In The Meguro Mood

Whether you like it highlife in a fifty-third floor suite, down low upon a tatami mat in a ryokan or if you're a die hard when-in-Rome traveller and do-as-they-do in a capsule hotel, then Japan offers all of this and much, much more - hotel slippers inclusive - across the country. When I was in Tokyo last year, before getting ready to head back to Blighty, I wanted to check into a hotel I had read a lot about in design publications - CLASKA is an eighteen-room boutique hotel housed in a converted seventies high-rise located in the trendy Meguro district scattered with interior design shops and studios.
While the hotel's seventies' history remains on the exterior, clad in a patchwork of era-specific earthy tones, the interior is a creative manifesto - "question Japanese aesthetic… through exploring the 'ordinary life' of Japan" - that mirrors its neighbourhood surroundings, presenting three traditional tatami-style rooms, twelve western-style rooms and most intriguingly, three D.I.Y. rooms, commissioned by young artists and designers to create conceptual themes on the seventh floor.
My curiosity got the better of me and debating between Pajama and Scar, I booked myself into Room 701 - Someone's Atelier - designed by Norihiko Terayama. The organic arrangement of framed flowers and wooden workshop-esque desk made for a simple, yet functional room with a great high rise view of Meguro and an unsurprising attention to detail such as the custom key fobs which are unique to all D.I.Y. rooms.
Room 701 - Someone's Atelier by Norihiko Terayama
Mixroom by Kaname Okajima
While I could have spent my whole time exploring my room, more eccentricities were to be found throughout the hotel: Mixroom was only outside my door on the same floor and is run by designer Kaname Okajima who produces alternative gifts for the home and accessories; on the floor above, the 8th Gallery is a large space with a rolling exhibition programme of art and events and the commercial Gallery and Shop DO located on the second floor offers a selection of contemporary Japanese products and exhibits artists' handicraft who conform to the beautiful aesthetic of the hotel and its mission of innovation and design. Now a successful concept brand, Shop DO may be found downtown in PARCO Shibuya department store and in Osaka. A great item produced by the hotel is a bilingual city guide - Tokyo By Tokyo -  that has been composed by some of Tokyo's most creative characters, all of whom offer an alternative guide and a plethora of hidden gems, district-by-district throughout the city, with titles from lavish toilets to bars and clubs that know how to party.
The full glass lobby looks out onto the buzzing neighbourhood and houses the hotel's cool Kiokuh lounge bar and restaurant, which makes for a great spot to see and be seen, in both day and night. Adjacent is DogMan, the in-house dog salon for perfect little pooches pampered by their equally perfect beauticians.
breakfast at Kiokuh
The rooftop terrace is a glorious deck that looks across the sprawling city and while Meguro is not considered central to any tourist attractions, the scene in neighbouring Daikanyama, south of Shibuya, is not to be missed. One of Tokyo's über hip enclaves, Daikanyama is where the yuppies set up home, with boutique shops and restaurants pitching up in bespoke architectural creations on a small yet impressive scale in keeping with the village-vibe of the area. Enjoy the tree-lined pavements and take a lunch break at Caffé Michelangelo, a Daikanyama-classic.
If you need to head out to the bright lights you will not be disappointed on your walk from the hotel to Gakugei-Daigaku station which will take you straight into Shibuya in a matter of minutes. A ten-minute walk through meandering narrow streets will bring you to a brilliant bohemian market of healthy delis and convenient stores that makes for a great example of everyday life in the city. The creative thread clearly runs deep in the area - don't miss Baden BadenMaison romi-uni and Good Fortune Factory, a selection of creative hotspots of style and for the stomach, tucked away en route. 
I had a great time at CLASKA - its style and service were both exceptional - a rare balance in an affordable bracket. CLASKA is the ideal hotel if you've already hit the tourist trail and are in the mood for a taste of stylish Tokyo through a bohemian lens, and if that alone doesn't sell it to you, I don't know what will. 
1-3-18 Chuo-cho
Tokyo, Japan 
Tel: 03.3719.8121
More from my time in Japan coming soon - until then check out all my Japanese adventures here


The Kingdom Come

All that needs to be said about the highly anticipated (understatement of 2012) new film my legend, and personal idol, Wes Anderson is this: colour, music, style, old faces (all hail Murray, Murray all hail), new faces (shout out to Willis's agent who sold "this would be a great new move for you" to him), New England, typography, mustard hues - all in a world where twelve-year-olds have personalised stationery and where life is lived in a beautiful alternative technicolour in Moonrise Kingdom. Let the suspense commence…


Well Spotted

Controlled Substances Key Spot Print, 2011
Yesterday evening I made it to the very popular turn out that was the opening of new work by Damien Hirst at Other Criteria’s New Bond Street outpost. Spot Prints sees twelve new prints by silkscreen and woodblock processes – the woodblock prints being my personal favourites, with their raised texture on paper – in the now familiar spectrum of colour that has awarded Hirst iconic status since 1986. 
S-Lactoylglutathione, 2011
With this new series, Hirst explores elimination and fragmentation - spots are halved and portions are shifted – the works remain fresh, intriguing and if yesterday night was anything to go by, they certainly do not fall into the once-you've-seen-one-you've-seen-them-all category. Even if they did, now would not be the time to cry ennui. For tomorrow will see the launch of The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011, a global exhibition at each of Gagosian Gallery’s eleven locations around the world. In a first of its kind, 300 works will be dispatched to the haute exhibition spaces of the Gagosian Empire and shall display the artist’s spot canvases in what will be the most expensive single-artist exhibition to date.
Have air miles you don’t know what to do with? Gagosian is offering an original Damien Hirst Spot print for Pop art aficionados who manage to visit all eleven gallery locations within the month run – click here to register for The Complete Spot Challenge.
Upcoming global exhibitions on the Gagosian website
This interesting concept is only the beginning of what will be an important year for Hirst. 2012 sees the first major museum retrospective in the United Kingdom at Tate Modern in April, which will run over a period when London and the rest of the country will have the eyes of the world upon it and the best of British will be at the forefront during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and Olympic Games’ festivities. So if you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t seen anything yet.

Spot Prints
10th January – 14th February 2012
Other Criteria
36 New Bond Street
London W1S 2RP

The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011
12 th January – 18th February 2012
Gagosian Gallery

Damien Hirst at Tate Modern

4th April - 9th September 2012


I Left My Heart In Yanaka

While the bright lights of central Tokyo are as addictive as a box of dorayaki to any Tokyo rookie, when I visited the Eastern quarters of this sprawling city I knew I had found my footing. 
Yanesan incorporates the three districts of Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi can be reached with only a few stops from central Tokyo on the Chiyoda and Ginza metro lines. These areas, especially Yanaka, have been saved from modern redevelopment - not to mention both Kanto earthquakes of 1923 as well as Allied bombings from World War II. 
Yanaka is well known for its Edo Period temples sprinkled around every corner and alleyway within this cozy residential area inhabited by creatives and eccentrics, young and old. Tourist hotspots include the Yanaka Reien, a cemetery of seven thousand graves that attributes to the area's inherent tranquility - the last shogun of Japan, Yoshinobu Tokugawa is one of its famous residents - and Nezu Shrine with classic orange torii set within beautiful manicured vegetation. I was taken with the area's charming style speckled with old independent craft shops and traditional boutiques that cater for locals, as opposed to tourists, that line the narrow streets that are so typical shitamachi (low city) along Hebi-michi (Snake Street). This area is certainly worth a visit to understand Tokyo's metropolis and diverse districts, like a collection of characterful towns each with their own personality, and certainly sets the scene of local Tokyo life far away from light-tastic Shibuya. Be sure to walk around nearby Ueno Park which houses several of the city's renowned temples and shrines as well as Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, the National Museum of Western Art and a host of traditional Japanese institutions including the country's oldest zoo with crowd-pleasing giant panda bears.
torii at Nezu Shrine
Here are a few of my favourite Yanaka addresses that stole my heart...
Washi Wonder - Isetatsu
I made sure to pay a visit to Isetatsu on both of my trips to Japan last year. This traditional washi and chiyogami suppliers offers a range of colourful designs and patterns on paper produced by this family business since 1864. With over fifteen hundred wood block and hand carved designs to chose from and furoshiki (multi purpose cloth) found under the roof of this miniature premises, Isetatsu is the place for any stationary enthusiast - I stocked up on greeting cards and wrapping paper which are worthy of any fine art print - and is the only establishment of its kind that remains in Tokyo.
Red and yellow and green and blue... at Biscuit
If you follow the aroma of coffee across the street from Isetatsu, you will find Rampo, a small café clad in dark wood decorated with eclectic kitsch ornaments and picture frames whose owner has a penchant for cats. An unusual refuge, yet somewhat very Yanaka once you get a feel for the area. The kitsch trail continues and is presented in a very different way next door at Biscuit. Colour coordinated objects from Europe line the walls and vintage dressers of this boutique which makes up a mini emporium with two other outlets - fashion and books - located in their respective dinky shops dotted around the neighbourhood. Biscuit is a lifestyle brand with an eye for detail that has successfully managed to understand its aesthetic across all aspects and objects for everyday life. 
Nobuo-san at Biscuit Books
The book shop is close to Nezu Shrine, a few minutes walk from the other two outlets and is run by artist Nobuo Kusunoki. It was a pleasure to meet Nobuo-san who was passionate about illustrated books. An illustrator himself, he explained how the shop's book collection is his own; from children's books to encyclopedias, old fashion and travel magazines to Punch, his collection spans the globe and has friends from England and Europe send him old books and maps of London that they find in flea markets or on their travels. Originally from Kyoto, Nobuo-san described Yanaka as a home from home - the neighbourhood's low architecture and resident's love of two-wheels rather than four attracted him to move to the area. Arigato goizamsu to Nobuo-san for his time and tour of his brilliant shop - please take a look at Nobuo's very own illustrations and model-making at his website Mustard Café here.
Behind the façade of a 1952 sento public bathhouse lies one of the most famous contemporary art galleries in Japan, SCAI The Bathhouse. Launched in 1993 under the directorship of Masami Shiraishi, an international and national artist programme of events and exhibitions are programmed throughout the year - currently on show is an installation by Japanese artist Nobuko Tsuchiya, We are living in a time machine.