Intelligent Design

A Tokyo Architect And Designer Takes Care In Creating Innovative New Spaces

Tomoko Ikegai

Architect, Designer; Founder, IKG Inc.

"Every element in a living or working environment should have an effect on people existing in the space," says Tomoko Ikegai, sharing her architecture and design philosophy. "From technical elements like air conditioning, to small objects, such as fork rests, I believe in paying close attention to having everything come together to create an entire atmosphere."

Born in Tokyo, Ikegai spent time in New York City as a youngster when her father's job took the family to the United States. "We moved dozens of times after that, but every single house we moved into excited me with its new environment." She says that the experience inspired her to pursue her passion for architecture and design.

Tomoko Ikegai begins her design process with a whole concept in mind.

Local Recommendations

Building A Tour Of Tokyo With Tomoko Ikegai

Living abroad for many years made Ikegai come to appreciate Tokyo even more each time she returned, and it helped her define what she sees as one of her hometown’s most distinctive qualities. “Tokyo-ness or Japanese-ness is not a shape that you see, it’s a quiet sense of beauty. Whether that comes from the overall texture of an environment, or the color of a room, the layout of different spaces here is carefully crafted.”

From a neighborhood with the highest concentration of buildings designed by Pritzker Prize winning architects, to the best times to explore the city’s most splendid temples and shrines, here, Ikegai creates a tour of Tokyo curated for the design-obsessed traveler.

Tokyo Sightseeing

History And Beauty Meet At The City's Temples And Shrines

Ikegai finds respite from the capital city's intensity among the eternal beauty of temples and shrines throughout Tokyo. Just a short walk from Ikegai's favorite neighborhood, Aoyama, find Meiji Jingu (1-1 Yoyogi-Kamizonocho, Shibuya; +81-3-3379-5511). Opened in 1920, the relatively modern oasis is situated inside a lush man-made forest. Landscape architect Seiroku Honda planted trees that would adapt to an ever-changing climate and soil, and be part of a forward-looking ecological plan for the forest. About 170,000 evergreen trees of 245 different species were donated from regions across the country, beginning the city's first "eternal" urban forest. Be awed by the immensity of the 40-foot torii (shrine gate) at the entrance, one of the largest in Japan, made from a 1,500-year-old cypress tree. With the modern Tokyo Skytree tower looming in the background, enter Zojoji Temple (4-7-35 Shibakoen, Minato; +81-3-3432-1431) through the Sangedatsumon main gate. It is the only original structure remaining at the 1622 temple, the majority of which was reconstructed after being destroyed during World War II air raids. As legend has it, visitors who pass through the gate's three sections are freed of the passions of greed, hatred, and foolishness.

Fukagawa Fudo (1-17-13 Tomioka, Koto; +81-3-3641-8288) is an interesting mix of ancient and modern. The new main hall was constructed in 2012, and is strikingly cubist in sharp contrast to the former main hall next door, which was rebuilt after World War II, based on the original 1881 building. Inside, don't miss the Corridor of Prayer, where 10,000 crystal jars are filled with miniature King Fudo statues. Attend a goma (fire ritual), which takes place daily, accompanied by the imposing sounds of taiko drummers. For a different perspective, Ikegai suggests visiting temples and shrines after sunset. "You may not be able to see the inside, but you can enjoy the serenity under the moonlight, and experience a different sensibility than the lively atmosphere during the day."

Visual Pleasures

Man-Made And Natural Wonders For Every Season

All four seasons in Tokyo have something visually spectacular to offer. In autumn, Tokyo glows with natural color. Don't miss the patch of gingko trees, which turn bright yellow during late November, at Koishikawa Korakuen Garden (1-6-6 Koraku, Bunkyo; +81-3-3811-3015). "The peak season of the trees is very short, but worth trying to catch," says Ikegai. Tokyo's nighttime winter light shows begin in November, and many dazzle through the spring. The Marunouchi Illumination, is one of the most elegant displays, with 1 million champagne-colored LED lights decorating the trees along Naka-dori. From late March to early April, when the cherry trees are bursting with colorful blooms, everyone gathers for the annual hanami (flower viewing) tradition. Ikegai's favorite spot is along the Meguro River, (Meguro Tourism Association, 2-1-3 Kamimeguro; +81-3-5772-6850), where about 800 cherry trees line the river banks. At night, the riverside blossoms are lit up by hundreds of paper lanterns, creating a heavenly atmosphere. For a colorful summertime spectacle, Ikegai recommends making a reservation with Yakata Boat Hamadaya (1-14-5 Yanagihara, Adachi; +81-3-3881-2314) at the end of July to experience the Sumida River Fireworks Festival while cruising on the water, enjoying a traditional Japanese dinner.

Architecture Tour

Award-Winning Design In Aoyama

The tony Aoyama neighborhood has earned a reputation as a global style capital, and here, the buildings are as chic as the fashion. "The real charm of this area is that people don't just come here to shop, they live here. You can find beautiful buildings and boutiques as you walk from Omotesando to South Aoyoma," says Ikegai, who likes to point out that there are more buildings designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects in Aoyama than almost anywhere else in the world. Shopping and dining complex, Omotesando Hills (4-12-10 Jingumae, Shibuya; +81-3-3497-0310), is intriguing for many reasons, she says, but especially for its design by 1995 laureate, Tadao Ando. Inside, the stores along the edge of Omotesando Avenue follow the slope of the street, while three of the Hills' six floors descend underground. Design brilliance is also on display inside the Spiral Building (5-6-23 Minami-Aoyama, Shibuya; +81-3-3498-1171), owned by lingerie brand, Wacoal, where visitors can browse an art gallery and retail stores, and pause at the various restaurants, teahouse, or the café. But the centerpiece of the Fumihiko Maki designed-edifice is the spiral ramp, which allows for a continuous route through the building. "Aoyama is a neighborhood of fashion, but it's really filled with beautiful structures designed by very well-known architects," Ikegai says.

Museum Trail

Explore Some Of The City's Top Private Art Collections

With artworks and art objects that span centuries, the Nezu Museum (6-5-1 Minami-Aoyama, Minato; +81-3-3400-2536), on the site of businessman and philanthropist Kaichiro's Nezu's estate, is impressive, indeed. More than 7,400 pieces are in the collection, which contains Japanese and East Asian antiques, along with Nezu's coveted tea wares, some from as far back as the sixth century. Another tycoon's private estate is home to more modern works. The Hara Museum of Contemporary Art (4-7-25, Kita-Shinagawa; +81-3-3445-0651), housed in a refurbished 1938 Bauhaus mansion built for business mogul, Kunizo Hara, was converted into a museum in 1979 by Hara’s grandson, Toshio. The three-story building allows for an intimate exhibition experience, where works by pop art and abstract expressionists, including Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and Jackson Pollack, are on display. Drop in to the light-filled café for tea, where the floor-to-ceiling windows look out onto the residence's outdoor sculpture garden.

The working studio and home of prolific, avant-garde artist, Taro Okamoto, "has the same extraordinary energy found in Okamoto's works," according to Ikegai. Okamoto has been called Japan's Picasso, and his art is greatly influenced by the Spanish painter. The Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum (6-1-9 Minami-Aoyama, Minato; +81-3-3406-0801), displays the artist's quirky pieces, along with those of his parents, comic artist and writer, Ippei Okamoto, and poet and novelist, Kanoko Okamoto.

Taste of Tokyo

Where To Eat And Drink

Opened in 1880, the venerable Kanda Yabu Soba (2-10 Kanda-Awajicho, Chiyoda; +81-3-3251-0287) tops Ikegai's list for the one soba shop to visit in Tokyo. "It has been a family tradition for many generations to eat soba noodles on New Year's, and this is the place to go," says Ikegai. "There's a two-hour wait on New Year's Eve," she adds, "but it's worth every minute." You'll still find crowds any day of the year lining up for seiro style soba, firm noodles made from ten parts buckwheat flour to one part wheat flour, which are then ladled into a tasty broth. Not to be missed are the soba noodles in tsuyu soup with crispy deep-fried shrimp, and the tempura-style noodles breaded in panko, and fried. For more traditional dining and atmosphere, the ten-seat counter restaurant, Kasumicho Suetomi (3F Yahata Building, 4-2-13 Nishi-Azabu, Minato; +81-3-5466-1270), has new guests rubbing elbows with regulars, in full view of chef Yasuo Suetomi creating his classic kappo-style kaiseki dishes.

For a different type of craft, T.Y. Harbor Brewery (2-1-3 Higashi-Shinagawa, Shinagawa; +81-3-5479-4555) creates its own beers in a former warehouse on the waterfront. On tap? Six craft varieties—ranging from pale ales, ambers, wheats, an organic IPA, lager, and porter—are made in house by T.Y.'s own brewers, and includes a monthly changing brew. The best views of the canals around Tennozu Isle harbor can be had from a seat on the terrace. "T.Y. is a landmark in the Tennozu area," says Ikegai.

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