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The 2024 Japan Design Diaries: Tokyo, Part 2

We met up in the hotel lobby in the morning, with a first stop at the Toei Shinto shrine across from the hotel, where Ulf explained the interrelationship of Shinto and Buddhism throughout Japanese culture. The Toei shrine is small, but notable for its unique ceramic tile roof. Ulf explained that accessing a shrine should not be through the center of the walkway, as that’s where the spirits pass; humans should stay to the left or right. After a little coffee and snack, we were ready to tackle the Tokyo metro and get to the first destination: Ginza district, one of the worlds most upmarket shopping, dining and entertainment districts, featuring a wide array of world class architecture.

The slightly smaller scale shopping area of Ginza, which is a designer's potpourri of architectural curiosities. Global design brands line the street - Fendi, Hermes, jewelry and technology are all celebrated in eye catching buildings towering 8, 10, 16 stories on miniscule footprints, a holdover from the small plots once owned by individual families. Consideration of seismic activity influences the Japanese aesthetic - both in terms of safety, as well as the probable impermanence of any building, inspiring both a simplicity as well as a detachment from history.

From low tech to high tech, we pass again through the alleys of the train station, arriving at Rafael Vinoly’s Tokyo International Forum (1996). The volume of space, poetic structure and rhythmic wood elements captured the imagination, and we wandered through the vast volume, considering the structural resemblance to the belly of a ship, the way the ramps crisscross and the beautiful volume.

After lunch, we continued exploring the treasures of Ginza, including Mikimoto Ginza, designed by Toyo Ito (2002) and featuring irregular windows, reminiscent of the pearls that the company is famous for. The sandwich facade is also the structure, suspending the floors between, allowing for fully flexible floor space. Kitty corner is Marronier Gate Ginza 2, featuring a Uniqlo store that was refurbished by Herzog and deMeurron (2020), creating expansive interior volumes and incorporating mirrored panels on the columns and beams, dissolving the space and creating an energetic interior experience.

We visited a number of other buildings in the area, including  the Mitsui Building - Nihon Sekkei (1974) and Tokyo Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower – Tange Associates (2008), before finishing the day with a group meal at Banya Shinjuku, an atmospheric “modern izakaya” offering shabu shabu, a sort of “hot pot” self cooked meal.

After a long day, everyone was ready for rest - back to the Hamacho Hotel!

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