On top of the worlds

View of Tokyo and Tokyo Tower
View of Tokyo and Tokyo Tower

Any big city needs its fair share of big buildings. Particularly in the last decade, there seems to be some kind of giant erection competition. Even quaint London with its protected views and famously low-rise skyscapes has caught the bug, erecting The Shard, a 308m permanently unfinished structure (since when was modelling a really large building after a piece of a broken glass a good idea? And hands up if every time you look at it, you wish they’d ‘finish’ the top?)

The wonderful Tokyo has, of course, like many Asian cities, taken the high-rise approach from much earlier on. From its opening in 1958, the 333m Eiffel Tower knock-off known as Tokyo Tower eclipses its inspiration by a whole 9m – take that, France! It held the record for the tallest structure in Japan, until the 634m Skytree, erected in 2011, which made it the second tallest structure in the world at that time, after the Burj Khalifa (which is definitely not worth visiting).

Tokyo is a sprawling monster that is definitely worth seeing from a height. If you’re after a free view, I highly recommend the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings in Shinjuku, where you can gawp at the never-ending cityscape from 202m up.

I had a business meeting on the 51st floor of Roppongi Hills Mori Tower in Roppongi, a wealthy area renowned as the foreigner and expat playground in Tokyo. Here you can shoot up to the Sky Deck for 500yen and have an amazing view.

Yet the day was not to pan out exactly I expected. On top of this tower, I encountered several different worlds…

World 1: High-class city living

Our business meeting was in a fantastic restaurant/café with jawdropping views.

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It also involved really fancy cake. Cake that looked so pretty that it almost looked fake.

All I can think about is how I want to feed this to L from Death Note *sniff* Let me just take an anime geek moment...
All I can think about is how I want to feed this to L from Death Note *sniff* Let me just take an anime geek moment…
Bavarian 'bee sting' cake
Bavarian ‘bee sting’ cake

World 2: Creepy ‘cute’ dolls

A full-fledged horror movie set had been installed. There is currently a dolls exhibit, which included:

Heroine junkies
TB victims
Lily Cole
Lily Cole
Fetish Barbie
Fetish Barbie
A 'Japanese' Barbie that I actually bought age 14 and, by coincidence, found just before I flew to Japan 
A ‘Japanese’ Barbie that I actually bought age 14 and, by coincidence, found just before I flew to Japan
A 'South African' Barbie. Yes? 
A ‘South African’ Barbie. Yes?
£500+ doll - I innocently asked the attendant if she'd had this as a child. I didn't realise I was holding a small fortune.
£500+ doll – I innocently asked the attendant if she’d had this as a child. I didn’t realise I was holding a small fortune.

World 3: ‘Lee Mingwei and His Relations: The Art of Participation – Seeing, Conversing, Gift-Giving, Writing, Dining and Getting Connected to the World’

This is a fantastic art exhibition in the Mori Art Museum and it’s on until Sunday, January 4th, 2015 so don’t miss it! Lee Mingwei is a Taipei-born artist, living in New York, who is concerned with participation. As the description reads, ‘A number of Lee’s works will come to completion through the participation of you, the audience. Participate in various works and explore with us in the meaning of “connections.”‘

It’s an art exhibition that brings together things and people from all around the world. Before you dismiss all of this as too ‘arty’ and ‘experiential’, consider the cultural implications of Through Masters’ Eyes. Following an interest in copying and imitation, Lee approached several artists in Taiwan and outside of Asia to reproduce, in their own style, a piece by the early Qing dynasty painter Shitao. As you might expect, there was a clear divide between Asian and Western approaches.

The original by Shitao
The original by Shitao

The above is the original and the below are examples of the copies. Can you guess which are from Asian and which are from Western painters?

Some of the other projects are…

The Mending Project – bring  a garment that needs fixing and chat with the ‘mender’ as they fix it. It then comes part of the exhibition – connected by the threads along the wall.

The Mending Project
The Mending Project

The Dining Project – Lee has a meal with a stranger selected randomly by ballot. It’s an attempt to create a ‘strangers on a train’ scenario, where one feels one can be more open with a stranger than with people one knows.

The Sleeping Project – like the dining project, Lee spends the night in the museum with someone randomly selected by the ballot.

Make a connection? Spend the night in the museum with the artist and see where the conversation takes you.
Make a connection? Spend the night in the museum with the artist and see where the conversation takes you.

The Moving Garden – this is something that my friend Luke and I took part in. We each took a flower on the condition that we 1) took a different route home and 2) gave the flower to a stranger on the way back. We walked back to the hotel from Roppongi and were able to give our flowers away almost immediately. I approached a hipster dude sitting on the wall who seemed rather nonplussed about being handed a flower and told in bad Japanese – “This flower is a gift. The garden goes from the museum to the city.” He was obviously so hipster that this just wasn’t hip enough.

Pick a flower if you dare
Pick a flower if you dare

Fabric of Memory – people donate objects that have a special memory attached to them. Each item is carefully stored in a beautiful wooden box with the story attached to the lid. I unwrapped a kimono that had belonged to someone’s grandmother and had gone through several different forms, finally becoming a winter jacket. Every scrap of the original material was still used.

What and whose memory might you unwrap?
What and whose memory might you unwrap?

The Letter Writing Project – write a letter of apology, forgiveness or gratitude. Leave it open if you’d like people to read it. I’ll let you know if my letter gets there…

Guernica in Sand – a work in three parts. Guernica (a picture of destruction) is created in sand, save for a tiny proportion. Then the public will be invite to walk across it whilst Lee finishes the tiny portion. Then all the sand will be swept into the middle. Process of creation and destruction complete.

Guernica in sand
Guernica in sand

The Living Room – this room features a host, who brings items that have special meaning to them and gives what essentially is a ‘show and tell’ session to spark discussion. We were lucky enough to be there when Lee himself was hosting, and we were able to see a dictionary that belonged to his grandmother, among other items. We also got transported back to Cambridge…


Who knew so many worlds could be in one big tower? We hope to host one of the Living Room sessions so watch this space!

Author: Phoebe Amoroso

Phoebe Amoroso is a Tokyo-based reporter, multimedia journalist and storyteller. Hailing from the UK, she moved to Japan in 2014 and has since been shouting about the country to all who will listen. She divides her time between covering breaking news and producing feature stories for TV; writing about everything from business and tech to food and travel; and guiding hungry visitors who want to sample the best of Japanese cuisine. When not working and/or eating, she can often be found running up a mountain or cycling by the sea.

4 thoughts on “On top of the worlds”

  1. what exactly do you have to study there again except for the language (how is your japanese by now btw) ? hey pheebz, how can I create different categories/pages on a blog? eg how you have food and travel in different sections with sub categories?

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