Tour in English! Art Deco at the Teien Museum

honkan_teienDid you know there’s a gem of Art Deco architecture right in the center of Tokyo? And that it’s open to the public and easily visited? This charming building is the Prince Asaka residence, built in 1933 for a member of the Imperial family, and now part of the  Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum. It’s near Shirokanedai and Meguro stations, in a beautiful, park-like setting.


On Sept. 4 at 3 pm, I’ll be giving a guided tour in English. To help publicize the event, which is free with regular museum admission (800 yen), I’m giving away four tickets that will get you in the museum free, too. (Update: All tickets have now been spoken for, and are on their way to V.C., T.G. and N.K.)

Look up! My previous gallery talk at the Teien Museum. The lights are by Lalique.

Look up! The lights are by Lalique. My previous gallery talk at the Teien Museum.

During the tour, which will last about an hour, I’ll guide visitors through the residence, sharing its fascinating history while pointing out important points of design and materials.

Salon, former Prince Asaka Residence

Salon, former Prince Asaka Residence

The current exhibition, on through Sept. 23,  features Art Deco furniture on loan from the collection of Hikonobu Ise. This is a very good chance to experience what the interior may have felt like when it was still a residence, while enjoying fabulous period furnishings from key artists in the Art Deco movement, including Austrian architect and designer Josef Hoffman (1870-1956) and French architect and furniture designer Pierre Chareau (1883-1950).

Chairs in mahogany and fabric by Pierre Chaureau, c. 1920; table by Edgar Brandt. Ise Foundation.

Chairs in mahogany and fabric by Pierre Chaureau, c. 1920; table by Edgar Brandt. Ise Foundation.

Detail of firescreen in wrought iron by Edgar Brandt, 1920. Ise Foundation.

Detail of firescreen in wrought iron by Edgar Brandt, 1920. Ise Foundation.

There are also works by Austrians Koloman Moser (1898-1962) and Josef Maria Olbrich (1867-1908)  and of course French glass artist René  Lalique (1860-1945), whose works are part of the permanent fittings of the Prince Asaka Residence.

Coffee set by Anne-Marie Fontaine, 1921. Sèvres porcelain.

I deeply covet this coffee set by Anne-Marie Fontaine, 1921. Sèvres porcelain.

After touring the residence, we’ll move on to the new wing of the museum, which is currently showing classic Art Deco posters collected by the late clothing designer Ruki Matsumoto. Believing that posters are “mirrors on their times,” Matsumoto amassed a collection of more than 20,000 before his death in 2012.

Two versions of a poster for furniture store Au Bucheron designed by A.M. Cassandres, 1925 and 1926

Posters designed for furniture store Au Bucheron by A.M. Cassandres, 1925 and 1926

Finally, there is a whole room of stupendous pieces in glass by René Lalique, all collected by Japanese egg magnate Seiichirō Omura and his son Yoshiro. Interestingly, there are also several works by Lalique’s daughter, Suzanne, who was an artist in her own right

Athletes, by Rene Lalique, c. 1912. Ohmura Art Museum, Akita, Japan

Athletes, by Lalique, c. 1912. Omura Art Museum, Akita, Japan

Figures in glass by Lalique. Omura Art Museum, Akita.

Figures in glass by Lalique. Omura Art Museum, Akita.

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Discover Another Kanagawa: Meet me in Manazuru, Oct. 3

Manazuru (真鶴) means

Manazuru (真鶴) means “true crane.” The peninsula got its name because it supposedly looks like a crane with its wings outspread. Maybe if you squint?

Yokohama. Check.  Hakone. Check. Kamakura. Check, check.  Well, folks, there’s a lot more to Kanagawa than its three most famous places.  Why not join me this fall and winter on a journey of discovery to lesser known but highly deserving destinations around the prefecture? First up: the beautiful Manazuru peninsula, on Saturday Oct. 3.

The green on the right is the O-Hayashi (

All that green at the right is the O-Hayashi (“Great Woods”), a forest that has remained undisturbed since the Edo period. That’s rare in Japan, where so many forests were burned for fuel during the war.

Manazuru is a very old town, traditionally centered on fishing and stone cutting. It is most famous for its Kibune Matsuri festival, held every July, and komatsu-ishi 小松石, a local stone used in constructing Edo Castle and many traditional Japanese gardens.  (This stone was also used for the exterior walls of the Western-style house in the Kyu-Furukawa Garden in Tokyo, not to mention the outdoor tables at Roku Roku sushi restaurant in the Hyatt in Roppongi. How’s that for trivia?)

A cool beauty in Roppongi. The stone tables are made of komatsu-ishi from Manazuru.

Cool beauty. These outdoor stone tables are made of komatsu-ishi from Manazuru.

Today, Manazuru is known in city-planning circles for its emphasis on preserving local beauty and nature. In particular, it is noted for the O-Hayashi お林(“Great Woods”), a forest on the end of the peninsula that has been undisturbed since the Edo Period.

We’ll start our tour of Manazuru with a ride on a sightseeing boat to get an overview of the peninsula from the water, passing rock quarries and commercial fishing sites with nets in the water. And we’ll get a great view of the O-Hayashi as well as the famous Mitsui Ishi (三ツ石) “Three Rocks”). 

The Mitsu-Ishi (

The Mitsu-Ishi (“Three Rocks”) shrine at the tip of the peninsula. It’s possible to tip-toe out to it at low tide.

Having a woods so close to the ocean creates a unique eco-system because nutrients from the leaves dropped by the tree are carried by rain into the ocean, providing food for a wide range of fish.  That’s why it’s also called the “uo-tsuki hayashi” 魚付き林 (“woods with fish”).

Wait, isn’t that the kanji for “fish?” Yup.The sign reads “uotsuki hoanrin” (protected forest with fish).

We’ll go into the woods in the company of the gūji 宮司 (priest) of Kibune Shrine 貴船神社  to an little branch shrine deep among the trees, where he’ll explain and demonstrate for us the Shinto rite that is performed there every year to protect the local fishermen and ensure good catches.

Called the

Locals call this the “Yama no jinja” 山の神社 — shall we translate that as “shrine on the mount?” The atmosphere is amazing.   Definitely a “power spot.”

We’ll have a chance to experience that bounty for ourselves, through a very leisurely barbecue lunch at an organic lemon farm overlooking the sea.

Lunch on the ocean-view terrace of an organic lemon farm.

The view from the terrace is spectacular. Let’s hope for a beautiful sunny fall day.

Local fish and seafood, handmade local sausages, organic veggies and steak.

A feast including local fish and seafood, handmade sausages, organic veggies and steak.

And we get to cook ourselves, barbecue style.

And we get to do the cooking ourselves. Our hosts will show us how.

Provided we can still move after lunch, we’ll visit the Nakagawa Kazumasa Museum at the edge of the O-Hayashi. Nakagawa was a painter who worked in oils and Western style, making Manazuru his base for over 50 years as he painted local views again and again. The museum building won some important prizes for its architect, Yanagisawa Takahiko 柳澤孝彦, who also designed Tokyo Opera City in Tokyo, and features local stone for its floors.

The floors are made of local komatsu-ishi stone.

The floors on the ground floor of the museum are made of local komatsu-ishi stone.

Nakagawa practiced the tea ceremony, so he asked for a tea room when they built the museum. It’s never, ever been done before, but we’ve received special permission to host a mini tea ceremony, demonstrated for us by local volunteers, in this beautiful tea room overlooking the lush green of the O-Hayashi.

That's Nakagawa's calligraphy at the front of the room.

Tearoom with a view. That’s Nakagawa’s calligraphy in the alcove.

Finally, we’ll visit the Endo Shell Museum at the tip of the cape, where we can learn about the ocean eco-system, and see a rare shell –only three known examples in the world! I’ve built in some free time after, in which you can stay longer in the shell museum, take a coffee at a seaside café, explore the woods or go to the rocky shore to walk and hunt for starfish and crabs. The view from the tip of the cape over the Sagami Bay towards Atami and Izu is really nice. If anyone wants to be run back to the station for an early departure (around 4 pm) the bus can make a round trip during this period. Otherwise, we will all return to the station around 5 pm, timed for  return trains.

The cost is 10,000 yen per person, including the boat ride, a donation to the shrine, lunch, both museum admissions and a charter bus to get us from place to place within Manazuru. I realize that sounds expensive for a day trip, but there’s a lot packed in there and the lunch is way better than average. And this is actually half what it would normally cost to do this tour, thanks to a government subsidy (your tax yen at work) to promote tourism in Kanagawa.

The group will be limited to 20 people and I do think this is going to fill up quickly. If you’re interested please sign up as soon as possible. I have to apologize in advance because the online reservation system  is not yet as user-friendly for foreigners.

You’ve got two options, neither of which go as smoothly as they should (we’ll be working on this, I promise). First,  Tabee Japan This page is kindly all in English, sort of, but is finicky. Start by clicking on the circle on Oct. 3.  Alternately, if you can read enough Japanese to sign up for things online, you can try Kanagawa Chikatabi. The text about the tour is in English but the instructions are in Japanese. When you enter your name, do it all in capital letters. I’ve heard that works better.

Don’t be afraid. If you have any trouble, please contact me through the contact page on this blog. I’ll do my best to help.

One final note: the next trip, to Oyama on Oct. 31 will be a knock-out. We’ll do an overnight trekking trip in Tanzawa in November (fall colors!) and a tour of sake breweries around Gotanda in February.

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Nihonshū Overpour: How to drink when your cup runneth over


If you’ve enjoyed Japanese sake in Japan, chances are you’ve been served at least once in the way shown above: poured until it overflows glass and spills into something strategically placed below. As I explained in my July 26 column in The Japan Times, this is called sosogi-koboshi 注ぎ溢し and presents various challenges. How do you pick up such a full glass? Are you supposed to drink the overflow? And if so, first or last?

Often the overflow goes into a wooden cup called a

The wooden cup is a “masu.”

Very often, the receptacle below is a wooden square called a masu 升, which makes things even harder. (It’s  not easy to wrap your lips around straight edges and pointy corners.) Actually, a masu the traditional measure for rice and other grains and is not meant to be drunk from.

Except, of course — and there are always exceptions — at certain types of celebrations when a barrel of sake is broken open . At these occasions, everyone is passed a new masu, usually branded with a mark for the company, organization or individuals being feted. You accept a portion of the sake in your masu, and then take the empty cup home as a souvenir.

The right time to drink from a

Really, the only “right time” to drink from these wooden cups  is when a new barrel of sake is broken open at a celebration.

Check out the column for a sake expert’s advice on what do do if you’re served this way, and an explanation about why not everyone likes such a generous pour.

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Dinosaurs take over Japan!

Spotted on the street in Katsuyama, Fukui Prefecture.

Spotted on the street in Katsuyama, Fukui Prefecture.

Is it just me, or does it seem like dinosaurs are everywhere this summer? True, I got sensitized by touring in May with a friend who runs the volunteer-powered fossil cleaning lab at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History; in her two weeks here we had an intensive dose of dinosaur, including a sneak preview of the totally redone dinosaur exhibit at the National Museum of Nature and Science (NMNS) in Tokyo, as well as an extensive tour of the very impressive Fukui Prefecture Dinosaur Museum. Still, there do seem to be a lot of dino-doings going on.

A new view of T. rex at the National Museum of Science and Nature in Ueno.

A new view of T. rex at the National Museum of Science and Nature in Ueno.

As I reported in my summer dinosaur round-up in The Japan Times on July 17, the NMNS has just reopened its main dinosaur exhibit after an extensive renovation. And just in time for summer vacation. A top attractions is the all-new Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton — in a novel and easier-to-see “sit” position. If you’ve got small kids, or grandkids, check out the new “Compass” space on the third floor of the Global Gallery. (The main dinosaur exhibit is in the B1 level of the same building.)

Playroom? Or museum exhibit? Both, at the National Museum of Nature and Science.

Playroom? Or museum exhibit? Both, at the National Museum of Nature and Science.

Summer is a good time to visit the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum in Katsuyama, if you can deal with the crowds. In August, visitors can observe new digs in progress at the nearby excavation sites.

Excavation sites are right by the museum; you take a quick bus ride to get there.

Excavation sites are right by the museum; you take a quick bus ride to get there.

Don’t miss the “dinosaur crossing” road signs along the way. If I remember correctly, there are six different signs.

“Watch out for dinosaurs, who may appear suddenly in the road.”

You can also try your own hand at fossil hunting, under the direct guidance of the museum’s paleontologists.  That’s not an opportunity you get every day.


Recently, the subways have been full of posters advertising the Mega Dinosaur 2015 exhibit at Makuhari in Chiba.

Through Aug. 30, the privately-sponsored Mega Dinosaur Exhibition at Makuhari Messe.

Through Aug. 30, the privately-sponsored Mega Dinosaur Exhibition at Makuhari Messe.

In Yokohama, there’s DinoWorld 2015. And the Yamanashi Prefectural Museum in Fuefuki, Yamanashi is doing a special exhibition on fossils and dinosaurs.

Through Aug. 31, at the Yamanashi Prefectural Museum.

Through Aug. 31 at the Yamanashi Prefectural Museum. The English tag line reads, “Did dinosaurs exist in Yamanashi?”

Even hotels are not safe from the invasion, as I learned in this report in The Japan Times. The very pricey Righa Royal Hotel has themed itself up with a “Dinosaur Festa” through Sept. 30.

Kids' dinosaur plate, for 1,600 yen. And a dino-rama of tiny figures in the lobby.

Kids’ dinosaur plate for 1,600 yen. And a dino-rama of tiny figures in the lobby.

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La Dolce Vita at Nikko: a beautiful blend of Western and Japanese architecture


Once upon a time, Lake Chuzenji in Tochigi Prefecture was a fashionable summer resort for foreign diplomats in Japan. In 1928, the Italian ambassador to Japan commissioned this lovely villa, which is now open to the public. I visited last month and have just published an article about it for Artscape Japan. Please check it out for history, loving detail and an explanation for how to get there — no easy feat.


The most striking feature is the ceiling done in ajiro-ori, a traditional wickerwork often seen in chashitsu (teahouses). Here it is in a kikkō (tortoise shell) pattern.


While there, I happened to stumble upon THE flower event of the season, the wild Japanese primrose (Primula japonica) in full, glorious bloom.


In Japanese, this flower is called kurinsō because it resembles a “kurin” 九輪, which is the top portion of a pagoda. This is a good reason to visit Nikko and Lake Chuzenji in mid-June. The other is that June is off season, fall being the peak tourist season. Avoid weekends, if at all possible, and take the train.



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Ticket Giveaway: Mask Exhibit at the Teien Museum

Masks of the world in a beautiful Art Deco residence, and a guided tour in English by yours truly: what’s not to like? To help publicize my gallery talk on Friday June 5 at 3 pm, I’m giving away a pair of tickets to Masks – Beauty of the Spirits at one of my favorite museums, the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum.


Enter by sending me your name, email address and mailing address via the contact form on this blog. And tell me whether you want one ticket or two.

The masks are exhibited in the former Prince Asaka Residence, a beauty of Art Deco architecture and design built in 1933, located in a lush park-like setting near Shirokanedai and Meguro stations. If you’ve never been there, now’s your chance.


Let’s limit to this to residents of Japan, and to be fair to others, please enter only if you’ve got a reasonable chance of using the tickets. Since my guided tour is on Friday June 5, and the exhibit closes on June 30, I’m going to make this one snappy: I’ll select the winner on Monday June 1 and mail them out the same day.

I do giveaways periodically so check back often, or register to be notified by email of updates (which don’t happen so often that you’ll be inundated with mail).

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Change trays | The Japan Times

Ever wonder why it is that in Japan your change always comes on a tray?

Change trays | The Japan Times.

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