Day 27: From Asakusa to Kenzo Tange's Architecture

Trip Start Apr 08, 2010
Trip End May 06, 2010

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Flag of Japan  , Kanto,
Wednesday, May 5, 2010

For our last day of visit in Japan before leaving the next day, we decided to be heading once again to Tokyo.
We spent the morning in Asakusa, which is a neighborhood in the north-eastern part of the city.

First we wandered in Kappabashi-dori, the food supply street in Tokyo, where you can find many kitchenware shops. We also discovered there a very typical shop that you can not see anywhere else : plastic food manufacturer.

Fake food samples appear prevalently in the windows and display cases of food-serving establishments throughout Japan. They are usually made out of plastic. The plastic models are mostly handmade and carefully sculpted to look like the actual dishes. The models are custom-tailored to restaurants and even common items such as ramen will be modified to match each establishment's food. During the molding process, the fake ingredients are often chopped up and combined in a manner similar to actual cooking. The craftsmanship has been raised to an art form, and plastic food has been exhibited at museums !
Regular competitions are held in making fake food dishes out of plastic and other materials. The plastic food manufacturers fiercely guard their trade secrets as business is lucrative; the plastic food industry in Japan, by conservative estimates, has revenues of billions of yen per year. A single restaurant may order a complete menu of plastic items costing over a million yen. For a very interesting review on fake plastic food, follow the link...

Then we did a bit of shopping to buy souvenirs (yukata, papers, fabrics...) in the numerous commercial streets of Asakusa.

After that we walked to Jingo-ji temple, which was overcrowded. Yet the place was beautiful and both the gate and the pagoda were impressive.  The main building was being repaired, but we could enter it, and O. even made a prayer and threw coin, hoping the icelandic volcano would erupt again forcing us to stay longer in that beautiful country ;-)

The weather was beautiful for our last day in Tokyo, and we decided to grab take away food nearby the temple. We ate Okonomiyaki (literally "my favourite fried", a savoury pancake-like dish containing a variety of ingredients. The batter is made of flour, grated yam, water or dashi, eggs and shredded cabbage, and usually contains other ingredients such as green onion, cheese or meat. The batter and other ingredients are fried on both sides on either a pan using metal spatulas that are later used to slice the dish when it has finished cooking.
Cooked okonomiyaki is topped with ingredients that include otafuku/okonomiyaki sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce but thicker and sweeter), aonori (seaweed flakes), and pickled ginger (beni shoga).)

We also ate Takoyaki (fried octopus). It is a popular Japanese dumpling made of batter, diced or whole baby octopus, tempura scraps (tenkasu), pickled ginger, and green onion, topped with okonomiyaki sauce, ponzu (a citrus-based sauce), mayonnaise, aonori, and katsuobushi (fish shavings).
A cheap but de-li-cious lunch !

We then tooked the metro and walked to St Mary's Cathedral, which was designed by the famous japanese architect Kenzo Tange in 1964. It is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of TokyoThe cathedral stands in a "off the beaten tracks" place and you definitely have to know where you are going to if you want to find it !
The building is very simple in its shape, but trully majestic both from the outside and the inside.

The plan of the building is in the form of a cross, from which eight hyperbolic parabolas rise up. These open upwards to form a cross of light which continues vertically the length of the four facades. To this rhomboid volume other secondary constructions are added, including the baptistry and the baptismal font. Their rectangular volumes contrast with the symbolic character of the cathedral. The bell tower is 60 m in height and stands at a little distance from the main building of the cathedral. The exterior surfaces are clad in stainless steel, which gives them a special radiance in keeping with the religious character of the building.
A must-see !

Thrilled by this architecture masterpiece, we decided not to stop there and to be heading to Yoyogi National Gymnasium. We could see the buildings a few days earlier when wandering in Harajuku streets, but that was quick and we were far from it. And those buildings deserve a closer look !


Yoyogi National Gymnasium is an arena in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo, Japan, which is famous for its suspension roof design. It was designed by Kenzo Tange (again !) and built between 1961 and 1964 to house swimming and diving events in the 1964 Summer Olympics. The larger gymnasium holds 13,291 people, and the smaller one 3,202. It is now primarily used for ice hockey and basketball.When we arrived there, we faced a huge flow of highschool basketball players leaving the small gymnasium which was hosting a kind of championship. The good news was that the gymnasium being opened, we could enter it and enjoy the beauty of the place.

We then stayed for a while in the neighborhood, and had an ice cream while watching street dancers practicing in Yoyogi Park.

It was already 18:00 when we decided to go and have a look at the National Art Center Tokyo. It was supposed to be closed at that time, but we wanted to see the buillding, even from the outside. Finally, we could enter it, pretending we wanted to have dinner at Paul Bocuse restaurant, seating inside this amazing glass building.

Eventually, we came back to Tsukuba and had dinner at home, where we ate delicious sashimi for the last time in Japan !

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