Tokyo mod­ern

Cut­ting-edge de­sign in the Ja­panese cap­i­tal

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - JOE MINI­HANE

As a tourist in the ul­tra-cool back­streets of Tokyo’s Aoyama dis­trict, it’s im­pos­si­ble not to feel deeply un­fash­ion­able. A string of chic bou­tiques sits be­tween swanky jazz clubs and bank bal­ance-bash­ing restau­rants. Prada and Miu Miu bags hang from arms. Se­cu­rity guards stand sen­tinel out­side the fan­ci­est shops.

But see­ing as Aoyama’s most stylish stores also dou­ble as stun­ning ex­am­ples of the best of mod­ern Ja­panese ar­chi­tec­ture, thank­fully there’s no need to linger in­ad­e­quately over the de­signer goods.

In­stead, a walk around the area presents a free and re­veal­ing way of ex­plor­ing a city that can rapidly drain even the health­i­est travel bud­get. Be­cause here in Aoyama, the world’s top-end cloth­ing brands ap­pear locked in a bat­tle of one-up­man­ship. The likes of Miu Miu, Gucci and Dior have teamed up with world-class de­sign­ers to trans­form the area into a liv­ing ar­chi­tec­ture mu­seum. But per­haps you could also say it high­lights Ja­pan’s ten­dency to cre­ate the ex­em­plary out of the or­di­nary. Due to earthquake fears and a cul­ture of dis­pos­abil­ity, build­ings are torn down and re­built ev­ery 30 years on av­er­age, the coun­try con­stantly in thrall to the new.

“There are so many beau­ti­ful build­ings here,” says Tsu­tomu Mat­suda (or Mazda, as he prefers). “The area changes ev­ery year. It’s hard to keep up.” Mazda is spend­ing his Satur­day af­ter­noon show­ing me around Aoyama’s most notable build­ings. He runs his own de­sign agency and has writ­ten two ar­chi­tec­ture walk­ing guides, so there’s prob­a­bly no­body bet­ter suited to the job.

The pro­fes­sor stops in front of the From First Build­ing, its Lego-es­que blocks noth­ing like the pre­fab high-rises the world as­so­ci­ates with the Ja­panese cap­i­tal. A master­piece of de­con­structed ar­chi­tec­ture, the split lev­els and stair­cases give the feel­ing of be­ing in­side an MC Escher draw­ing. Mazda in­structs me to peer up at its sky­walks and open struc­ture, the blue skies of this Tokyo af­ter­noon bright­en­ing the build­ing’s cor­ners.

“This is what started it all,” he says. “It’s like be­ing in­side when in fact you’re out­side.” Mazda says the build­ing’s kooky looks in­spired the other wild and wacky creations that in the past decade have sprung up around Aoyama’s highly fashionable Omote­sando-dori, of­ten re­ferred to as Tokyo’s Champs-El­y­sees. These in­clude Fu­mi­hiko Maki’s Spi­ral, a gallery and sta­tionery store that gives more than a pass­ing nod to New York’s Guggen­heim, and the all-glass Dior build­ing, cre­ated by the SANAA agency, where the ceil­ing heights vary and the glass walls throb with white light.

All-glass Dior build­ing in the fashionable Aoyama dis­trict, above; Spi­ral, a gallery and sta­tionery store, be­low

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.