Posts Tagged ‘Ginza’

The art of destruction

January 27, 2011

Despite the languishing economy, one business that never seems to slow down in the Tokyo area is construction. And since there’s no place left to build that doesn’t already have buildings on it, the demolition business appears to be in a state of perpetual boom as well.

The tearing down of buildings is such a big part of life here that it has inspired at least one artist, Hayato Suzuki, to sketch and paint the machines that do the work. Several of his paintings caught my eye last night as I walked past Gallery Mozart in Ginza.

Suzuki’s particular focus is hydraulic excavators equipped with demolition claws. His works range from highly realistic (including a large canvas of a machine at work within the ragged walls of a partially destroyed building) to phantasmagoric (small sketches of machines made of bones, which look like something from a David Cronenberg horror film).

His painting “Ogi Obake” falls in the middle of this spectrum. At first glance, it looks like a bouquet of metal claws, as you can see from the exhibition postcard that I have copied with permission from gallery staff at the top of this entry. But on further inspection, its joints begin to look like eyes, and the fanned claws suggest the bony frill of a ceratopsian dinosaur. And in fact, the painting’s title can be translated as “fan monster.”

Most of the works at Gallery Mozart contain hints that the hydraulic excavators are somehow alive. The paintings pulled me into the gallery because I know that feeling myself.

I recently watched the demolition of an old building over many days, and I too became fascinated by the movements of the machines. Time and again, an excavator arm would move back and forth over a pile of rubble with feline grace, dipping low here and there as if sniffing at the pieces and trying to decide which one might be worth picking up to eat. Or it would gingerly touch and probe a wall here and there before finally choosing a part to seize in its jaws and gnaw vigorously, chewing determinedly through concrete and rebar before pulling back to rest, or giving up and looking for a better spot, or finally succeeding in tearing away a nice fresh chunk of edifice meat.

I know there was a man in the cab who served as the artificial creature’s brain, but that didn’t stop it from looking like a single living entity. And I have a feeling that the operator regarded the machine as an extension of himself in a certain way. Otherwise, why would he have to move the claw back and forth over the items he was thinking about touching? Wouldn’t it be enough to simply shift his gaze? Apparently not.

You can see more of Suzuki’s work at the gallery’s blog, here, here  and here.

The exhibition runs through the end of this month, with Suzuki appearing in person at the gallery (which you can find via the map below), on the 28th, 29th and 30th.

No more chicken in Ginza

December 30, 2010

I have just one Christmas wish that went unfulfilled this year.

From Nov. 27 until Dec. 25, the towering façade of the Sony building in Ginza was decorated with a Godzillaesque roasted chicken leg. The image, titled “Roasted Chicken,” was the work of artist Yumiko Kanda. It replaced an earlier Kanda piece called “Banana” which I had liked a lot more.

In a previous blog post about the Sony building’s Artwall project, I wrote: “The one thing I can say in its favor is that it is seasonally appropriate, as roasted or fried chicken is the centerpiece of a Japanese Christmas dinner. (Please, please, please let them replace this painting with one of a gnawed bone on Boxing Day.)”

Alas, when I walked past the building a few nights ago, the “Roasted Chicken” was gone without a trace. As shown in the photo at the top of this entry, the Sony building has joined what my grandmother used to call the Clean Plate Club.

The Ginza Banana got peeled

December 6, 2010

It struck me as silly from the start. The tall, narrow façade of the Sony building, overlooking one of Ginza’s busiest intersections, had been adorned with a giant banana.

But as I walked past it almost daily for several weeks, I gradually grew fond of it. And I was disappointed to see recently that it is no longer there.

The Banana, which decorated the building from Oct. 28 to Nov. 26, was the work of 30-year-old artist Yumiko Kanda. She was chosen for the job through a building-decorating contest Sony held. You can read about Kanda in Japanese, and see what the other finalists came up with, by visiting Sony’s Artwall page.

A sign at the base of what Sony calls its building’s Artwall says that Kanda’s “artworks are based on the theme of rediscovering the beauty in ordinary ‘things’ from everyday life, mainly using acrylic gouache on canvas board.”

Kanda’s Banana fit that “everyday” description. Rather than being an artificially perfect yellow, it is speckled with the black spots that tell you it is ripe and ready to eat.

These spots appeared to remain static throughout the Banana’s run, but if it had been up to me I would have started out pure yellow and then added a bit of black every day, allowing the banana to ripen before the viewers’ eyes as the weeks went by. The spots could have been added discreetly at night, or perhaps Kanda (or a professional steeplejack) could have taken a bucket of black paint and used a rope to rappel onto various parts of the Banana in an ant costume in broad daylight.

I don’t mean this as a negative criticism of the painting at all. The fact that I am having such thoughts means the Banana was a success. After all, if a 10-story Banana didn’t put silly ideas into at least some of its viewers’ heads – and smiles onto their faces – what would be its point?

However, the smile was wiped from my face last week when I saw that my beloved Banana had been peeled off and replaced by another Yumiko Kanda work – a giant chicken leg.

Roasted Chicken went up on Nov. 27 and will remain in place until Christmas. The one thing I can say in its favor is that it is seasonally appropriate, as roasted or fried chicken is the centerpiece of a Japanese Christmas dinner. (Please, please, please let them replace this painting with one of a gnawed bone on Boxing Day.)

Perhaps Roasted Chicken will grow on me like Banana did. After all, they’re both pretty silly. But there’s cheerful silliness and there’s odd silliness, and Roasted Chicken falls into the latter category. It’s a well-known fact that bananas are more cheerful than chicken legs. Not even the coquettish addition of a red ribbon around the chicken’s ankle can change this reality.

However, to admit my biases, I must say that my first glimpse of Roasted Chicken took place under less than ideal circumstances. Not only did the loss of my cherished Banana have me in a state of shock, but the low winter sun was reflecting off the wavy glass front of the Fujiya building across the street from the Sony building in such a way that it splashed large, uneven patches of light across the Roasted Chicken. This gave the chicken’s skin an unhealthy mottled appearance, as if it had been unevenly cooked. It was a most unappetizing spectacle.

When viewed in a better light (literally), Roasted Chicken actually doesn’t look horrible, but it still doesn’t make me smile the way Banana did.

A third Yumiko Kanda painting will go up on the Artwall in summer 2011.

Mitsukoshi’s new Ginza store

September 23, 2010

One hundred and eighty thousand people showed up the other weekend for the grand reopening of the giant Mitsukoshi department store in Ginza, Tokyo. I was one of them, but I was not among the 2,000 who were already waiting on the sidewalk when the doors opened 15 minutes early at 9:45 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 11.

The new store is so gigantic – 36,000 square meters, which is 50 percent larger than its old incarnation – that it easily swallowed the big crowd. By the time I ambled in at 10:15, I was able to move around freely, enjoying a fair amount of elbow room.

The expansion was accomplished by attaching the original nine-story building, which stands at Ginza’s main intersection, to a new 12-story building at the other end of the same block. You can see the original street-corner entrance of the old building near the center of the photo below, with the tall new annex visible further back and to the right.

And here’s a street-level view of the new annex at night:

To see what’s inside, visit the store’s site here, and click on the floor you are interested in.

Most of the space in the building is given over to high-end clothing, jewelry and accessories – Prada, Gucci, Vivienne Tam, Moschino, Burberry, Tom Ford, Giorgio Armani, Tiffany, Bulgari, you get the idea – but I breezed past much of that to focus on Mitsukoshi’s culinary and architectural details.

However, one place I did have to stop in the clothing areas was at the Atelier Longhouse / Piro Racing boutique on the fourth floor, right next to Givenchy, which in turn is next to Celine. This shop is run by Hirokazu Nagaya, pictured below, and his mother Emiko Nagaya.

Hirokazu is a former racecar driver who uses a wheelchair as a result of a crash. He is now in the clothing business, focusing on good-looking garments for people in wheelchairs, who tend to have specialized tailoring needs. You can learn more about him at his Japanese-language website here or in an English-language magazine article that I interviewed him for last year. (It will appear in a future blog entry, so watch this space.)

Turning my attention to culinary topics, I headed for the upper floors of the new building, where there are restaurants representing the cuisines of several nations, as well as Japanese specialties such as freshly made noodles and Okinawan cuisine. As I stepped off the escalator, I found a ceremony in progress at a noodle shop called Hakone Akatsukian. After a moment’s hesitation, I took out my camera and made a video of the tail end of it:

Later, I returned and found the apparent proprietor making noodles behind a glass window, so I made another brief video:

It began to look as if the noodle-making process was going to take some time, so I turned off my camera and went to see what else there was to look at. (A real video journalist would have begun filming the ceremony immediately, and would have filmed the noodle-making to its end, but I’m figuring this out as I go.)

Hakone Akatsukian appears to be a new branch of a place that really does exist in Hakone, a famous hot spring resort area near Mt. Fuji. You can read about the older noodle shop in Japanese here or here, and see a mention of their Roppongi branch in The Wall Street Journal here.

 Now that I work in Ginza, I plan to visit several of Mitsukoshi’s restaurants for lunch in the future, but on my first day the only edibles I purchased were in the Jean-Paul Hevin chocolate shop on the ground floor.

At front right in this photo is the Longchamp Chocolat Lait (630 yen), which the multilingual young lady behind the counter recommended to me as the sweetest item in the shop. As photographed here, it is broken open so you can see the fluffy interior, which seems to consist mainly of frothy whipped butter. Behind that is a slice of Matcha cake (630 yen), the layers of which combine soft and crunchy textures, and in which yuzu citrus is the most prominent flavor even though the cake is named for the green tea it also contains. Next to that is a dark chocolate Guayaquil cake (578 yen), which the shop lady pointed out when I asked her what would be the most bitter cake as a contrast to the sweet one. “Bitter” turned out not to be the right word for this cake, as there was nothing harsh about it, but it definitely was not sweet – a welcome contrast to the stratospheric richness of the other items. Finally, in front, is a sugar-dusted Macaron Chocolat al’Ancienne (662 yen), which begins as a simple macaroon (Hevin’s signature item) but then is covered in several layers of other sweet stuff until it reaches a prodigious size. You can study more of his confections here.

 Shortly after buying these items, I found some other macaroons in a different part of the store:

But these macaroons are not edible. Instead, they are cute accessories that may tie in to Mitsukoshi’s reported attempts to make its new incarnation more attractive to young women, who in recent years had come to view the store as place for older women to go.

And speaking of cute, something I wish I had space for in my kitchen is the nabe pot shaped like a pumpkin in the middle of this photo in the kitchenware department:

As for the building itself, the new annex is full of eating areas and rest areas that occupy relatively narrow slivers of floor space but are characterized by high ceilings and large windows that make them feel spacious by filling them with airiness and natural light.

The nicest part of the remodeled store, though, is how the upper floors of the new part of the building open out onto the green landscaped roof of the shorter old building.

I was pleased to see that the roof area includes a green curtain of the kind I described in reference to the Sumida Ward Gym here.

And finally, nestled into the base of the green curtain is a small religious area featuring a rather massive Jizo statue that was reportedly unearthed nearby during the Meiji era.