Friday, November 5, 2010

Lights On for Christmas: London

Last night the Christmas lights along Oxford Street were switched on.
The sparkling season has come.     

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Scent of Autumn

I know the summer by the buzz of the cicadas, and I know the autumn by the flagrance of Sweet Osmantus, or Kinmokusei as we call it.  The small tree bears a lot of tiny orange flowers.  It is a common tree found in Tokyo and other parts of Japan.

When I notice the subtle scent, I realize the autumn is here.  I look around to find the flowers, but most of the times I am not able to locate them.  It is almost a mystery.  The flowers are very flagrant and I think the aroma travels further than I imagine.

I don't intend to go search for the flowers.  As long as the flagrance tells me the season, that is the way it should be.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Near-Space Private Journey, Coming Soon?

Imagine traveling in a private spaceship and seeing the blue of the earth.  It can be a reality as early as in 2013. 

To be precise it is a near-space ship called "Bloon" being developed by a Spanish company (   It soars by balloon through the ozone layer and to the edge of the atmosphere, and flies at the altitude of 36km (118K ft.)   You don't have to do sit-ups or weight lifting in order to be qualified to get on board.  As long as you are fit to fly on an airplane, you are fit for Bloon.  

What is also unique is the privacy.  The ship has a capacity of  four passengers plus two crew members,  but it can be divided into two compartments for couples.  According to the company, you can have dinner and drink, listen to music and relax during the smooth cruise. 

Sounds fantastic!  They are taking reservation for 2013 and beyond.  It is 110K euros for a 3-hour flight.  Is that an early-bird special?   

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Unconcerned But Not Indifferent

A full scope collection of the Man Ray's Trust is on display at the National Art Center in Tokyo.  Entitled "Man Ray:  Unconcerned But Not Indifferent,"  the exhibition presents more than 400 works in chronological order, starting from early 1900's in New York, then Paris, Los Angeles and back in New York again in 1950's to 70's . 

Through his photographs, paintings, drawings and  sculptures,  Man Ray's sophisticated sense of beauty impresses us even today.  "Unconcerned but in different" was a quote of Man Ray's own words.  He was not just a dadaist or sur-realist, but was an artist who did not stick to one form. 

The exhibition is until September 13, 2010.  Closed Tuesdays.  Don't forget to drop by the shop at the exit of the exhibition room.  You may find nice design items. 

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Tokyo Wedding: 3. Legal procedures

Unlike Las Vegas, a wedding ceremony in Japan does not have any legal ground.  You are not legally married until you register your marriage with a local government (if you are a resident in Japan), your embassy or in your home country.

If you are already married in other countries, you can have another wedding ceremony in Tokyo.  It can be a great way to reaffirm your marriage bonds for your anniversary.  With a touch of a local culture, it will be more unique and memorable.

Tokyo Wedding: 2. Religions and ceremonies

If you are not Christian but yearn for a Christian style wedding, Japan is the destination. 

Statistics say that more than 60% of Japanese couples conduct their ceremony in Christian style.  With only  1% of population being Christian, how can it be possible? 

I must say that Japanese people are flexible about religions.  With the nature of Shinto, a Japanese indigenous religion, being polytheistic, people respect different gods and religions and try to take in good parts from each.  It is quite a norm for a person to marry with a Christian wedding and die with a Buddhist funeral. 

If you are not a Christians, there are many commercial chapels that accepts anyone, while most authentic churches  require the couples to be real Christian or to take pre-wedding seminars. 

Other 15 to 20% choose a Shinto style ceremony.  You will find many Shinto shrines throughout the country.  A Shinto wedding ceremony originates in the beginning of the 20th century when the Prince of the time conducted his wedding in Shinto style for the first time. 

If you would like an oriental wedding style wearing a kimono and respect the local culture,  a Shinto ceremony in a shrine is your choice.  The ceremony is conducted in solemn and authentic Shinto style. Most shrines welcome non-Japanese couples, provided everything is conducted in Japanese and that you either understand the language or have an interpreter. 

Conveniently, major hotels in Japan offer packages that include a  ceremony and a following banquet in the hotel.  The hotels have in-house mimic chapels and shrines, so you don't have to move from one place for the ceremony to another for the banquet.  What's also convenient is that international hotels have multi-lingual staff. 

If you choose a Shinto ceremony, you don't have to give up wearing a white wedding dress.  Many brides enjoy changing dresses several times:  a kimono for the ceremony, a wedding dress at the beginning of the banquet and an evening dress later.  

It is (supposed to be) a once-in-a-lifetime event. Enjoy! 

Friday, July 30, 2010

Engagement Photo Tour

It is not really a norm in Japan to have engagement photos taken, but many people in other parts of the world even hire professional photographers for it.  It also makes a great reason to travel with your spouse-to-be:  A photo-shooting trip! 

For post-wedding honeymoon people look for romantic getaway.  Especially if you are exhausted after months of preparatory work and big banquets, just sitting back at a quiet resort will be a good treatment.

An engagement trip can be more adventurous.  A road trip will provide different shooting locations and your photo book will have a more professional taste.  I would suggest a itinerary with a combination of nature and vividly-colored cities. 

Engagement photos are better to look like snapshots of daily life, but a little thought will produce better results.  Bring several set of clothes with different tones.  Avoid loud patterns.  Makes sure your clothes get along with your partner's.  Don't try to wear only brand new clothes, and avoid wearing hats you never wear:  the resulting photos will not look like you.   

After all, having fun is the most important factor for happy photos.  Have a pleasant trip!   

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Honu's Life

On the Big Island of Hawaii, you often meet sea turtles or honu on many of the beaches.  After a few days of stay, you get somewhat accustomed but still feel delighted when you spot them.

When the tide is low, they sit still on the sand or rock and dry their shells.  I seem to find them more often on beaches where snorkeling is especially great.  Having enjoyed the sun, they slowly moves and swim back to the ocean as the tide gets higher.  They live by the clock of the nature.  No hurry. 

In Japan their is an old saying that a turtle lives for ten thousand years.  What's the secret of longevity?  Obviously they don't try to go faster than they have to.    

Friday, June 25, 2010

Tokyo Wedding: 1. A Chapel or a Shrine?

Destination wedding is always a popular choice.  We would picture a chapel on the beach,  but did you know that Tokyo is on the rise?

I have clients who are a  couple from Hong Kong and are going to get married this autumn in Tokyo.  Both of them are Hong Kong Chinese living in Hong Kong.  Why Tokyo? Simply for the love of the city!  That is what a destination wedding is all about:  making a lifetime vow in a place you have a passion for.

Rather than choosing a packaged hotel wedding, the couple preferred to select venues on their own.  So we went out together on a venue hunting throughout the city, and it was quite an interesting experience with a lot of tips for people thinking about a destination wedding in Japan.

In Japan people usually have a wedding ceremony in a Shinto (Japanese indigenous religion) shrine,  a church or a hotel chapel, regardless of your religion.  It is followed by a big dinner in a hotel banquet room or a restaurant.

Churches and shrines are holy places for people to pray and worship gods, right?  Yes, it is true, but many of them are making good business by offering packaged wedding ceremonies.  Especially with churches, we found two distinct categories:  authentic churches and commercial chapels.  Authentic churches are for Christians.  Commercial chapels are open to anyone, though they do have real priests and choir.   They give pretty-looking weddings, but they also have strict rules not for religious reasons but to maintain their  package price high.  For example, you cannot bring in your own wedding dress but have to rent one at their associated rental dress shop.  You cannot ask your make-up artist friend to do you a make-up on the special day but have to hire the chapel's designated artist who may have a completely different sense of colors from yours.  Some chapels allow you to bring your own dress, but usually for a surcharge.  I could understand a corkage fee for wine bottles because it at least requires the labor of opening them, but for a dress?  What have you done for me lately?

Other items that you are obliged to take are photographers and florists.  If you look at it from a different angle, however, the systematized package makes it much easier for you, especially if you live overseas and don't have anyone here to assit you through to the wedding.

Having seen commercial chapels and hotels, my clients came to realize they wanted to have more of  Japanese touch.  They come a long way to get married in Tokyo, and their guests, too, would expect to see something unique.  So we shifted our focus on shrines. 

Surprisingly, most Japanese shrines accept non-Japanese couples.  Among the shrines I called, only Meiji Jingu, the biggest shrine in Tokyo, said no.  Meiji Jingu enshrines the Emperor and Empress Meiji, and to be married there, either of the couple has to be a Japanese national.

You can have a wedding ceremony in a shrine, provided that everything is conducted in Japanese language and no translation is given.  Not just the ceremony itself, but signing the contract, making payment, discussing the  procedure etc. are all done in Japanese.  So unless you speak the language a good interpreter is indispensable. 

Like chapels, shrines offer packages (normally the wedding section is in an annex building and is technically run by a separate company.)   A good ceremony package would come with kimono costumes for the bride and groom, a wig for the bride and a set of photos.  You may want to have more number of photos and an upgrade of costumes for surcharge.  Here again you cannot bring your own costume, but who would bring wedding kimono from overseas?  So the shrine package seems easier to rationalize for foreigner couples.     

The couple decided to have a wedding ceremony in a small, time-honored and beautiful shrine in the center of  Tokyo, and a banquet at a French restaurant which is also a beautiful Western architecture.   A picturesque combination of East and West. 
(to be continued)

Friday, June 11, 2010

How about a Hokusai in your bedroom?

Last week I visited a renowned antique gallery in Nihonbashi when I had a chance to talk to the owner.  The gallery handles beautiful Chinese antique ceramics, but the owner is also known for holding the biggest collection of Hokusai Manga (cartoon).  Looking keenly at framed Hokusai's prints hung on the wall, I was impressed by the fine print which does not look over 100 years old.  The owner suggested that I visit an exhibition that he curated and loaned art works for.

So today I went to Komazawa Daigaku, where I usually never go.  It is three stations away from Shibuya. The original prints by Hokusai are displayed in a modern Japanese model home and in an annex gallery.  The prints in black and white, some tinted with light colors, retain ever-lasting modernity and fit perfectly in the chic contemporary bedroom. What is more surprising is that they are affordable.  Really.  A small (about the size of a postcard) print can be less expensive than an i-Phone.

Ancient great works astonish us with beauty that seems going ahead of the time.  I happened to have visited Lucie Rie's retrospective exhibition yesterday and felt the same way.  Though Lucie's works are not yet as old as Hokusai's, how could you stay so creative and come up with perfectly stream-lined, beautifully colored ceramics until you are over 80?  True beauty never ages.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Summer 2010: Art and Nature vs Art and Cities

In the summer of 2010 there are two art festivals to note in Japan.

The first one is Setouchi International Art Festival from July 19.  It will be held on the seven islands of the Setouchi Inland Sea and Takamatsu City (Kagawa Prefecture in the Shikoku region).  It is a collaboration projects of artists and local residents.  Renowned Japanese and international artist will participate to help revitalize the local communities of the islands that have rich heritage and beautiful natural environment.

The most well-known of the islands is Naoshima, which is known as an island of art.  Chichu Museum, a contemporary art museum displays permanent collections of works of Claude Monet, James Turrell and Walter de Maria.   The white building half-buried underground (that's where the name chichu "in the ground" comes from) was designed by a renowned architect Tadao Ando.  The island also has Benesse House, which is a combination of design hotel and another contemporary art museum.  The view of the ocean and art installations in the garden will make an inspiring stay. 

While the event in Setouchi shows art and nature,  the other one focuses more on art and cities. Aichi Triennale 2010 from August 21 will be held in Nagoya City Art Museum and other venues in Aichi Prefecture.  It has international contemporary exhibition, dance, music and theater performances. 

The two festivals will continue through to October 31.  It will be interesting to see the contrast.  

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A moment of serenity in Ginza

If you go shopping in Ginza, check out the exhibition in Maison Hermes "Le Forum" (on the 8th floor).  It is a solo exhibition by Morihiro Hosokawa entitled "Shisei-no-Sankyo"  (literally "a mountain house on the street".)  Ex-prime minister Hosokawa retired from politics when he was 60 and has been engaged in creative art activities such as ceramics and ink painting ever since.  His works on show include Japanese tea bowls and oil paintings, displayed in a simulated mountain tea house and garden, surrounded by the futuristic glass-cube walls of the building designed by Renzo Piano.

The Hosokawa family has a long distinguished history and their collection of art and historical materials is one of the biggest in Japan.  Art was familiar to Mr. Hosokawa since his childhood, thus his sense of art and beauty was naturally nurtured.

The exhibition is until July 19.  If you miss it, Le Forum does interesting exhibitions one after another, so come back and check.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Best Museums in Tokyo

Tokyo has many different museums and it is almost impossible to name THE best one.  Here are three museums that are surely among the best.

1. Nezu Museum (Aoyama)

It is like an oasis in the center of a shopping area. Although it is a private museum, it has an amazing collection which includes National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties. The collection consists mainly of Japanese art such as calligraphy, paintings, lacquer ware, textiles, and some archeological objects from China.

It was recently renovated and re-opened in October 2009. The new building was designed by an architect Kengo KUMA. The simple contemporary design of the building creates an interesting harmony with the Japanese landscape garden in the back, which is nice for a stroll on a sunny day.

2.  Tokyo National Museum (Ueno)

It is located at the edge of Ueno Park, which is one of the most crowded cherry blossom viewing spots in Tokyo. The museum consists of five buildings with different themes, and the main building (Honkan, Japanese Gallery) can be the most interesting for those who want to have an overview of the Japanese history. It displays Japanese art in the chronological order from pre-historic age to the mid-19th century. The items displayed include earthenware, ceramics, swords, armor, Buddhist statues, paintings etc.

Have you seen the thousand statues of Buddha in Sanjusangen-do in Kyoto? If not, just to let you know I saw at least three of them displayed in this museum.

3.   Mori Museum (Roppongi)

The museum is located on the 53rd floor of Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills commercial complex. It is an contemporary art museum without a permanent collection. Whether you like it as a museum may depend on what they exhibit when you go, but what is great about this museum is that an entrance to the observatory deck is included in the admission fee (JPY1,500). It is at 250 meters above the sea level and you can enjoy a 360-degree view of Tokyo. Tokyo Tower is right in front of you. It is good to visit on a clear day, but the night view is also magnificent.  

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Art market in Tokyo

Art Fair Tokyo started on Friday. More than 130 galleries are exhibiting in Tokyo International Forum, a glass building convention center in Yurakucho. It is the biggest art fair of the kind in Japan and most galleries are from Tokyo.

Despite the fact that it was a windy weekday afternoon, the site was full of people looking for art for them to enjoy. It was surprising because when I visit art galleries in Tokyo, I usually find very few visitors except myself. What I mean by "galleries" are spaces selling art works, and not museums that charge admission fees.  Such museums are always crowded, often over-crowded, but art galleries that are free to walk in are almost always quiet. It is an indication that in Japan people enjoy art more as thing to see than as thing to own.

However, look at the crowd. Art market does exist here. I heard that many good pieces had already been sold to invited guests on the pre-opening day, but I felt the art fair was more popularized than last year with new good contemporary artists appealing to new art collectors. The overall quality seemed to have gotten more competitive.

If you are to go art buying in Japan, taking time to visit galleries and evaluating art pieces in serene atmosphere would be another nice way.

(For arranging gallery-visits or any art-themed tours in Japan, please contact us through our website )

Friday, April 2, 2010

Cherries in bloom

In Tokyo cherry trees are in full bloom.  As I write this, the wind is blowing like a storm.  I hope it will save the flowers for some more days.

The moat side of the Imperial Palace is one of the most popular cherry blossom viewing spots.

The Japanese do love cherry blossoms.  Once in bloom, cherry flowers last only a week or so.  People often compare it to the transitory nature of life, but I am rather impressed by the patience of cherry trees.  When the flowers are gone, cherry trees look just like any other trees and we almost forget that they are cherries.  They stay silent until after the next winter and then suddenly come back in the spotlight.  They bloom in chorus and color a whole town or mountains in pink.  It seems to me that they are very much enjoying their moment of glory!  It must be worth waiting for a year. 

The "cherry blossom front" moves from the south up to the north.  It is like cherry blossoms are parading through Japan.  In the northernmost parts of Japan they bloom in early May, so you can still make it in time to enjoy the beautiful flowers.  Book your trip now! 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Upcoming Luxe Resort in Niseko, Japan

I just came back from my short stay in Capella Singapore on Sentosa Island.  It was my first stay at a Capella hotel and I was impressed by the quality; sophisticated and sincere service, impeccable cuisine in the Chinese restaurant, beautiful architecture, lush tropical green, to name a few. 

I was thrilled to know that the hotel chain was opening a new resort in Niseko, Hokkaido, the northernmost part of Japan.  Niseko is known for one of the best powder snows in the world, and have been a popular skiing destination for foreigners and Japanese alike.   Due summer 2012, Capella Niseko is expected to be one of a handful of 5-star-class resorts in Hokkaido.  I am sure it will attract more luxe travelers from around the world. 

I am not a skier, but am already looking forward to visiting the resort.