Luigi's Courier Trip to Japan
Background of trip to Japan
Artwork loaned by The Art Institute of Chicago sometimes requires a courier to go with the
shipment; the courier supervises the packing and unpacking of the material as well as the actual
shipping procedures. The need for a courier is determined by a number of factors, including the
value of the shipment and the fragility of the work. The couriers must be Registrars, Curators, or
Specialists (at The Art Institute, "Specialist" is a job classification usually indicating "art
handling" but not "curatorial" responsibilities); special training is also required to learn some of
the ins and outs of packing, shipping, customs, etc. In December of 1995, most of the regular
couriers were off returning Monet paintings from the recent big exhibit. The Asian Art
Department had a need for three couriers to bring art objects from Japan to The Art Institute
between December 6 - 20. As this was going to require couriers to be away from home just
before Christmas and including the first days of Hanukkah, many people were not able to do this.
The Asian Department's Specialist, Craig McBride, was able to go for an extended period (no
children) and was to return a painting to Japan as well as bring objects back to The Art Institute;
they had one other person who could make the trip, Christine Starkman, but she had never been
a courier before and needed "on-the-job" training in Japan. (Christine had studied in Japan for a
year so she had a working knowledge of the language and customs.) And there I was, U.S.
passport ready, a "Specialist" in "works of art on paper", and experienced as a courier to and
from foreign countries; and as I was going away for Christmas, I didn't have to stay home and
cook/clean/etc. Gee, too bad! Craig McBride gave me a 30 minute quick course in Japanese
prints, especially those I would be traveling with.
Friday, December 8, 1995
I blew my wad and took a taxi to O'Hare International Terminal. This was the first time that I had
left from the new Terminal 5. It was deserted except for the people who were gathering for the
noon flight on Japanese Airline to Tokyo. (There are several other flights to Tokyo at about the
same time, but as they are US airlines they probably leave from their regular spaces in the
domestic terminal buildings.) Christine Starkman and I waited for the boarding call in the
Executive/First Class Lounge; there was only one other woman there. We boarded the plane
shortly before noon and were offered a choice of champagne or a mysterious yellow/green juice
which I later found out was a special JL (Japanese Air Line) kiwi fruit drink. I had a window seat
right behind Christine. We took off at 12:20; I had nice view of the old German cemetery next to
the FedEx building. The plane itself was a 747 carrying passengers and, in containers beneath the
passenger seating area, cargo (a "combi" flight). At the back of each of the several passenger
seating areas were electronic digital clocks giving the date and time in Chicago and Tokyo; this is
particularly important on flights such as this when the crossing of the international date line makes
the flight there take 28 hours but you get back to Chicago before you leave Tokyo.
After pre-lunch drinks, we had a choice of an American or Japanese type meal. (The menu was
in Japanese and English.) I chose the Japanese meal, to the obvious approval of the stewardesses.
It had various courses, including soup, fish, shushi with eggs or eel or fish, mysterious
vegetables, rice, and fruit. The Laboure - Roi Chablis '93 went very well with it.
Although it had been cloudy in Chicago, the weather cleared a couple of hours later over Canada.
I think I was able to identify Great Slave Lake (with change of course supervised by the Yellow
Knife control center), the ice-covered Mackenzie River headed north, and hours of the lower
Yukon winding its way to the Bering Sea. (The movie being shown at this point was "Apollo 13"
and it seemed that the Earth from 33,000 feet was the right thing to see out of the window,
especially with the sun partly below the horizon.
Saturday, December 9, 1995
Flight time to Tokyo was 12 hours, 4 minutes. Customs was no problem, and we quickly found
the place to buy tickets for the limousine bus going to our hotel. [2900 Yen, or approx.
US$29.00] The limousine pick-up system is very well organized and we were on our bus at 4:30.
Unfortunately the Saturday afternoon traffic was horrible and it took over 4 hours to reach our
hotel, the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza Metropolitan, instead of the usual two hours. We checked
in and found that both of our rooms were on the 18th floor; mine was on the east side
overlooking city lights and beautiful dawns, and Christine's was on the west side, with occasional
views of the mountains, smog permitting. I enjoyed some of my bourbon with water and some
peanuts while unpacking and went to bed about 10:30 Tokyo time.
Sunday, December 10, 1995
Our breakfast tickets could be used at either the 25th floor fancy restaurant or at the first floor
"European" type restaurant called the Iris. Sunday morning I tried the 25th floor. There was
quite a long line waiting to get in, but the space was lovely with splendid views both east and
west (mountains!) and a big buffet layout with scrambled and poached eggs, bacon-sausage-ham
trays, platters of various fresh fruits, rolls and breads, salad, and juices. I didn't notice "Japanese"
breakfast foods other than the salad. I had a lovely perfectly poached egg, hard roll, fruit, juice
and coffee. There seemed to be a lot of children present; I had the feeling that this was some sort
of special group trip to visit Tokyo and to learn how to use European eating tools ... forks are
easy but knives at not.
After breakfast I walked around the hotel block, then around various adjacent blocks, visited the
new Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space, and located the Tobu Museum of Art which has been
showing the Sharaku Japanese prints and drawings we have come to collect. This Sunday was to
be the final day of the exhibit and about 15 or 20 people were already lined up at 9:30 am,
waiting for the gallery to open. Shades of Monet!
Christine and I met about 10:45 and started on our adventures. Our hotel was right across the
street from the large building complex which includes the Tobu department store, the
Metropolitan Plaza Building with its shops and office tower, the Ikebukuro Station for trains and
subways, and, on the other side of the train tracks, the Seibu department store. (Talk about a
handy location!) One buys train and subway tickets from machines; the trick for us non-Japanese
reading people is to figure out on the big map over the fare-card machines how much the fare will
be. Sometimes there are charts in European letters, listing the stations alphabetically with the
correct fare listed ... Ah, so!
We took the Yamanote train to the Ueno stop  and then transferred to the Ginza subway
line, getting off at the Tawaramachi stop [another 160]. This is an area with lots of small shops,
restaurant supply shops, (the ones that make the "plastic-food" were closed on Sunday), shrine
supply shops, and various small shops selling pottery, fine china, glassware (mostly imported),
kitchen utensils, chopsticks by the small bale, and knives. Fun!
The Senso-Ji Temple is located in this district. A service was being held there; we quietly went in
and sat down. It looked like a family group kneeling up on the mat area with chanting robed
officials (priests? monks?) doing whatever they do. It was quite impressive. The original temple
at this site had been several hundred years old when it burned (1920s or 1930s) and had been
rebuilt in concrete and terra-cotta in 1939. The memorial park beside the temple was interesting
with its simple stone monuments. Christine said were not actual grave markers as the ashes are
kept someplace else.
We then continued on the Ginza subway line to the final stop at Asakusa. From the station we
went to the Red Gate and then up the flag bedecked pedestrian street lined with small shops
selling touristy stuff and food. The living quarters for the monks are at the far end of the street
near the Shrine (which I tend to call a temple).
The drill at temples and shrines seems to involve a series of cleansing or purification formalities
before entering. A little kiosk containing a bed of sand with burning incense sticks stuck into it is
an optional preliminary step; one is supposed to get a good face-full of the smoke to kill germs or
clean the lungs, or something. The other cleansing ritual is centered around a covered fountain;
long handled dippers are used to collect water from the flowing fountain to wash your hands and
mouth. Unlike the Islamic mosques, there is no requirement to wash your feet.
The big temple (Shrine!) is very impressive. Even more impressive is the multitude of ways the
local monks have figured out for getting people to hand over coins.
A side street was lined with food sellers. We both had huge paper plates of fried noodles -
Japanese noodles heated on a griddle with sauce, salad-type greens (probably cabbage), other
vegetables, and topped with pickled ginger. (500 Yen) Very tasty and filling! Other people
were eating grilled corn-on-the cob. We both purchased bags of a confection made of batter
cooked around bean paste (500 Yen); these are made in hinged double sided cast iron forms (7 to
a set of forms) cooked over gas-fired heating rods. Although this type of goody can be purchased
"factory made", these hand-crafted ones appear to be sought out as something special; the
construction of them is a ballet worth watching!. They are good, but many "westerners" get
upset because the bean paste looks like chocolate, and isn't; in Japan, if it looks like chocolate
cream assume it is bean paste unless it is a known chocolate candy from a special candy store such
Eventually we took the subway and train back to our hotel.
Monday, December 11, 1995
I decided to breakfast at the main floor restaurant where there was no waiting line. The standard
"American" breakfast which was included with our room included choice of juice; eggs of your
choice; choice of ham, sausage or bacon; rolls or toast; salad with a wedge of tomato and thin
slices of onion; and coffee or tea ... or the Continental breakfast with just the juice, rolls, and
coffee. This Monday morning I selected the Continental breakfast; as this seemed to upset the
staff because I was entitled to the full breakfast, I did not make this "mistake" again!
Christine and I turned up at the door to the Tobu Museum at 10:00 and were ushered in. A
number of folding tables had been set up and we were assigned to one of them. The Art
Institute's Sharaku prints were brought to us one by one and we each checked the print against
the set of condition reports we had brought with us from Chicago. The Tobu Museum people
also checked their reports which had color photocopies of each print. Nifty! (or Cool!, depending
you your generation.) Just as we were finishing the condition reports, Craig McBride arrived
from Chiba where he was checking out a different set of prints. Craig helped with the wrapping
and crating of our drawings. By noon the three Art Institute crates were all sealed and ready to
All of the couriers were treated to a farewell Japanese lunch. There were many courses, each
good, and each in its own special dish. During and after lunch there was a general exchange of
business cards and gifts from the Japanese host and sponsors (the sponsor was NHK, the public
television network). As the Art Institute's prints were all ready to go, we had a free
Christine, Craig, and I, with Sanna Saks Deutsch (the Registrar from the Honolulu Academy of
Arts) took the train to the Harajuku stop and visited the wooded park where the Meiji Shrine is.
Craig took my photo at the outside of the entrance gate, standing in front of barrels of sake
which have been given to the Shrine, usually by corporations which have had their names printed
on the barrels ... an interesting form of advertising. The sake is used during ceremonial occasions
when there are thousands of visitors. The next big celebration was to be on New Year's Eve
(December 31). 1996 will be the year of the Rat (rats are considered to be good
After visiting the Shrine and gardens, we also walked around the modern Yoyogi National
Stadium designed by Kenzo Tange.
Craig and Sanna Deutsch took the train to the main Tokyo Station to catch their train back to
Chiba; Christine and I went in the other direction to return to Ikebukuro. [160 Yen each
About 7:00 I went downstairs to the Iris restaurant for some supper. The European woman
ahead of me going into the restaurant invited me to join her at a table where we could speak
English. She was from South Africa, 350 km east of Johannesburg. Her family runs a tree farm
but they also have a spring which produces very pure water which they bottle and sell. She was in
Japan trying to get permission to sell the bottled water. After the Kobe earthquake, people had
to use bottled water, but some was contaminated and many people became ill. Now Japan
quarantines imported water for at least a week before it may be tested for purity. All this was
becoming a big problem for the African water lady and she was afraid she would have to go home
before the water was fully tested. [My supper was a dish of assorted cooked vegetables and small
sea creatures on a bed of Japanese noodles. Very tasty.]
Tuesday, December 12, 1995
Christine and I had breakfast together in the Iris restaurant where we saw Dr. Herbert Butz,
courier from the Museum for Ostasiatische Kunst in Berlin. He and the Dutch courier had gone
to a Kabuki performance the evening before and enjoyed it. They sat in the 4th level for one
1-hour act for 900 Yen, not the US$90.00 Sanna Deutsch thought it might cost (she must have
been in the best seats for all of the acts).
A good deal of the morning was spent on the phone arranging appointments. Eventually I went to
the Tobu Department Store and the stores in the adjacent and/or connected Metropolitan Plaza
Building and started my Christmas shopping. I found and purchased some gifts, but mostly tried
more or less systematically to go through the stores to see what they sold. As with U.S.
department stores, it is mostly women's clothes.
Eventually I got up to the 8th floor where there is an open courtyard filled with tables. To buy
food, you select items from the plastic models [there were adjacent signs telling what the item is
(in Japanese) and the cost (in Arabic numerals)]. There was a ticket machine next to the plastic
food display; you put your money in and push the buttons marked with the name and price of
what you want. The ticket(s) and change come out at the bottom ... just like the machines that
sell train and subway tickets! You then take your ticket to the order counter. I got a huge bowl
of noodle soup - in a green and white china bowl 8-1/2" in diameter and 3-1/2" high. The noodles
are cooked to order for each portion, and added to the bowl of broth; then meat (probably
pork), bean sprouts, sliced baby cucumbers, corn, and what looked like watercress but was
probably radish sprouts, was added. 680 Yen and rather wonderful! Sitting out in the sunshine,
protected from the wind, was delightful! During lunch some very large military helicopters flew
overhead. This was rather strange for Tokyo, but that evening the television news (CNN) told
about Fidel Castro arriving in Tokyo; I suspect the helicopters had something to do with security
The 11th, 12th, and 13th floors of the Tobu store are just restaurants ... dozens of them. More
restaurants are on the 14th and 15 floors, but I didn't go all the way up. Actually, there are 46
restaurants, not counting the open air courtyard where I had lunch. Show windows outside each
restaurant contained the plastic models of the various dishes sold by that particular restaurant,
along with a written description (in Japanese) and the price. The more traditional restaurants
listed the prices in the traditional way which I have not yet learned to read. Thousands of beady
little eyes staring at me from every display! I could spend several weeks eating my way up
through the building. I didn't discover until later that the store section of the Metropolitan
Building had two floors of restaurants. So much food and so little time!
On my downward trip through the buildings, I went to a pottery exhibit showing mostly
remarkably ugly modern pots for sale for up to US $1,500.00; there was one glorious pot priced
at $ 2,500.00. I then wandered through an exhibit/sale of modern block prints and watercolors,
including a roomful of "paintings" of young Japanese girls with large eyes which really should
have been painted on black velvet.
I also discovered a whole department devoted to traditional clothing. I didn't see the price on the
big fancy kimono (if you have to ask, you can't afford it) but the obis started at $100.00, most
were $800.00 and up. The special slippers seemed to start at $330.00.
By the time I got back to my hotel room I was ready for a nice cup of "English" tea ... my first
purchase of the day. Japanese tea is not my thing. I took a pre-dinner stroll and had a
non-adventurous meal: fish-stock vegetable soup, veal (I think) with a tasty green sauce with
rice, and a salad similar the to type served at breakfast.
Wednesday, December 13, 1995
Christine and I met for breakfast and then we went on our various ways. My morning adventure
walk was around the neighborhood. The establishments featuring scantily clad girls were not
open yet, but a casino filled with what looked like slot machines (I was later told that they were
pachinko machines) was going full tilt. The basement food hall of one of the department stores
opening off the big Ikebukuro Station was truly amazing ... everything from vegetables to meat.
Near the entrances closest to the station were counters filled with fancy desserts and gift items to
buy and take as presents when visiting. Expensive!, and this wasn't even the department for
really fancy foods (located upstairs).
Lunch was a Japanese version of a sandwich with three unidentifiable, but tasty, ingredients. How
about egg salad, mystery meat, and tuna sandwich? Weird!
At 1:30 I had a rendezvous at the entrance to the Tobu Museum with Takashi Sumi from the
Cultural Affairs Department of the Tokyo Shimbun (newspaper, the sponsor of the exhibit to
which The Art Institute is lending four Hilbershiemer drawings). We went on the Marunouchi
subway line to the Otemachi stop (I think the next stop was the main Tokyo Station) and from
there by taxi to the new museum of Contemporary Art. (I think it was a $15 to $18 taxi ride;
there are closer subway stations but a 15 minute walk is still required). The museum is located in
a park in the Koto-ku district. The building was designed by TAK Associated Architects (Design
Principal: Takahiko Yabigusawa in co-operation with Kidaburo Kawakami), It is quite an
exciting building with excellent galleries and support facilities. Yosuke Oga, the young curator of
the exhibit "Archaeology of the Future City", met us in the open office area and then gave me a
tour of most of the museum. The were just deinstalling a temporary exhibit sponsored by a
different newspaper, so I met a courier for photographs from New York (he was born in
Chicago) and Valerie Fletcher, Curator of Sculpture at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington
(she said that she would get their pieces back to Washington before the government closes down
The galleries have very adjustable lighting, even the top floor galleries with reflected natural light;
a splendid system of modular temporary partitions; nice wood floors. The loading dock is clean
enough for a kitchen - two big truck bays with high doors leading to the corridor connecting the
storage vault for temporary exhibit crates and the galleries. The vault, with a bank vault type of
combination lock on the doors, is climate controlled and has wood floors and wall paneling.
Very elegant for crate storage! (Cedar paneling is used for insect control.) There is also a small
library, a Museum Shop near the entrance where a large proportion of the books are in English.
There is a fantastic computer center where the collection can be viewed/studied via computers in
individual study rooms; there are also TVs where short films may be viewed. To die
The guards in the galleries all seem to be very prim, very young women. Their uniform consist of
a short beige skirt and a darker tan jacket. They sit on chairs, feet together, with a beige and tan
blanket folded to cover their laps and legs. When I saw the first guard, I thought she was cold,
but by the fourth I realized the blanket was a compromise between stylish short skirts and too
much exposed flesh.
Mr. Sumi took me by taxi back to the subway station ($20.00) where he went back to his office
near the Tokyo Station and I went in the other direction to Ikebukuro.
Sanna Deutsch, from Honolulu, and I met for a beer before dinner and then went to one of the
restaurant floors in the Metropolitan Plaza Building. We pointed to the plastic displays of what
we wanted. I had tempura (batter covered and fried sea creatures and vegetables) and a bowl of
soup with miscellaneous veggies and thick yummy noodles (which looked like night
Thursday, December 14, 1995
All the couriers arrived at the Tobu Museum at 9:30 am to meet with the Japanese customs
officials. The inspection took place in the Tobu Museum's special vault with a wood floor (and
the cedar paneled walls, of course). We, and all of the art handlers and customs people,
removed our shoes. A couple of small hand-carry portfolios were opened and inspected, and
then we were all dismissed.
Sanna Deutsch and I went on a trip of exploration through the Seibu Department store to find the
Sezon Museum of Art. (The Seibu Department store was also connected to the Ikebukuro
Station but on the other side of the railroad tracks.) We wandered through the food halls, then
up on express elevator to an upper floor (by mistake), then down escalators, through exhibits of
pottery and dreadful geisha-type oil paintings. By the time we found the museum it was time for
me to return to the hotel to put on "the suit" for my visit to the offices of Dr. Kisho
Dr. Kurokawa's office is really easy to get to: Yamanote train line to Shibya station, then transfer
to Ginza subway line to Aoyama-i-chrome station. (For future reference, the steps up Kita
(North) exit come up directly in front of the Aoyama Building.) Dr. Kurokawa's office is on the
11th floor. One entrance of the office seemed to be filled with contractors getting ready to bid a
job; I used the other entrance. I was welcomed by Ms. Satoko Hironaka. She has a BArch from
Penn State and is in the Overseas Operations Department of Kisho Kurokawa architect and
associates. Shortly after 2:00, Dr. Kurokawa returned and greeted me. We made polite chit-chat
and then he took me to a vacant store space on first floor where he stores some of his big models
(one is made of copper and sterling silver) and the long, narrow framed drawings similar to the
ones he gave to The Art Institute. I now know that these large white frames are important to
Dr. Kurokawa gave me two books of his work: the 1995 book published by Moniteur in Paris
(in French and English) and the 1995 book published by Images Publishing Group in Australia
(Number 10 in their Master Architect series) Both are handsome publications.
I returned to the hotel, dropped off the two big books, and went to the Sezon Museum, this
time directly, having figured out how to find the East Exit of the Ikebukuro Station without
wandering through even one department store. The exhibit was "From Manet to Gauguin",
organized by the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Mr. Oga at the Museum of Contemporary
Art had given me a ticket, which was a very generous gift. (The ticket price was 2000 Yen;
Sanna Deutsch said that it had been so expensive in London that she had not seen it there, but
that the price in Tokyo didn't seem so terrible in relation to other prices.) This was a very nice
exhibit of Impressionist paintings rarely seen by us; most were from private collections in Europe
or from a couple of foundations in Zurich. There were three nice paintings by Caillebotte, a
bunch by Sissley, and ten by Monet, including a splendid "Flood". A really interesting and well
At 7:00 pm Christine, Sanna, and I met the couriers from Germany, Brussels and the
Netherlands and went out for a shoes-off Japanese dinner in one of the restaurants on an upper
floor of the store complex across the street. The three guys had a
soup-noodle-meat-vegetables-"things" dish (in Japan some of us don't know what we are eating ...
and some of us might rather NOT know what we are eating). Sanna had something different, and
Christine and I opted for trays with selections of all sorts of things. I was considered to be very
adventurous. I'm not sure what was there - but it was all good. Even with beer or saki, each
dinner didn't cost more than 2000 Yen. It was an early night because most of us had to get up
early the next day.
Friday, December 15, 1995
Breakfast at 5:30 am! We all met at the ground floor restaurant. Christine struggled to get
everything in her small suitcases, but she did better than I was able to do several days later. At
6:00 Mr. Mishina from NHK escorted us to the Tobu Museum. The Nippon Express art handlers
wheeled the crates and boxes out of the vault and loaded them into one of two Nippon trucks
(two trucks were required because of different cargo/passenger areas). The four of us going to
the JAL terminal rode in a van which followed one of the art trucks through the early morning
rush hour traffic to Narita airport - less than a two hour drive. The Art Institute crate was put on
a standard wood pallet and then encased in plastic wrap. The crate and box being returned to
New York, supervised by Sondra Castile, went through a similar process We could not see our
charges "containerized" but a representative of Nippon Express would stay with the cases until
the pallet/container number was established and the location on the plane determined.
We were then taken to the JAL passenger check-in area where Christine, Sondra Castile, and
Peter from the Netherlands, checked in. Mr. Mishina scurried around with a cell phone and
eventually appeared with the exit papers and pallet numbers for everyone. We all said good-by
and the passengers went through passport control while the four people for NHK (including the
translator) and I returned to the van for the trip back to the Metropolitan Hotel.
Mr. Mashina invited me to join his group for lunch after they got Sanna Deutsch on her way back
to Honolulu. At 12:30 we met in the hotel lobby; we took a short walk down one of the local
streets, and then down a flight of stairs to a nice restaurant ["Spice 2"]. There was a large pool
of water (maybe 15' x 30') with counter seating along three sides and a deep water tank at the far
narrow end where live fish were kept. From time to time I saw one of the kitchen people dip a
net into the tank, net a fish, and take it into the open kitchen on the other side of the fish tank.
Booths for up to 6-8 people were along the long sides of the room. We sat in one of these
shoes-off booths. We all had the 1400 Yen special which was a tray containing a number of
dishes each holding a different type of food: soup with mussels; four types of raw fish (tuna, sea
bass, and who knows what, plus squid); tempura that included fish, unidentified creatures, lotus
root (crispy and good), and what they call pumpkin but we call winter squash; egg custard in a
cup; cooked fish; rice; cold sesame noodles with chopped scallions and horseradish; transparent
rice based noodles with small pieces of meat and green peas; and things I have forgotten. It was
all wonderful! I felt fed for the week.
I said good-by to all of the helpers; Mr. Mishina was to meet me at 6:00 am on Monday. I
returned to the hotel for a nap.
After my nap, I did some serious browsing the in food-halls/ supermarkets in the basements of
the Seibu store. Fish! Vegetables! Fruit! Meat! Cheese and other milk products seems to be only
in the specialty markets (most of the cheese is from France). Many of the prices are high by our
standards, but one must think in Yen.
At an upper floor of the Seibu store I found the housewares department and got some souvenirs
to take home. Sets of dishes, cups, whatever, are sold in groups of five, not four or six. I first
thought this had something to do with the metric system, but it seems that the number four has
bad vibes attached to it.
Naomi Pollock had invited me to dinner at her home. She is an architect (Harvard) living in
Japan with her lawyer husband, David Sneider, and their 14 month old daughter Abigail. Naomi
is working on the 1998 Japan architecture exhibit for The Art Institute. To get to her house I
took the Yamanote train to the very confusing Shibuya station. Leaving the station at its south
(Minami) exit, one is confronted with a maze of streets, overhead expressways, bus stops, and a
network of overhead pedestrian walkways. Following the map Naomi had faxed me, I located
the "0101 Cash Corner" (identified at night by a lighted sign), got to it via the elevated walkway
system, and proceeded to walk uphill until I reached a gas station where I turned left and walked
along a dark residential street until I reached their low apartment building identified, again by a
lighted sign, as Nanpeidai Court. Naomi and David greeted me at the door. They have a
shoe-free home - not surprising in Japan and certainly to my liking. (My hotel provides slippers!)
Their home is graciously sized with a full modern kitchen. They have collected some wonderful
old pieces: an old kimono has been hung on the living room wall and the dining area has a
magnificent piece of furniture which started life as a kitchen storage cabinet in an old Japanese
farm house (beautiful design and workmanship!). Like most Americans I have met living in
Japan, Naomi and David go to flea markets to find things. Naomi said she had nice white china
from Tiffany, but they use splendid blue and white Japanese pieces they have found here and there
in Japan. David served a very nice Australian Shiraz in opaque china wine cups ... tastes just the
same as it does in a clear glass (the shape was good). Naomi served a delicious meal of meat
curry, rice, and salad. Abigail had an ear infection (shades of my past) and they were somewhat
worried because they were planning to go Chicago the following week to spend Christmas with
Naomi's family in Hyde Park.
David drove me back to the Shibuya train station (their garage is in the basement). There are at
least 16 units in the building.
It had been a long day!
Saturday, December 16, 1995
After breakfast I took the Marunouchi subway line to the Ginza station and walked around
looking at the Ginza shopping area. I noticed a long line of people standing quietly at the curb,
waiting for something. The line was about three blocks long; wondering what in the world this
was all about, I walked back to the head of the line and discovered that the line was people
waiting to buy tickets to see the new James Bond movie, "GoldenEye" which had opened that
morning. I felt rather smug, having already seen the movie.
I navigated to the Imperial Hotel and arrived there early enough so I could look around. About
12:30 I met Carol Cuncannan at the front door of the hotel. She is the daughter of Bill and Polly
Cuncannan from Chicago. She has been living in Tokyo for about two years and works for
Tiffany doing something impressive, such as making sure that they have the right items in stock.
Her finance, Tom de Maio, was out of town on business. Carol and I wandered about, getting
lost and found. We had a neat (keen? cool?) lunch in a small chain restaurant that only serves
cooked thinly sliced beef, with juice, on rice. The only choice was small/medium/large, and
whether or not you wanted a raw egg on top. Containers of shredded pickled ginger were on the
counter. These restaurants are open 24 hours. This was great because I never would have gone
into a place like this on my own.
Carol then took me to the gardens around the Imperial Palace. These are not flower gardens, but
trees, shrubs, vistas, bridges, etc. Fantastic! The original gardens were laid out in 1630, or some
such date. Except for wandering clipped (manicured) hedges, each tree, shrub, bush, clump,
and/or blade of grass had been selected to work as a part in the overall composition - and to be
balanced and interesting in all seasons. The Japanese maples still had their tiny red leaves; some
of the yellow ginkgo leaves were still on the trees; there were pines of various types; bamboo;
something with still shiny green leaves that looked like our southern magnolia. Various rustic
bridges and trellises were originally built of wood but have been replaced by concrete shaped in
log-like forms (complete with tree-rings); a little hokey, but this is Japan! And then there were
the moats and fortifications with their sloped fitted stone walls, built without mortar, as a
magnificent visual foil to the plants. Here and there, hiding in the shrubs and other unexpected
places, were Victorian/Edwardian multiple-lamp standards (some are early electric models).
They were so bazaar they were wonderful! This was truly a memorable walk which I recommend
to everyone. One gets used to the absence of "lawns"; there are grass areas, but they are
considered to be another plant material and are NOT for walking on. (The houses do not have
lawns because there isn't enough land for that sort of thing.)
I took the Marunouchi subway back to the hotel from the Otemachi station, which is close to the
At a suitable hour, I went to the Tobu store 11th floor (restaurants) and had supper ... a dish of
noodles with a chopped beef-type of meat sauce that also contained pieces of ham, corn, onions,
peas and carrots; this was served with a side dish of shredded cabbage [800 Yen]. Very
After supper I wandered around some of the non-food sales areas of the stores, especially the
traditional clothing sections. I have been told that a bride may have both a traditional Japanese
wedding service, with an appropriate costume, as well as a "western" service with a white
wedding dress (often rented and, as one person commented, "the tackier, the better"). The
traditional Japanese kimono, with all of the underpinnings and accouterments, can add up to the
price of a nice car. Special underwear is required under the kimono. Young Japanese women
told me that these undergarments used to have all sorts of special ties but that now clips are used;
the ones I looked at used Velcro. (Another fashion note: I have not yet seen a non-padded bra;
what you see is not what you get.) All of the hotels seem to do a big business of "weddings",
especially on weekends. (The Imperial Hotel has a special office on the mezzanine floor for the
parents/bride/groom to make the arrangements.) The lobby of the hotel I was staying in had
wedding guests milling about all day Saturday and Sunday. Some of the women guests wore the
traditional kimonos. Many guests spend the night in the hotel, leaving the next morning with
their special shopping bags of gifts. Wedding guests seem to get gifts too, in matched paper
shopping bags of the type we used to call "Polish luggage".
Sunday, December 17, 1995
After breakfast I headed off to Ueno Park. I took the Yamanote train and got off at the
Uguisudani station, the closest to the Tokyo National Museum. Unfortunately, sort of, I exited
out the North exit instead of the South exit. This took me out on the wrong side of the train
tracks, but forced me to take a short walk through an interesting neighborhood on the way back
to where I should have been. The walk above ground was far more interesting than the walk
underground would have been.
The Tokyo National Museum has three buildings for their collections [entrance fee of 400 Yen
includes all three]. The 1908 Hyokeikan building is filled with what they call "archaeological
relics": tombs and Ainu objects; interesting but I not what I wanted to see. The 1937 Honkan
building houses the Japanese art, which is what I DID want to see. Beautiful displays with most
signs and labels having a short but adequate English translation. The main painting galleries were
closed for renovation, but there was a nice selection of ceramics, textiles, costumes, swords and
spears and armor, sculpture, and religious art. This kept me happy for a long time. Although this
is an "older" building, intensive temperature and humidity control is established in some galleries,
especially those housing textiles and the wood temple sculptures. A nifty gift shop is in the
basement of this building. The third building, Toyokan, built in 1968, is for non-Japanese oriental
art: China, Egypt, et al. (The restaurant is next to this building.) I decided that I would rather go
to the zoo.
As far as I could tell, I was the only "westerner" in the zoo. Adult admission is 500 Yen (buy
ticket from machine), free for those over 65. It is an old-fashioned zoo with animals in concrete
cages. The pandas, Ling-Ling and Tong-Tong, looked happy and a lot more active than the
pandas in the Washington Zoo. The Asian elephants did not look well; the polar bears looked
diseased with blotchy skin/fur; the tigers were in tiny cages (a new big-cat area is under
construction). The various monkeys looked fine. The American bison looked great, as did two
different types of prairie dogs. There are lots of different types of birds, including a kookaburra
sitting in a flowering, probably non-gum, tree.
The places to buy food didn't have the plastic-food or photographs to order from, but their very
tender (and tasty!) pop-corn and chocolate frozen custard required no language skills at all (the
word for "chocolate" sounds so much like "chocolate" that there is no difficulty. The zoo had
public drinking fountains all over the place - the first time I have seen them in Japan.
Although the Japanese claim to have full employment and no "homeless problem", there were
clearly people living in the free areas of the park with their bags of "stuff". Not the way we see it
in the U.S. and Europe, but it is still here. (I was told that "fully employed" included those who
work at least one hour per week!) The admission charge to the zoo kept the bag-people out, but
they were right outside the gate.
I passed the National Museum of Western Art on my way out of the Park to the Ueno station -
but two museums and one zoo in one day is enough!
I went back to the hotel for tea, and started wondering how I would pack everything. Although I
was tempted by the Indian restaurant on the 8th floor of the Metropolitan Building, I thought I
should really eat Japanese food on my last night in Japan. As usual, I haven't the slightest idea
what it was that I was eating, but it included a bowl with a ball of what was probably bean paste
with a variety of fruits around and on it; this was served as a side dish to the main order of
Japanese "fried" noodles, with ham and cabbage as the identifiable additives, with pickled ginger
on top [1009 Yen]. It was all good.
I finished packing and went to bed early. I got everything packed in my suitcase and carry-on
except my knitting; it had to go into a plastic bag.
Monday, December 18, 1995 (a very long day)
Up at 4:45; I checked out of the hotel and went to 5:30 breakfast where I was joined by Pierre
Cockshaw from Brussels. At 6:00 Mr. Mishina, and his translator, from NHK met us in the hotel
lobby and we loaded ourselves into his van and were driven around the corner to the Tobu
Museum loading area. My two crates and Pierre's hand-carry were loaded into the waiting Nippon
Express truck. It was an almost two hour drive the Narita airport. The two Art Institute crates
were loaded into a cargo container on a pallet; the crates were braced by a number of large
cardboard tubes and then lashed into position. The crates were covered with sheets of plastic,
the container was sealed and wrapped in sheet plastic. I got the required paperwork and was told
that the container would be stored under the First Class compartment.
We were then taken to the passenger check-in building were I could check my suitcase, get my
boarding pass, etc. (For those leaving Narita airport, there is an exit tax of 2000 Yen which is
purchased from a machine before you line up to go into the controlled passenger area. The
amount of the airport tax varies from airport to airport. NHK bought these tickets for us, but
should the reader go to Japan, be prepared to pay the tax.) Pierre and I went through the exit
procedures and said good-by to each other as our planes left from different areas. I took the
shuttle train to my gate area (the shuttle is similar to the situation at Dulles, but at Narita the
shuttle is on rails and provides no seating area.)
I arrived at my gate early, of course - part of the courier drill. The flight leaving from "my" gate
before the Chicago flight was going to Bangkok. This flight appeared to have a several tour
groups on it; I assume, by looking at the tour-group members and guides, these were
I was seated on the upper deck of the 747. The Business Class area was not fully sold out on this
trip. The announcements on this flight were in the same three languages as on the way over:
Japanese, English, and Chinese. We were told that we would be traveling a 550 mph at 33,000
feet and would reach the international date line in 3 hours, where it was still Sunday. Again I had
the Japanese lunch: sushi with eight varieties of eggs or raw fish scrunched around rice, soup, fish
baked in custard, pastry, and coffee.
As we approached the Arctic Circle, it got darker and darker as the sun dipped below the
horizon. If I understood the pilot correctly, we flew over Anchorage, which is about 60 degrees
We had an on-time arrival in Chicago just before 9:00 am. When I cleared customs I was met by
Charles Roe from Art Institute Security. He drove me to the JAL cargo terminal. Eventually,
about 11:00, "my" container was brought in, opened, the two crates taken out and loaded onto
a waiting art-truck, and we all returned to The Art Institute. The loading dock was free for us,
in spite of the construction work, the crates were off loaded and taken down to Art Receiving,
and I was finished. I had lunch with Manly at The Cliff Dwellers, attacked some of the collected
paperwork on my desk, and went home early. This had been a REALLY long day.
Luigi Mumford Architecture Department