25. 21st. Century Yokohama
by Pencil Louis
It was of little surprise that the only parts of the Minato
Miura complex which Vince approved of had been there for
some time, like the Maritime Museum and the Cosmo Clock
ferris wheel. The rest made him shudder. He wasn't exactly
opposed to town planning in principle. In fact, whenever he
raised his finger towards the ceiling, he was always
proposing some planning, municipal or otherwise. But what
It seemed that Yokohama had always been planned. Tokyo just
grew and rotted in much the same way as a rain forest, but
Yokohama was a place that had always originated in someone's
mind. It had always been borne by intellectual necessity.
Vince could appreciate this in a totally different way from
that in which he loved Tokyo's chaos and life force. The
houses existed in Tokyo, because people needed somewhere to
live. It had a ramshackle effect that always implied that
its cultural roots were with the folk who lived in these
houses. But in Yokohama, the architecture seemed to be
imposed and nowhere was this more true than in the Minato
Miura 21 project.
The most obvious of these was the Landmark Tower, which had
gone up and become Japan's tallest building before Vince had
even realised it was being constructed. In itself, like the
Shinjuku skyscrapers, the Tower had some aesthetic appeal.
While others had complained that they were eye sores, he had
been able to defend such structures as Shintocho for its
multi-planar effect and the Sumitomo building for its
triangular effect and the big hole in the middle, like a
giant block of Toblerone on its end. However, whenever he
talked to anyone with engineering background, he was forced
to admit that a triangle was not the best shape for a sky
scraper and that a hollow building or one with 40 foot high
ceilings on some floors was hardly very economical in terms
The Landmark Tower also had some glamour and undoubtedly
wasted its fair share of space, but, unlike the buildings in
the Shinjuku sky scraper district, it stood alone on the
horizon blocking out a fair slice of the view of the
harbour, relating to nothing around it and nothing else
relating to it. Similarly, the only thing attractive about
the New Grand Hotel was the ferris wheel almost as high and
within rock throwing range.
Vince had mixed feelings about the New Grand and this may
have led him to remark in mixed company that the building
looked like a banana.
"What?" Connie had given him one of her vastly superior
looks. "It's nothing like a banana. It's more like a segment
of cantaloupe with the seeds left in it."
The entire group erupted into a discussion about the most
appropriate metaphor for the New Grand Hotel. The spinnaker
of a yacht. A bottle of shampoo or conditioner. An up-ended
bamboo shoot. An apple corer. The tip of a sewing machine
needle. A wet sumie paint brush. Anything but a banana,
although one very kind Japanese woman admitted that she had
seen chocolate coated bananas that looked similar, but they
were brown not white. Vince was receiving telephone calls
for months afterwards about the New Grand.
"It's a pen nib," a husky, muffled voice would state baldly
at 2 o'clock in the morning as if daring him to contradict
"A pen nib!"
"A pen nib?"
"What's this about a pen nib?"
"The New Grand Hotel! What else?"
"It looks nothing like a pen nib!"
"Well, have you seen the new range of Sheaffers?"
"No, but ..."
"Well, it looks more like a Sheaffer nib than a banana, I'll
tell you that."
The calls were always anonymous and Vince couldn't help
wondering what sort of pervert would call in the wee wee
hours of the morning to tell him that the New Grand Hotel
looked like a pen nib. It was far easier, he sighed, to
understand the guys who rang up and wanted to have telephone
sex with Connie, although neither he nor Connie ever
actually knew how to have sex on the telephone. He supposed
it would have to be oral sex unless you vaselined the
As for the Pacifico International complex, he discovered
that it was nothing but a huge warehouse that exhibited
anything that someone would pay to have exhibited. Vince
didn't have anything to exhibit, but he went along once and
after some haggling they gave him a special green tag, which
meant that he had educational interest in the exhibition.
There were other colours for professionals, businessmen,
students, tradespeople and sight seers. In his entire time
in the complex, looking at makeshift water sculptures, he
didn't see anyone else with a green tag or, for that matter,
anything that looked at all educational. There was, however,
a lot of it.
Vince visited the Yokohama Metropolitan Museum of Art just
once too, and there was a lot of that as well. The occasion
was the Joan Miro exhibition and Vince had already seen one
Miro exhibition in Tokyo, not to mention a wealth of his
work at the Hakone Open Air Art Museum. He actually liked a
lot of Miro's work, but had discovered that, as with so many
of these exhibitions, there was an overkill of hundreds of
works and it was just too much culture to digest in one
Vince didn't know how the average Japanese art lover did it.
They would peer at the title of the painting and its date on
a little plaque to the side, then step back so as to
appreciate the canvas more fully. They would then gaze at
the painting for as long as it took a look of sublime
appreciation and understanding to envelope their face, as if
they had suddenly become as one with the picture. They would
then sigh silently, obviously reluctant to tear their eyes
away and repeat the same process for the next canvas. Vince
began to wonder if this were art appreciation or just sheer
boredom after he noticed that a number of art lovers with
the same range of expressions at the original canvases of
Norman Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post covers and Haddon
Sunblum's Coca Cola Santa Claus exhibition.
Vince was all too aware that they found his kind of art
appreciation a damned nuisance. He liked to get close up to
the canvas so that he could see each and every brush stroke
and smell the paint. If he had been less scrupulous, he
would have run his fingers over the canvas, poked his tongue
out and tasted it, and no doubt would have been evicted from
the gallery for doing so. But imagine what Giotto or Raphael
would taste like, he thought. Stale, perhaps. At Japanese
exhibitions, he would start with the subject matter, but
after the fiftieth canvas he was looking only at the
materials. With Miro, after the 30th. Oisseau, he couldn't
see how any of the Japanese art lovers, or for that matter
Miro himself, could be looking at the subject matter.
The Yokohama Museum of Art had an observation tower with a
window as two dimensional as any of the paintings
downstairs. It gave a perfect 180 degree view of Yokohama
and its port. It had to. After all, the rest of the view was
blocked out by the Landmark Tower across the road.