Ginza is perhaps Tokyo’s most prestigious shopping district, known mostly for its high-end department stores, galleries and luxury boutiques. There's no shortage of art galleries in Tokyo, but in upscale old-school Ginza, there's one that goes back, waaaaaaaaay back.
On a recent visit, I happened upon the Okuno Building, a former apartment building that was built in 1930s. The Okuno building has somehow survived not only the ravages of World War II, but also the wrecking balls of development through the boom years thereafter. It is now home to numerous art galleries, shops for artisans and design collectives.
Looking rather like a mini Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong, the Okuno Building stands in complete contrast to its modern Ginza surroundings, almost as if it were a piece of art itself. Unlike restoration or revitalisation projects in Hong Kong, the Okuno building looks and feels basically the same as it did decades ago. There are no fancy makeovers or upgrades. The floorings have been untouched since the building was designed over 80 years ago. The interior matches the exterior perfectly and is wonderfully old, rusty and worn down. Flaking paint, bent railings, deep ruts worn into the concrete floor, it looks more like an abandoned ghost complex than a working building. The art inside is constantly evolving, with many exhibitions lasting mere days, but just walking around in the building is fun in itself. While appearing haunting to enter, I strongly urge you to experience its narrow corridors and short ceilings, poking into gallery after gallery, getting lost in its gloomy corridors and wondering if you are going to fall through the floorboards.
Let me introduce a cherished breakfast experience in Tokyo.
First things first, if you have never been to Yanaka district, just get off the train and go exploring. It is one of those rare gems in a city like Tokyo, an area steeped in history and endowed with countless historic temples; it never seems to garner the same kind of attention like the ‘old-Japan’ seeking tourist hot spot that is Asakusa. But this is what makes it great. Yanaka is Edo. You don’t even need a map, just take a walk down any side street and you are bound to come across a temple with some kind of historic importance. Basically, Yanaka is that wonderful of a topic that it deserves a post all of its own, for another time.
Within the midst of all that history stands the Cafe - Kayaba Coffee.
Kayaba coffee is a fusion of ancient and modern. This traditional coffee house has been running for over 70 years. The building itself is a worth-seeing spot as it was built during the World War I in the so-called “old downtown” of Tokyo. The coffee house has survived the earthquakes and the air raids during the War and exterior remained unchanged to this day. However, the true charm of this cafe is its ability to adapt to modern times. The original owner has closed the place in 2006 but it has been brought to life once more in 2009 with the help of non-profit organisations and the people behind the nearby art gallery SCAI THE BATHHOUSE. While Kayaba coffee house has been renovated, you can feel the retro spirit all over the place, from the original sign post, tatami mats, chairs and coffee cups that have been used for decades. The warm atmosphere will make you feel at home.
I can’t see a thing.
There’s clouds of smoke billowing in every direction. People rushing by me with growling bellies or expensive cameras; and everywhere I turn I smell the essence of Japan.
It’s night time in Tokyo Omoide Yokocho (more commonly known as Piss Alley or Memory Lane), and the place is starting to fill. Every shop is wafting a different delicious smell from their open BBQ’s down the narrow and crowded alley that’s usually filled with locals and tourists from every country. It has its roots in the black market which sprang up in post-war Japan in the late 1940s. It was more famously known as Piss Alley, probably as back in the old days at makeshift black market tent bars, there were no proper toilets, and drunken people just pissed around.
While the entire place actually burnt down in 1999 and was remade into the alley of today, all the decor and the general vibe was deliberately made to feel authentic to the post-war era. I think this would be an awesome setting for a Kung Fu movie of sorts. There’s just something about it; from the old looking decor, the crazy amount of smoke coming from the open flames, the shoulder-to-shoulder people sitting on tiny chairs in tiny restaurants, the lights, the sounds, the smells. Oh god, the smells.
It's chaos. But i love it.
在日本旅行时，我都会去居酒屋喝杯小酒吃串烧，感受一下日本的居酒屋悠哉气氛。沿着东京新宿站西口陆桥，与高楼大厦形成对比，充满昭和复古氛围的长屋，就是Omoide Yokocho （回忆横丁）。横丁在日语里是胡同、小巷的意思，思い出横丁 翻译过来就是“充满回忆的小路”，是不是光听名字就有一种很文艺很浪漫的感觉呢？然而这里之所以出名倒不是文艺，恰恰相反，是因为在这里可以体验到繁华东京最接地气的市井美食。从远处看也非常醒目的个性招牌，是这里的特色之一。回忆横丁都是满满居酒屋店家，共有80几间的餐厅。每家都是小小的，人们肩并肩地坐在吧枱前。当中有17间是串烧店，烟雾弥漫，非常热闹。虽然环境简陋但是价格相对外面的居酒屋要便宜许多，可以算是迷你版和低配版的深夜食堂了。
Finnish Nightmares: A Must-read Social Guide for Anyone (Not just for Finns) 芬兰人的噩梦, 超人气幽默又另类芬兰社交指南 / 漫画集
These are funny books of finnish people. I spotted these little books at a bookstore in Finland and was curious to see what kind of nightmares the Finnish have. After flicking through and realising they are in English and also hilarious I bought them both to take home to Singapore. Apparently, the Finnish Nightmares books have been bestsellers worldwide.
Finnish Nightmares by Karoliina Korhonen, is a collection of comic art detailing the life of finnish Matti, who loves silence and personal space. If someone gets angry or is behaving badly, he wonders what he has done wrong. The idea is interesting, and I like the way the nightmares (universal as they are) are represented. Who of us hasn't felt awkward when someone invades ones space? Who doesn't feel at least a tiny bit of social anxiety when standing in an elevator with a stranger? What about that awkward moment when you accidentally touch the salesperson while collecting your change? Small talk turning into something way serious? That´s when it happens. A finnish awkward moment. And I could go on. These books have made me wonder if I'm maybe a secret Finn? The author says that if you relate to any of the comics you may have a little Matti living inside you. I think I am Matti.
芬兰艺术家Karoliina Korhonen创作了一个漫画系列，取名为“芬兰人的噩梦”（Finnish Nightmares），漫画的主角叫Matti，是一个典型的芬兰人，注重平和、安静的个人生活，尊重人际交往中的个人空间、对待他人的礼貌以及避免不必要的搭讪。
Painting attracts so many people today of all ages. Painting is not just for the professional. Painting can be a pastime or a hobby too; and pursued for the satisfaction of simply trying something one has always wondered whether or not they could do. I think most people like the idea of painting something of beauty and feeling good about being able to say they painted it. Painting as a hobby can be relaxing in a stress filled life. It can be an escape into another world, a world of calm. Anyone can pick painting up as a hobby and enjoy it. One will not find themself dealing with boredom when taking up painting. There are many benefits to the hobby of painting.
Painting tree silhouettes is slightly more challenging than drawing, however I find the experience to be therapeutic and very much worth any effort involved because the end product is striking and beautiful. Something to be proud of every time. Looking upon a gorgeous tree silhouette gives me a feeling of peace. The fact that they are also some of the easiest natural things to recreate makes them one of my favourite subjects to paint.
I love to use acrylics. The canvas size that i usually use is 12 x 18 inches. Acrylics are very forgiving. If you don’t like the way it looks once the paint is dry, paint right on over it. Keep adding layers until you are happy!
As a rule, using black in painting is usually a no no. It creates a hole in your picture when used carelessly. Having said that I love using blackest black for my silhouettes because it slices a striking, intricate and delicate pattern in the paper or canvas that I find beautifully captivating. If you prefer not to use black however, you can always just use a very darkened version of whatever other colors you are using. Although I said that acrylics are forgiving, and they are, however painting a purely black tree on your background is not going to be easy to paint over if you mess up, so proceed with caution.
Harmonica Yokocho (Alley) in Kichioji district of Tokyo contrasts nicely with the fancy neighborhood that it resides in. Places like this are called yokocho in Japanese, a set of alleyways where some of the city’s most precious gems are safely sheltered - small shops, modest restaurants, teeming ramshackle pubs. Those who are familiar with Kichioji usually associate it with its links to art, high-end fashion, fine dining, and top izakayas (Japanese pubs). In fact, many popular Japanese personalities such as famous musicians and manga (Japanese anime) creators flock here to hang out and shop for themselves. It’s also very accessible from anywhere in Tokyo; it’s just a 15-minute train ride away from Shinjuku.
You’ll know you’ve found the main entrance to Harmonica Yokocho when you see a large yellow sign with a red Japanese inscription. Below that inscription, you’ll also find the English translation, except it’s spelled “Harmonica Yokyocyo”. If you want to have a true “Tokyo Drinking Experience”, there is nothing quite as authentic to be found in Tokyo as what Harmonica Alley has to offer.