Boro textiles at Amuse museum (closed in 2019)

amuse museum Boro – real astonishment exhibition

Boro – real astonishment exhibition


After spending so much time in the rural countryside, I found it hard to cope with the hustle and bustle back in Tokyo, and felt slightly dazy and detached from reality. My original Airbnb booking was cancelled by a host in Tokyo at the last minute, (the 2nd Tokyo cancellation on this trip), and at the last minute, I found an apt hotel in Asakusa, which turned out to be excellent and very reasonable.

I usually avoid going to Asakusa whenever I visit Tokyo because it is always packed and very touristy. This time, however, I thought it might be fun to explore an area that I am not familiar with especially while I was staying minutes away from the famous Senso-ji.

One day, I walked past an old building and saw the name Amuse Museum with a shop at the front. It was the poster and indigo textiles that drew me inside. I had never heard of this museum before and had no idea what was exhibiting inside, but seeing the textiles compelled me to purchase an entry ticket. And once inside, I was completely blown away… I couldn’t believe that I stumbled upon this museum right after my Japanese textiles workshop! Serendipity, perhaps?!


amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museum


This private museum opened in 2009 and specialises in Japanese textile and ukiyo-e. The amazing collection consists of 30,000 pieces of Boro clothing and textiles (from the 17th and 19th centuries) collected by folklorist and ethnologist Chuzaburo Tanaka, of which 786 items have been designated as Important Tangible Cultural Properties.

Derived from the Japanese boroboro, meaning something tattered or repaired, boro grew out of necessity rather than fashion. Its concept is almost the opposite of what fashion has become in the 21st century – you can even call it the precedent of ‘slow fashion’ and ‘upcycled fashion’.

There are two Japanese terms and concepts that are deeply ingrained into the Japanese culture: Mottainai meaning ‘a sense of regret concerning waste’, and Yuyonobi meaning ‘the beauty of practicality’. In the old days, impoverished rural farmimg families (especially those who live in the north like Tohoku) would mend, repair textiles (clothes and bedding) through piecing, patching and stitching to extend their use. Since the region was too cold to grow cotton, hemp became the most popular choice of material. Later, when old cotton clothing from the south made its way up to the north, scraps of indigo-dyed cotton would be used, and sewn with sashiko stitching (a type of functional embroidery) to reinforce and to quilt layers of cloth together. These ‘rags’ and garments would be handed down over generations, as the testimonies of decades of mending.

Interestingly, this concept is similiar to the robes worn by Zen Buddhist monks in ancient times, when monks used to collect rags and sew them up to create their one-of-a-kind patchwork robes.


amuse museum

boro textiles

amuse museum

amuse museum boro

amuse museum


For many centuries, Japan was a relatively poor country, and it was around the Meiji period (from 1868 to 1912) that the overall living standard started to rise. This meant that much of the Boro textiles were discarded, and new clothing was bought as fixing or mending became a tradition of the past.

Thanks to the effort of one ethnologist – Chuzaburo Tanaka – we are now able to admire this intricate and fantastic ancient craft and art form, and appreciate its unqiue value.

The special 10th year anniversary exhibition: Boro – Real astonishment showcased a collection of boro textiles along with 34 photo images published by Kyoichi Tsuzuki (the photographer and author of “BORO Rags and Tatters from the Far North of Japan”). This is a touring exhibition, and will be touring until 2020, so people outside of Japan can learn about this outsider art/craft form.


amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museum


Besides the temporary exhibition, the permanent collection also showcases a rotating collection of 1500 pieces of boro clothing and textiles, alongside with other antiques and folk arts from Mr. Tanaka’s collection.

I was particularly glad to see the indigo-dyed firefighter’s jackets hikeshi banten often mentioned by Bryan at the textiles workshop. Made in the Edo period, these reversible jackets often feature a plain side and a decorative side. Firemen would expose the plain side while fighting the fire, but after the fire had been extinguished, they would reverse their jackets to display the decorative side to a cheering crowd. Hence, many firefighter’s jackets were decorated with tsutsugaki (a resist dyeing technique that is similar to Katazome) symbolic images that were meaningful and important to the firefighters. Indigo dye was chosen for its antibacterial and flame-resistant qualities, as well as its resistant to ripping and tearing, cutting and abrasion due to impact. With roots dating back to the 1600s, indigo-dyed fabrics were worn under the armour of samurais to keep bacteria away from wounds and to repel odor and dirt. Therefore, the indigo dye was used not for aesthetic reasons but for its excellent practical properties.


amuse museum  amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museumamuse museum


amuse museum


Although I saw Akira Kurosawa‘s “Yume” or “Dreams” years ago, I could barely remember the costumes featured in that film (I watched it again after seeing the exhibition). It was fascinating to learn that the costumes featured in the film were lend to the director by Chuzaburo Tanaka himself. The folk clothing was beautifully showcased in the last segment of the film, Village of the Watermills, and the scene where the villagers all paraded down the village was heartfelt and memorable.


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yume costumes kurasawa

The folk costumes featured in Yume/Dreams


The museum also has an interesting collection of woodblock prints, and it houses an indigo-dyeing studio where visitors can take part in workshops.


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Woodblock prints and Indigo-dyeing studio


After my inspiring tour of the museum, I went upstairs to the rooftop and spent some time admiring the panaromic view of Asakusa and watching the sun set behind Senso-ji (there was literally no other visitor there!). Spending a few hours at the museum made me forget that I was in Tokyo; while watching the sunset was the icing on the cake, it was a perfect end to my day.


senso-ji asakusa


N.B. Sadly, I learned that the Amuse Museum closed in March 2019, but hopefully it will revive again in another venue somewhere in the city. Fingers crossed.











Tomigaya: All you need is a dog in Tokyo!


Tomigaya dog  Tomigaya dog

Dogs in strollers


When you think of dog-loving cities, most likely you are going to think of Paris, but on the other side of the world, Tokyo is now the ‘Paris of the East’ (in terms of their obessions with their pets or dogs).

Tomigaya is an area in Shibuya, located on the southwest of Yoyogi park, that has become a ‘hip’ place for locals and foreigners alike. Perhaps it is due to its low-key neighbourhood feel, and its interesting mix of independent shops and eateries, but it certainly feels less commerical and touristy than Harajuku, which is on the southeast side of the park. And you know the area must be cool when there is a Monocle shop here!

Walking around the area on a Saturday afternoon, I couldn’t help but notice that dogs have literally become the new LV bags in Tokyo (there was a time when the LV monogram bag was carried by 90% of the women here)! Some of them were even being pushed around in strollers like babies, which I thought was quite bizarre to say the least.


Tomigaya cheese stand  Tomigaya dogs

Tomigaya dog  Tomigaya dog

Tomigaya dog

Tomigaya dog  Tomigaya dog


According to Nikkei, the market for pet products and services is growing robustly in Japan even as the number of pets falls. Over the eight years through March 2016, the market for pet products and services in Japan grew nearly 10% to 1.47 trillion yen ($13.2 billion), according to Yano Research Institute in Tokyo.

In a country where the population is aging rapidly, and birth rate falling to a record low, perhaps it is not surprising to see people here turning their focus onto pets or animals. After all, dog is man’s best friend, and you can affirm this belief in Tokyo.





dorian gray Kamiyamacho  Kamiyamacho


Kamiyamacho  Kamiyamacho


monocle tokyo

Tomigaya Norwegian Icons  Tomigaya Norwegian Icons

The eclectic mix of independent shops here include Monocle and Norwegian Icons (bottom row)


Aside from dog-spotting and the Monocle shop, you can find a variety of shops here including Shibuya Publishing & Booksellers (which I have written about previously) and Norwegian Icons that is dedicated to mid-century (1940 to 1975) Norwegian designs and furniture. I often think that Scandinavian and Japanese furniture designs share a great deal in common, hence I believe that Norwegian designs would not look out of place in a Tokyo home.


camelback tokyo

camelback coffee  camelback sandwich

fuglen tokyo

shibuya cheese stand



This area is also full of cool cafes and eateries, and Camelback sandwich & expresso is probably the most popular takeout counter here. There are only a few benches outside, and usually there is a long queue here (mostly foreigners), so be prepared to wait for some artisanal sandwich and coffee. Hayato Naruse is a trained sushi chef, and his signature sushi-style tamagoyaki omelet sandwichi is the bestseller here. Was it worth the 20-minute wait? Yes, it was delicious and so was the coffee.

If you prefer to sit down while you eat and drink, you can visit the nearby Fuglen, a coffee shop and bar with vintage decor that is originally from Oslo, and now a huge hit in Tokyo.

Shibuya Cheese Stand is another popular eatery here where you can taste freshly made cheese like mozzarella and ricotta made in Hokkaido, the northmost island famous for its diary produce.


so books  so books

So books


The best thing about Tokyo is that often you would stumble upon some unique/wonderful shops while rambling in different neighbourhoods. And this was how I came across So books, located on a quiet street not far from Yoyogi Hachiman station. It is a small bookshop that specialises in rare photography books (new and secondhand), with also some art, design and craft books. The friendly owner Ikuo Ogasawara speaks very good English, and he was surprised to learn that I had simply stumbled upon the shop. I bought a few books that were easy to carry – I would have bought more if I didn’t have to travel further on. Luckily, the owner told me that they have an online shop and ship internationally (not many Japanese shops like to ship overseas), so it is great news for photgraphy book fans out there.


hinine note  hinine note

hinine note

hinine note

Hinine note


Hinine note was the shop that I was seeking in the area after reading about it before my trip. It took a bit of effort to find it (with the help of google map), but it paid off. This is a stationery shop where you can customise and create your own notebooks. You can choose the size you want, the paper style, cover designs and binding methods. There is a wide selection of designs/colours to choose from, and everything is made on the spot. Not only you can enjoy using your one-of-a-kind notebook, it would help to reduce waste too. Love it.






I think this is an interesting neighbourhood that is not just full of trendy and established shops (which I tend to avoid), and I definitely would want to return and explore further.


Design & stationery shopping in Western Tokyo

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d47 design travel store and Tomio Koyama Gallery at Hikarie



d47 design travel store (Hikarie 8F 2-21-1 Shibuya) – Muji is now an international brand that many non-Japanese are familiar with, but in Japan, d & department Project is the fastest-growing household and lifestyle brand in recent years. Established in 2000 by the famous graphic designer Kenmei Nagaoka, it started as an self-initiated project on connecting cities in Japan under the name of ‘design’. The shop name stands for ‘dream design department store’, and their shops sell a wide range of new and recycled furniture and everyday objects that are timeless and functional.

At this store, it offers a collection of traditional Japanese wares, tools, handicrafts, regional specialties and gourmet ingredients sourced from the 47 prefectures of Japan. If you are looking for souvenir with a difference to bring home, then this store is the place to visit.


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Top two rows: Postalco; Bottom: Flying books


Postalco (1-6-3 3FL Dogenzaka Shibuya) Founded in New York in 2000 by Mike and Yuri Ableson, the company has since moved to Tokyo, where it creates highly practical and understated stationary and leather goods. Located on the 2nd floor of an inconspicuous building, the quaint shop in Shibuya is not easy to find. Once inside, it is hard not to be drawn towards the appealing leather products and stationery, prices are not cheap but quality and timelessness of the products are the main draws here.

Flying Books (1-6-3 2FL Dogenzaka Shibuya) – Under Postalco within the same building is a cafe and bookshop that stocks an international selection of new and used books and magazines on music, art, design, philosophy and world religions etc.



Shibuya Publishing booksellers


Since I was staying near Shibuya, I was keen to explore the area, particularly on after hours shopping. As a supporter of independent booksellers, I was thrilled when I discovered Shibuya Publishing & Booksellers (17-3 Kamiyamacho, Shibuya), an independent bookshop and publisher that opens from noon until midnight. The shop was designed by architect Hiroshi Nakamura, and there is a illusory mirror-like window that allows customers to see the office behind. This unconventional bookshop is not interested in selling bestsellers, instead it carefully curates a selection of new and used books and magazines on topics like food, culture, art, design, photography and lifestyle. Besides books, the shop also sells an interesting selection of stationery, jewellery and lifestyle products. Being able to linger and browse in a bookshop at 11pm was a luxury that I seldom experience outside of Asia, so I truly cherished my time spent here.


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Daikanyama T-site 


My after hours shopping continued the following evening at Daikanyama T-site (17-5 Sarugakucho, Shibuya-ku), Tokyo’s most talked-about lifestyle bookstore in recent years. Design by Klein Dytham Architecture, whose design won the World Architecture Festival, it is considered to be a dream bookstore for many. Tsutaya‘s complex comprises of three interlinked two-story buildings with a convenient store, a cafe, a lounge inside and several restaurants outside. I was particularly dazzled by its vast magazine selection, I am not sure if I had ever seen so many magazines at one place before! It is easy to spend hours here, and luckily, the store is open from 7am until 2am, so do enjoy the midnight shopping experience here!



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Top, 2nd & 3rd left: Pass the Baton; 3rd right: MOMA design store; Bottom: Comme des Garcons’ Play Box at Gyre


I have previously written about shops in Omotesando, so I will not repeat the list again. I will only add two shops to the list, and one of them is Pass the baton (Omotesando Hills West Bldg 2F, 4-12-10 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku), a contemporary recycle/consignment store that sells not only fashion but also antiques, furniture and crafts. Designed by well-known interior designer Kasamichi Katayama of Wonderwall, the basement shop feels more like a vintage museum, and it even has a small gallery at the back. Don’t expect bargain charity shop prices here, but the quality and selections are a cut above the rest. Many items include a photograph of the previous owner and a personal anecdote from them about each item. Emotive storytelling is an effective communication tool, and the success of this shop proves exactly that.





Quico (5-16-15 Jingumae, Shibuya) – inside a white building designed by architect Kazunari Sakamoto is a split-level store filled with a well-curated collection of homewares, textiles, fashion, shoes and furniture from around the world. The store also has an exhibition space upstairs.


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It excites me to see the products we carry in stores… Top left: Rocca games; Top right: Marusa balloons; 2nd & 3rd rows: stationery and books that I bought on this trip


Design & stationery shopping in Eastern/Central Tokyo

My final two Tokyo entries are on shopping, so I hope this will delight a few readers. I have written another entry under the same title 2 years ago, so this is an update/addition to the previous blog entry (click here to read). This entry will focus on Eastern and Central Tokyo:



On this trip, I visited a few new design shopping destinations, and my first stop was the up-and-coming Kuramae neighbourhood, which was featured in Monocle magazine last year.

Unlike the touristy Asakusa nearby, Kuramae is laid-back and relatively quiet. Kuramae means front of the warehouse, and the area was full of rice granaries for the Tokguawa Government during the Edo period. These days, specialist shops, artisan workshops and cafes are scattered around the area, so expect to spend some time wandering and discovering interesting finds.


kakimori kakimorikakimrikakimori

Kakimori in Kuramae


Kakimori (4-20-12 Kuramae) – As a mega fan of stationery, Kakimori was partly why I wanted to visit this area. This small shop offers a vast array of stationery with a focus on pens, fountain pens and made-to-order (on-site) notebooks. On the day of my visit (which was a weekday), the shop was full of stationery enthusiasts. It is always comforting to see these independent specialist shops thriving in this day and age. Stationery is like comfort food, one can never have too many pens nor notebooks, right? There is a short video on this shop made for Monocle and you can watch by clicking here.


maito tokyomaito tokyo maito tokyoleather bag shop kuramaeYuwaeru Shouka M+ Tokyo

Top two rows: Maito; 3rd row: a leather workshop & showroom; Bottom left: Yuwaeru Shouka; Bottom right: M+ (Mpiu)


A few shops down the street is Maito (4-14-12 Kuramae), a family-run hand-dye specialist that uses only natural materials and dyes. Aside from fashion, accessories, the shop also sells artisan ceramics and similar lifestyle items.

M+ / M Piu ( 3-4-5 Kuramae) – There are many hand-crafted leather workshops/showroom in this area, but this one stands out for its original design, high quality Italian leather and exquisite craftsmanship. The craftsman/owner Yuichiro Murakami used to work as an architect before learning leather craft in Italy, so function and form play important roles in his creations.

Yuwaeru Shouka (2-14-14 Kuramae) – This is an organic food store with an attached restaurant, where you can enjoy a healthy and very reasonable priced set lunch (with a few options) in a relaxing and unpretentious setting.


toy shop kuramaetoy shop kuramae toy shop kuramae

Quaint toy shops in the area


Aside from the specialist shops, I was particularly intrigued by the quaint toy shops in the area. I have not seen these types of toy shops in other areas of Tokyo. It was only later that I found out about this area’s nick name: ‘toy town’, where you can still find many wholesale toy shops and offices of larger toy companies.




Kanda Manseibashi mAAch ecutemAAch ecute mAAch ecute mAAch ecute mAAch ecutemAAch ecute mAAch ecute

mAAch ecute Kanda Manseibashi Bridge


Akihabara is an area often associated with electrical goods, otaku subcullture (anime and manga) and maid cafes. Yet this area has been going through some transformations in recent years, and one major development project was the conversion of Kanda’s disused Manseibashi station (since 1943) into Maach Ecute Kanda Manseibashi (1-25-4 Kanda-Sudacho), a commercial complex with restaurants, cafés, and design-focus retailers.


N3331 CafémAAch ecute mAAch ecute

 N3331 Café


Aside from cool design outlets, one of the main attractions at mAAch ecute is N3331 Café, located between the rail tracks above the arcade. This cafe is ideal for trainspotters, and there were trains passing by constantly while I was there. Admittedly, my lunch set was not at all up to scratch, but I guess people come here for the experience rather than for the food. I think it would even cooler to come for a drink in the evening and watch the world/trains go by!


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3331 Arts Chiyoda


3331 Arts Chiyoda (6-11-14 Sotokanda) – Opened in 2010, 3331 Arts Chiyoda is an art and creative space that occupies the site of the old Rensei Junior High School. It offers a residency program open to artists, curators and creative practitioners internationally. On the ground floor, there is a cafe, a design/craft shop, and an art gallery space with regular special exhibitions curated by the organisation. On other floors, there are various galleries and exhibition space featuring resident artists from all the over the world. On the day of my visit, only a few rooms were opened… not sure if it was the ‘wrong’ day to visit, but it was surprisingly quiet and I ended my tour sooner than expected.


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2k540 Aki-Oka Artisan


A few blocks north of 3331 Arts Chiyoda is an artisan institution: 2k540 Aki-Oka Artisan (5-9-23 Ueno). This shopping arcade situated under the JR tracks offers an eclectic range of stores selling Japanese-made crafts and designs. There are several notable shops here if you are looking for quality souvenir to bring home: Nippon Hyakkuten (a Japanese design/craft department store), Hacoa (selling contemporary wooden stationery and lifestyle products), Hinomoto Hanpu (selling handmade and water-resistant canvas bags) and Nijiyura (selling hand-dye textiles, tenugui and scarves etc).


Tokyo Station


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Kitte – a shopping complex converted from the post office building in Marunouchi


Although I am not a fan of traditional shopping malls, I was curious to visit Kitte (2-7-2 Marunouchi), the newly constructed Japan Post Tower which incorporates parts of the 1933 Tokyo Central Post Office building opposite the restored Tokyo station. Opened in 2013, this 7-floor shopping complex houses 100 tenants, offering an array of restaurants and shops that focus on Japanese aesthetics and manufacturing.

After spending an hour here, I felt that most of the shops here are akin and lack distinctive character. The initial feel-good factor worn off and I was eager to leave. The issue is not with the products, but like most other shopping malls or complexes, the place feels rather soulless. Aside from the facade, there is no trace of the old post office remain inside except for some old photographs being exhibited in a retro dark wood room that overlooks Tokyo Station. Disappointing.




Coredo Muromachi Coredo MuromachiCoredo MuromachiCoredo Muromachicoredo kayanoya kayanoyaCoredo Muromachi

Coredo Muromachi in Nihobashi – 3rd row: Kayanoya’s store designed Kengo Kuma


Nihobashi is one of Tokyo’s most historical and prosperous districts. The area has been undergoing redevelopment in recent years, and the latest addition to this area is the Coredo Muromachi complex, consists of three skyscrapers inspired by the Edo Period heritage of the merchant district. The shops here specialise in traditional crafts or local foods from across Japan; I applaud Mitsui group’s endeavour in creating an appealing Edo-style shopping complex targeting at 40+, but I found the layout confusing and it was difficult to navigate from one building to another.

Unlike most other shopping complexes, there is a strong emphasis on fusing traditional Japanese heritage with contemporary design. This is conspicuous in the buildings’ interior furnishings like the floor and wall tiles, which are inspired by traditional Japanese motifs and kimono design.

The shop that is not to be missed is the Fukuoka-based soy sauce company Kayanoyas new flagship store designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. The interior of the shop was inspired by Kuma‘s visit to the company’s production warehouse in Kyushu. Traditional soy sauce-making barrels hang from the shop’s ceiling and special wooden trays/koji buta used in the manufacturing process act as display shelves. Like other food shops in Japan, customers are encouraged to taste and sample their sauces, condiments and other natural produce at the counter.


Mitsukoshi NihonbashiMitsukoshi Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi NihonbashiMitsukoshi Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi NihonbashiTakashimaya Nihonbashi Takashimaya Nihonbashi

First to third rows: Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi department store; Last row: Nihonbashi Takashimaya department store


Nihonbashi is the home to Japan’s oldest surviving department store chain, Mitsukoshi, which dating back to 1673. The Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi Main store was opened in 1935, and it is considered to be the “Harrods of Japan”. Wandering around this art deco store can be an exhilarating experience, especially when you encounter the 4-storey tall wood-carved statue of goddess ‘Magokoro’ in the central hall. This statue was the creation of master craftsman Gengen Sato who spent more than 10 years in completing it. This store is undoubtedly one of the most stunning department stores that I have ever visited, and it reminds us of the heyday of department stores.

If you appreciate art deco design, then it is necessary to visit the nearby Takashimaya Department Store opened since 1933. This was the first department store to be designated as an important Japanese cultural property in 2009. I especially love the art deco interiors, furnishings and lifts/elevators (always accompanied by smiley attendants). The food section in the basement is also very popular amongst the locals.


Saruya nihonbashiSaruyaSaruya

Top right: Haibara; Others: Saruya toothpick store


There are two notable traditional specialist shops in Nihonbashi, and one of them is Haibara (2-7-1-chome Nihombashi), a washi paper specialist store founded since 1806. If you love washi paper, then this shop will not disappoint, because you can find a variety of traditional washi writing paper, tapes, envelopes, wrapping paper and other paper objects here.

I have been wanting to visit Saruya (1-12-5 Nihonbashi Muromachi) for some time, because it has been producing toothpicks by hand since 1704. Since our company name is related to this product, I felt obliged to pay this store a visit. Most of the toothpicks here are made by hand from lindera umbellata, and some would come in miniature wooden cases with traditional motifs/characters/ names. In some cases, each toothpick is wrapped in a piece of paper with a ‘love fortune’ poem written on it.

I don’t know if Westerners would consider giving toothpicks as presents, but I think they are unusual and functional. Hence, I decided to buy a box to give to my parents back home!


To be continued…

Tokyo graphics

Graphic design is a visual communication tool, and it is more complex than most people realise. As a graphic design student at uni, I was profoundly influenced by Japanese graphic design. Now that my main focus is on product designs, I still can’t help noticing and forming judgements on graphics seen in the streets, museums and shops etc.

The Japanese have always excelled in graphic design, and one doesn’t need to go to design exhibitions to appreciate their ability to convey messages through visual means. Walking in the streets of Tokyo, one can hardly miss the impressive and highly impactful designs everywhere. Here are some that I captured while I was in Tokyo:


Poster graphics


Japanese poster graphics Tokyo national museum Japanese poster graphicsJapanese poster graphics  Japanese poster graphicsJapanese poster graphicsJapanese poster graphicsJapanese poster graphicsJapanese poster graphics


kyoto graphieJapanese graphicsJapanese graphics Japanese poster graphics



rene Magritte exhibition postersrene Magritte exhibition postersrene Magritte exhibition posters

“Rene Magritte” exhibition posters at The National center of Art


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Exhibition graphics at 21_21 design sight’s “Measuring: This much, That much, How much?” 


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Metro graphics


Signage, logo, museum and cafe graphics


Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center Asakusa Culture Tourist Information CenterJapanese signageshop graphicsTokyo Olympics 2020 logomuseum graphics 21_21 design sighthands cafe Japanese graphics marouochi graphicsshop graphics Japanese graphics




Japanese packaging Japanese packagingJapanese packagingJapanese packaging

Food, tea and souvenir packaging


Tokyo’s coffee culture

Trend is an intriguing topic. Why is it that some trends remain local (within a town/city/country) while others spread and become global? There are of course numerous factors behind the spread of a particular trend, but the one that excites me most in recent years is the booming coffee or cafe culture, or the so-called “Third wave coffee” movement.

Forget about Starbucks and the traditional European style cafes, this trend is more about independent artisanal coffee shops, where many would also roast the coffee beans on site. Usually a few single origin and blended options are available, and then they are drip brewed by hand or by Aeropress.


Tokyo coffee

Japanese magazine on Tokyo’s cafe culture


Unlike its neighbour South Korea (where coffee is ubiquitous), Japan has predominantly been a tea-drinking country. Although Tokyo has never been short of specialist coffee shops, this trend did not take off until recent years.

Interestingly, I was informed by my Japanese friend that since 7-Eleven started installing freshly grounded automatic coffee dispensers at its convenience stores across Japan, it has sold almost half a billion cups of coffee. And according to the All Japan Coffee Association, coffee has now replaced green tea as the biggest-selling hot drink in Japan.

One of the ‘hippest’ coffee shops of the moment is Blue Bottle Coffee from California. Their new 7,000-square-foot roastery in Kiyosumi took the city by storm when it opened in February. People queued for up to four hours outside of the new shop to taste a cup of coffee!

Due to time constraint, I didn’t travel specifically to these hip artisanal coffee shops, but I did manage to discover some delightful ones either by chance or through local guides/ magazines.


About Life coffee brewers About Life coffee brewers

About Life coffee brewers, Shibuya


About Life coffee brewers (1-19-8 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku) – I love this small corner coffee shop in Shibuya, which is easy to miss in this busy area. There are bikes hanging on the wall outside next a narrow bench. It is not a place to linger, but if all you want is an excellent cup of carefully brewed coffee, then this is the place to stop by as there is nothing nearby that matches the quality of this shop.


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Gorilla coffee in Shibuya


Gorilla coffee (1-20-17, Jinnan, Shibuya-ku) – Another new US import is Brooklyn’s Gorilla Coffee opened in Shibuya at the beginning of the year. I went there on a rainy morning, and although I found the americano a little weak for my liking, I liked the shop’s interior and spaciousness. Aside from coffee and bakery, the shop also sells its own branded goods, coffee and all essential coffee brewing equipments.


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Top, 2nd right and bottom rows: Riverside cafe Cielo y Rio; 2nd row left: Gallery Ef


Located inside the Mirror Arts building next to the river in Kuramae, Riverside cafe Cielo y Rio (2 Chome 15-5 Kuramae)occupies two floors (1F & 3F) and offers a wonderful view of the Sumida River and Tokyo Skytree tower. The cafe/restaurant offers Western style dishes and drinks in a casual setting, with fairly reasonable prices. Nearby in Asakusa (away from the touristy bit), there is an interesting cafe/art gallery space called Gallery Ef (2-19-18 Kaminarimon, Taito-ku) converted from an Edo period (1868) warehouse. There are regular art exhibitions that take place on the 1st floor, while the ground floor operates as a cafe during the day and a sake bar in the evenings.


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Turret coffee


Although I have visited Tsukiji market many times before for my sushi craving, I have never had coffee in this area. Located a few blocks away from Tsukiji market is Turret coffee (2-12-6 Tsukiji), a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop with few seating. There is nothing more satisfying than a good cup of coffee after a delicious meal, and Turret coffee offers this in a cosy and friendly setting.


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Kabaya Coffee in Yanaka


Yanaka is one of my favourite areas in Tokyo because it makes you forget that you are in one of the most densely populated metropolis in the world. Right opposite the restored Old Yoshidaya sake store is Kabaya Coffee (6-1-29 Yanaka, Taito-ku) opened since 1938. The cafe looks like a kissaten (traditional coffee shop) from the outside, so it is quite surprising to see the retro & modernist interior when you step inside. This is friendly and relaxing cafe where you can enjoy coffee and cakes before setting off and getting lost in this maze-like area.


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Top left and middle: Yanaka coffee; bottom row: Cafe Skipa


Yanaka coffee is a home-grown coffee brand. It has been supplying and roasting coffee for the citizens of Tokyo since 2001, and has opened stores over twenty-four different locations across the city. Although it is a chain coffee shop, it differs from other soulless chains, and the best thing is that you can order raw beans on site and have them roasted by the baristas in just 15 minutes.

My friend and I visited Cafe Skipa (6-16, Shinjuku) in Kagurazaka on our previous trip, and I would like to recommend it because it is cute and cosy. From the outside, it looks rather like a wooden shed, but the eclectic interior and laid back ambience make it a good place to hang out or linger on a lazy afternoon.


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Ginza – Top left: Cafe Rin; Top middle, right, 2nd & 3rd rows: Café de l’Ambre; Bottom: Ginza Tsubakiya


Ginza is the home of traditional kissaten in Tokyo. Since my friend and I have stayed in the area a few times in the previous years, we have also tried out many cafes around here. Coffee prices in Ginza are higher than most other areas in Tokyo; while we have tried fancy cafes like Shiseido Parlour, Ladurée, The Royal Café and Qu’il Fait Bon (famous for its freshly baked fruit tarts) etc, personally I prefer the smaller and more traditional coffee shops.

The oldest and most famous in the area is Café De L’Ambre (8-10-15 Ginza) tucked away in a back alley, where it feels like it is stuck in a time warp. Opened in 1948 by Ichiro Sekiguchi, and amazingly, the 101-year old owner is still running the shop today.

The wooden-furnished and dimly lit cafe does not sell comfort nor spaciousness, and it is full of chain smokers. However, this place is quaint, authentic, and best of all, it is known for serving the best coffee in town. And honestly, I think the coffee I tasted here was by far the best on this trip. Prices are not cheap here, but it is worth every penny.

Ginza Tsubakiya (6-6-14 Ginza) is a local chain kissaten that occupies two floors of a building in a traditional European-style dark wood setting. The coffee prices here are steep, but if you want to find a comfortable and ‘retro’ coffee shop to hang out in the area, then this is an option.

Coffee Rin (1F, 4-11-3 Ginza) is a more contemporary artisanal coffee shop where baristas would take their time to prepare and hand drip the coffee slowly (in one direction) in front of you at the counter seats. The shop’s speciality is its charcoal roasted coffee and it is roasted on site to ensure its freshness.


Tokyo’s surviving & endangered Modernist architecture

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 Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan


Japan is a country that deeply respects its traditions and heritage. Architectural conservations efforts by the authority could be seen at the Edo Tokyo open air architectural museum (read my previous entry). Yet is it too little, too late? In fact, due to rapid growth and urbanisation of Tokyo in the last few decades, the city has lost numerous architectural masterpieces, historical cultural buildings (like Ginza’s Kabuki theatre), shrines and gardens. Now many of the remaining iconic Modernist buildings are under threat again because of the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics. I am flabbergasted by how little effort had been spent on preventing property developers and other parties from tearing down these buildings. One would ‘expect’ this to happen in China, but the truth is that Japan had been the forerunner of this culture and trend since its economic boom in the 1970s.

The renowned American Modernist architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed 14 buildings in Japan from 1912 to 1922, yet only a few have been preserved. His iconic Imperial hotel in Tokyo survived the Great Kanto Earthquake and bombing in the Second World War, but it could not escape demolition by property developers in 1968 (somethings never seem to change). Miraculously, a portion of the hotel (including the grand entrance/lobby and the reflecting pool) had been saved and relocated to the Meiji Mura Museum, an open-air architectural park in Inuyama near Nagoya.

Today the only surviving building by Frank Lloyd Wright in Tokyo is Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan ( The house of Tomorrow) built in 1921. Surprisingly, this architectural gem is still an under-the-radar tourist destination, which suited me fine as it gave me the opportunity to explore it freely.


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Located in Ikebukuro, this former girl school is ‘well-hidden’ from the bustling part of the area. Listed as an Important Cultural Property in 1997 for its historic and artistic values, restoration work of the buildings was conducted from 1999 through 2001, and was officially opened to the public in 2001.

Built of economical 2 x 4 wood and plaster, the Myonichikan consists of four buildings: the main, the east, the west buildings and an auditorium designed by Arata Endo located across the street south of the site. The main building is considered to be a ‘Prairie house’ design, commonly seen in the late and early 20th century. The colour scheme is simple: creamy yellow walls paired with dark green door and window frames/decorative lines; while dark brown furniture and flooring is used throughout the building.


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Strongly influenced by traditional Japanese architecture and fascinated by Japanese woodblock prints, Wright‘s design embodies the simple and subdued quality that can often be found in traditional Japanese architecture. I love his use of natural light, geometrical patterns and lines. Wright also paid a lot of attention on the details such as the furniture and lighting; his hanging lights are the prominent feature in the dining room, and the Japanese-inspired wooden stenciled screen reveals his fondness for craftsmanship.


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The most spectacular room though is the lounge area, where visitors can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee and a biscuit (for an extra 200 yen at the entrance) while admiring the stunning window design, Biblical wall mural and cute wooden chairs and tables specifically made for children.

Last but not least, there is also a shop that sells lifestyle goods made by local designers and communities, as well as books and souvenir related to Frank Lloyd Wright, including a paper model of the building.


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The National museum of Western art in Ueno park


A more well-visited Tokyo Modernist architecture is The National museum of Western art located inside Ueno park. Designed by the renowned Swiss/French architect Le Corbusier (or Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris), the building was completed in 1959 as a symbol of the resumption of diplomatic ties between Japan and France after World War II. As the only building designed by Le Corbusier in the Far East, this building was designated as an Important Cultural Property / Buildings in 2007.

The museum was born to house the remarkable Impressionist art collection amassed by Japanese industrialist Kojiro Matsukata in Paris from 1916 to 1923. This vast collection was briefly confiscated by the French Government at the end of the Second World War, and a majority of it was eventually returned to Japan (while some valuable ones were retained in France) on the condition that the works should be housed in a museum designed by a French architect.


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Designed in the later period of his life, this exterior of this building differs in style from his famous earlier works like Villa Savoye and Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut ( except for the columns). As a supporter of utopian ideals and Brutalist architecture (which flourished from 1950s to 70s), this building is a fine example of this architectural style.

From the exterior, this austere and inconspicuous grey concrete structure appears to be almost windowless, with only one window on each side of the rectangular building. Yet once inside, one can see that the natural lighting reaches the exhibition rooms from the ceiling/roof or through the floor to ceiling windows that overlook the courtyard. The high ceiling, skyline windows (now partly artificially lit) and columns create a dramatic effect and strong impact as one steps into the exhibition room.


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It is highly significant that great works of art can be viewed in a non-intrusive environment where the public can linger and be absorbed in the artworks. This is partly why this building is a timeless masterpiece, unlike many contemporary museums designed by celebrity architects who are more concerned with showing off their signature styles than its contents and viewers’ experiences.



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 Tokyo Bunka Kaikan


Opposite the National Museum of Western Art is another Brutalist architecture: Tokyo Bunka Kaikan designed by renowned Japanese architect Kunio Maekawa (whose beautiful house can be visited at the Edo Tokyo open-air architectural museum mentioned in my previous entry).

The prodigious concrete building was built in 1961 as part of the project to celebrate 500 years since the birth of Tokyo. Renovated from 1989-99, it is one of the oldest concert halls for classical music in Japan.


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Left & middle: The brutalist facade of Tobu Department Store in Ikebukuro; Right: The Nakagin capsule Tower in Ginza


Tokyo’s endangered Modernist architecture:

There are currently a few Modernist buildings that are facing the possibility of being demolished and one of them is the iconic Nakagin capsule Tower in Ginza. Built in 1972 by Kisho Kurokawa, one of the founders of the Metabolism (who later designed the National Art Center in Roppongi), this peculiar and intriguing building is a rare example of this home-grown architectural style.

The Metabolism is an avant-garde Japanese architectural movement inspired by utopian ideals, organic biological growth, recyclability and sustainability. The residential and office-mix building consists of 140 individual capsules stacked on top of or next to each other, and they were designed to be replaced every 25 years (although this never actually happened).

Due to neglect and disrepair, 80% of the building’s remaining residents voted to have the building demolished to make way for a more modern apartment block in 2007. Since then, many have been trying to preserve this unique building. A ‘Save Nakagin Capsule Tower‘ community was formed and a Kickstarter campaign was launched to raise funds for the group to buy the capsule one by one. The fate of this building is yet to be decided, but visitors to Tokyo can stay in one of the capsules via Airbnb for around £50 per night.

I sincerely hope that this innovative and futuristic (in the 70s sense) building will be saved, and I shall try to book at least one night there when I next visit Tokyo.


The trailer of the 2010 documentary ‘Japanese Metabolist Landmark on the Edge of Destruction’ produced by Michael Blackwood


The demolition announcement by the owner of the iconic Modernist building Hotel Okura has been causing outcry recently. Opened in 1962 ahead of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the main wing of the much-loved hotel will be demolished and be replaced by a bigger 18-storey glass tower in advance of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Since the announcement, Monocle magazine has created an online petition to ‘Save the Okura; while Tomas Maier, the creative director of Italian luxury goods company Bottega Veneta, has partnered with Japanese architecture magazine Casa Brutus to launch a social media campaign asking social media users to post photographs to Twitter under the hashtag #MyMomentAtOkura. You can also watch the designer’s plead in the video below:



The interior of Okura Hotel (downloaded from the internet)


Save Japan’s Modern Architecture – Tomas Maier in Japan BOTTEGA VENETA 


I highly doubt that these petitions will change the minds of the hotel’s management. It is a real shame that I have never visited Hotel Okura during my many visits to Tokyo, but I was fortunate enough to have stayed at the massive 40-storey Akasaka Prince hotel before it was torn down in 2013. Designed by Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Kenzo Tange in 1982, the rooms at this Blade-runner style hotel were spacious (unlike most other cabin-sized hotel rooms in Tokyo) and the view was spectacular.



 © Tange Associates


Elsewhere, Kengo Tange‘s Kagawa Prefectural Gymnasium in Takamatsu City (featured in Maier‘s video) is also facing possible demolition after it was closed to public due to safety reasons last year. The brutalist building was built in the same year as Tange‘s Yoyogi National Gymnasium before the 1964 Olympics.

An Association of Conservation of Kagawa Prefectural Gymnasium was formed to preserve the building, and it is backed by many local architects. Will this effort falls on deaf ears again? Regardless of the outcome, I think it is about time that the Japanese authority reviews their conservation effort and policies especially in regards to modern architecture.

These cases are emblematic of a larger problem in the Far East/Asian countries. The constant thirst for newer and glossier buildings and objects is a prevalent mindset throughout Asia. Aside from Japan, culturally and architecturally significant buildings are also being torn down in other parts of Asia despite public outcry. As Maier mentioned in his video, we need to act before it is too late, but perhaps it is already too late.


Edo-Tokyo open air architectural museum

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No matter how many times I have visited Tokyo, there would always be interesting sights or attractions that I have yet to visit. And on this trip, I visited the Edo-Tokyo open air architectural museum in the western suburbs of Tokyo for the first time. Situated close to the Ghibli Museum (a MUST for all Studio Ghibli fans), the museum has served as the inspiration for many of the Studio Ghibli’s animations.

Since the Edo period (1603 to 1868), Tokyo has lost many valuable historical buildings due to natural and man-made disasters like fires, floods, earthquakes and warfare. And like many other major cities around the world, numerous culturally significant buildings were also destroyed because of urban regeneration or redevelopment.

In 1993, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government relocated and reconstructed 30 historical buildings within the seven-acre park as a way of preserving their cultural heritage.


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Walking around the site, you almost feel like you are on a film set. There are several private residences (with gardens), a tea room and a mausoleum in the central and west zones; and a mini town full of quaint shops in the east zone. There are also guides/volunteers on site explaining the history of the buildings (in Japanese), and I was lucky to have had my Japanese friend there translating for me.


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In the east zone, you would come across a Meiji period (1868-1912) ‘high street’ full of specialist shops selling soy sauce, cosmetics, stationery (my favourite), grocery, umbrellas and kitchenware etc. At the end of the street, there is a large temple-like public bathhouse “Kodakara-yu” which was originally built in 1929. This mini town served as Hayao Miyazaki‘s inspiration for the lost world in “Spirited Away” (one of my favourite Ghibli animations).


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Kodakara-yu public bathhouse


This beautiful gable-roofed public bathhouse (sento) has been carefully restored, with separate male and female changing areas and baths. The male side features a mural of Mount Fuji ( an ubiquitous theme in traditional bathhouses), while the female side features a picturesque but less ‘grand’ scene ( anything to do with sexism here?).

The baths are divided by a low wall with several tiled paintings depicting scenes from traditional folklore and fables; meanwhile, nostalgic advertising posters can also be seen in the changing areas.


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In the west zone, there are some Edo farmhouses with thatched roofs from the former Musashino Folklore Museum. And interestingly, there are volunteers (or Hijiro-kai) who would demonstrate or work on various tasks inside these farmhouses daily (except for holidays).


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Unexpectedly, I discovered my ‘dream house’ here… and it was a house built in 1942 by the Modernist architect Kunio Mayekawa for himself. The interior of this Japanese gabled roof wooden house reminded me of Finnish Modernist architect Alvar Aalto‘s home in Helsinki (read by earlier entry here). Built during the Second World War with limited materials in Shinagawa, the house was dismantled in 1973 and eventually reassembled at the current site. I love the bright and high-ceilinged salon; and the mix of Japanese screens with western modernist furniture and decorations. The house does not look outdated, and it proves that good designs will always stand the test of time.


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Top row: House of Koide; 2nd row: House of Georg de Lalande; Bottom row: Architectural paper models on sale at the museum shop


The “House of Georg de Lalande” is another house that inspired the Ghibli animation team. This Western-style house was originally built in the Shinjuku ward by German architect Georg de Lalande, and was enlarged into a three-storey wooden house in 1910. Now the house has been converted into a cafe/tearoom.

I highly recommend a visit to this open air museum (less busy during weekdays), and you can combine it with either the Ghibli musuem or the historical Jindaiji Temple ( the second oldest temple in Tokyo, originally built in 733) and Jindai Botanical gardens. After spending days in the hectic Tokyo city centre, it is worth venturing out because you are most likely to enjoy a more relaxing pace in this suburban yet leafy part of the city.


Musashino Place: The ideal library

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While I was in Tokyo, I met up with the Japanese architect/ director behind a brand that we will be launching soon. I mentioned to him that I would be visiting the Edo-Tokyo open air architectural museum, and he recommended a visit to the nearby Musashino Place in Musashino City.

Designed by kw + hg architect and opened in 2011, Musashino Place functions primarily as a public library, whilst providing spaces for children/youth activities, educational workshops, meetings and civic events. The building is located within a small park near the Musashi-Sakai station, and it stands out from afar due to its cool white exterior and massive oval-shaped windows.


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As soon as I stepped into the building, I was immediately struck by the clean lines and spaciousness. The mix of natural light source with soft interior lighting works harmoniously. This is one of the most minimal and yet striking libraries that I have ever visited. It showcases the essence of Japanese aesthetics and design principles brilliantly. It is simple, subtle, open, calm and well balanced. In many ways, this contemporary library is not so indifferent from a traditional Japanese zen temple.


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One of the most fascinating aspects of this building is that it appears to be a three storey building from the exterior, yet in fact, it has four floors and three basement including an underground car park! Aside from a library collection of 140,000 books and 600 periodicals, there are 400 reading seats, a cafe on the ground floor, as well as soundproof recording studio in the basement.


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When I was visiting the library, I saw groups of mothers and their young kids sitting and playing outside in the park. While inside, I saw a few elderly men taking naps on the reading chairs (why not?), students doing research and friends chatting and relaxing in the cafe.

Musashino Place not only serves as an educational facility, it also encourages social interactions for people of all ages and backgrounds. In an ideal world, all libraries should be like this… if all local councils in the UK would invest and improve their library facilities and services for youths, I am sure that literacy rates would improve and crime rates would also be reduced.

The residents of Musashino City are a lucky bunch!


Tokyo’s Contemporary Architecture

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21_21 Design Sight in Tokyo Midtown by Tadao Ando


It is not hard to understand why architecture enthusiasts love Tokyo. The metropolis showcases myriad of alluring post-war architecture, and it would be a shame not to check out some of the city’s most original and conspicuous designs by internatioanlly renowned architects.

In the next few entries, the focus will be on Tokyo’s architecture; and I shall start from contemporary designs.


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 The interior of 21_21 Design Sight


Being one of the most respected Japanese contemporary architects, Tadao Ando‘s 21_21 design sight is his signature work in Tokyo. Opened in 2007, the design museum has been operating under the direction of three Japanese design masters: fashion designer Issey Miyake, graphic designer Taku Satoh and product designer Naoto Fukazawa.

The sleek and futuristic building is characterised by its seamless steel roof and concrete walls. Interestingly, seventy percent of the building is located below ground level, yet a large light-well lets in natural light and brightens up the sunken exhibition area.


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National art center designed by Kisho Kurokawa in Roppongi 


Not far from this design museum, there is another intriguing architecture which houses The National Art Center. Opened in 2007, this huge contemporary art center was designed by Kisho Kurokawa, one of the founders of the Metabolist Movement and the architect of Nakagin Capsule Tower in Ginza.

This predominantly glass and concrete building offers the largest exhibition space in Japan. However, the center does not have its own permanent collection, instead it regularly hold major and smaller exhibitions. The undulating glass facade is the highlight of this building, and it creates a strong contrast against the interior’s giant inverted concrete cones.

Also within the “Art Triangle Roppongi” is the Suntory Museum of Art designed by another internationally renowned architect, Kengo Kuma. The architect combined traditional and contemporary Japanese elements to create a low-key, warm and spacious museum space which includes a tea-ceremony room.


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Top & 2nd left rows: Dior building; 2nd right row: Hugo Boss building & Tod’s building; Bottom two rows: Tod’s building


The best area to explore and appreciate Tokyo’s contemporary architecture is undoubtedly Omotesando. This shopping area is a grand showcase for an impressive array of modern and innovative architecture designed by world class architects for major international fashion and accessories brands. Here are some of the highlights:

Dior building – Designed by Pritzker Prize laureates Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA in 2004, the minimal transparent glass walls is especially spectacular at night as it is illuminated from within, creating a glowy effect.

Tod’s building –  Designed by Toyo Ito in 2004, the L-shaped building is wrapped in a skin of interlocking concrete supports and glass that mimic the trees lining the street. The facade design mimics the natural growth patterns of the trees nearby, whilst bare tree branches are reflected through the glass in the winters.

Hugo Boss building – A new addition to the avenue, this building was designed by renowned architect Norihiko Dan in 2013. It somewhat resembles more of a Brutalist Cathedral than a high-end menswear store to me, but the striking bold design does capture the German brand’s cool and manly appeal.


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Top: Gyre building; 2nd row left: Prada building; 3rd row: Coach building


Gyre building – Designed by Dutch architecture firm MVRDV, Gyre (also known as The Swirl) unquestionably looks less ‘flashy’ than its neighbours at first glance. In fact, the building features stacked rectangular floors that are rotated on a vertical axis. As a result, a series of terraces emerged and are connected to external stairways and elevators to create a vertical promenade.

Prada building – Designed by Swiss architectural firm and Pritzker Prize winners Herzog & de Meuron, Prada’s flagship store is a five-sided, six-storey building with a transparent glass facade, featuring flat, concave and convex diamond-shaped glass panels.

Coach building – Designed by New York-based OMA in 2013, the firm has designed a glass facade made up of 210 stacked display boxes that run horizontal and vertical to form a herringbone pattern. Inspired by the company’s original, systematic filing retail strategy, the modular shelving units are used to showcase the Coach merchandise.


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Top row: Dior building in Ginza; 2nd left & bottom: Mikimoto 2; 2nd right; DE BEERS building


Aside from Omotesando, Ginza is another shopping area where we can spot some interesting contemporary architecture.

Dior building – This white Ginza Dior building was designed by Kumiko Inui in 2004. There are two layers on the facade – an outer one made of steel and punctured with holes which reveals the illuminated inner patterned layer. Lit by LED lighting, the building glows like its Omotesando store at night. A white star, which is Dior’s lucky motif can also be spotted on the top of the building.

DE BEERS building – Designed by Jun Mitsui in 2008 for the world’s top diamond company’s first Asian store. This curvy building was inspired by the beauty of the female outline. It maximizes light reflection from different directions in different hours of the day, which suggests the shimmering reflection of a high-quality diamond.

Mikimoto Ginza 2 – This conspicuous white building is the ‘jewel’ in Ginza. It is designed by Toyo Ito (see his Tod’s building above) for the famous Japanese pearl company in 2005. The structure of the nine-storey building is made of steel and reinforced concrete, and wrapped in four thin walls to create a tube structural system, leaving the internal spaces column-free. Yet the most unique part of this building is its irregular shaped windows, which makes the building look like a piece of cheese!


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Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center


Located opposite the famous kaminari-mon gate, the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center designed by Kengo Kuma & associates opened its doors in 2012, and it was later awarded a Good design award. The unusual 8-storey structure not only serves as a tourist information center, it also has a conference room, multi-purpose hall and an exhibition space.

This Kuma Kengo design was inspired by Japanese traditional houses, and the structure looks as if a series of them are stacked on top of each other. Wood is the material defining the facades and interior, which refers to the traditional Japanese construction but done in a contemporary way.


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Top: Mercedes-Benz Connection in Roppongi designed by Kubota Architects & Associates in 2011; 2nd row: Proud Daikanyama Apartments; Bottom row: Daikanyama T-site


Daikanyama is a shopping district full of cool fashion brands. At the end of 2011, TSUTAYA opened a massive books and lifestyle shopping complex Daikanyama T-Site, tailored to customers over 50 years of age. Slotted between large existing trees on the site, the three 2-storey pavilions are arranged to resemble “A Library in the Woods”. The white facades of the pavilions are comprised of interlocking T-shapes that subtly reference the logo. Tokyo’s Klein Dytham Architecture won an award at the World Architecture Festival for this relatively low-budget but stylish site.


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 Cool contemporary architecture can be spotted all over the city


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Vertical gardens are especially popular in Tokyo


Architecture from the 1990s


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Philippe Starck’s Asahi beer hall 


One of the most iconic and controversial buildings in Tokyo must be the Asahi beer hall designed by Philippe Starck in 1990. The building was designed to resemble the shape of a beer glass, with an enormous gold flame at the top. Not surprisingly, this flashy building has never been fully appreciated by the local Japanese and they gave it an appropriate nickname: The Golden Poo (O Gon No Unko).


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Top row: Tokyo Big Sight designed by AXS Satow in 1996; 2nd to 4th rows: Tokyo Metropolitan theatre designed by Yoshinobu Ashihara in 1990; 5th row: The University Art Museum in Ueno opened in 1999