A Visit to Japan

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Japan with the studio I am currently taking at MIT. It was an amazing experience, far too short, at most times overwhelming, but definitely one of the most memorable things I have done in the last couple of years. Japan, or the little that I saw of it, is an incredible place. It is beautiful and hideous, peaceful and chaotic, enchanting and bizarre. It seems to be everything at once, a visual stimulus so great that it exhausts the eyes. 

I spent most of my time near several small villages in Northern Japan that were damaged by the earthquake and tsunami last year. Our studio is focusing on one of these villages, Minato, with the plan to design a responsible redevelopment of the area. But to be honest, our ideas are perhaps best left as just that. Or maybe there is some merit in them, but we would need more knowledge of the culture to be able to propose anything reasonable. In either case, the people of the region were not interested in our help, what they wanted was our tourism. It seems that what they cherish most is having people learn about their way of life, their culture, and their region.

One of the most impressive things about Japan is the amount of concrete around. It is everywhere; it covers up the mountains and marks the location of all of the homes. Concrete has invaded Japanese culture. It seems to pervade the landscape as it attempts to control it. And yet it doesn’t seem to fit with the culture or aesthetic of the place. Its cold, heaviness weighs on the ground and dots the landscape in grey.

On the way back from Minato, I had the chance to spend a day in Tokyo. I crisscrossed the city from one site to another, soaking up the architecture, eating as I walked, and losing myself in the vast subway stations. But perhaps the most memorable thing I did all day was when I went to the Fish Market. I arrived at a time when the market was in full swing, not yet full of visitors, but at peak work hours. The place was buzzing with people, fresh fish, and produce. It was amazing to see tuna being cut on a band saw, knives the length of full tables, and fishermen presenting their catch. I ended my visit to the market by eating a full plate of sushi for breakfast! It was, I have to say, a memorable morning.

I hope to be able to return, perhaps next time with more time and with Claire. I missed having her there to share my adventures. And I hope that all of you get a chance to go there at one point. It really is a remarkable place, full of wonder and beauty. But you must remember to have sushi for breakfast in Tokyo!

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