TOKYO: FATH­OM­LESSLY HUGE

The Ja­panese cap­i­tal city is big in ev­ery re­spect, whether it is the pop­u­la­tion of its vast metropoli­tan area, its char­ac­ter, ac­tiv­ity, colour, ap­petite for life or in­flu­ence on de­sign. Wher­ever you are in Tokyo, the mes­sage is the same — stop, look, abso

VOGUE Living Australia - - News - By AN­NEMARIE KIELY Pho­tographed by PAUL BARBERA NEALE WHI­TAKER

Wher­ever you are in the city, the mes­sage is the same — stop, look, ab­sorb, in­dulge, ap­pre­ci­ate

My mis­sion in Tokyo was to ex­plore the con­cept of takumi. I first heard the term in con­ver­sa­tion with my friends at Lexus and re­alised that while takumi (the word trans­lates lit­er­ally as ‘crafts­man­ship’) ap­plied to the man­u­fac­ture of Lexus ve­hi­cles, it has far greater res­o­nance. Each per­son I met in Tokyo was asked the same ques­tion: what does takumi mean to you? The con­clu­sion I drew is that takumi is as much a state of mind as a state­ment of ar­ti­sanal qual­ity. “It’s about at­ti­tude and tak­ing great pride in your work,” ex­plained in­te­rior de­signer and Won­derwall founder Masamichi Katayama. The per­sonal sat­is­fac­tion and sense of pride that comes from know­ing you have done the very best job you can. And how to de­scribe Tokyo? That, too, is a state of mind. Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing just a few days in this mega­lopo­lis of al­most 38 mil­lion peo­ple is an amaz­ing po­lar­ity of en­ergy, clam­our, seren­ity, claus­tro­pho­bia and ex­panse, where ex­treme kitsch and high-de­sign co­ex­ist with­out apol­ogy. Tokyo is like nowhere else on earth — an in­trigu­ing and se­duc­tive par­al­lel uni­verse.

HOW TO DE­SCRIBE MODERN TOKYO? Nov­el­ist Haruki Mu­rakami, the un­of­fi­cial lau­re­ate of Ja­pan, whit­tled it down to two words: “fath­om­lessly huge”. It’s not just a mea­sure of the mas­sive ur­ban sprawl (mi­nus a dis­cernible city cen­tre), but a gauge of the in­fi­nite pos­si­bil­ity that, like the origami crane, folds, flat­tens, pleats and pops from a sin­gle plane. If you want to feel the tonal reg­is­tra­tion of Tokyo be­fore try­ing it as a tourist, then toss out the travel guides and dip into Mu­rakami, be­cause no writer can bet­ter fur­nish words for this tightly plot­ted par­al­lel uni­verse in which ev­ery­thing looks strangely fa­mil­iar but un­furls into sur­re­al­ist fan­tasy. You can feel the magic real­ism the minute you step off the plane at Narita air­port. The sheer weight of num­bers says that process will stall, but it never does. The ev­ery­day flows with a mirac­u­lous ef­fi­ciency into the neon fu­tur­ism of Tokyo, where tow­ers of cap­sule liv­ing squeeze tiny al­ley­ways flushed with a 1940s ››

In Ja­pan there is def­er­ence to the col­lec­tive will that de­liv­ers flow and dis­si­pates frus­tra­tion. Call it empathy. Call it re­spect. Call it ‘miss­ing’ in the West

‹‹ film noir ro­man­ti­cism. Ev­ery­where an im­prob­a­ble den­sity of hu­man­ity in­hab­its an im­pos­si­ble di­men­sion of ar­chi­tec­ture. To con­tex­tu­alise that com­paction, greater Tokyo has a pop­u­la­tion den­sity of more than 6000 peo­ple per square kilo­me­tre; greater Mel­bourne has 440. And yet the cap­i­tal of Vic­to­ria is verg­ing on one big snarl (in both traf­fic and trait). Yes, yes, it co-re­lates to a depth of in­fra­struc­ture, but in Ja­pan there is def­er­ence to the col­lec­tive will that de­liv­ers flow and dis­si­pates frus­tra­tion. Call it empathy. Call it re­spect. Call it ‘miss­ing’ in the West. This ‘we’ over ‘me’ in Tokyo turns me­nial tasks into med­i­ta­tions (trans­lates to im­pec­ca­ble ser­vice and fault­less style) and as­sures that vend­ing ma­chines aren’t van­dalised, lost ob­jects get re­turned, graf­fiti is an anom­aly, dark al­leys don’t har­bour dan­ger, and all pub­lic trans­port ar­rives on time, mak­ing the world’s busiest Metro sys­tem a cinch. Just pick up a Pasmo pass (the smart card that sub­sti­tutes for tick­ets), down­load the Tokyo Sub­way Nav­i­ga­tion for Tourists app (a bril­liant way-finder that ra­tio­nalises the net­work into an easy read) and sur­face in the blink of an eye in up­scale Aoyama, where you’ll find the ar­chi­tec­ture of more Pritzker prize lau­re­ates per square kilo­me­tre than any­where else in the world. The stylis­tic ten­sions are elec­tri­fy­ing. Note, this is not a pedes­trian city like Paris, but an amal­gam of dis­tricts, nay mini-cities, each of which can be eas­ily reached by train or taxi (re­mem­ber, few driv­ers speak English so carry ho­tel cards in your daily kit). Tra­verse them on foot or forego the ex­quis­ite plea­sure of stum­bling upon a mini-mas­ter­piece by the ‘metabolist’ likes of Arata Isozaki, the grey-haired, grandee of Ja­panese ar­chi­tec­ture whose alumni in­cludes Shigeru Ban.

Get­ting lost is its own re­ward in Tokyo, but if you al­lo­cate a day for each district and match your mood to its mi­cro-cul­ture, you can’t go wrong. Nakame­guro is charm­ingly hip; Daikanyama is up­scale cool; Shin­juku is a mix of elec­tron­ics, de­part­ment stores and bars; Shibuya is a mind­blow­ing con­ges­tion of com­merce; Ginza is 30 blocks of lu­mi­nes­cent lux­ury. And Omote­sando is the big-brand boule­vard fronting back­streets filled with ex­treme re­fine­ments of fash­ion and food. There you will find mer­chants spe­cial­is­ing in Amer­i­can work­wear of the 1920s, 12-seat bars belt­ing out noth­ing but Bob Dy­lan, baris­tas who’ve done time in Mel­bourne’s Brunswick Street and lob­ster rolls that put Long Is­land to shame. Nuanc­ing is a na­tional sport. Tokyo sips on its own world-best blended whisky (Sun­tory’s Hibiki 21 Year Old) and sups at one of 13 three-star Miche­lin restau­rants (three more than in Paris), but don’t make the mis­take of den­i­grat­ing the city’s con­nois­seur­ship as a cute in­fat­u­a­tion with the West. This town ap­pre­ci­ates ‘good’ and it will re­fract it through its own cul­tural lens un­til ‘re­ally good’ be­comes ridicu­lously rar­efied. If Tokyo was an epic story bound on the book­shelf, its dust jacket would de­scribe a spir­i­tual science-fic­tion set in a near fu­ture that con­tin­u­ally folds back into the past; an exquisitely crafted, re­turn-to clas­sic that de­fies com­par­i­son.

op­po­site page, clock­wise from top left: Vogue Liv­ing edi­tor-in-chief Neale Whi­taker at Sa­mu­rai jazz bar in the Shin­juku ward. The Aē­sop Tokyo shop in Me­guro. Street view of Shibuya ward. clock­wise from above left: Stair­case at The Park.Ing con­cept store in Ginza. Fash­ion shop win­dow. A house in Shibuya. The view from ANA In­terCon­ti­nen­tal Tokyo ho­tel. Shoes offffff for din­ner. Ginza’s Tokyu Plaza. from far left: Tonkatsu restau­rant in Me­guro. Co­to­goto gift shop in Sug­i­nami ward. Narukiyo restau­rant in Shibuya.

this page, clock­wise from top left: Ueno Park, near the Univer­sity of Tokyo. Rooftop of Tokyu Plaza. Co­to­goto gift shop. En­try to an iza­kaya bar-restau­rant in Chiy­oda ward. Lunch is served. Green Fin­gers fur­ni­ture and plant store in Se­ta­gaya. Clas­sic ar­chi­tec­ture. Bar Rouge in Shin­juku.

FOR MORE VOGUE LIV­ING IN TOKYO, VISIT VOGUELIVING. COM. AU this page, clock­wise from top right: Yoyogi Park in the heart of Tokyo. Walk­ing be­neath the cherry blos­soms near Nakame­guro River in Me­guro. Decor at a bar. The fa­mous Meiji Jingu Shinto shrine in Yoyogi Park. Kaikaya by the Sea restau­rant in Shibuya. A view from the Park Hy­att ho­tel, the venue fea­tured in the fi­film Lost in Trans­la­tion. Aē­sop Tokyo. De­tail of wall art.

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