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Context, Denial & Reward

Piece Hostel, Kyoto - P4000 for 4 Nights

Traveling alone gave me the complete liberty to choose my own accommodations at my own pace without someone complaining but on the downside I’m not the one to prepare reservations ahead of time. Last-minute decisions are my thing and I find exhilaration in it. I found this hostel just a few days before my flight and fortunately booked it within a random Agoda promo period for 4000 pesos (9000+ yen) for 5 days and 4 nights! I know what a steal.

Let’s talk about the fine points of this sweet accommodation:

1. It challenged my default preconceptions on couch-surfing/back-packing because:

1.1. It’s perfectly safe and clean (bare concrete floor is A+)

1.2. Friendly/English-speaking/resourceful staff

1.3. Lightning fast wi-fi connection and free use of desktop

1.4 The crowd is diverse

2. On the 3rd night, the hotel management held an Okonomiyaki party for free!

3. They have a handsome collection of architectural books (Tschumi, Zaha, Jean Nouvel)

4. It anticipates (almost as if mind-reading) your every need. I forgot to bring my flip flops and they have free in-house slippers you can borrow. They also have bike rentals, free transparent umbrellas, free soap/shampoo, free breakfast and even a separate drying area!

Final thought: I should’ve stayed longer 

Church of Light (Ibaraki Kasugaoka Kyokai Church) by Tadao Ando

It’s no secret that Ando is my most favored architect, if not a personal hero, for countless reasons. According to architectural zeitgeists and man-made -isms, he would most definitely fall under Modernism or Critical Regionalism, to be more precise but I believe that his style eludes categories. 

Light and space are two elements definitive of Ando’s palette and philosophical framework, most evident in the Church of Light; a small chapel situated in Ibaraki. This particular architecture is an exhibition of his mastery of coexistence, duality and restrain. Natural light, beyond human control, is easily manipulated with grace and poetic exactitude to delineate the boundaries of the physical and the invisible. Ando employs the void/darkness - the emptiness and nothingness of a space with light to bring in an ethereal kind of spatial perception and sublimity, which I never expected to experience in this lifetime without trying too hard.The concrete walls were full of grit but smooth as a lacquer-finished texture and minimal ornamentation can be observed, not that it needed any in the first place. The light coming out of the cruciform slit appears to be alive whenever the sun or an outside intervention within the periphery makes any movement.

The thought and design process behind this wasn’t that grand at all. In fact, this was just a simple play of extrusions and volume contrasts where one admits light inside a space and let it gradually recede, but Ando’s craft and precision is of its own inimitable caliber. He knows where and how things should fall into place in a very humble manner. His greatness never relied on the loud, the imposing but rather on the unobtrusive character of architecture. 

The second half of my Japan trip was in Osaka - an entirely new universe compared to Kyoto’s zen. A sprawling metropolitan area, Osaka is a dense urban jungle filled with commercial establishments largely obsessed with “Amerikamura” or American villages - their own version of Harajuku where you can find heaps of western goods. Orange Street or Tachibana-Dori, a long strip of independent shops is the perfect example of this ‘amemura’ neighborhood. The hotel which I stayed in was a minute away from Osaka Castle, which frankly is not that striking.

Also dubbed as Japan’s food capital, you can find really great deals on restaurants (combos, cheap food etc). They’re famous for their okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) and takoyaki - the best ones can be found in Namba/Dotunburi.

Since I haven’t been to Tokyo (yet), I can’t really say Osaka as its less stellar counterpart but based on what I saw in Lost In Translation (lol) it has similar features with tiny nuances. It has high-end shops, busy streets in Umeda like that of Shibuya and an intricate subway where I got lost countless times. My only regret is that I stayed in Osaka too long whereas I could’ve stayed in Kyoto for a couple of days, made Osaka a day trip and went to see Himeji, Kobe and Nara instead but not bad for a first time. 

They said that if you could visit Japan for just one day, go to Kyoto. Not only does it bear heavy historical significance as Japan’s ancient capital for over a millennium, it is also home to the best landmarks including Fushimi-Inari, Arashiyama Bamboo thicket, Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) and the famous geisha district, Gion.

The first four days of my trip was in Kyoto (originally Osaka) with no actual plan where and what place I should visit first since I have to familiarize myself with the wayfinding. I stayed at this unassuming but very decent hostel and tried to divide my trip based on quadrants since I was staying in the central area. First day included a very touristy walk around the city complete with my bucket hat. First impression: everything was in place, there is a seamless blur between the sidewalk and the actual street with an untold sense of respect among the pedestrians walking, people on bicycles and mass transit. Really admirable because you know when a city is really developed: it radiates and also really sad because how I wish this level of livability, this proportionate human to person scale and this comfortable walkability from place to another is far from being attainable in my hometown. Transport was a bit tricky at first since the Japanese are a bit anal about things, their train system is like a complex version of Hong Kong’s but thankfully it took me a short while to get accustomed to it. 

Kyoto’s most glaring charm is the fact that its strong heritage does not succumb nor overpower its modern built environment with ryokans and traditional houses blending perfectly with the new ones. Temples, shrines and feudal castles remained the city’s focal points directly connected to stations which makes it easy to navigate. You can actually breeze through the important structures in just one day if planned ahead of time but for the likes of me who had that much luxury of time I think I was able to observe more in my own pace. I think I can now say that you should forget Tokyo for now and visit Kyoto instead - it’s actually the quintessential authentic Japan that you should experience first. 

Last week, I just crossed out one important item from my bucket list or some imaginary episodic things-to-do before I die. For the past seven days that I have been away, I was able to traverse most of key destinations in Kansai mainly around Kyoto and Osaka. Personal friends know how Japan is such a dream to me for a number of reasons, which I hope to elaborate on in the succeeding posts after this one but for now, it has finally materialized and come to full circle now that I’m actually writing about it.

Further travel stories to follow within the week: Kyoto, Osaka and my personal architectural mecca. 

This week in photos:

1-3. Attended Arcades: Debbie Carlos posters by My APT Heima last Thursday and all I can remember was my gin + tonic tasted too strong.

4. This new office in SDA, without question, is inspired by the great Tadao Ando’s lightplay incorporated in spaces.

5-6. The usual suspects, random standout buildings around Shaw and Makati. The sky was so clear and inviting that day.

Can’t believe August is about to end and in two weeks I’ll be actually having the trip of my life, which I can’t wait to share and blog about.

Trying to do a little rebranding of my blog and if I feel like everything’s finally in place, I think it’s time to buy a domain. What do you think?

Trying to do a little rebranding of my blog and if I feel like everything’s finally in place, I think it’s time to buy a domain. What do you think?

This week in photos

Diptychs, contrasts, patterns, spatial relationships, contradictions and coexistence - these are snaps from my phone taken during my usual street stroll. Have a great wet week ahead.

Slow Sunday drive down south today with my dad’s side of the family. Throughout this day, there has been an unrelenting barrage of when am I going to have a girlfriend as if having one is some kind of unwritten rule about male validity. 

But anyway that’s no longer significant. The point is I had a great time catching up with my cousins while being bored out of my wits walking and trying to find succulents for table decor but to no avail. Next time maybe.