MangoVine
Adventures in East Asia

Shinjuku West - Hi-tech Toilets, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Jewelled Cameras

For our two weeks in Tokyo, we bought the Tokyo Lonely Planet City Guide. We usually get one of the Rough Guides, but the Lonely Planet edition was apparently voted the best guidebook by The Times and The Washington Post, so it tips us over.

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I quite liked the format in the Lonely Planet Guide to Tokyo, since as well as the ubiquitous highlights section and fold-out city maps, the neighbourhood breakdowns suggest walking tours you can take to cover several sights in an afternoon.

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So for our first full day in Tokyo, we decide to stay in Shinjuku - there is more than enough to see - and take Lonely Planet's East and West walking tours of the area.

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It's hot, but nowhere near as humid as Hong Kong can be and we start up near the West exit of Shinjuku station. Shinjuku station is the second largest in the world, but its not apparent to us upon first impressions.

Shinjuku Station

Rather than a large visible exterior, (which I expected), its size stems from the numerous and initally complex pedestrian walkways which service all the train lines that run through the area. We had to keep our eyes on the signs before we got used to the station, as a wrong turn meant walking the wrong direction unwittingly for a quarter of an hour or sometimes passing through a ticket barrier wanting to exit, but not realising we'd entered a transfer gate (we'd get out through proper exit barriers by passing our tickets for authorisation to melancholic ticket office guards who'd seen it all before).

The Shinjuku L Tower and hi-tech toilets

On our walking tour, the Shinjuku L Tower is our first stop, strangely enough to check out the hi-tech toilet bathroom showcase Toto Super Space on the twenty sixth floor. We go as its in the guide book, and since its first thing (in the afternoon) why not? Especially since we were "impressed" with our hotel toilet.

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Er, Toto is slick. A couple of floors of showrooms and a few Japanese locals attended by consultants. We felt out of place to say the least, but were typically humoured by the Japanese staff, and still enjoyed checking out the technologies on offer.

Our visit to the twenty sixth floor also heralded our first trip up to some height, so we took the time to enjoy the view...

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Van Gogh's Sunflowers at the Sompo Japan Museum of Art

Our next stop was the Sompo Japan Museum of Art. Excellent, since I wanted to check out some art, but I didn't realise that this museum was home to one of Van Gogh's Sunflowers!! The museum, on the forty second floor of the Sompo Building, paid five billion Japanese yen for it!

I entered the space, which mostly contains works by Japanese creators such as the figurative artist Togo Seiji and it currently seemed to be showing a special exhibition of work by Ryusei Kishida (who was influenced by artists such as Gogh). Since the space just takes up one floor, I'd almost covered the area and began to think the Sunflowers had been taken away for restoration. That's the downside of not reading Japanese - all the posters outside are advertising the exhibition for Ryusei Kishida with no mention of Van Gogh.

However, a partitioned off, darkened room just before the exit (and shop) proudly displays the Sunflowers, which is alot bigger than I thought, and its flanked on both sides by a Matisse and a Paul Cézanne piece.

Unlike my experience of viewing the tiny and crowded display of the Mona Lisa in the Paris Louvre, I was able to view these three paintings alone for several minutes before anyone else came into the room. There wasn't even a guard in sight of the works although they're kept behind plate glass keeping you a good few feet away. Together with the low lighting and whisper quiet ambiance, it was a sublime yet sombre experience to be in the same room as these major works of art history.

The Pentax Forum for hands-on cameras

Photos inside the museum were not allowed, but that's ok since our next stop was the Pentax Forum for some hands-on snapping. The Lonely Planet guide book did seem to make the forum sound bigger than it was however, since when we found it - in the Shinjuku Mitsui building - the space was no larger than a small store with only a few camera's there to try out. However, they did have couple of medium format camera's (one was the Pentax 67II) with excellent lenses that had great depths of fields. In typical Japanese fashion, a trio of SLRs on display were also customised with elements of decoration.

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In the Mitsui building, we also came across an Epson showcase gallery of some great shots of Japanese culture as well as a photo series of graffiti thrown up in derelict buildings.

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City views from the 51st floor of the Shinjuku Sumitomo Building

Our final stop was the Shinjuku Sumitomo Building, a triangular construction which boasted top views of Tokyo from the fifty first floor.

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With the Fruits Express café conveniently sited there, we stuck around for some mango juice, ice cream and a hot dog.

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Making our way back towards Shinjuku station on foot, we noticed that even with quite a few people and cars on the streets, there isn't much city noise in comparison to other places we've been. However, at road crossings (and incidently on some train platforms) we noticed that the sound to indicate the time to move consists of a pleasant sounding beep, not unlike a bird call. A sort of slow Roadrunner beep, rather than a bird chirp. Excellent attention to detail Japan!

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Next - East Shinjuku!

Check out more photos of our exploration around West Shinjuku


This entry posted in : Art. Attractions. Culture. Japan. Tourism.

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