Tokyo’s best minigallery is just a few gates away.
PERHAPS MORE THAN ANY OTHER COUNTRY, Japan is a unique hybrid of the ancient and the downright futuristic. A walk through the hectic Shibuya and Shinjuku neighborhoods in Tokyo, with their clusters of skyscrapers and oceans of neon, can feel like a trip to the twenty-second century. Yet it’s just as easy to visit a temple, shrine, or garden there and be exposed to something that’s been a staple of Japanese society for thousands of years.
That balance of the old and the new is, appropriately, on display at the recently expanded and upgraded Admirals Club at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport. Like other Admirals Club lounges around the world, this one has plenty that’s new and cutting-edge: The 13,300-square-foot lounge, which opened in 2007, has Wi-Fi access throughout, more than 80 Ethernet ports, and more Lenovo Think- Centre Desktop computers than any other Admirals Club in the world. But what makes it distinctive, and uniquely Japanese, is the collection of ancient art -- including everything from woodblock prints and pottery to furniture and ornamental Hina dolls of the emperor and empress -- that has been carefully woven throughout the contemporary design of the club.
The motivation behind introducing a mini art gallery to the Narita lounge was to help create a relaxing environment for travelers, which artwork is uniquely suited to do, and to expose visitors to an aspect of Japanese culture they might not otherwise know exists. “People from Western cultures, including Americans, who are a large part of our customer base, may associate Japanese culture with old-fashioned clichés, like samurai in iron armor carrying long steel swords,” says Chihiro Nishiura, premium services regional manager at Narita for American Airlines. “Fewer people know about the other side of Japanese culture and the elegance of its art.”
Among the 39 pieces currently on display are several woodblock prints that are remakes of famed Japanese artist Utagawa Hiroshige’s Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido series. Originally completed toward the end of the Edo period -- between 1603 and 1867, when art and travel flourished in Japan -- the series shows 53 different images of landscapes and travelers along an ancient road called the Tokaido, between Kyoto and Tokyo. “We believe this brings another interesting comparison: present and past in the same motif of traveling, modern flight versus a walking tour of more than 300 miles,” Chihiro says.
The collection, which was assembled by a group of American Airlines employees who scoured fine-art and antiques shops in and around Tokyo, also includes a number of pieces that pay tribute to The Tale of Genji, the 1,000-year-old seminal work in Japanese literature by Murasaki Shikibu that is considered by many to be the world’s first novel. One is a six-panel gold-leaf folding screen done in the Nihonga style of the seventeenth century; it depicts aristocratic life in the eleventh century, when the Genji story took place. Another is a gilded tray that decorates the conference room. Chihiro says, “People visiting the club see the elegance of our collections and easily understand why the story has maintained its position as the shining icon of Japanese literature for over 1,000 years.”