Another day, another part of Tokyo to explore. This time the area of ‘six trees’ – Roppongi. Six very old and large zelkova trees were used to mark the area, but they have not survived all those years. Now, Roppongi is a busy district with lots of foreign embassies, big office towers, a wild night life (apparently) and lots of shopping malls.
On most days there is lots of traffic and many pedestrians everywhere – but that’s because there are so many things to explore. Let’s start with Roppongi Hills, which is one of the best examples of a city within the city.
Opened in 2003 in the heart of Tokyo’s Roppongi district, the building complex features offices, apartments, shops, restaurants, a hotel, a fine art museum, a great observation deck and much more. The office floors are home to leading companies from the IT and financial sectors – there is even a tv station inside the building complex.
At the center of Roppongi Hills stands the 238 meter Mori Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the city. It is named after the company that build it. While most of its 54 floors are occupied by office space, the first few floors have restaurants and shops and the top few floors house an observation deck and the Mori art museum that are open to the public.
The Mori Art Museum is open from 10am to 10pm (except on Tuesdays, where it already closes at 5pm). It shows various exhibitions and the ticket prices vary. The focus is on art that is contemporary and international, and some of the pieces will be interactive – there is lots of sound, video and often an activity for the visitor to get involved in the artwork (it could be selecting photographs to be scanned and posted on the museum’s website or I have also been throwing buttons at an art object as per instructions of the artist). So far I have seen shows that include artists from South East Asia, Japan and Korea, and they have been very entertaining.
Still the highlight for me has to be the Tokyo City View – the indoor viewing deck that allows you almost a 360 degrees view of Tokyo, from 250 meters above the sea level. I don’t understand why the city view also has to offer an exhibition (and so far the ones I have seen were all about Manga and Anime), as its main attraction is the beautiful view… but there are many teenagers and young adults that were queuing up to enter the Sailormoon or Momorio clover z (that’s the one I took the pictures below at) exhibition and gift store, and they ignored the views completely.
On days that the view is nice and the wind is not too strong, you can also access the Sky Deck – that’s the top of the skyscraper. There is a marked area that you can access (but stay away from the helipad and all the antennas) and from there the view is as beautiful, but it feels even more stunning, as you can breath in the fresh air and feel it on your face.
The Tokyo City View is open from 10am to 11pm everyday and the sky deck is open from 11am to 8pm when the weather permits. Admission ends 30-60 minutes before closing time, so get there early – but we never had to queue.
Another interesting complex in Roppongi is Tokyo Midtown, which opened in April 2007. This competitor to Roppongi Hills boasts Tokyo’s tallest tower, a Ritz-Carlton and yet more endless acres of shopping and eating.
Tokyo Midtown favours wood paneling and greenery over raw concrete and feels a little more human than the Roppongi Hills – and I always felt that it was a lot calmer and relaxing! There are some small restaurants in the basement, which offer great bento boxes for a quick lunch – and you can just take them outside and sit in the Hinokicho Park behind Tokyo Midtown (which is great for toddlers to roam about!)
Tokyo Midtown also houses the Suntory Museum of Art, one of the museums of the “Art Triangle Roppongi” (together with The National Art Centre and the Mori Art Museum). But so far I have not been able to visit it, as it was closed in between the exhibitions.
Next to Tokyo Midtown is 21_21 Design Sight, a design museum that opened in 2007. It was created by architect Tadao Ando and fashion designer Issey Miyake, and sits on the edge of the park area. Its unique split-level concrete structure includes a hand-sanded steel roof whose design was inspired by Issey Miyake’s “A Piece of Cloth” concept and long glass panels – so it feels very light and airy insight.
The museum is small – but it is fun to explore. When I first visited they had a show that concentrated on motion – so the exhibits moved. It was very interesting and different to what I had expected, there was lots of hands-on experience and interaction.
In our second visit, it was all about Zakka – a fashion and design phenomenon that is said to “refer to everything and anything that improves your home, life and appearance”. Various artists and designers were asked to select their favourite Zakka items and it was a very diverse and inspiring exhibition.