Japan: a most serene urban garden

Let me show you one of my favorite places I’ve ever been. Without doubt, the most beautiful urban garden you could lose an afternoon within.

Nezu Museum TokyoNezu Museum Tokyo
Nezu Museum TokyoNezu Museum Tokyo
NezuCafe, where we enjoyed a delicious, leisurely lunch (2 photos directly above) 

Nezu Museum TokyoNezu Museum Tokyo Nezu Museum TokyoNezu Museum Tokyo

Nezu Museum, Tokyo Nezu Museum, Tokyo Nezu Museum, TokyoGinkgo leaf, considered a living fossil. Shall I purchase these earrings in memory?

Nezu Museum, Tokyo Nezu Museum, Tokyo Nezu Museum, TokyoAutumn persimmons offer lovely colors and subtle flavours

Nezu Museum, Tokyo Nezu Museum, Tokyo

Rikyu, tea masterPresiding over the garden is Rikyū, the tea master.

Nezu Museum, TokyoAh, what a magical place.
The museum on the grounds is a serene building completed by architect Kengo Kuma.

Founded in 1941 following Nezu’s death, the museum boasts one of Japan’s most culturally significant private collections of Asian art from the pre-modern period. Nezu was a particularly avid collector of hanging scrolls and utensils for tea ceremonies, and today the museum has over 7,000 objects, including calligraphy, paintings, sculpture, ceramics, metalwork, bamboo crafts and textiles. The collection was originally displayed in Nezu’s Aoyama residence, which stood in extensive traditional gardens studded with ponds, bridges and teahouses. In 2006 his grandson Koichi Nezu commissioned Kuma to remodel and rationalise the existing facilities and design a new building on the garden site. The revitalised complex reopened in October 2009.

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sxsw2014 review #1

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IMG_3_023-smLots of site-specific murals designed for the week.

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IMG_3_026-smGraeme found his people.

IMG_3_032-smLife-sized tea pot? Yes, please!

IMG_3_036-smIt wasn’t too cold for a few cocktails on the lawn of the beautiful new Hotel Ella.

IMG_3_042-bandsFeeling like a 14-year old girl.

IMG_3_044-VSQOne of my favorite acts of the festival: Vitamin String Quartet @ Spotfiy House.

IMG_3_038The subject of great controversy, still a great lineup (around the block and musical artists). This W Hotel is next door to our apartment, which means great people watching and hearing the after parties.

 

Starting the year…

…with a few of our favorite things…

chai teaI bought Graeme a new milk frother, which I may have benefitted from as well!

Maple Leafs fan

Graeme is ever grateful for his season pass to Leafs-on-demand streaming online. This is my view of Graeme for 4/7 nights per week.

Olympics
Then we faced off for a month of exciting rivalries. USA All the WAY!!

Valentines

The rivalries were softened by some lovely flower on Valentines Day. Thanks Graeme!

Dannijo…and some new earrings!

Next, Amanda & Graeme do SXSW 2014, celebrating two full years in Austin, TX.

 

Japan: Archi-Tour of Tokyo

Many visitors to Tokyo will say that Tokyo is ugly and overall grey. My impression is that like many cities, there are pockets of charming areas, a smattering of gorgeous architectural wonders and an expected amount of concrete. Unlike many dense cities though, we found Tokyo to be very quiet (no honking!), extremely clean, and very safe (practically zero crime rate). And we enjoyed plentiful sunshine and meditation time within some of the loveliest urban parks I’ve been to. Tokyo is dominated by architecture completed by world famous Japanese and foreign architects alike. Some districts are best viewed at twilight when the buildings start to glow and the power lines recede into the background. Others are beautiful during the daylight when one can appreciate the material details and tree-lined boulevards on which they sit. This is by no means a comprehensive visual tour, just a sampling of some of the weird and wonderful. We were fortunate to spend a holiday Sunday in Tokyo during which many of the main streets were designated pedestrian-only, affording us unique views and easy access into shops and galleries. There’s still plenty of areas we never got to see…so I guess we’ll have to return one day :)

JAP_11_0061-archAs seen from the Sumida River

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JAP_11_1051-archOne of my favorite buildings, near Tokyo Station

JAP_11_0114-archAs seen from our hotel, Remm Hibiya

JAP_11_0099-archDon’t let Santa get away! (left); What the heck?? (right)

JAP_11_0109-archDiamonds are a girl’s best friend

JAP_11_0022-archA fierce competition for the flashiest facade along the popular Ginza street

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JAP_11_0293-smNational Art Center, Roppongi district

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JAP_11_0291-sm21_21 Design Sight Museum

JAP_11_0296-smA bamboo hedge planted in a bamboo hedge, Roppongi Hills

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JAP_11_0180-sm JAP_11_0182-pradaStarchitects Herzog & de Meuron’s stamp on the Prada empire, Omotesando

JAP_11_0186-archShopping in Omotesando

JAP_11_0044-archAsakusa Culture Tourist Info Center

Japan: The Most Relaxing 24 Hours in Hakone

After a busy four days of shopping and running around Tokyo, Amanda had planned a relaxing 24 hours in this small resort area outside of Tokyo called Hakone. Hakone is known for their natural hot springs and the area has tons of hotels built on top of these springs with world renowned spas. Sounds good! The setting was beautiful, the service was impeccable and we have since been remarking that it was one of the best 24 hours of our lives.

Hakone train station

The station with the beautiful foliage

Kai Hakone

Lobby, with espresso machine. I came here to ponder life’s mysteries when Amanda took a lot longer in the spa.

Kai Hakone

The old mixed with the modern


Kai Hakone
Kai Hakone

Upon arrival, the concierge led us to the lobby seating in order to present us with our hot towels (for hand washing) and our welcome drink. After an appropriate amount of solitude, the concierge returned to complete our check-in, confirm our dinner and breakfast reservation times and process Amanda’s “no raw fish” request (she kept saying sesame instead of sashimi…they finally resolved the translation error).

During our stay we had to be in uniform (yukata) at all times. When we arrived they gave these robes and slippers to wear. The robes were nice, but I found the slippers to be uncomfortable, mainly because there was no real way to discern what was the left food from the right. I still don’t know if there was an answer, or if the slipper was designed to be available for either foot and comfortable to neither. Also, when you arrive at a hotel in Japan they send a little friend with you around your room for like 10 minutes showing you everything you could need. “Here is the kettle, here is the wall outlet, here is the bed, here is the toilet, here are your towels, this is the phone, this is the button you press to ask us questions should you have any after this 15 min walkthrough of your room” etc. It was kinda charming at first, but not so much after you’ve checked in to 3-4 places in the past 8 days.

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The more you look at them, the less sure you are as to which one is for which foot. A zen exercise perhaps?

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The shogun assesses his kingdom.

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In the basement of the hotel was the reason we came here: the spa. Natural hot water, a sauna and a cold water dipping pool. The Japanese love their baths, and I am now a total convert. When Amanda and I build a house we are totally going to make a big bath in the basement. And as with everything there is a set ritual for the bath–or at least there was for the guys side. I’m sure it was similar on Amanda’s side of the spa. You come in, disrobe and go to this little shower room and sit naked on a little stool and clean yourself off with a shower-head and bucket. Once you’re clean of all of life’s dirt you are ready for the soak in the bath. And it was glorious. Half-inside, half-outside with the crisp fall air around you while you are submerged in 100 degree water, floating around with small woodland creatures looking in at you. Awesome.

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My little sakura blossom


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The next day we had to leave, which was sad. This hotel had a long windy driveway, and when our hostess put us in the cab we watched with sadness as the hotel slowly wound out of our sight. But during that 45 second climb up the hill, our hostess did not cease her bowing to our cab and we rolled away. Japanese hospitality rocks!

Japan notes: the toilet

One of the things that surprised us about our trip, was how much we’d be talking about the toilets upon our return. We love to remember those warm seats, a strange yet wonderful extension of Japanese hospitality in pretty much every public and private facility you’d enter. And we’re not the only ones who love these toilets. A colleague of mine who’s married to a Japanese woman tried to procure one of these magic toilets for his Austin home after a number of visits to her homeland. His electrician and plumber finally talked him out of it… 

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A bit intimidating at first, we soon looked forward to our brief rest stops throughout the day. The buttons usually had enough symbols to instruct you on proper usage. But, alas, sometimes you just had to experiment. So, what all do they do? They can do anything from: heat the seat, play water noises, emit white noise-cancelling sounds, automatically flush, offer washing & drying cycles and even call for emergency help! Brilliant!

Japan: mark making

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One of my first learnt lessons in design school has its roots in ancient calligraphy practice: in making the first mark on the page one must be focused yet relaxed, strong yet graceful and full of purpose. Though there’s a plan, one also yields to the will of the paper, the ink, the dexterity of one’s body (calligraphy is often done kneeling or upright—with gusto!). It is meditative and relaxing. There is a start and a stop. Practicing drawing ancient characters one cold, windy evening in a traditional Tokyo studio gave us a glimpse into an ancient cultural tradition, a rich experience we will never forget. Thank you, Ten-You for your patience, gentleness and hospitality. To learn more about Ten-You, check out her site!

Tokyo is not the best place to buy calligraphy, paper or stationery supplies, however it is supposedly much less expensive than in Kyoto. In Kyoto one finds many traditional craftsmen still committed to paper-making and calligraphy and the city was flush with cozy shops selling goods for both the amateur and professional. I aim to continue my practice and so I procured a brush, ink tray and ink block in a small Kyoto shop a few days later. Finally, I selected some rice paper on which to inscribe one of my favorite Japanese phrases that I’ve spent much of these last few weeks pondering, Ichi-go ichi-e.

lines-on-paperWe made lines for about 15 minutes before we could move on to circles.

JAP_11_0136-smReviewing the ancient characters, Kodai-moji,  from which the modern Kanji is based.

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JAP_11_0137-smEven mixing the ink was meditative: small, deliberate circles, with slight pressure until we had enough to make our marks

JAP_11_0142-composite-smThe final creations: Graeme drew the character for “deer”. Mine is “bread”

JAP_11_0146-smI’ve learned that this is true Japanese style: group photo at the end of a workshop