If you happen to pass Tokyo’s famous Roppongi Hills this month you will have the chance to 66 different life sized Doraemon figures, all over the square in front of the main building. Doraemon as comic book and anime character is to Japan what the Mouse is to the USA. There is basically no way to over estimate the importance of the blue cat in at least two generations of Japanese and possibly more.
Why so many figures? Doraemon is a wonder cat and has access to all kinds of strange and wonderful stuff to help him and his friends in their daily lives. Often the premise of the stories is that the characters express a wish to avoid something or concern over something and Doraemon will produce the seemingly perfect object for the occasion, for example a piece of bread that gives the eater amazing math skills or a head mounted propeller that gives them the ability to fly. But of course, inevitably something goes disastrously wrong and Doreamon is forced to take his gift back from the kids. 66 of these things are represented in this installation of figures and it is pretty easy to see which of Doreamon’s toys are the most popular (hint: the Takecopter).
The figures aren’t kid proof however, and despite the staff doing their best to keep the figures safe the kids are all over them as soon as the staff turn their backs. The figures will be on display until August 24th.
Visting Roppongi the other day I couldn’t help but take a few photos of the city. The first photo is of the main Tokyo Midtown building during the day. Tokyo Midtown is the latest of the grand city centers in Roppongi, following soon after Roppongi Hills. I can remember, vaguely, what Roppongi was like before these developments when large areas were still being dismantled after many decades of use by the US military. In fact Roppongi has a long history of military. It has always been associated with the Samurai class and the name itself, Six Trees, can be traced back to 1660. It is said that it reflects the names of six noble families living in the area but a more likely explanation is the fact that there were six very large zelkova trees, the last three of which were burned down in the fire bombings of 1945. Roppongi was home to Japanese Imperial army from 1890 until 1945, when the US Military took over. The area was already popular with foreign embassies and this combined with the century of soldiers helped create the lively entertainment business that is now the main attraction of Roppongi. There is everything from the cleanest fine art galleries to the seediest night clubs, often to be found side by side. It is also one of the most international spirited areas of Japan so it pays to be a little more careful.
The second photo is of the famous Roppongi street crossing that used to be the heart of the area. These days Hills and Midtown act as new centers of Roppongi and things have quieted down considerably around the old street crossing. The start of many a classic nights out drinking hard in Roppongi used be take place in front the Cafe Almond on this street crossing: one of those legendary Tokyo meeting spots.
I also got a photo of the Roppongi Hills Christmas tree and the (almost) annual event Whiskey Hills where a major Japanese whiskey brewery serves (very very very very cheap) shots of their best whiskey for people to enjoy under the cold winter night sky. It is hard to resist stopping by if and your friends are in the area anyway.
Passing through Roppongi Hills the other night I took these photos of the Christmas Illuminations of the year. Popular as ever, there were plenty of other photographers there. Both the inside and the outside of the Rokuhiru (as us cool cats say) were decked out with lights and glimmer, not least one hall which had a number of massive disco balls, a simple but very effective decoration! In international blogs and message boards I often read negative reviews of Roppongi, which in my mind is a little bit unfair. Sure it might be one of the more “dangerous” areas of Japan, but still it is safer than any European city I have ever visited. Of course, it all depends on what kind of activities you partake in. Roppongi might not be on the top of any travel lists, but it is still interesting enough to spend a few hours in! In the old days before they redecorated Sensoji temple in Asakusa I often ended my day tours of Tokyo in Roppongi, feeling it was a lively and interesting place to finish of a long day of sightseeing. These days I feel that Asakusa can be a tastier option but I still recommend Roppongi to all my foreign friends visiting who have more than the normal short 2-3 days to spend in the capital. More photos of Roppongi to come!
If you are in Roppongi you’d better drop in to the Roppongi Hills A/D Gallery to see the Tetsuya Ono and Wataru Itou exhibition of excellent modern paper art. Tetsuya Ono was new for me but Wataru Itou is one of the most ambitious artists in the world, famous for his massive Castle on the Ocean. Here he exhibits many architectural works of paper. Ono’s “paper mecha” are absolutely stunning as well! Entrance free.