Swellboy on… Tokyo

Bernard Buffet and buffets of a more edible kind keep our man entertained

Image: Brijesh Patel

I was recently in Tokyo for a couple of days and as it had been some time since I last visited I was struck by how quiet everything was, eerily quiet. Even the many lines of traffic that in any other city would be accompanied by a cacophony of klaxons and revving engines is here the gentle purr of a contented cat or the buzz of a mildly irritated bumblebee. Then again it may simply be that my ears had yet to adjust to the change in pressure that came from being on the ground: I seem to travel so much that my tympana and Eustachian tubes no longer bother to “pop” when at sea level, as they know that I will be boarding another plane before too long.

I was in Japan to visit the Bernard Buffet Museum in the course of researching my book about the French painter. The museum is in a delightful rural place about 100km, and a little over half an hour by whisper-quiet hyperexpress train, from Tokyo (if this is a bullet train then it must have been fired from a gun with a very effective silencer). The museum is a marvel. It has many hundreds of works by the great artist and I would urge you to visit it, almost as strongly as I would urge you to buy my book when it comes out.

While in Tokyo I also promised myself that I would look into the Hotel Okura, which is under threat of redevelopment. I was first made aware of this cataclysmic news by Tyler Brûlé and I was curious to go along to see if any Monocle readers had chained themselves to the outside of the building.


But the road to hell is paved with good intentions and I fear that if there is a region of hell designed by Monocle (I suppose it would be warmed by one of those fancy gas jet fireplaces that dominate the middle of the drawing room rather than being attached to a wall), I am heading there, as I did not make it over to the Okura. I could legitimately plead jet lag, but in actual fact I could not tear myself away from the club room on the top of The Ritz-Carlton hotel.

I think that this was my first stay in a Ritz-Carlton property and it is an experience to be recommended. The location is brilliant and although there is a reception at ground level, the hotel proper only starts 40 or so storeys up with a dramatic, cavernous lobby perched high above the city. The club room a few storeys further up has the most miraculous views over the city and, had I not been here to conduct my art-historical investigations, I would have spent all my time sitting there nibbling on sashimi gazing out at the city that unfurled beneath me.

Talking of the road to hell, it put me in mind of the passage in Matthew that talks of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by the Devil, who shows all the kingdoms of the world from the top of a very high mountain.


Happily no evil spirit was at hand to tempt me… just a delicious Japanese buffet.

See also