Imperial Hotel celebrates 120 years of history

Charles Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe and Babe Ruth, and in recent years U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and former Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev are among the many celebrities who have lodged at the Imperial Hotel, Japan’s first grand Western-style inn, which opened as a state guesthouse during the Meiji Era (1868-1912).

Looking back on its 120-year history, Tetsuya Kobayashi, its eighth president, says the core of the Imperial Hotel’s operations has always been serving important foreign guests.

"With that, the Imperial Hotel is a state guesthouse in our mind, and we have repeatedly used a screening process to determine the things that needed to change and those that didn’t, but needed protection," Kobayashi, 65, said in a recent interview with The Japan Times. "The accumulation of such selections is the present Imperial Hotel."

The Imperial Hotel began its existence next to the famed Rokumeikan dance hall in Tokyo’s Hibiya district on Nov. 3, 1890, amid rising demand for full-scale accommodations for foreign VIPs.

Read the rest of the story: Imperial Hotel maintains its pride, 120 years on.

Anime gets official guide on Tokyo’s Metropolitan Government’s Tourism Website

The Tokyo metropolitan government has an anime to highlight anime as a major sightseeing attraction and has filled it with great sightseeing spots.

The 11-minute video is subtitled in seven languages, including English and Chinese. It can be found on the capital’s English website under the Tourism, Culture and Sports section.

The subtitles are also available in French, Spanish, German, Italian and Korean. Tokyo spent a cool 49 million yen to create the anime entitled, "Welcome to Tokyo".

See the site: Welcome to Tokyo

Tokyo Sky Tree is gettting taller and taller

The Tokyo Sky Tree tower, under construction in central Tokyo and already the tallest building in Japan, topped the 400-meter mark Friday, reaching 408 meters in height in the afternoon, its operator said.

The new communications tower in Sumida Ward is scheduled to be 634 meters high, possibly next spring, after extending its antenna. It will be used mainly for terrestrial digital broadcasting.

Friday’s work was originally scheduled for Thursday but was postponed due to strong winds, according to tower operator Tobu Tower Sky Tree Co.

Read the rest of the story: Tokyo Sky Tree is tallest building.

Tokyo needs a genuine landmark

What does Tokyo have as a genuine landmark?

Well, there’s 52-year-old Tokyo Tower, but that’s not the draw it once was. Or there’s Tokyo Sky Tree, which, at 603 meters high, is set to be the world’s tallest broadcasting tower when it’s completed soon. But so what?

What Tokyo really needs is a historical monument symbolizing the essence of the Japanese spirit, culture and lifestyle, argues a Tokyo-based citizens’ group whose aim is to rebuild what it considers the ultimate symbol of Tokyo: the main tower of Edo Castle.

"Paris has the Palace of Versailles nearby, London has Buckingham Palace and Beijing has the Forbidden City," Shizuo Kigawa, one of the group’s executive members, told The Japan Times recently. "Tokyo has nothing that embodies Japan’s history. In this sense, Asakusa or Tokyo Tower don’t qualify."

Read the rest of the story: Will Edo Castle’s tower rise again?.

Japan Stationary Museum

It’s on the first floor of a building near Asakusabashi Subway Station. It’s easy to get to and find, and it’s free to enter. There’s a collection of writing and stationary objects that occupies the first floor. The museum is overseen by two senior custodians who are very friendly and kind. They expressed surpise when I walked in out of the blue. Actually, I was the only visitor they had had so far in a while I think.

Unfortunately, the tags for the items are written only in Japanese but don’t let that stop you from visiting. I had a walk through first, jotted down some questions and then approached the custodians for clarification and assistance. We managed somehow with my limited Japanese and their much better English.

There’s a Ming dynasty seal made of rock crystal on display. It’s so unusual. Usually, seals are fashioned out of some kind of metal. There’s also a miniature gold seal on display that caught my eye. The custodians informed me that it was a gift from the Emperor of China named Kobute to an unknown Emperor of Japan. It dates from the Yayoi period, 57 AD. It weighs 108 grams of pure gold (99.9%). It was found in Kyushu by a farmer. It must be the oldest seal in Japan.

There are replicas, copies, of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s pencils on display. There are two of them. One measures 11.4 cm and the other 7.2 cm in length.

There are many inkstones on display. There’s one very large inkstone that has a beautiful embroidered flora and fauna motif along its edge. It is of an unknown age and worth a small fortune.

There’s a brush on display that must be one of the biggest I’ve ever seen. The custodians told me that it was made with the tails of 50 horses. It weights 14 kg and is 170 cm tall. It was used for advertising. There’s also a very tall Shaffer pen on display as you walk into the museum. It dates from 1920 and is 160 cm tall. This too was used for advertising. There’s also a 1905 poster by A.W. Faber “Castell” on display. There’s another interesting sign on display. It’s American. It says, “School Tuck Shop” Est. 1901 Proprietors: The Misses Molesworth.

There were so many things that caught my eye. There’s a variety of adding machines (mechanical, battery, or electrical), writing instruments new and old, ink stones, abacuses, hibachi (warming the hands), writing boxes, and stationary products such as pencil cases. I loved the graphics on the The Paper Slates on display in the cabinet. There’s also an autopen on display.

Also, on display were three photographs. One dating from the Taisho period and the other two from the early Showa period showing the packaging of glue and its shipment.

I found the trip very interesting since many of the items on display in the collection I still currently use. I have two manual typewriters dating from the 40s and the other from 70s that I still currently use. There’s a desk top computer on display very similar to the one I still use. I still rely on a battery charged adding machine to tally up my totals. It just showed me how quickly objects have become obsolete nowadays.

I’d like to thank the two senior custodians Mr. Hidemi Tsuchida and Hisayoshi Horioka for their kindness and assistance. As I was leaving, they presented me with a Japan Stationary Museum pen. I was so touched by their thoughtfulness.

If you have an interest in early writing instruments, seals and the like, do check them out. You might be pleasantly surprised as I was.

Nearest Station: Asakusa-bashi
Address: 1-1-15 Yanagibashi, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Telephone: 03-3861-4905
Home Page: (In Japanese)
Business Hours: 1:00pm-4:00pm; Closed Sat, Sun & Holidays
Admission: FREE

Originally posted on ThingsAsian.

Forever 21 replaces Gucci store in Ginza

Move over Gucci. Here comes Forever 21. Trend-conscious Japan is outgrowing its longtime love affair with luxury brands and turning to a new passion: Fast fashion.

The star brand of American mall-style clothing — reputed for delivering runway looks at cheap prices — opened Thursday in Matsuzakaya department store in Tokyo’s upscale glitzy Ginza district.

In a move symbolic of the shift to bargain hunting in slowdown-struck Japan, Forever 21 is replacing what was a Gucci boutique, packing five floors with colorful racks of 350 yen ($4) tank tops and 1,580 yen ($17) frilly skirts.

“It’s a surprise to find good bargains in a department store,” said Fusako Suzuki, one of the first customers, clutching her purchase of eight items, including socks and summer tunics, adding up to a thrifty 10,000 yen ($100).

“I used to go to expensive brands when I was single but not any more, now that I’m married,” the 33-year-old pharmacist said of former favorites like Burberry.

Read the rest of the story: Japan going frugal with Forever 21 Ginza opening

Tokyo Sky Tree Tower to be the “It Spot” this Golden Week

With many people expected to flock to Tokyo Sky Tree in Sumida Ward, Tokyo, during the Golden Week holiday period, ward officials and police officers will be on alert around the structure. The Sky Tree became the highest structure in the country in late March, and since then the number of visitors to the area has sharply increased. According to the Tokyo Sky Tree Info Plaza, an information center near the tower, there had been more than 17,000 visitors in April as of Saturday.

Gundam-themed cafe opens in Akihabara

About 200 people lined up on Saturday for the early-morning opening of the first official “Gundam”-themed cafe, based on the popular sci-fi animation series. Female staff members dressed as characters from the series greeted customers to the cafe in Tokyo’s Akihabara district when its doors opened at 8.30 a.m on Saturday.

Accessible from the JR Station at the “Denkigai Exit” and just below the Yamanote line, Bandai Gundam Café is the ultimate stop for Gundam fans. The cafe is filled with Gundam memorabilia, TVs showing Gundam episodes, and even serves Gundam-shaped cookies, commonly called Taiyaki (waffle-like pastries often filled with red bean paste).

Check out the official website.

Tokyo Sky Tree now the tallest structure in Japan

Tokyo Sky Tree, a new tower under construction for terrestrial digital broadcasting, reached 338 meters Monday, surpassing Tokyo Tower and becoming the tallest structure in Japan. The new tower in Sumida Ward will be 634 meters tall when it is completed at the end of 2011. Tokyo Tower, a 333-meter radio and TV transmission tower in Minato Ward, was the country’s tallest structure for 52 years.