Thoughts on life after the PhD
I’ve lived the bulk of my Tokyo existence on trains, underground, and inside various buildings. Never bought a bike because I’m kind of terrified of accidentally mowing down an old lady on the sidewalk, only take taxis a few times a year, only ride in someone’s car once in a blue moon (very few of my Tokyo friends have cars), and don’t generally walk from point A to point B because the distances just seem too far.
I *do* spend a decent amount of time walking, but all those walks tend to stick close to major stations. So it was a treat recently to take a longer-than-average walk and see parts of Tokyo that you don’t generally see stuck in a train or subway.
The distances between train stations are actually a lot shorter than they seem. Particularly when you’re underground you enter a sort of time warp where you have no idea how far you’ve gone, but then you get above ground, start walking, and in just a few minutes you hit the next station.
My Saturday walk started at the Watari-Um Museum of Contemporary Art, where French artist JR was having an exhibition.
This is such a cool space, I couldn’t believe I’d never been here before. It’s decidedly “grittier” than a lot of Tokyo’s more famous art galleries. The gift shop–really a massive library of art and design books–was amazing.
And there’s a lovely little underground cafe where you can sit above said bookshop and contemplate the art around you while having a snack and some tea.
The JR exhibit was very well-put together, and small enough that I didn’t feel overwhelmed at the end of it (something that I find happens a lot at larger galleries). As part of his “Inside / Out” project, a photo booth is set up and visitors are invited to take a self-portrait which is then printed out, poster-size. You then paste up the poster somewhere, take a picture of it, and send it to the project website.
Unfortunately in the land of puri-kura obsessions the line to take a picture was about an hour and a half long, so I skipped that part. But they gave me a little card and told me I could come back for free on a weekday if I wanted to.
Leaving the Watari-Um, it was a straight shot down Gaien-Nishi dori all the way to Hiroo, where I had to be in the evening. After I was a decent distance from the station the streets became eerily quiet and un-commercial, full of trees and luxury apartment complexes (I feel like you can always tell Tokyo’s wealthier neighborhoods by the amount of foliage on display). Every other shop seemed to be a wedding shop–either selling wedding dresses or actually performing weddings, and I occasionally had to navigate between small crowds of wedding guests.
There were plenty of tiny restaurants and cafes–not necessarily the kind you’d ever come across if you stuck near the station buildings. People were out walking their dogs on the street or in the nearby Aoyama Cemetery.
Things got momentarily crazy as I passed through Roppongi, but they quieted down again quickly near Hiroo, where I wandered into a little alley and found a vaguely Spanish-y cafe with great tapas.
The whole walk took about half an hour and reminded me that Tokyo really is best experienced outside of trains, convenient as they might be. Maybe next I’ll try walking from Sky Tree to Ueno.
writing•translation•scholarship on Japan (and a few other things)
tales of travel, research, and life
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