Tokyo Hustle By Gigi Chung
All images © Gigi Chung
Gigi Chung is a California based fine art photographer specialising in abstract architecture. She distills complex scenes into bold sculptural forms; emphasising lines, shapes and contrast with conscious inclusion of aesthetically pleasing elements. She is a contributor to Tagree, Jaamzin and Medium Format Magazine. She is serving on the judging panel of European Photography Awards and London Photography Awards. Her photography work has taken her across the globe, to galleries and elite photography competitions in Athens, Chania, Cormons, Frankfurt, Glasgow, Greenville, Kyoto, London, Portland, Minneapolis and New York, Taipei, Trieste, Tokyo, San Francisco, Seoul, Vermont and Zurich-Oerlikon. Her recent accolades include International Photography Awards Jury Top 5, Architecture Masterprize Interior and Exterior Winner, the 17th Pollux Awards, the 17th Julia Margaret Cameron Awards, Tokyo International Foto Awards Jury Top 5, Kyotographie KG Plus featured artist and Hasselblad Heroine.
Know thy Facts
Tokyo is a city with more than thirty seven million inhabitants. Needless to say, land is scarce, especially around the area where most commercial activities are conducted.
Cost of transportation is high - another fact. In order to save money, people walk or bike to work. For those long distance commuters coming to the city centre, trains are packed during rush hours. Commuter hours run typically from between 7:30 to 9:30 in the morning, and again from 6:30 to 8:30 in the evening.
As you can imagine, Tokyolites survive - euphemism for suffer - the packed trains. They say, while in Rome, do as the Romans do. I say, no thank you: I would rather start my day walking than being packed on trains.
In the middle of everything, there is Ginza Tokyo
My father taught me well — talk the talk, and walk the walk. Now you see why Gigi is willing and ready to walk the walk. After my artist talk - my presentation in Seoul - my Hasselblad camera and I arrived in Tokyo.
With a small stroke of luck, I came across Ginza in her autumn outfit. Under the 17 degree sun and blue sky, all I need is a pair of comfortable shoes, and the spirit to explore the streets of Ginza.
Ginza can be reached by a number of subway (metro) lines, but the best means of transportation is on foot. If you are a bit hesitant to walk on crowded streets in a busy town, here is a good piece of news for you. Pick Sunday for your visit as the major road turns into a pedestrian paradise. The city blocks off Chūō-dori and allows people to walk on the road between buildings. Take heed, true Tokyolites on a daily basis don’t necessarily walk on the street level like me. They meander the city using under-ground connections. These walkways connect subway stations between two different lines. Be warned, you could walk miles doing so, and get happily lost at the end.
For my purpose, I walk on the street level, in order to maximise my chances to see and explore.
Tokyu Plaza Ginza
The facade is all glass, vertical pieces of glass, each to create a vessel of light.
Another fact: the facade of the Tokyu Plaza building in Ginza is cut like a precious diamond. Matching Ginza’s personality, the facade shows various expressions during the day, depending on the amount of sunlight and weather. Just amazing, but how? At times, the glass surface reflects the surrounding cityscape like a mirror. While at other times of the day, the transparency of the glass reveals the inner activities to passers-by, hence turning this building into a part of the Ginza urban space. What should we call that? I say this is an amazing urban feeling!
Shibuya Ramen Shop
V88 Building Ginza
Just a stone’s throw away from the amazing Tokyu Plaza, we encounter the V88.
If The Tokyu Plaza Ginza is about scintillation, the V88 Building Ginza is about curve. This graceful curve is made of stainless steel, bright and glowing, just like another diamond glistening in the upscale neighbourhood. The highly reflective facade is inspired by the female silhouette. The V88 has its very distinctive look but sits harmoniously with the other buildings on Marronnier Street, a street full of personality.
Very well then, what about the scarcity of land? How does the Government of Tokyo and all the land developers come up with solutions? Going vertical seems to be the only solution. High rises started emerging, as early as 1970s in Tokyo. 50 years later, even what used to be considered tall buildings back then are demolished to make room for the mega buildings we see nowadays.
Why and how? Land use is different nowadays. There is a push for mixed use, that is, a commercial and residential mix all within one building. Let it be known: urban living is the trend, and city-dwellers give up a comfortable living space for convenience. What is more, they “trade the living room” for the precious extra one hour of sleep being in the city affords them, on every work day. Come on, THIS is Tokyo, every single minute counts.
Shibuya Crossing Scramble
Shibuya Scramble Crossing
From Ginza we move on to Shibuya, another high foot traffic area. Whether it is Ginza or Shibuya, they share one thing in common. They are like the islets dotted in the sea of twenty three areas, or ku. Small yet compact, they draw people living in Greater Tokyo to come closer to where the action is.
What does all the above mean to us, fellow photographers? Where is the best place to observe and capture the moment of Tokyolites in action? WHERE is the action? “The Crossing”, yes of course, in Shibuya, the Shibuya Scramble, where more than three thousand pedestrians cross the road per green light.
This is the street intersection where you will not only see but hear what is busy, energetic and vibrant, like no other place on earth. Seeing is believing. I put myself in the middle of the action by standing still, in the middle of this orderly chaos, in the middle of this crossing.
Within the constraints of minutes between light changes, my mission is to capture what seems to be random people walking by, yet choreographed. We call this scene Choreographed Urban Space.
From Ginza to Shibuya, then onto Shinjuku
An area famous for its night life. But, if we go during the day, what do we see and where is the action? Most of the building were completed in the 90s as the cluster of skyscrapers were built in Shinjuku. The west part of Shinjuku, better known as nishi-Shinjuku, has some structures that are unique among the giants. The area signifies the economic power of the city, possibly the country of Japan as a whole.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government and The Cocoon
Tochō for short, is the city hall which services the wards and cities of the Tokyo Metropolis.
It was designed by one of Tokyo’s most renowned architects, Kenzo Tange. The twin towers mimic a Gothic cathedral, similar to Notre Dame in Paris. These towers are recognised as some of the tallest government buildings in Japan. Even though skyscrapers are common in the area of Shinjuku, the twin towers of Tochō are simply majestic, even at a distance.
Not too far from the city hall of Tokyo, in the vicinity of Nishi-Shinjuku, there is the Cocoon.
Also known as Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower, Cocoon is an educational facility, home to three schools in a fifty story building. What is special about the Cocoon is its curved shell made out of white aluminium and dark glass. The most prominent feature of the tower is the web-like white diagonal lines, forming lots of recognisable Xs. The Cocoon, as the name suggests, symbolises an effort to nurture the young design students, as well as provide a protection for those fashion students in their infancy.
Tokyo International Forum
Tokyo International Forum
Finally, we come to Yurakucho. What used to be the original site for Tokyo Metropolitan Government building has a new use. The site is now home to the Tokyo International Forum, Yurakucho. Tokyo Metropolitan Government commissioned to build this in 1996.
Situated between two of the busiest train stations, Tokyo and Yurakucho stations,
the Tokyo International Forum took centre stage as a premier exhibition space, convention centre, and performance venue, all in one.
Rafael Vinoly, the mastermind behind the award winning structure created an impressive atrium. Above the atrium there are sky-bridges, or simply call them ramps. Following the ramp, I walk up and up, using the white metallic walkway until there is a v-shaped split. Each side of the split takes me to a different floor of the venue, a clever design to help me burn calories while having a good view of the surroundings.
The light in the Atrium
I finish our tour of Tokyo with this beautiful building. Unlike other convention centres I have visited, the structure is daring. Laminated glass, the kind of safety glass which holds itself in place even when shattered, is installed in the perimeter. With this glass installation, natural light comes in illuminating most of the atrium while casting shadows on other areas. The mesmerising shadow-light play creates the perfect monochromatic scene, yet in shadow. This bold and innovative feature is part of the clever architectural design.
This article was published in WE ARE, The Women in Photography magazine, December 2022. Read it here