Food Confusion Planets

This morning nearly dawned this afternoon as we slept so late, recovering from the travel ordeal we had yesterday. Aimi ventured out alone, leaving me in bed, to find breakfast. She returned and I gave her a crash course in cooking french toast. I was very grateful for the good earl grey tea she found.

With what was left of today we had to just wander around before our booking at 15:30. We got the train into Tokyo station and then just walked. Its immediately apparent that Japan and the Japanese have a very different attitude to rubbish than we do. Everything seems to come wrapped in plastic, the portions are convenience store sized and there are no bins anywhere in the city. There is a huge amount of single use plastic, but zero litter. And I mean none. Not a single fag packet celophane wrapper, not a cigarette butt, not a random paper serviette anywhere. Its immaculate. I don’t know if they do, but it’s like the streets are pressure washed every week. Its incredible and just goes to show what life CAN be like if people gave a shit about what they do with their trash. 

We walked through what must be a mix of business offices and shopping centers. It wasn’t super busy, I suppose because everyone is at work it being the middle of a week day. The buildings are tall here but not world record holders, likely due to the earthquakes that occasionally rock the city. But there was one building that I thought did a particularly clever job of pretending to be a shape it was not.

Another interesting quirk of Tokyo is that there are shop fronts, but not as many as you’d expect. They are between lift lobbys and boards showing the different shops and restaurants on each level of that building. Almost every building is a multi level shopping centre, and you choose your shop from the lift. We chose a restaurant that was down a set of steps into the basement and had a line of locals waiting for it. 

We had chosen a cook your own meal in a boiling pot of broth restaurant. When we got to the front of the queue, a short old lady chirped at us to follow her. With some limited but well used English, she showed us what to do and what to order. We got a bowl of various veg, a shallow bowl of soy sauce, another with sesame seeds and a pestle, a tiny bowl of what I think was kimchi and a plate of wafer thin meat. I went for waygu beef and Aimi had pork. The little old lady poured us some water and put some beige paste in our sesame seed bowl. Then left us to figure it out. It was fun picking bits in and out with the extra long chopsticks. I let Aimi have the mushrooms. Then when we were finished, the little old lady returned and ladeled us out some of the broth into another bowl with a china spoon for us to drink. She said it was very good authentic and we agreed!

Walking on and after a short wait at a coffee shop for our time slot, we arrived at our destination; Team Labs Planets, Tokyo. This is a sequence of art installations that you interact with with your whole body. You don’t just stand in a bleak hall looking AT something. You become part of the art as it washes over you or you splash (literally) thru it, or crawl under and over it. “Its very hard to explain, but you gotta go” is what several YouTube reviews said. I’ll try to give a go, but I’m no art critic, so please tolerate this layman’s explanations.

The first thing is that an introduction video says you’ll be up to your knees in water in some exhibits, so you pop your shoes and socks in a locker. Then you start the tour by walking along a very dark corridor up hill as water washes down over your feet. Its not slippery, the water is about ankle deep, and there is a light along the floor edges illuminating where you step. At the top of the hill is a cascade of water apearing from darkness above. This is lit up from the inside so you can see all the droplets of water bouncing everywhere. The idea is that only where something interacts with the water and creates a disturbance will the light bounce around and show you it’s movement. 

Then you are asked to dry your feet with some towels provided before the next piece along another dark velvet lined corridor. At the end you enter an entirely black room made of beanbags. The walls and floor are made of them and the ceiling disappears into darkness. This room takes some effort to traverse as you crawl and step over and roll your way to the other end. This was great fun and the most comfortable place to be (especialy after all the walking). This was about how everyone will move differently thru the space and leave shapes behind that will affect the next person and how they move thru it in a never ending cycle of unpredictability influencing each other. There was also something about being confronted with an entirely soft environment when we live in such a universally hard world. I think as a concept this was my favourite even if it was less visually spectacular.

After crawling your way across this space you take another walk down a dark corridor and thru a blackout curtain into infinity. Its so bright and colourful but literally you can’t see the end of anything in front of you. There must be walls somewhere out there but they are covered in mirrors and between you and all the mirrors are thousands of LEDs spaced out hanging down on translucent cables. These are co-ordinated by some master computer program somewhere to light up and fade between colours to create some incredible patterns. They happen all around you swirling and shooting off in all directions, its incredible, and a little disorientating. The only spacial reference you get are the mirror tile edges on the floor and your brain just switches these off so its like you are walking on the feet of a mirror image of yourself thru a dense starscape. We spent a long time here till it got really crowded and started to lose its magic. But the photos and videos we got were amazing.

The next room we were not very impressed by probably because it was absolutely packed with people. Again the floor was mirrored and this time there was a huge dome above you onto which was being projected thousands of flowers. I’m sure with less people you would get the effect of being in a huge sphere of flowers, but it was just too busy to even walk through so we left, which was a shame.

But soon we had our feet almost up to our knees in water again, this time oddly white milky water. We descended into it along a corridor and then turned a corner into a huge room (where all the walls were mirrors) to find brightly coloured glowing carp swimming around. This was a really good installation because while you knew this was projected from somewhere in the ceiling, they moved and looked almost real. Except they were glowing. It was sort of like the fish from Avatar with CGI bioluminescence. And then when you got too close to them, they exploded into flower petals that floated on the surface before fading away. If you held out your hand, a carp would be projected across it, but it was dull and you could see the projector pixels. But in the milky water they were blurred just enough you didjt see that and it was much brighter. The carp were all sorts of colours flitting this way and that, leaving light trails behind them, till the crescendo of the music had all the carp swimming in a bright circle. It was mesmerising. We spent a long time here too enjoying the colours and trying to take photos in the dark.

After drying off our feet we followed the tour into an area open to the sky, with mirrored walls and mossy mounds everywhere. This strange landscape was dotted with giant jelly bean shaped smooth objects that had been mirrored. And that was it. We couldn’t really make head nor tail of this one. Personally I really like mossy covered rocks and have told Aimi off for taking it off our stone walls. It’s something that takes a long time to grow, usually in harsh conditions softer plants struggle with, so it gives credibility to the longevity of something. The stone walls in our garden have probably not moved for the best part of 100 years and the depth of moss can attest to that. So I’m not sure where they got that much to create a mossy carpet for the lumpy shiny things. The other thing to note here were two girls who were both dressed very nicely in fancy modern dresses. One was taking her turn to be photographed by the other, but not just your standard holiday candid shot. They were getting fully into photoshoot mode stretching and turning and rolling around on the ground in pursuit of the best shot. I hope they got what they wanted because it was very strange to see it happening with a load of tourists passing by.

The last place we visited was a sort of floating upside down orchid garden. The mirrored floor (surprise surprise) reflected the flowers above you but put a barrier in the way to how you’d usually view flowers when standing above them. The flowers were in stacks hanging from invisible strings and they raised and lowered seemingly randomly. This piece again gave you a sort of 3D infinite universe of flowers (as long as you looked away from the next group of people lining up to experience it.) It was quite nice to lay on your back or sit cross legged and just enjoy the waves of flowers moving around you, in a way flowers can’t naturally move. It was also a technical masterpiece because we could not understand how they managed to keep so many plants alive and in good health. And what were they growing in/on because we couldn’t see any roots or pots of soil. It was a delightful mystery.

Again here there was a couple really working at taking serious photos with the girl cupping an orchid and looking wistfully into infinity for something or someone… it was funny to watch and we gave a go at imitating them. What do you think?

Ending our stay on Team Labs planet we collected our shoes and returned to the real world. It had been a great experience and one I think I could happily do again, maybe after researching the quietest time of day. I understand now why it’s a “must see” in Tokyo even being so new. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. 

We took a raised train and then an underground train back towards Tokyo centre and found another cook-it-yourself restaurant where a hotplate was set into the centre of your table. This looked like great fun so we got a table and then negotiated the fully Japanese menu. It was not clear in anyway what the protocol was here. Did we select 1 thing, or many things, or 1 first and then another later? Did they cook it or did we cook it, because it looked like both were happening around us.

In the end we managed to order some squid and a waiter cooked and served it to us. It was very tentacle-y and tasty, but quite small. Thinking the next course was coming, we waited for a long time, but in the end flagged down another waiter, who thankfully spoke a bit more English. He arranged for the restaurants speciality dish to come. This was cabbage cooked with a white cheesy sauce and then added a healthy dollop of fish eggs. It turned into a cheesy orange cabbaggy goo that was quite good, if a little strange. Not sure we would have picked it from the menu having seen others with green beans and sashimi around us. Not being full, but feeling like that was all we ordered, we were thinking of leaving and getting more food elsewhere. Somewhere we could at least point at a picture, or had a basic English menu. But then another bowl of cabbage turned up with our first waiter and he proceeded to cook another variant of the same dish! This, again, started with cabbage and then more squid was fried up, before the cheesy sauce was added. Finally a black sauce was added, which we determined was squid ink as the whole meal turned an unappealing grey. Well we dug in and again it was interesting to have a cheesy grey sauce on squid. 

We were full and tired so mission accomplished we headed back to our micro flat.