Tokyo's National Art Centre

The sun shone bright this morning when we left Kanazawa and took the shinkansen back to Tokyo. As usual, the 10:56 train left the station at 10:56 on the dot. Going back to Paris is going to be devastating after these two weeks.



We arrived at Tokyo Station two hours and change later, just in time to have a quick lunch amidst throngs of people going from one track to another. We have one night booked at the MyStays Haneda; I figured it'd be convenient to stay near the airport for tomorrow. Even though our flight is at noon, we can take our time with breakfast and not have to rush. The downside is that it takes about 50 min to get there from Tokyo Station; I wanted to check out Roppongi on our last afternoon here, but it would be a pain to get to Haneda, check in, drop our luggage, then get all the way back to Tokyo again.

The solution? A quick Internet search, which told me that Roppongi Hills has suitcase-sized coin lockers! Remember when train stations had lockers? In Japan, they still do! So we could go straight there, leave our luggage in lockers, then retrieve them when it was time to go to the hotel. I'm telling you guys, a Japanese SIM card is the best purchase you'll make all trip.

Roppongi is a business/shopping/sightseeing destination that according to my guidebook also has a seedy underbelly. I had been here very briefly in my last trip, when I got lost like three times on my way to Gonpachi, the Kill Bill restaurant (you can read about it in this very blog). This time I wanted to take a better look.



There are three renowned museums here: the National Art Centre, the Mori Museum, and the Suntory Museum. The latter specialises in Japanese crafts and antiquities, while the other two deal with modern art. The problem, if you can call it that, is that they have small to no permanent collections and focus instead on temporary exhibitions. Because of this, it was difficult for me to figure out online which one of the three to visit, so I chose the first one based on the architecture of the place! Unabashedly judging a book by its cover!

The National Art Centre is about a 10-15 min walk from Roppongi station, which is on a subway line, not on a JR line unfortunately. Although the distance is very short, it takes a while to navigate between all the skyscrapers and highways.



Soon enough, we turned a corner and immediately saw the impressive NAC building: you can't miss the wavy glass façade giving out to a grassy square with a few autumnal trees. On the outside there's a ticket booth, and I think tickets for all the exhibitions sell for around 1500 yen (€13), but we walked right past it and into the building to take a peek.



The outside catches the eye, but the interior of the National Art Centre is absolutely stunning. Through the gate you come into a big central lobby from which you can see the café, the shop, all the floors, and the outside through the glass. It manages to blend glass, steel, concrete and wood together seamlessly in a mix of curved and straight surfaces. Like in a Japanese garden, there isn't a single view of the place, but multiple different perspectives depending on where you stand. The building alone is definitely worth the visit!



We didn't have the energy or the time to visit the exhibits, but we walked along all the floors, peeking from the entrances. The current temporary exhibition centred on Dalí, funnily enough, but there were also many enormous rooms with paintings, Japanese crafts like ceramics, and even an entire gallery of Japanese calligraphy. We could see into one of the modern art exhibits and it was a huge hangar with row after row of floating walls, all chock-full of paintings. Properly visiting this place must easily take an entire morning!

The sun was setting by the time we were done, bathing the lobby in golden light and giving warmth to the clean, defined surfaces. We made our way back to Roppongi Hills, which is a vast micro-city built around the base of the big Mori Tower. It comprises offices, shops, restaurants, cafés and cinemas, and is a remarkable space to walk around if you've already hit all your must-sees in Tokyo (I say "your" must-sees because you and not your guidebook should be the one to decide whether something is unmissable or not!). I especially liked the view of the big spider on the outside square with the Tokyo Tower in the background. I think this might be the first time I've seen the tower in person -which is as tall as the Eiffel Tower, but way ugly in its construction-style white and red colours, I'm sorry to say.



We took a break in a café surrounded by a gaggle of really loud and obnoxious American valley girls, and then tried to make sense of the space around us. There are multiple malls in the complex; the one inside the actual Mori Tower was too upscale (think Gucci and Alexander McQueen) and a veritable maze of corridors and escalators; we saw way more of it trying to get out than during our actual visit! 

We looked around a little bit longer but we were tired already and it had gone dark, so we retrieved our luggage and took an extremely crowded train south to Haneda. We had to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with dozens of people most of the way, before people started to get off the train at all. Rush hour on a Friday!

Outside of tomorrow's very short journey to Haneda before our very long journey to Paris, this marks the end of our 2016 Japanese adventure. As I expected, I could stay another two weeks travelling the country: everything is just so easy and smooth in Japan as a traveller. The food is delicious, everything is open late, trains are constant and reliable to the minute, there are so many places of ageless beauty, everyone is unfailingly polite... At the same time, we've achieved everything we set out to do in this trip, and we've been lucky beyond our wildest dreams with the weather and the foliage all throuh the trip, so I'm going back very satisfied. It should go without saying that I want to come back again, discover new parts of the country (keep going south? Okinawa?)... Time will tell.

Until our next adventure!

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