Monday, January 30, 2012

Weekend of art in Tokyo

On Saturday, there I was at the Peninsula Tokyo reading my favorite Financial Times (FT) Weekend supplement which had an advertisement for a course towards a Diploma in Asian Art from the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London. In a previous life (a.k.a. before I started a travel magazine and life was way simpler), I would have taken up without hesitation the idea of a short course on Asian arts in London.

But of course that's not possible now. But it did put me in the mood for a weekend of arts and culture -- and how very apt that I was ensconced in my favorite hotel in Tokyo and the next brochure I happened to pick up was the hotel's Peninsula Academy brochure, which lists all the interesting cultural experiences hotel guests can avail of if they would like special experiences during their stay.


I used to live in Tokyo so I'm quite blasé about hotels offering cultural experiences like an afternoon at the tea ceremony or a trip to the Kabuki. But the Peninsula Tokyo has quite a variety of interesting activities on offer including tours for the family and tours specifically for children.

If you're traveling with kids and you'd like to have some time off for yourself to get a shiatsu or just to have a romantic lunch with the hubby, for instance, you can just sign the kids up for the Peninsula's Toy Wonderland program and I can almost guarantee that you can happily go about your business and they'll never miss you.

That's the Peninsula Tokyo Toy Concierge
holding the Peninsula Tokyo teddy bears

A very friendly young lady from the concierge team -- officially called the Peninsula Tokyo's Toy Concierge -- will escort the children in the latest BMW 7-series limousine (equipped with apple juice and Peninsula Tokyo teddy bears) to Hakuhinkan in Ginza, which is Tokyo's oldest and largest traditional toy store. There, the kids will be followed around by the Toy Concierge and a Hakuhinkan staff member carrying a shopping basket, and together they'll pick out the toys for your children.

And how does everything get paid for, you might be asking. Well, the Peninsula Tokyo Toy Concierge will pay for the purchases and then it will all get added to your check-out bill later. Nothing's free in Tokyo, of all places, of course, but at least you get some quiet time to yourself and the kids get the time of their lives.


But that's another story. And today, I wanted to tell you about my experience signing up for the Art of Hospitality program of the Peninsula Academy. It lasts about three hours, and it all starts with an enthusiastic send-off by the hotel and a 20-minute ride in their signature green BMW limousine across town to the area of Daikanyama, where the gallery curator and his staff are waiting to greet you.

The gallery staff took us first to a traditional Japanese house owned by a big Shibuya landowner, that was built in 1919. One of the few houses of its kind in Tokyo that still remain today, it was designated an Important Cultural Property in 2004 by the Japanese government. The house only has one Western-style room and the other rooms are tatami mat-rooms, so it gives you a pretty good idea of how Japanese aristocrats once lived.


Then we walked back to the gallery next door, which has been around for 30 years and it's one of the most cutting-edge galleries in Japan. They deal mostly with modern artists, and they work closely with hotels, museums and local governments to create great exhibitions.

This weekend, in the main exhibition area, they had on exhibit the works of Akinori Matsumoto, an installation artist who has been creating simple and humorous works that make sounds and movements since the early 1980s. He uses bamboo a lot and he rotates or moves them like windup toys by using wind, water and electricity.

His works looked very simple but they were the kind of artworks that grow on you over time. In one small room, he'd installed all kinds of works on the floor, ceiling and walls so that the effect was an entire room of all sorts of contraptions singing and moving at various times that you felt you were inside a Swiss cuckoo clock.

It was nice and interesting, making special effects using movement, light and shadows; but I just couldn't imagine who would buy it.

"Who would buy something like this?" I finally managed to ask Kondo-san, the gallery curator. After all, the entire installation would take up the entire living area of an average Tokyo family's apartment.

"He has a big following," Kondo-san replied. "And you can buy just a portion of the installation. He can even tailor-make something for a specific area. Something like this (and here he gestured towards the entire room installation) was once installed in an old Japanese house, and it was a bespoke installation to suit that house."

I tried to imagine what I was seeing, but in an old Japanese house such as the one I just saw prior to coming to the gallery. That would be really amazing art indeed. I could now even imagine having at least one of the small installations in my foyer, for instance.

"How much does one of these cost?" I asked Kondo-san.

"About three or four thousand dollars. For each," he said. "But that includes the installation charge and all the electrical wirings needed." Each installation required electricity, after all.

That's when I started to try and count the installations in the room. There must have been about forty of them. Times three or four thousand dollars. Nope, I wasn't buying any art this weekend. But it certainly made for a very interesting and mind-blowing morning courtesy of the Peninsula Academy.

* * *

To commemorate the resilience of the Japanese people
one year after the Great Earthquake,
and to celebrate the beauty of Japanese culture.




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