Adam Rice

My life and the world around me

Roppongi Hills

Tantalized by the view of Roppongi Hills the other day, Gwen and I resolved to go back and explore it a little. We got there bright and early, before most of the stores had opened. We didn’t cover the whole complex, but we did wander through much of the four-floor shopping mall (tenanted mostly by international luxury brands that you could find in any city where there’s wealth). The space had a random feeling, with nooks and crannies, catwalks and alcoves, breaking it up into weird little bits. A glass roof, also broken up into little bits, with an incredibly complex system of mechanized gondolas riding on tracks to carry window-washers across it. Among other things, Gwen’s office designs signage for places like this, and so we took an interest in the very elaborate bilingual infographics for the place, with information maps showing exploded isomorphic views of the four levels, wayfinding graphics embedded in the floors, etc.

A drum-shaped glass-covered tower lead up to an art museum and gift shop. We bypassed the museum and scoped out the gift shop, which sold an extensive line of relentlessly designy Roppongi Hills-branded items (one of which I actually wound up buying as a souvenir for a friend), a lot of art books, and various other designy accessories.

There’s a piazza that’s apparently used as a performance space next to the drum, and meticoulous garden and pond next to that; a mama duck with ducklings completed the picture. As beautiful as the garden is, it can’t help but have a very contrived feeling, snuggled in among all that obvious artifice. Japanese gardens have always been exercises in concealed artifice, though, so perhaps it’s not so objectionable.

Having had our fill of Roppongi Hills, we headed over to the 明治屋 grocery in Hiroooo, where we mostly ogled but wound up buying a couple of carrots to eat as a snack. Fat, perfectly conical carrots of a type never seen in the USA. We took these to the nearby 有栖川公園, a small oasis of green crisscrossed with little trails, clearings, benches, etc. A major hangout for ravens–sometimes you feel like you’re in a Hitchcock movie there. I don’t call ’em crows, even though everyone else does. “Crow” suggests a farcical trashpicking bird. These birds are bigger (they could make off with a poodle) and seem distinctly malevolent–and signs in the park warn to be on guard against them attacking.

After a nice stroll through this park, a sit-down and a snack, we decided to make our way over to Julia’s to say Hi. I knew exactly where her office was, and tried to take a shortcut to get there. Mistake. I was going down a street that went through Roppongi Hills: it had existed before, but apparently had been diverted, as it took us to a completely different neighborhood. When I found myself at a train station that I had never heard of, the intersection of two subway lines that hadn’t even existed when I lived in Tokyo, I felt very weirded out.

That wound up being an enjoyable enough diversion–we laughed at a store that sells nothing but canine apparel, and stopped in nifty bookshop. Made our way to Julia’s, visited for a bit, and headed on. That night we took Bryan and his wife out to dinner at one of Bryan’s favorite local joints, 笹吟, known for its extensive selection of sake and good food. I’ve never been much of a sake drinker, but the good stuff is, well, good. I sampled widely and enjoyed it.

1 Comment

  1. I have on occasion worked as a J-E translator myself. I used to work at home. Unfortunately, I live right across the street from Roppongi Hills, specifically the Roppongi Hills Arena. It has large outdoor speakers that cause severe noise pollution in nearby housing. Mori Building knows about the problem but they don’t care — they’re incredibly callous. The noise problem has driven some residents to move out of the building where I’m living. The number of people exposed to the Arena noise problem is probably about a hundred. This problem has been going on since the Arena opened in April-2003.

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