となりのトトロ My neighbor Totoro
I had dinner with Mori-san to purposely talk about business in Japan. And after our gyoza dinner and beers, he immediately brought me to the arcade next door, as if that’s the normal thing to do after a business dinner. There, Mori-san insisted that I play this game that resembles DDR but instead of using your feet to dance, you use your fingers to tap on squares that light up with the selected tune. I did not know any of the obnoxious Japanese songs that played, but when the theme song of Totoro began to play as I tapped, I immediately became teary eyed. I haven’t heard this song since childhood. And all my childhood memories suddenly flushed in. Mori-san and I kept laughing, partially because my fingers did so much better on this tune than the other tunes. As these memories clashed with my current senses, it came to my full realization that I have finally truly fulfilled my childhood dream of living in Japan.
I wanted this for so damn long, and everyone neglected this dream and sarcastically told me good luck because they doubted me.
Although I do not smoke, it even became so heavenly to smell Japanese cigarettes, see neon lights flash uncontrollably, touch furry demented looking dolls, hear the sound of Japanese girls giggling, and gulp everything down with a fresh hot cup of matcha tea.
I am finally free from all those Asian-American household problems and architorture I had to fight throughout my childhood. Thank you Totoro, thank you Mori-san, and thank you Tokyo.>
leave the smell of shoes in carpet
damp and wading green, weeds
bloom over bare shins -
sensation harvested late, blunt blades
and sharpened wits
attack weak stems itching with growth
unfettered, rise above nature
to a level heavenly, gods in bare feet
stepping over death and concrete
MODDEST IS HOTTEST (hot/sweaty businesspeople edition)
In Tokyo, you truly ALWAYS have to look hot. The one SUNDAY I didn’t wear makeup / heels and checked if my friend was in a store, was the day that the store’s manager also announced on the intercom that I arrived the store and that each employee was to come and meet me personally.Well luckily, my apartment was right across the street. So within 7 minutes, I hurried back in, caked my face, pulled up my tights and skirt and stepped into some power heels to properly greet and bow down to each employee. (My closet is still primarily conservative and black, with some neutrals. So nothing has really gone to waste. Just my casual clothes are getting wrinkly.)
I’ve also realized how awkward it is for me to wear shorts or a sleeveless dress here. I’ve learned that legs/arms are not to show, or if the slightest bit does show, they better be some really damn sexy stick legs and arms (well toned with Japanese arm/leg foundation). I’ve already gotten some of the most awkward stares when I was jogging through Tokyo, as if I were running out naked or something. I checked with my supervisor the next day and he said shorts are fine, but laughs to do nothing less than that “like Americans.”
But I am most impressed by all the Japanese business men who wear full suits on every weekday no matter how damn hot and humid it is. When I see the same poor Japanese business man panting and slapping his face with his handkerchief in our crowded morning metro (sweat beads pouring down his face), I just want to hug him….. But then I also don’t want to hug him. So I just stand there, get elbowed in the face, and appreciate that I can wear a loose dress, tights, and heels. Even when I only wore my loose zara tunic, black tights, and heels, I was so nauseous/inflicted with pain that within 15 minutes, I had to be assisted out onto a bench by 2 heroic metro personnel. If I had just worn pants, I’m sure I would have definitely thrown up and fainted.
It sometimes sucks being a woman here because we are all expected to have similar outfits, faces, mannerisms, and a level of perfectionism that I’ve never seen before. But in general, I’m sure it’s still better than being a Japanese man internalizing all the pressure and pain underneath his full suit. especially in the summer and in the crowded AF morning metro.>
I’m still poor here in Tokyo. I live off of sushi and onigiri (which actually can get REALLY cheap) and free meals/drinks…. My daily routine: Wake up by around 630AM, get ready for work and eat discounted sushi or onigiri for breakfast, and walk 5 minutes to Futago Tamagawa station. (then tuck myself in between the armpits of businessmen as we embrace ourselves through the most crowded and popular train rides) I arrive the Ginza station within 50 minutes and walk to Itoya’s fuji building office by 845-850AM… work on the restaurant design on their Japanese iMac, Autocad, Illustrator, and Photoshop until someone invites me to eat lunch with them and resume my work until 6PM… (I consume at least 4 cans of coffee and tea every day). Sometimes, someone invites me for dinner/drinks at an izakaya and we’ll be chatting and laughing all night. If not, I’ll take the train back home and pick up whatever discounted sushi/bento sets back at my Futago Tamagawa station and eat at my tiny yet cozy apartment… then paint for 2 hours and sleep by about midnight or 1AM. On weekends, I spend time with friends and/or go to a random Tokyo train station and explore. But if I am sick (every weekend so far) if it’s raining too hard, and/or my budget is extremely tight, then I will paint for hours and hours and hours. Everything is humbling.
Not sure if I’m still going through a phase of seeing Japan mainly as beautiful Hokusai paintings… but I am thinking about living here permanently. Living here has been much more uncomfortable and painful than I had thought, but it’s a good kind of discomfort and pain that produces a lot of necessary self-discipline, patience, and etiquette…. I am still intrigued by how Japanese women can eat ramen and curry without using a single napkin (I am that ramen/curry eating slob and I miss the good American paper towel; there is so much to learn)… I am still weirded out to hear the digital sounds of waterfalls resonate from the toilets as we pee….. and I am constantly dazed by how I’m so well cared for / loved by so many Japanese coworkers….I call Ikeoka-san (the vice president of the general administration) “chichi” (meaning dad) and he laughs and calls me “moo-soo-meh” (daughter) since he always finds me troubled and patiently cares for me the way a father would. My full name has translated to “Riri-an Rin” and people generally call me “riri-an-san or “riri-san.”
My Japanese coworkers are bewildered by how I’m living by myself as a young female foreigner and don’t watch TV/use much internet… But I’d much rather use my free time to write a letter to an old friend, hangout and chat with my coworkers/friends with my awful Japanese, explore Tokyo on my own, get lost, and find a beautiful Japanese gem to draw and paint.
There are too many great people I respect and love here that I am specifically painting for, no matter how tired and poor I am or will get.>
45 min butt-to-butt metro rides with Japanese businessmen
Things I’ve learned in my first week in Tokyo:
- Being on time means being 20 minutes early.
- The process of introducing/giving omiyages can make or break you. Introduce yourself briefly, say the persons name, smile, BOW DOWN, give the gift with 2 hands while saying “このつまらない物ですが、どうぞ。” (This is a crappy/boring gift, but this is for you.)
- Good omiyage ideas: Sees candies, wine, original artwork you’ve made, etc. (sees candies is 4x more expensive here and is more prized)
- Humbly refuse any compliment given to you, and instead, compliment them.
- When receiving a business card, receive with TWO hands and say the person’s name with a smile. Keep their card in your card holder and remember their name.
- Japanese people LOVE offering drinks (dranks), especially if your glass is empty. So pace yourself.
- How to electronically order sushi at a kaiten/conveyer belt sushi bar.
- Japanese girls basically look the same: Porcelain skin, fake eyelashes. Usually brown hair. Almost always on their iPhones.I am one of the darkest and fattest. :(
- Saturday = combustible trash day. Tuesday = non combustible trash day. (I’ll have to get used to having trash in my apartment overnight.. for several nights…)
- Microwaves are also toasters and ovens.
- I sadly, won’t be cooking/baking much here in Japan. Yet I will be eating sushi everyday. everyday. sushi. everyday.
- Nujabes. every night. Thank you ex boyfriend.
Things I need to learn ASAP in Tokyo:
- How to use the Tokyo metro like a pro and NOT get lost like a total tourist
- To be okay with 45 min butt-to-butt metro rides with Japanese businessmen
- How to type and text in Kana
- Japanese design and business vocabulary
- Japanese counter systems
- How to convert metric systems QUICKLY
- How to get on my boss’s good side and leave good lasting impressions
- How to open a bank account and manage my budget here
- How to bake cookies in my oven… I mean, microwave
- How to work out without sweating buckets
- How to maintain my American and international friendships
- How to live in this tiny apartment by myself. and not become a Charlotte.
Architecture school: Perseverance, Beauty, and Intimacy
I’m packing away my architecture supplies and find a bundle of wooden dowels…and I reminisce to the sweet sound of chopping a 1/4” wooden dowel. This, and my other lost and founds tucked in my locker remind me of my three favorite words: Perseverance, Intimacy, and Beauty.
I smile at the shriveled band-aids. My friends who’ve persevered by my side to the very end. Our consecutive all nighters, the blood that slowly poured out of our cut fingers at 3AM, the rides on ambulances together to the ER.
And then I flashback to my ride to Urgent Care.
It is my fifth year, first semester. Half my face is somehow blowing up in hives and pus. and I cannot open my eyes. My right eye is burning shut. The nurses inject IV into me and the next day, they miraculously help me open my eye. and I look at myself in the mirror and tell myself to fight on. We laugh in joy and they help me heal. They are my new friends.
And now I find my Gamble House watercolor sketchbook and start to flip through these pages. I love these pages, not because of the colors, but because of the memories these pages recollect.
I am ill from all the all nighters, take a leave of absence, and am cut out from school for a year. But I’m blessed to keep my housing scholarship at the Gamble House. I decide to force myself to overcome my fear of watercoloring and teach myself how to cook. I enjoy my solitude in my favorite corners: by the lilies on the terrace and west lawn. And also the food I was able to cook in the rustic kitchen. The heavenly smell of warm butter sizzling on the 6” pan and the hundred soft crepes we stacked and forked into our mouths in between good conversation.
Intimacy is always beautiful. It is never broken, distant, nor rude. It is always solid, hopeful, and romantic.
My model building materials and sketchbooks are all packed away now. And I find my thesis paper, entitled: Beauty: The Evocative Being
Everyone I’ve been with is obsessed with visual details. With clean architectural models and minimalism. With precise structural drawings and correct calculations. With the elegance of a straight, black line. With a good pair of freshly ironed black pants. And black heels.Yet, I’ve discovered that beauty is not something aesthetically pleasing, but is something that is emotionally evocative. that is compelling. that is seductive. that evokes happiness, sadness, joy. and the sweet, good memories I shared with my ex boyfriend. or rough, bad struggles I shared with my ex boyfriend. Beauty is not the perfect square. Beauty is the soggy sandwich. (The kind my dad would pack into my backpack when mom was gone and neither of us could make a lunch.)
I’m thankful for architecture school. for the harsh architects who pushed me to persevere and leap from my comfort zone. For the friends who kissed me on the forehead after an exhausting sleep-less week and laughed with me over the pizza that I had burnt. The warm touch of Gustav Stickley’s cedar oak. The smell of freshly baked biscotti and the crunch of it in my mouth. It was all beautiful. I loved it all.>
Interview with Royal Gold Medallist Peter Zumthor
AJ exclusive: James Pallister spoke with Swiss starchitect Peter Zumthor on the eve of his RIBA Gold Medal lecture
This week Peter Zumthor was awarded the RIBA’s highest honour – the Royal Gold Medal, adding to the 69-year-old’s haul of plaudits, which includes the Pritzker Prize, The Praemium Imperiale and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture.
Many details that make your work so rich seem to come from very close observation of daily life. Do you think architects’ work would be better if they learnt to relax and play a little more?
I know exactly what you mean but it gives the wrong impression of how I work. I try to create emotional spaces that feel right for the purpose and the place. So I try to go into the use of the building very deeply and see what could be beautiful and comfortable.
Sometimes it’s hard to get there. If I can tell something is missing, or I’m not quite there yet, I must be honest with myself. I must tell the client: ‘Please be patient for another month or two, or a year. You will have the rewards for that if you are patient now’.
This is not easy sometimes. In judging what I am doing I have to be playful and serene and open and emotional because that – as we know – is how architecture is perceived, and not in abstract. I want to please people with my buildings unconsciously, emotionally. That’s all. I don’t want to lecture them. But it’s hard labour to get there.
Developing the sensibility for minutiae your work shows – how thin a rail should be, how it should feel – seems to be at odds with spending all hours working in a practice, as many architects must in the UK. Is it?
I customised my practice in the way I wanted to work. I think everybody can do that. You can always say ‘this is how I want to live, this is how I want to work’ and go from there.
You’ve alluded to a ‘slow architecture’. That goes against a lot of the demands of contemporary life and business: of doing more for less. How do you convince clients that it’s worth taking the extra time to develop something good?
By quality. One client once said, at a time when things were difficult: ‘Your best argument is the finished building.’ So I have to persevere to get there. Now I have more finished buildings it becomes easier for clients to trust. It was much more of a challenge for my clients to trust me 20 years ago.
If you were to talk to my clients, they would say: ‘We could see he was always sincere.’ They could see I was trying to do the best.
Even if you annoyed them?
In the UK there is a caricature of architects that they are all egomaniacs, waste money and have no idea of what ‘real people’ like. Do you recognise this or do you think it’s an irrelevance?
For our society it’s very relevant. I think that’s what this prize is about. There are still some people left who believe in architecture not as a money-making machine but in architecture as an art.
And yes, there are certain architects who are making fancy forms, but – big deal, so what! But architects who don’t know what people want, that’s a serious problem. It would hurt me if someone said ‘you did a thermal bath or an art museum which looks beautiful but cannot be used’. So architectural education should try to always focus on the ‘use’ – in the broadest sense of the word. Not function, use. I always think that there is something very noble to this. It is a noble thing to think how a building is used, because it has to do with how people’s lives are staged and how they are loved.
Do you revisit buildings to see how they work?
I don’t have to do this. I get this right away. I get the reactions straight away.
In the UK we have a housing shortage: Do you have any advice for architects doing housing projects?
I would like to do housing but I have never had a chance. I am trying to convince some people in Switzerland – a major insurance company – [I should] work for them. I told them if they had the opportunity I would be really interested in doing something for them – not high end. For normal people. Affordable housing. I will also do something in Holland, in Leiden.
Do people enjoy working for you?
When people work with me they are normally happy. I asked this young girl from Holland how she liked working as an intern in the practice and she said ‘It’s great! Now I believe in architecture again. I can see it still exists.’
In contrast to architecture school?
I have had the experience before that, when people go and study architecture at architecture school and they learn all these theories and the assistants are more clever than the professor and there’s all these talking heads, there is a gap between that and the real thing, which is the building. If architecture education does not focus on constructing, it becomes irrelevant for the building industry.
What would your advice be to a young architect starting now?
Select your school carefully. Select your professors carefully. Try and go to a place where architecture is taught as a whole thing – not only as a theory, but also as a way of living.
Don’t let any kind of gap come up between your architectural concept and living architecture.
What do you mean by ‘a gap’?
In architecture schools there is too much emphasis on the abstract: on the correct theory, idea or concept. Sometimes that stays very abstract and has nothing to do with real life.
I remember when I taught a semester in Harvard we assigned the students a house without a form. They could select a place they knew well and the research task was to represent a house with everything but drawings. This worked wonderfully.
Renzo Piano, who was teaching nearby, by chance walked in and said ‘Oh! You are working on beauty’. In a sense he was right. We were working on emotional spaces connected to the biography of each of these 12 students. I told them: ‘Don’t give me any abstract “because of this and because of that”. As soon as you start to talk about your feelings you are competent.’ And that’s a beautiful competence!
there is always an infinite distance between us