Finding the beauty in Tokyo

Someone told me the difference between New York City and Tokyo is that in New York beauty is found at the macro level, but just don’t look too closely at the grubby corners; in Tokyo beauty is found at the micro level, up close, but you have to ignore everything around it. (In my opinion, this fits nicely with the Japanese approach to industrial design: each tiny little part of a product seems well designed, but the composite is often weak, e.g. cars.)

One oasis of beauty in Tokyo is the Nezu Museum. The museum itself is small and only occasionally has an exhibition really worth seeing, however, the grounds are a sea of tranquility with a pond, small tea house, and meandering footpaths.


Hanami season

It’s official. Hanami (blossom viewing) season, an age old tradition, is in full force. In perfect pack animal form the Japanese ascend on parks to “view and contemplate the cherry blossom” which really is just another excuse to drink copious amounts of sake. The main blossom viewing site happens to be Aoyama Cemetery which is just steps from my apartment.


A Passion for pottery

I so love Japanese pottery and lacquer ware; my kitchen cupboards are full of the stuff. Last week I went to the Tableware Festival, a very comprehensive display of Japanese and European tableware to see and buy, along with a table arrangement competition and a few art pieces. The place was packed with young and middle aged Japanese women scouring booths filled with plates, bowls, chopsticks, and any and everything to be put on a table. Last year when I went I was the only westerner I saw in the place.
There are four main styles of Japanese pottery (that I could determine).
The rustic, hand made look. Usually in natural colors, beiges, browns, greys. Generally earthenware clay is used, but sometimes stoneware. This is my favorite.
Lacquer ware, which comes in black or red/rust, and occasionally brown. It is made of bamboo and the lacquer is painted on; it is buffed, repainted and buffed again until the required effect is reached. The red color of Japanese lacquerware was the inspiration for the colors I chose for this site.
The modern, clean lined variety made from porcelain usually in clean white or very light blue.
White glaze with blue designs painted on, sometimes painted in red/rust, sometimes with green, yellow, or gold accents. This is the most prevalent type, but I get the impression most of it is mass-produced versus hand made.
Sometimes the designs include varies swirls or other abstract graphics, sometimes there are Buddhas or babies, but the most frequently occurring element are bunnies. I have yet to figure this out. I know that cute things are important in Japan, but why bunnies? Why not doggies or kitties or fishies?

The importance of cute

Cute, in Japan, is part of the cultural mainstream, appealing to adults as well as children. Women in their 30’s carry Hello Kitty notebooks, and the country is blanketed in cute comic characters with big, round, baby eyes on every street corner and product imaginable.

I suppose from an anthropological point of view, part of Hello Kitty’s popularity can be explained by its extreme exaggeration of juvenile features, large head, wide spaced eyes, small chin, that are designed specifically to elicit a mothering instinct. Perhaps this is more important in Eastern cultures, with their greater emphasis on the feminine.

From the Kitty Goods Collection catalog there is merchandise for the whole home.


In Japan, street signs look like this and are usually accompanied with warning messages to be careful or dangerous or simply, NO.

Stars who sell out

In the west you may not know about the big Hollywood stars who sell out in Japan. See if you can match the star with the product. I can only assume these stars were paid mucho bucks with iron clad contracts that these ads would never appear in the western world.

A. Schwartzeneggar
B. Kevin Costner
C. Brad Pitt
D. Bruce Willes
E. Ben Stiller
F. Charlize Theron
G. Jodie Foster
F. Ewan Macgregor

1. Gas Station – includes star in bug costume.
2. Rolex.
3. Canned vending machine coffee.
4. Honda – star driving with orange puppet.
5. English language school – this ad is everywhere
6. Rahmen noodles includes spinning bowl and stars spinning head.
7. Canned vending machine water with star speaking dubbed Japanese.
8. Executive Recruiter – star says “be all you can be.”

Answers and links to sites that specialize in stars who sell later this week.