Tokyo Diary: Days 1 + 2

Report from the UIA Tokyo 2011 World Architects Congress

23 + 24 September: Setup

Is it a notice? Is it a tree name? No idea.

Day 1: Welcome to Tokyo

I write this from the hotel, absolutely zonked. So please forgive me if it doesn’t make much sense! If in doubt, just scroll through the pictures on our online albums linked below!

Peter Engblom (creative director of our showstand and Zulu-Sushi fundi) and I had caught up our sleep and joined the Tokyo Time zone, and were now ready to start the process of actioning all the planning and prep.

We are staying at a beautifully compact hotel in Ginza in a lively theatre, shopping and hotel district. The rooms are tiny but so well designed, and the restaurant, all glass and light timber, overlooks the grand Takarazuka theatre entrance. This makes for great people-watching as fan clubs dress up in matching outfits and wait for their star to arrive. We are also a short walk from the International Forum, which is a huge relief as public transport here is incomprehensibly confusing!


One of our tasks on Day 1 was to buy 16 poof stools from Ikea, for which Peter has made special fabric covers (globalisation: how convenient!). Buying these furniture items is actually cheaper than renting a couch from the expo organisers, such is the expense here! I was so looking forward to the ikea exploration (as well as those wonderful Swedish meatballs I have heard so much about) but instead had to spend the time getting to the bottom of why the mastercard wasn’t working. This was a worry as the showstand depends on us buying certain goods in Tokyo, and we are also dependant on the bucks from this card to feed and accommodate ourselves. The hotel staff are beginning to doubt us, but thankfully can’t speak much English so we just smile and walk on past!


Another highlight of Day 1 was Jack Chiang (our friend from the Durban Film Festival)  who, apart from introducing us to the rail and metro, took us for sushi. There are sushi places everywhere and we headed to a regular looking spot with a few old men in white shirts popping morsels  onto the circling conveyor belt. The fish, eel and squid was simply placed onto a small bundle of rice, and that was it, with the occasional seaweed or sauce. Simple. I was sure I could  feel the squid squirm in my mouth.


We welcomed a large contingent of the rest of the team at dinner that evening, which was spent on a lively street somewhere in Ginza: Nina Saunders (KZNIA President), Trish Emmett (UIA Africa Chair) and her partner Peter Pletts. The food here is fantastic! Peter Engblom’s favourite word these days is “gastroporn”. There are pictures or wax models of food at every restaurant, cafe and Seven Eleven.  It all looks a bit over the top to me, but seems to work? Presentation is obviously big here.

Speaking of which, every Japanese person we have seen so far is immaculately presented. I have not yet let go of the suspicion that they only wear clothes once, and then buy a new set.  Like dolls! Nobody even jaywalks! I have yet to see a pair of shoes that looks worn or unpolished.

 Sensory overload

Shopping is a major pastime in this particular area. A large portion of Day 2 was spent in multi-multi-level retail mansions, mainly in Shinjuku, which holds the most shops, skyscrapers and people I have ever seen. It was completely overwhelming. We had to pass through 7 stories of electronics to find an iron. We spent at least an hour and a half in the stationery section on the 8th floor of Tokyo Hands (which was nothing compared to Heather Dodd reportedly spending 3 in Ito-ya, another stationery shop). I did not manage to find a bank that talks to my mastercard though.

The language and bank-communication barrier is ever present, and it is quite an eye opener to encounter so many people in a day who you cannot communicate with no matter how hard you try (charades, anyone?). I find the language challenging to say the least and have a deep respect for people who can speak both English and Japanese. The extent of my knowledge is naming foods and asking “Citi Ginkou wa doko desu ka?” (“Where is the Citi Bank?”).

So far, so good, and thankfully we have found an alternative to the mastercard: it seems we are ready for showstand-building tomorrow and hopefully the Durban and Africa stands will be complete in time to attend the opening cocktail party at Rappongi Hills. Apparently the terrace has a wonderful view of Tokyo, which will be helpful as I still can’t seem to find my sense of direction!

Photo albums: