Architecture

As High as the Government in Tokyo

Designed by Kenzo Tange to resemble a computer chip, Tokyo’s Metropolitan Government Office Building is a set of three towering skyscrapers, in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo.

Two of the towers have a panoramic Observatory on the 45th floor, or 202 metres up, and there’s a few things about them that are rather special.

As well as one of the most amazing illuminated Cityscape outlooks you’ll find, the T.M.G. Building Observatory is open to the public, every night till 9pm, and what’s more – entrance to the observatory is FREE to the public.

Now that’s something that doesn’t come along too often, does it?

The Street Level Courtyard

But back to the building. Impressive by day, the view was spectacular by night.

This is one of the views that awaits you.

From the Tower, one can see the Mode Gakuen Cocoon shaped building in the background.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government building complex occupies an entire block close to Shinjuku station. Entrance is via street level or a subterranean shopping arcade and underground walkway. There are actually two observatories, one in the North tower and one is the South tower, each with alternate openings times, so that if you visit two nights in a row, you might see two different views.

This is important to note, as it can be somewhat disorienting, if you exit via a different lift than you entered previously. Or perhaps it is only a sign of my approaching the elder years?

Uniformed Security Personnel are on hand to check bags prior to entering the lifts in the main foyer. In typical Japanese fashion, these Assistants are immaculately dressed, polite and helpful. Note that there will be a queue to enter the lifts, so factor this into your time allowance when visiting.

I would allow 45 minutes to an hour for this experience. Longer if you want to browse the gift shop or eat at the rooftop restaurant – which comes complete with faux Roman columns! The few trip advisor reviews for the restaurant I read, were mixed but they would surely have a first class view.

When you return to ground level, don’t forget to keep an eye out for an interesting clock in the foyer.

Even in the daytime, the building is quite impressive. In the foreground is a walkway across the busy street.

If you are observant of details and the resolution is not too small, you might note there is what appears to be a homeless person in the foreground. This was the only one I ever saw in the time visiting Japan. He appeared to be reading his Buddhist scriptures in the morning mist. I know that he was Buddhist, not that it is of any consequence to me what religious persuasion he was.

I realized this at a much later date, when I was informed by one of our guides that Shintoism does not have any written scriptures. In fact, anyone can invent a deity in Shinto if it is meaningful for them. They have thousands of deities.

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Something to Ponder About

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Heavenly Gardens of Shinjuku Gyoen – Japan

Bolstered by the large and eventful breakfast, which I wrote about here, and visiting Tokyo in Crimson Leaves Season, we were keen to explore a traditional garden, on our first day in Japan. At the top of our list was the Gyoen National Garden, a green oasis that is completely amidst the busiest commercial district in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

Garden
Gyoen National Garden, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Background of Gyoen

Originally a residence for one of Japan’s feudal Lord during the Edo period, the Gyoen National Garden fell under the control of the Imperial family in the twentieth century. Although much of the garden was then destroyed during World War II; you would never know it, as Gyoen is nothing short of a tranquil, well tended masterpiece of Japanese horticulture.

Traditional Japanese Garden Design at Gyoen

With the NTT Docomo building towering stoically above Gyoen’s tree line like an old world Imperial Guard, it is easy to remember the Shinjuku-Shibuya metropolis is never far away. However, the hard concrete lines of modernity are significantly softened by the more natural lines of the leafy foliage and traditional Japanese garden fixtures.

Very photogenic.

NTT Docomo Building from Gyoen

The Gyoen Guide Map offers us the chance to fully comprehend the scale of the park and orientates ourselves to ensure we see all the individual gardens and differing botanical features contained therein. Entrance, (with guide map in English), costs 200 Japanese Yen.

We don’t want to miss anything!

Gyoen’s Shinjuku Entrance Gate

chrysanthemum shows

The small fee we pay to enter the garden is truly value for money, as the day we visit there is also a special floral display of cultivated chrysanthemums, which attracts the attention of many Japanese citizens.

How glorious are these?

Light rain only enhances the organic beauty around us, as the raindrops linger on the leaves. This delights my daughter as it makes for excellent photographic opportunities.

And we have the ubiquitous, clear-plastic umbrella to shield us. Very Japanese.


“Maple trees can be seen in large numbers around the Japanese garden and Momijiyama (maple mountain) on the [Gyoen] park’s eastern side. The colors typically appear from mid November to mid December. “

Tokyo Tourist Guide
One small Maple tree showed its Crimson coat. In a few weeks time, the others would too.

Our arrival is a week or so early to see the majority of crimson leaves in Tokyo, for the temperatures are unusually warm. Despite this, I find the trees are magical and remind me of a medieval Northern forest, or a scene from a Lord of the Rings novel.

The leaves are still golden and green, but soon to be crimson red.

Pavilion

Each path within the garden invites in us, a different mood, vista and experience.
You can see hanging bouquets of chrysanthemums in the display in the background.
Despite the overcast conditions, the Pavilion was a place of tranquility and reflection, in more ways than one.

The carp pond

No Japanese garden could be complete without a Carp pond – and Gyoen has one.

Again the city reminds you it’s not far too away.

Carp pond – Gyoen National Garden
A serene spot to reflect, meditate and rejuvenate in Gyoen. Lucky Carp fish.

Autumn avenue awesomeness

However, for this sub-tropical Australian resident, the ultimate heavenly experience is yet to come when I discover the avenue of Sycamore trees, a feast for local photographers. It is such a delight for me. I truly am in awe of these trees and their burst of colour.

Photography
What photographer wouldn’t want to capture this?

This is Autumnal earth, resplendent in shades of sienna, brown, rust, bright yellow and green, all coalescing in an intense and harmonious collection of wholesome organic beauty.

The child in me wanted to run and kick up the fallen leaves, throw them in the air, rake them into a pile and jump on top of them. An Autumnal experience that exists only in my dreams.

Gyoen national park is a Japanese treasure, particularly if you visit at Crimson Leaf Season
Stunningly picturesque

Never before had I seen an avenue of trees that captivated me in such a way and I didn’t want to leave. [You have to remember we don’t have such deciduous trees in my home zone, so I’m super excited.]

sendagaya gate

Reluctantly, after several hours exploring and a gazillion photographs taken, we walk towards the park’s Sendagaya gate and find yet another magical path through the trees.

There is a special light through here. It is hard to define and see in the photo, but it is there.

Gyoen National Garden – A perfect spot to sit and ‘Ponder About Something.’

Linking to Friendly friday photo walk a challenge hosted by me and Snowmeltssomewhere

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 #aroundtheworldWP

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Eat Like the Japanese

It seems like the only people I have seen in Japan carrying extra kilos, (Sumo wrestlers notwithstanding), has been more often than not, Australian tourists – like me! I was thinking that there was something in this. Perhaps it should be a wake up call for Aussie lifestyle and diets.

At breakfast the morning after our arrival, the reason why Japanese appear so lean was becoming obvious. But first we had to make it to the breakfast restaurant.

The Early Bird Gets the Worm, or Does It?

Factoring in that there was two complexes that make up the Washington Shinjuku Hotel, I became a tad concerned about how busy the restaurant might be, particularly at breakfast time.

Arriving promptly at the buffet restaurant at the allotted time, would be the best way to stay ahead of the crowds all wanting breakfast at the hotel in Shinjuku, or so I thought. But this is Japan.

Booking.com photo credit

So when the lift doors opened to the 25th floor, it seemed that my concerns were totally unfounded. Only a few people were waiting at the restaurant’s entrance. They had even provided a couple of chairs for us. How thoughtful, I mused.

Then it dawned on me. Chairs? How long could the actual wait time be?

It was as if they were reading my mind, because an attendant quietly placed a cardboard clock on the counter, indicating a wait time of 30 mins to be seated for breakfast. Oh!

But it must be wrong I thought, as there was only one couple ahead of me, wasn’t there?

Several minutes later, we were ushered into a specially assigned waiting room…. full of guests waiting for breakfast. Water, mints and reading material was provided. This was a little concerning! When was breakfast?

All was good though, because a mere 20 minutes later, we were invited to enter the restaurant. I was still impressed by the Japanese organizing capabilities. A waiting room – great idea!

JAPANESE ORGANIZATION


We were given breakfast cards to keep and use at our table. An ingenious concept that I had not seen before. Just flip your card depending on your status, ‘Having a meal’ when you take one or those,’ more please,’ trips to the buffet and ‘End of Meal’ when you leave.

No confusion or wasting table space with empty tables waiting to be cleared of dirty dishes, in the restaurant. Such a clever idea. So Japanese and so organized.

Breaking the fast

Endless varieties of lettuce featured at the buffet

As well as a slight obsession with fresh lettuce, (so far the single most recurring food theme of this holiday), an array of pro-biotic fermented foods such pickled kelp, mustard greens, dried plum and leeks featured significantly at the breakfast buffet.

I was starting to see more reasons why Japanese have a healthy diet.

You had to be super quick if you wanted to try these Deep Fried Fish Balls and the cooks could not keep up with the demand for Gyoza. Two foods that are probably not that good for the waistline.

I wasn’t sure what the above delicacies were. Apart from the greens, it looked like leeks, some kind of breakfast cereal on the left and beans and pasta in the middle. Any ideas?

I focused on the pomegranate juice; (at least I think that is what it was), but I could not altogether resist the American style donuts and had to satisfy my curiosity with a Japanese Sweet Potato Cake, ( bottom left in the photo below). Yes I was satisfied – but the cake was a little too sweet to eat for breakfast, but still quite delicious!

The view from the buffet window might have taken my breath away, but it did nothing to assuage my appetite. Plenty of walking was scheduled for today, so that would work off the donuts, wouldn’t it?

No wonder the Japanese are lean.

More about our day, walking over 15 kilometres around Shibuya next time.

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The Contrasts of Japan

Think of Japan, and what comes to mind? The perfect symmetry of Mt Fuji, the controlled calm of a Tea Ceremony, Kimonos, or Sushi? Japan is all that and more. This East meets West paradigm can be a place of extreme contrasts, as we found out not long after settling in to our hotel in Shinjuku, west of Tokyo.

From our hotel, the contrast between concrete jungle and green space of Chuo Park, is obvious

Shinjuku

With 20 tracks and 12 train links, Shinjuku Railway station is the busiest railway station in the world. Each day, up to 3.5 million commuters pass through its gates.

Given the vast metropolis that surrounds them, Japanese are fortunate to have a green oasis Shinjuku Chuo Park, a few steps away.

Chuo Park

This tribute to Zen incorporates gardens, a children’s, playground, waterfall and contrastingly – smoking cabins!

SMOKING cabins and Tai Chi

As I walked through this delightful park, I thought the smoking cabins seemed counter-intuitive to the objective of tranquility and Zen. Yet that did appear to be the objective of not only, the Tai Chi group, but also the gentleman playing the bamboo flute. (Even with the slight off key notes). This is Japan!

Again, we found it hard to believe another world was around the corner. What a contrast.

And if that wasn’t enough of a contrast, for us, we were about to discover the Pachinko phenomenon.

Pachinko MADNESS – What is it?

To the novice, Pachinko parlours are without doubt, a full on assault to the senses, bordering on sensory overload. But if Ikebana and Shinto Shrines are where Zen reaches its ‘zenith,’ Pachinko parlours must represent the flip side as leisure pursuits.

Pachinko parlours are full of loud, colourful and very noisy fantasy games. By day or night, grown men, mostly wearing suits, obsessively shove thousands of tiny beads into the hungry mouths of their electronic fantasy machines. Here is a taster: –

Not familiar with Pachinko? That might be because, to my knowledge, the game is purely a Japanese phenomenon.

As Gambling for cash is restricted to horse racing in Japan, the Japanese play for tiny beads, which can be exchanged for cards or tokens, redeemable at a separate location. At least, I think that is how they play it. To me these grown men were terribly reminiscent of teenage boys addicted to W.O.W or Fortnite! Crrrazzyy…

Thinking it is a harmless pastime of little consequence? Think again. “In 2015, Japan’s Pachinko market generates more gambling revenue than that of Las Vegas, Macau and Singapore combined.”[2]

The Pachinko Parlour at the Shinjuku Washington Hotel operates seven days a week from 10 – 2300, and boasts 500 seats and a SMOKING section!

Note: Smoking in public places in Australia has been banned for many years and to do so immediately relegates one to some back alley or rooftop alcove, usually beside large air-conditioning units, so it comes as a bit of a surprise that the Pachinko parlour lists the smoking room as one of their assets!

Another contrast for me to ponder about!