimming around. Her critics and detractors call her immensely superficial — and this blogger is very much of that party — while her fans adore her vision and beauty.
Her film of the manga Sakuran began like a closeup from this art aquarium show, with elegant but luxurious feasts of colors revealing kingyo fish swimming in between.
What is it about Edo that we remember only through, if not rose-tinted glasses, but explosions of color?
Yes, there would have been some no doubt bright clothes around and it certainly was an era when the pleasure quarter Yoshiwara and entertainments like Kabuki were in full swing. But ordinary life would have been far more banal, especially in its spectrum of colors. Most people wore surely duller clothes and, there being no wonders like air con like today, come the summer everyone surely sweated and stank to high heaven.
It is definitely a case when the fantasy image of what we think the culture and city represented has come to supplant any sense of grounded imagination. Mountains of Ukiyoe prints and their “floating world” aesthetic have caused a sort of amnesia for realistic ideas of what “Edo” was.
An old colleague once made a great observation when he noted that Japanese period dramas are always so clean, while western historical dramas, especially ones with pre-eighteenth or nineteenth century settings, rather revel in the dirt, the grime. I guess the later happens because viewers like verisimilitude and also to feel comfortable, literally, while watching their TV screens, content that they live in a much more civilized day.
The former? Well, I suppose matters like hygienic and discomfort are not
The Art Aquarium runs in central Tokyo until September 24th.