Saturday, 6 October 2007

新宿 Shinjuku

This Saturday was the last complete day with Manu in Japan. Since we had all Sunday for packing
and getting ready for his departure, we decided to do something on our last day in Japan and went to 新宿. There we met up with Monika, who we had met in 京都 (Kyoto) and a friend of her from Australia. Also Lukas and Monika(2), two of my fellow students from Erlangen, which have meanwhiles also arrived in Japan.

Tokyo Metropolitan Office

After some trouble finding each other, we eventually met in front of the shinjuku metropolitan office, the highest building in Japan. This building serving as the government seat of the people being in charge of all cities in Tokyo, was built as a megalomania project in 1991. Since it consumed more than 157 billion yen (close to one billion euro) tax payers in Tokyo began grumbling about it. Thus the persons in charge decided to devote the top floors of both towers freely to public as observation platforms (展望台). In Japan that was enough to calm people down.

And it is still free today, so of course we went up all the 220 meters to the top floor (the towers having a total height of 243 meters) and watched in awe over the scenery of 新宿. It is like a never ending see of concrete with giants walking ashen meadows of buildings. Indeed since there is close to no nature left in Tokyo, the Travel Guide describes the view from here, as well as from other nice spots with:
From here you will have a magnificent view on incoming trains and the newly constructed mega x shopping mall.
Though feeling a bit like being in a cyberpunk novel, it gives me some creepy feelings.

ICC Open Space Museum

Afterwards we went to a museum, which was recommended to me by my parents, who went there on one of their trips to Tokyo. The goal of the museum is to "encourage the dialogue between technology and the arts", quoting their English guide. And indeed there is a lot to see, hear, feel and touch there. The coolest thing being the level of interactivity. Almost every "art project" is designed to be interacted with in one way or another.
For example there was a filed of little pins, which changed their environment according to where being touched. There was a room, which played with lights housing a couple of lamps on springs which changed their lights color according to their current angle. The walls were also painted in specific colors, that changed depending on the light being emitted from the lamps. So it was also a nice project in showing people how biased our perception of colors is. In another room there was a panel, which led you connect things in the room to a lever, which could then be used to turn them on and off. A vision of future interactive housing. Even the stairs connecting the two floors of the exhibition make sounds when you walk on them. They confuse you in thinking someone is walking behind you and other gimmicks. Above you were filmed climbing the stairs and can then watch yourself in a distorted time frame video somehow not quite matching reality. In yet another room there is a web-browser which surfs the net according to body limb movements you perform. However it displays the contents as raw data stream, making them unable to decode but giving you a feeling of actually surfing. Right at the beginning there was a sophisticated device allowing to communicate over the net through touch. Two bars which could be changed were presented as an illustration. The second object would mime the movements of the first one, offering strong force feedback when having your hands on it. Through it, e.g. blind depth people could be enabled to use the net to communicate with each other. But it holds a lot of other interesting options. Next to it was a big screen, which could read the data stored on your Suica or Passmo card. A card used for conveniently taking trains or shopping in konbinis (Japanese convenience stores) and some super markets. The screen would show your exact routes you have taken with your card and thicken lines you frequently take. For me for example the line from Shinjuku to Atsugi was really thick. Apparently Japanese people don't even think about what that means for their privacy and how much of it they are giving up for a little convenience. For me I plan to exchange my Suica card with other from now on or simply buying real tickets, when I am in no hurry.
Finally we went into a cinema like room, where movies where shown. However there were no seats and several "screens" instead of one. In fact you had to lie on the ground floor to be able to watch them. As soon as you did, you realized that the "screens" where actually a kind of glass container containing one level of water and one of smoke. So the images displayed were actually distorted twice, once by the smoke and second by the water. We watched three movies one being sequences of comforting patterns which made you feel relaxed and sleepy. The second the exact opposite using disturbing pictures (e.g. of war) and patterns with a disturbing sound background. In fact this part made you feel very uneasy. Third was a kind of grid on a map moving around and a lot of play with numbers. This part arose your interest and made you feel curious and excited. Actually I think this was the most interesting part of the museum, without lowering the value of the other projects.

So after all a really cool place, totally worth seeing and spending an afternoon. It is located in the Tokyo Opera tower in Shinjuku. You can walk there from Shinjuku station in approximately 20-30 minutes.

Tokyo Metropolitan Office (revisited)

On our way back the night crept in over Tokyo. So one of us had the idea of climbing the metropolitan office again to enjoy the now completely different night scenery of Tokyo. Since it was almost on the way back to the station everyone agreed and we went up again.
And indeed the sea of concrete has made way for a sea of lights, which give an even more impressive sight than the day view.

Adjusting his Zeiss eyes to compensate the light

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