The buildings of Tokyo are nothing less than impressive. Architecture throughout the city will get anyone to stop and stare. Tranquil temples, art galleries covered in a mess of scaffolding, , art-deco towers, a minimal black cube with a golden bloop on top, innovations in space efficiency and beautifully tiny houses. Everything.
While trying to get a better photo of a train interchange (oh wow, I am way more into trains that I previously thought...), I walked through what I thought was a park and turned out to be a gorgeous Confucian temple (above). Temples in Japan reflect the Japanese people, contrasted from those in other Asian countries as being a little bit more reserved and simple. They keep away from being painted, when they are painted it's typically just one color, a bright vermillion. While this was built in a Chinese style, as can be seen from the two roosters that ornament the roof, Japanese simplicity still seeps through.
The NTT Docomo Yoyogi Building, seen here from Shinjuku Gyoen garden, is absolutely my favorite building in Tokyo. It's art deco style is reminiscent of a smaller, abbreviated version of the Empire State Building. It's unlike any other modern building in Tokyo, many of which are steel cubes, beautiful representations of pick-up sticks in building form or something else entirely.
By many measures, Tokyo is the most populated city in the world. It's easy that 32 million people call it home from the photo above, taken from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, winner of least creative building name. While many cities like Seoul and New York have built vertically, Tokyo has generally built horizontally and ardently filling in any left over spaces in between. Sure, there are a lot of skyscrapers in the city centers of Shibuya and Shinjuku (Tokyo, a city so large that it can have more than one center), but most of the neighborhoods where people actually live are rarely more than a few stories off the ground.
Tokyo's "suburbs" often have greater populations than many entire countries, such as Yokohama with about 3.7 million residents, many of whom commute into Tokyo proper for work. With 12 million less people than Tokyo, Seoul seems quaint in comparison, and Seoul is the second largest city in the world by some measures.
The Nakagin Capsule Tower (above) is a perfect example of the many buildings in Tokyo that attempt to push the boundaries of what buildings are and how people interact with them. Each of the cubes is a small, prefabricated capsule with all the basic comforts needed for living. It's even possible for each capsule to be individually removed and replaced. It is the archetype of Tokyo living: efficient, cramped and a little bizarre. Unfortunately, the building is neglected and falling apart, with netting over much of the structure. I'd be surprised if it wasn't demolished before the end of the decade.
The National Art Center in Tokyo, from the same architect as Nakagin Capsul Tower, Kisho Kurokawa, is a beautiful concrete museum surrounded in a ribbon of glass. Public spaces are often built into large buildings around Tokyo, to help facilitate the fact that virtually everyone has very little space in their own homes.
Vertical lights clinging to the sides of buildings is iconic of Asian nightlife and something I'm surprised hasn't caught on elsewhere. These signs advertise bars and restaurants all the way up the building.
Above is Shinjuku ward's Golden Gai, a square block of minuscule bars with seating in the single digits. A place where you have no choice but to get extremely friendly with the bartender and other patrons. I had actually once spent an entire night looking for Golden Gai almost three years ago, but without the aid of a smart phone, I was lost in Tokyo's insane address system. This time I came prepared and found it, finding out that apparently that night I couldn't find it I was walking just beyond the perimeter.
Golden Gai is fantastic and my new favorite nightlife area in Tokyo. The bars are usually a reflection of their owners, with their obsessions overflowing onto the walls; such as dedication to American music from the '60s or low budget Japanese movies. I popped into a bar and immediately was brought into the conversation of a group of doctors and nurses just coming off work. Talking about what makes Hiroshima okonomiyaki unique and how ubiquitous Korean BBQ is in Japan. I had forgotten how friendly and kind Japanese people are to foreigners. And when in a bar in Japan, everyone becomes your friend.
Stay tuned for the next post on Tokyo transport.