TAKAOKA TOYAMA – Setting fire to my creativity, soul and tastebuds


Before journeying to Toyama, I had dinner with my friends at a small restaurant in Kyoto. As we sipped the night away with warm sake at a round table occupied with mostly foodies and chefs, I mentioned my upcoming travels. Without missing a beat, the food enthusiasts exclaimed, “Toyama! Great, great food! You’ll love it.”   My trip was going to take me to a city called Takaoka in Toyama Prefecture. Takaoka is located by the sea, and is blessed with nutrient-rich fresh water and scrumptious seafood. Since I went in November, the air was already chilly and the winds were howling from all directions. Winter was upon us. For locals, this meant preparing for “buri-okoshi”, nature’s signal that yellowtail fish are approaching. When winter air pressure patterns form and roaring thunder brings snow along with it, it is believed that yellowtail will come into the harbor. I didn’t even mind every time it rained during my two-day visit, imagining a family of yellowtail dancing and skipping through the waves into Toyama Bay.   My stay in Takaoka was curated by the Toyama West Tourism Promotion Association “Mizu to Takumi” (“Water and Artisans”) . This group curates high-end experiences for visitors which focus on spirituality, cuisine, and craftsmanship. Though I went to Takaoka with seafood on my mind, I found during my time there that fresh and delicious seafood is just one small piece to the puzzle of what makes the cuisine in Takaoka so divine. The cuisine in Takaoka, in turn, is just one small element of what makes Toyama such an interesting place to visit.   According to Mizu to Takumi, Toyama is the land of artisanal crafts and is home to the largest number of people employed in Japan’s manufacturing industry. I spent one night and two days in Takaoka, and though the days were jam-packed with things to see, experience, and eat… I felt that I only scratched the surface. The good thing is, Takaoka is so accessible from Kyoto that I’m already looking forward to exploring more of the area on my next trip. Until then, check out some of the highlights from Takaoka which set fire to my creativity, soul and tastebuds!

Hiroshi Sugimoto x Ryosoku-in Temple ‘Everyday is a stormy day’



With works like ‘Sea of Buddha’ and ‘Opticks’ artist Hiroshi Sugimoto’s  often explored the world of  religion, this year he collaborated with Ryosoku-in temple to again express spirituality and human connection through his artistic creations .   From November 1st-14th Ryosuku-in held a special exhibition “Hiroshi Sugimoto:  Every day is a stormy day” in Gion Kyoto.   Sugimoto’s photos of lightening and rain, explores the idea that we can not foresee the future but what’s important is to have inner peace, so one is not rocked by external factors. A message perfect for this day and age. The Fusuma collaboration is Sugimoto’s  first ever collaboration. Sugimoto’s  photos are printed on high quality washi paper, a technique according to Ryosoku-in’s deputy head priest Toryo Ito wasn’t possible 7 years ago, ‘It’s not that the technique wasn’t available, it’s that it wouldn’t have been up to Sugimoto’s  standards’. The washi paper was sent to a technician who works in a printing studio in New York, according to Toryo, he’s the only person in this world who’s capable to execute this complex printing technique- even then it took them many trial and errors to get it the the standard Sugimoto was satisfied with.   Sugimoto and Toryo who have a close relationship have been talking for many years about collaborating and it was because of the pandemic that they were able to make the exhibition into a realty, ‘Its very rare that Sugimoto  stays in Japan for such a long time, we were lucky to make this exhibition into a reality. Its all about fate and timing’, says Toryo.   The 2 weeks exhibition has come to a close but Toryo mentions there will be opportunities again next year where people will be able to view the extraordinary work. Toryo also hopes people who are living outside of Japan can visit to view the work in the near future.

AA IWAKURA- Hakimono creations and curation



Iwakura, Kyoto – a suburb surrounded by mountains perhaps twenty-five minutes by car outside of central Kyoto. A place not quite inconvenient, but not too convenient, either. Despite this, Iwakura has recently become an area frequented by young hip Kyotonians (a term coined by Gils Peterson) and out-of-towners who make the train or bus trip for one mission: to visit AA Sekizuka, a gallery and workshop headed by hakimono footwear craftsman Shinji Sekizuka. (You can find out more about Shinji here!)   Shinji, who designs and sells his own hakimono creations, wanted to build a gallery attached to his work space so that people would be more motivated to stop by. “You know, it’s a little intimidating for customers to visit the hakimonoworkshop just to look at my footwear. I wanted to give them variety, some other reasons to visit.”  His work space is divided into two sides, the glass room where you can watch Shinji create the hakimono by hand and the open space where you can see, touch, or order a custom-made pair.   Attached to the workshop is the gallery, where he sells everything from apparel and photography to shoes and interior pieces. Shinji didn’t want to call the gallery a “store”, since he selects and curates the products personally with various artists and designers, and wanted the space to help showcase their work. The gallery usually has ten different exhibitions throughout the year.   In order to realize his design, Shinji worked directly with the architect to create AA Sekizuka. Having a big, comfortable space was Shinji’s priority, which is why he decided to open his gallery/workshop in Iwakura.  Out of the city, his focus is sharper… and he can concentrate on bringing his hakimono creations to life and finding them new homes with people who will appreciate them as a part of their everyday lives.   AA IWAKURA: https://hakimonosekizuka.com/collections/岩倉aa WORDS: Sara Aiko PHOTOS: KINGY  

The Tokyo EDITION, Toranomon – Spontaneity through discipline



The silhouette of Tokyo Tower was ever so slightly visible through the sheer white curtains. As I was escorted around the newly opened hotel The Tokyo EDITION, Toranomon, I naturally gravitated towards the floor-to-ceiling windows to get a better look. To locals it might be an everyday site, but to visitors like myself it’s a bit like a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Maybe that’s an overstatement, but it’s true that Tokyo Tower summons similar feelings of strength and awe. As I stood there 140m above the ground, practically eye-to-eye with the tower, I was instantly reminded that I’m in one of the biggest cities in the world: the concrete jungle, Tokyo.   Its surprisingly easy to forget where you are inside The Tokyo EDITION hotel, which feels more like a separate space of its own. There are plants, a whole 500+ jungle of them, creating an oasis-like atmosphere and bringing in some clean green oxygen. When I passed the bar, a female bartender with tattoos climbing up her arms switched seamlessly between English and Japanese as she communicated with her customers, a dapper Japanese gentlemen in a tweed jacket and two younger expats dressed to the nines.   While the public space is a fusion of modern oasis themes, the Director of Sales Wataru-san points out that they were also inspired by Buddhist temples, pointing my gaze up towards the woven wooden ceiling that serves as one example of the hotel’s more spiritual aspects. While many luxury hotels in Japan go for the Western glamour finish or opt for a very “wa” Japanese look, legendary hotelier Ian Schrager wanted his new property in Tokyo to be simple and elegant while not looking too traditional or similar to something the country has seen before. To bring his vision to life, he hired Kengo Kuma, a world-renowned architect who is famous for designing beautiful wooden structures around the world, including the national stadium for the Tokyo Olympics.   The result? The space is minimalist with a splash of flavour and fun here and there. The blue velvet seating in the Blue Room restaurant? Fun. The hotel’s signature faux fur rug draping on the lobby couch? Sexy. The glass bottles filled with lime green liquid lining the bar counter? Sexy and fun. However, just like zen and meditative disciplines such as tea ceremony, this seeming-spontaneity comes from a strong foundation and sense of control. “These rugs draped on the couch… the Edition team overseas directed us on how to place them accordingly. They would even tell us things like ‘please move it 10cm to right,’” Wataru-san tells me.   The hotel contains 206 rooms, 15 of them with terraces. My room was minimalist but boasted a spacious terrace that let me take in a gorgeous view of the city when I rolled out the hotel’s yoga mat. The crisp temperature of early March was piercing my skin, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from enjoying a terrace larger than some Japanese university students’ apartments. An endless-seeming view of the Tokyo skyline can also be enjoyed from the hotel’s new restaurant, The Jade Room and Garden Terrace, coming this spring.   Before I left, I was escorted out for a sneak peek of the garden terrace by the hotel staff. As I looked around the empty space, once again coming eye-to-eye with Tokyo Tower, I imagined people gathering there, sitting at the tables, chatting and hanging out… people from all walks of life, both local and overseas. Suddenly, the minimal and refined designs all made sense. Only once the city, the people, and the space come together is the hotel complete. That is the true message of The Tokyo EDITION, Toranomon.   Words: Sara Aiko Photos: Sara Aiko   The Tokyo EDITION, Toranomon- Tokyo (editionhotels.com)