day 09_Kyoto_'mystery' buildings

Wandering through the historical part of Kyoto, I came across a few buildings that I was sure were designed by a Japanese architect, Shin Takamatsu. His earlier work from the 1990s is especially known for futuristic and bold imagery, and knowing that several of these projects were actually located in Kyoto, I assumed the unique structures were his. The bizarre, machine-like buildings are strangely anthropomorphic, and even though they stood out from the surrounding buildings, they somehow fit in very well with all the electrical wiring, hanging lanterns, and neon lights. However, after doing some more research on Takamatsu, I don't think he designed any of these three buildings (and I was unable to find out who actually did), so it remains a mystery.

day 06_Kyoto_Ando: Museum of Fine Arts

This is the first structure I have encountered by Tadao Ando.  I must admit, I was never a huge fan of Ando, although I have always admired his use of concrete, which has become his signature. But after visiting the Museum of Fine Arts (also known as the Garden of Fine Arts) in Kyoto, I am starting to change my mind. There is so much more to the building than perfectly smooth and detailed concrete walls. The whole museum is a scenic procession of framed views, disruptive walls, and calculated openings.  The replicas of famous art works are really just backdrops, so subtly ‘exhibited’ that one might not even notice them. What takes over is the building itself. Or I should rather say, the space delineated by the walls, since there really is no building. It’s a perfectly calculated composition of planes, all exposed to the elements. From the street, the space just funnels in, between the angled walls, strangely sucking the visitors in and down along the ramps. Once fully descended, there is a strange sense of emptiness and removal from the ‘ordinary’ life of the street above. It’s calming and frightening at the same time.

Street 'facade'

Street 'facade'

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day 06_Kyoto_first impressions

The cultural heart of Japan – Kyoto – is a charmingly strange city. Very different from Tokyo in so many ways, with approximately 1.5 million people it resembles more of a village rather than the cultural capital of Japan. This is partially due to the fabric of the old city, which was not completely destroyed during WWII as it was in so many other Japanese cities. The inner city is laid out on an orthogonal grid, with narrow streets stretching out for miles. The buildings are typically two-three stories high, mostly residential houses, and tightly packed together. One can still see the traditional townhouses, called machiya, with typical tiled roofs, bamboo screens and timber construction, but the signs of modernization and capitalism are clearly visible on every corner.

Perhaps the most striking feature of Kyoto's streets are the infinite cable lines and electrical posts that stretch along the buildings, in many places creating a dense web above the streets.  It’s a strange feeling walking below this canopy of wires, intertwined together in massive knots, which obscure the view skyward.

day 05_Tokyo to Kyoto_'countryside'

After a few days in Tokyo, I decided to visit Kyoto and Osaka, hoping to get a better understanding of traditional Japanese culture and to see other Japanese cities in comparison to Tokyo. I will return to Tokyo for a second round afterward. The two and a half hour train ride from Tokyo to Kyoto was illuminating, revealing the sprawling development within this region. Low-rise houses were stretching far into the distance, with rice fields between and mountains in the distance at the far edge of the developments. But unlike the sprawl in US, the density of the developments was much greater and the houses were much closer to each other with very small yards (no large green lawns popping into the view).  From what I’ve heard and read, the north of the country is much less populated and developed, but this train ride felt like a journey through a never-ending Japanese village.