This is now my 4th visit to Tokyo as an adult, and I’m finally starting to get familiar with the lay of the land. Since I’ve chosen to not use phone data, I haven’t been able to rely on googlemaps to get around. So when I’ve gotten lost, I’ve had to consciously figure out where I am and sometimes even (gasp!) ask another human for directions! This has actually been a good thing, because it has forced me to be more aware of my surroundings. The one exception was that yesterday Take lent me his iPhone, and I was able to explore without worrying about going the wrong way. Much like New York and many other large cities, Tokyo has a complex subway system (though Tokyo is definitely one of the more clean and organized subway systems I’ve used.), a mixture of old streets and new streets that sometimes overlap in strange ways. It’s very easy to get turned around and lost if don’t have a direct view of the Tokyo Skytree or one of the big temples.
Tokyo seems to have a nice balance between old and new: The temples throughout the city offer a quiet respite from the busy streets and crowded subways, the shoes-off tradition is upheld in many establishments, and it is common to see women walking around in traditional kimonos on their way to special events. Meanwhile, in a newly built shopping mall in Ginza, where sleek elevators lead to 8 levels of fancy stores, there’s a fascinating exhibit where robots are combined with art. Giant robotic arms that are normally used for making machinery parts are programmed to dance gracefully to music and light. In one display, two robots holding LED flashlights play off each other, spinning and twisting in sync as music and projections play around them. In another, a robot holds a fan, and moves delicately in and out of strings of fake butterflies. Another great place is the Mori Art Museum, which is on the 54th floor of Mori Tower at Roppongi Hills. There’s an exhibit there now called The Universe and Art. If you are in Tokyo now, GO. It’s wonderful. There’s an immersive video-soundscape piece that takes you on a journey through a place that feels like outer space. But instead of there being planets, white birds travel at high speed, creating paths of light behind them and they twist and turn and criss-cross through the void. The whole experience takes place in a large room with grey walls and a gray floor, so that you lose all sense of real space. Leading up to this installation, there are several galleries with a variety of artifacts from Galileo’s instruments to photos of astronauts, and a lot of scientific stuff about the possibility of life on Mars. One video presentation that struck me was about a new invention called a Space Elevator. Basically the elevator would start on earth, and take people to a series of space stations farther and farther out. The first stop would be an observatory, the last one would be the launchpad for space ships to Mars. This is a real thing that could happen in our lifetime. Think about that! Top floor, please! And that’s not all. Some scientists think we could make Mars inhabitable by creating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which would warm the planet, melt the ice caps, create oceans and rivers….etc. Greenhouse gases you say? Now there’s something humans are good at!
It’s been a week since I’ve looked at American news or the Facebook feed. It’s too easy to get sucked in and worried about all the bad things that are happening and that might happen, so I’ve consciously avoided it since I’ve been here in Japan. I think it’s necessary for all of us, artists especially, to take breaks from the news and political drama so that we can stay connected to our own positive, creative energy. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be informed and educated, but there’s a lot we can do in our own lives to make the world better, starting by looking at our current surroundings, being nice to others, listening, traveling, connecting with friends and family, making art, and enjoying life on this earth as best we can. And hey, if things get really bad on this planet, maybe we can all hop on that Space Elevator and get on the next ship to Mars.
As for me, I have one day left in Tokyo before I head back to NY. It’s a beautiful day outside, and the city is calling to me.