Japan has been a place to me that I always wanted to visit but had never believed that once I will actually be able to. Also never thought to see Tadao Ando in live and there was him in December 2014 giving a speech in his recently completed Poly Grand Theater in Shanghai.
Living in Shanghai brought me closer to opportunities that I have only dreamed of. The only 2.5 hours flight to Tokyo was one of them.
From the moment of arrival I noticed the immaculate streets, the perfect organization, the order and the silence. We could say it is just another developed Asian city, but it is different, it is like an isolated but modern world operating on its own standards.
We were staying at a friend's place who is working there as an architect specialized in acoustics. He told us a lot about how important it is to respect your boss and in return he is treated as part of the family in the small family business. In Japan being polite and respectful is essential. As a visitor one can pick this behavior up quickly. Why? Because it feels good to be nice to others and they are also nice to you, it is that simple.
But let's get back to architecture. Besides many modern and famous must see buildings what we can't stop taking photos from every possible angle of, there were those other ones finishing in a weird chopped upper floor and roof. It is called the diagonal rule as I learned later from professor Masami Kobayashi from Meiji University who held a lecture at HKU Shanghai Study Centre. The rule is part of the building code and it is applied in order to provide sufficient sunlight for the streets, buildings can not be built straight up. He also explained, that the center of the land is usually the least valuable and the 'chopping' regulation doesn't apply to this part, thus it became the spot of the high rise towers as long as the developer could obtain a tiny piece along the street.
Besides its high urban density, Tokyo has plenty of green spaces. One of them is the Ueno park, where the National Museum of Western Art by Le Corbusier is located. Having only a few days in Tokyo didn't allow us the time for visiting museums, so it was put on the list of 'to do next time in Tokyo'.
Also noticed, that Japanese people always find the space to run ivy on the facade, place micro gardens with planters in front of the buildings, and in many cases having a tiny roof garden as we have seen on Kazuyo Sejima's small house in Tokyo, too. The architectural details are beautifully constructed and maintained. It was such a joy for the eye. In China mostly due to the lack of trained construction staff it is hard to find nicely executed details.
During our 3 days in Tokyo walked around 20 km each day but it still wasn't enough to see everything. I was fascinated by Omotesando: the vibrant avenue of architecture starting with Kenzo Tange's Yoyogi Stadium and finishing in Kengo Kuma's Nezu museum. The area is full of hidden gems in the parallel little streets, one of them is the wooden basket of Sunny Hills by Kengo Kuma where we were invited for a yummy pineapple cake and tea.
The other phenomenon I admire in the city is that due to the frequent earthquakes the building height is limited thus maintaining a more human environment - Ginza area is an exception, because it is full of high rises, but every metropolitan city will need a CBD, so I let them be :) Eventually I am not against skyscrapers - if they are built in a way that doesn't alienate and it isn't socially destructive - but this is another story.
Before taking the Shinkanzen to Kyoto, we had a day trip to Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan and one of its major port cities, also sister-city of Shanghai. We visited the Yokohama Landmark Tower which is the second tallest building in the country with the world's second fastest elevator in it. The view from the observation deck was stunning, we could see the silhouette of the Mount Fuji.
Later our tour continued to the Osanbashi pier close to the Landmark Tower which is a great example of a public space, Motomachi district, the location of the former foreign settlement with some still standing colonial buildings, and at the end of the day couldn't miss China town. It was nice :)
The next day we were headed to Kyoto. We passed by the Mount Fuji, it was amazing. And Kyoto is another different world. We stayed in the central area which isfull of traditional low rise houses with many alleys and little izakaya places. During our 3 days stay we tried to visit most of the shrines - and I believe we succeeded -, had lovely food and kept walking a lot. The atmosphere was so peaceful in Kyoto everything is set to zen :)
Japan in general is so well-organized and convenient you can even use the same transportation card in several cities. And the rumor about Tokyo's crazy transportation system becomes untrue once you obtain a sim card with internet access, because google maps now can give a very accurate route plan, honestly it is a real life saver.
I left Japan full of good memories and I hope to be back sometime in the future.