I had one of the best days of my life last week in Tokyo, exploring the city's art gallaries, boutiques, style districts , restaurants and bookstores. It really was the dream of theimagist come true...setting down in a foreign town and gorging on all its hidden lusciousness in a 24 hour span. For this I thank Mana Igarashi at Spur with all my heart. Tokyo completely seduced me and I can't wait to get back in April.
My brother and I find our way to Asakusa which is one of the few district remaining that offers the ambiance of old Tokyo. As soon as I see the corridor of cheap souvenir shops leading up to the massive temple my spirits instantly lift. Its like being in a historical theme park but what is really touching is seeing the multitude of elderly couples reveling in the world of their youth. I stand there in the bright sunshine amazed at the reverence being displayed by those visitors. They fan themselves with incense before entering the temple and ascend in a spirit of complete devotion. Its as if we've completely left the current world of Tokyo behind in lieu of this amazing simulation. We could have stepped into a portal that led us back 100 years. We stop to have lunch in a humble little joint...which specializes in eel. I'm not hugely fond of eel but after walking around for two hours am so ravenous ..eel suddenly tastes delicious. Even though the meal is inexpensive , the food is so fresh and the service so kind I find myself really loving it and the company of my brother. Especially when he orders in Japanese
Oooh boy did we ever radically switch visual channels . Wandering through the stark and super-modern offices of the Spur HQ I've very excited to see the myth of Tokyo corporate efficiency from the inside . At 6.00pm on a Friday the troops are all still solidly marching in the trenches. It had taken three tries and two variations on a hand drawn map by the security guards to navigate our way here. In all this time working as a contributer for Spur I have never had a clue as to how` massive the Shuiesha publishing empire is in Japan. Books, magazines, comics..you name it, they out put it ...complete with the massive Times Square billboards to trumpet those Spur covers. The Editor_in Chief Hidemi-san comes over bearing Christmas gifts for Marv and I . Funny enough her plaid ensemble matches the gift wrapping on the paper. On the way back out Mana insists that I check out the state of the art loo. And it is a revelation. A toilet lid that rises by itself AND a heated bun warmer . I may never leave!
On a corner of that legendary luxury shopping mecca...Ginza watching digital light displays wash over the skin of one store facade after another. Chanel vs Vuitton on flanking corners in an ultra-luxe showdown of electronic iridescence. My vote goes to Chanel especially since they have their own high visibility restaurant "Beige" in their shopping complex and rumors are Vuitton had to rescind their expansion plans. We whip past the entrance on the way to our dinner destination...It's called "Sushi Ichi" which is in an alleyway behind the Chanel complex. We get to the door, a slot opens. Mana utters a magical command in Japanese. The door swings open. We ascend the stairs to a efficient and sleek room...the sushi bar and three sets of seating for the insider clientele. Everyone yells "Welcome". I so wish I spoke Japanese. We walk past our fellow diners...a trio composed of two soberly dressed young businessmen in suits and a really beautiful woman in a lush black cashmere turtleneck with a low slung silver chain dangling on top. Restrained but hella expensive...Is she a Tokyo edition of good family money? I'm studying the looks...Once seated we lament about how kids in Japan have fallen prey to the fast fashion brands..H&M, J, Crew, even Abercrombie and Fitch are moving in massive stores. The days of the dedicated label victim seem to be in decline but I posit that the way the high is still mixed with the low by the kids bodes well for the future. It's not sloppy, what these kids do , because there seems to be a very specific talent for layering looks.It is one I don't have but am looking to learn. . We're joined for dinner with a young Japanese woman who works for a massive cosmetics empire in Tokyo and the conversation swings through the difficulties of cross-cultural communication between the modeling meccas (NYC/Paris) and Tokyo corporate culture. I begin to get a great sense of the challenges proposing ideals of beauty to this market. The girls who I instinctively respond to in those cities (NYC and Paris) may not necessarily translate into a Japanese beauty code. And vice versa. Agyness Deyn for instance has a huge cosmetics contract here, as does Toni Garrn. Yet neither girl has a like contract in the West. Quite interesting that, methinks. I need not say that having your own dedicated sushi-chef, on the spot whipping up course after course is a luscious thing. The food is so brilliant I don't think I can ever eat Whole Foods sushi ever again.
As we ride home Mana-san points out the grounds in Marunouchi , of the Imperial Palace and the glittering high rise of the new Peninsula Tokyo. As I look at the Palace's impenetrable wall of trees that loom in the night like a wall of shadows and then look at the distant pale gold light flickering and pulsing at the peak of the the Peninsula I realize that Tokyo so far has been like a movie shot in extremes. Extreme close-ups followed by extreme long shots with no mediums in between.
Downstairs at the Park Hyatt..precisely at 11.00am there is La Mana with a cab waiting, the engine running. And off we go for the start of the epic day to see Mika Ninagawa at the Tokyo Opera House Art Gallery (see earlier post).
Next stop is the electronics mecca in Aka Habara where I snatch it ..one of the things I had come to Japan for..Xiao's digital camera with the built in printer! (see earlier post) I want to kiss it when the salesman hands it over. So 70's . A bit bulkier than expected. But so... old school Kodak. I'm in bliss. After that we wander past a Muji store where for some reason I walk out with a aromatic diffuser, just because it is so clean and white and spherical. Plus it has a light function to go with the steamer at the top that oozes your scent of choice. The instructions are in Japanese which for TI is an extra-design bonus.
Since we are in Aka Habara, kingdom of the " Otaku" which kinda means "computer nerds" but with deeper sub-cultural meaning than any term in English could possibly express, Mana decides to take me over to Super-Potato. Super Potato is of course a vintage video-game parlor..Pacman, Mortal Kombat, Super Mario World ...banks of antique Nientendos...the parade of oldies but goodies brings back the memories. The bright colors and signage in the streets...the bright colors and signage on the machines in the arcades. It all begins to blur again, especially because I can't read the language and the organizing principle of the mind is struggling to do that. Everything is starting to feel like candy. If Tokyo's electronic district is a visual feast then it is certainly all lime green, acid yellow and super-blue. Suddenly Murakami makes complete sense.
This much I adore about Tokyo's subway system. Signs and directions are all in Japanese BUT a voice in English warns you what the next stop will be. We surface in the industrial hinterland that is Kiyosumi Koto-ku searching for Tomio Koyama's art complex ( which feels precisely like being in Long Island City NY searching for PS-1). The afternoon sun sends sharp angled shadows over the streets and I have the strange sensation of having been here before. Tomio Koyama is said to have been instrumental in boosting Murakami's early career so I'm fascinated as to what his art complex might hold. My favorite moment is Satoshi Hirose's "il Giardion dei Sensi" installation that fills the room with the lush scent of a Japanese citrus fruit. That is backed by a tableau of "paintings" using beans and wax, scultptural work made of marble filled with water in which cineraria flowers float. After the Tomio Koyama space it's straight to the heart of Ginza which is now blocked off at both end and churning with shoppers as far as the eyes can see. After wards we dip into Ito-Ya which is like a stationary store. Except this being Japan, the choice of paper could send you into rapture. I end up picking up the strangest odds and ends for souvenirs ...pens..little wooden box candles, traditional Japanese cloth. I'm really tempted by these beautiful, beautiful lacquered boxes and bowls but...we haven't even really started the REAL deal shopping yet.
On the outskirts of Harajuku we meet up with Sei another editor from Spur whose mission today is to lead me to the choicest, cult-iest most hidden new Japanese men's brands imaginable. I think my enthusiasm for things cult amused my chaperones. As we head to Harajuku I'm hit by the sight of a block long line outside of the H&M . On a regular shopping Saturday. That bodes well for the H&M group of companies and kind of underscores the point made at dinner last night that fast fashion is what drives the kids mad these days. After that shock , its deep into the labyrinths of Harajuku's streets to the Lad Musician store. I love the idea of 90's Brit-Pop transmuted into the aesthetic of one of Tokyo's street tribes. In fact I keep fingering a little razor-blade necklace ...but then I realize I never wear jewelry and leave empty-handed. Off we go then to United Arrow which confuses me with its Old School Brit style fixtures. Tons of varnished woods. I eventually suss out that United Arrow is like "ye harberdashery of olde" with a little bit of everything for everybody..Some Lanvin downstairs and then Ralph Lauren upstairs. Trays of bling bling jewelry for some and then the surprise discovery of Vassant's leather goods. I nab some Vassant and a United Arrow label herringbone scarf to jazz up my dull grey overcoat (the kids today are giving major scarf moments) but pass on the Monocle magazine branded colognes. Tyler Brule I love you and LOVE the scents but buying them would mean (shudder) carry-on. And so it blurs on...April 77 giving lots of plaid and Union Jack looks....Bathing Ape's glistening white space...but since Bape has gone global...I don't know if I need it now. Which is why I thank the retail gods for Mr Hollywood (see earlier post) A marl grey hoodie and sheer black wool jumper are easy buys but then I find a genius super-thin, super-sleek down jacket that I love. But its a size 38. I'm a 42. I'm depressed. Maybe I should stop going to the gym. Mana insists I at least try it on. "Oh it'll never fit," I cry. The zipper goes up. "You should totally get it Wayne" she coaxes. I stagger towards the cash register because she is so inarguably right!
Now that my underground shopping mission has hit jackpot , it is time to swerve to the "avant-garde high fashion" shopping district, Ayoma where I am now burdened with a shopping bag the size of a wind- sail. We pop into a basement level emporium across from the flagship Comme des Garcons but nothing fits. Which actually is a relief. We then float over to the legendary CDG shop with that landmark Future Systems design. The CDG store is redolent with all their fragrances blurring into one strange intoxicating scent. I finger the Swarowski /Commes des Gracons collaboartion jumpers, especially the ones with the Space Invaders pattern, but I'm such a monotone dresser I just can't do it. We skate past the "honeycomb" Prada shop which is gorgeous in the late evening Tokyo light. Dusk does become it but I decline to set foot in it because I know I can snatch Prada in NY at 60% off at Barney's. We swing around to a Miniami alley but the Undercover store is closed (some kind of photo-installation is being convened) . Which then drives us into 10 Corso Como/Commes des Garcons where Mana tries to convince me to take a pair of Watanabe/ New Balance trainers in a particularly searing collage of blue tones. "I can't" I laugh. My wind-sail shopping bag has really become a burden and I resolve to not buy anything else though my fingers itch for the Thom Browne (can't wear that cut at 6' 2") , aches for the Junya Watanabe and really wants to pick up the Commes/Speedo line. Bless ' rack features this genius jumper in...a luscious gray except the pockets are sealed with a metallic rod. Yay concept. I'm also fascinated by a really cool new uni-sex brand called "Ganryu" . especially their cropped khaki pants which boast a new kind of cool. I end up leaving only with some Commes underwear because it'll be dope to wear em with low slung Rad jeans. I hope they'll catch the wit in NYC. I certainly loved the wit of Corso Como's snakeskin counter. It is now 8.00pm. We have been shopping non-stop for 5 hours . We round up by witnessing the vivid Christmas lights of the Stella McCartney store.
We're tucked into a corner of a Japanese barbecue restaurant . I'm ravenous and eat voraciously. It has been an amazing day and I say as much to Mana and Sei. Mana has a night at Le Baron planned as the piece de resistance but I beg off, not out of fatigue but frankly cause I can't wait to go home to play with the Mister Hollywood gear in the mirror.
12 hours later, back at a Park Hyatt where the valets unburden me of my very big shopping bag so they can have it sent up. God this city could really ruin you. In the best ways imaginable.