The Sofitel Hotel once stood on the Ueno park skyline like a bizarrely massive chest of drawers, at once a paean to modern design aesthetics and traditional Shinto values. It was demolished in December 2006 after only 12 years of offering 83 4-star rooms in central Tokyo, leaving a weirdly-shaped gap on the city-scape viewed from Shinobazu pond. Like the cherry blossoms that frame so many shots of the Sofitel, it was only a temporary beauty, one that serves to remind us of the short time we`re here, and how any one of us can be called away at any moment.
The Sofitel and Cherry Blossoms. Thanks to sevargmt for this image.
Described by Frommers as `an oasis of refined beauty, excellent service, and great views`, and by PassionAsia as `occupying Tokyo’s best location`, you have to wonder why the Sofitel failed. It was completely refurbished in 2000, only 8 years after it was first built- and surely yet to recoup it`s building cost. Its suites on the 25th floor cost ï¿¥58,000, with singles and doubles on the lower floors the still pricey ï¿¥30,000 and ï¿¥40,000 respectively. It boasted such amenities as TV`s with internet-viewing capacity (no email though…), irons and ironing boards, concierge center, fitness centre, French restaurant Provence with real-life French chef, and more. What went wrong?
Perhaps it was swallowed in a mountain of debt, perhaps high-class esecutives thought its architecture too ridiculous, or perhaps its location was not so great, its management awful, or organized crime ran it into the ground with pay-offs. I don’t know the answer, but whatever the case, now it`s only a fading memory.
Designed by the architect Kiyonori Kikutake as a series of 5 stacked trapezoids, it was intended to embody the Shinto concept of the `Tree of Life`, a lightning-bolt-shaped cut of white zig-zag cloth tied around the thick boles of ancient trees.
This `tree of life` symbol is prevalent in all Shinto shrines around Japan, both tied around trees like lightning bolt charm bracelets, and hanging like Christmas decorations from a shrine`s heavy eaves. The bolt chiefly honors the trees, which are viewed as sacred- an idea reinforced in traditional Japanese art, where dead ancestors are represented as branches on the tree of life.
I first saw the Sofitel in my first year in Japan, 5 years ago, no doubt on a trip with my then-girlfriend. We would have looked at it and wondered – `what the heck is that?`. She`d been a student in a Tokyo University for several years, but didn`t recognize the hotel. Now, 5 year later, I went back to Ueno with a new girlfriend, a new life and job and home in back of me, purposefully looking for the Sofitel for my Structures series. But, of course, it was gone. All things pass, I guess, and time waits for no man.
My friend Bruno`s shot of the Sofitel- another reminder of the impermanence of things, especially in a city of transients like Tokyo. Bruno was here for a few years, now he`s back in Canada close to completing a Law degree. He sent me this shot of the Sofitel unbidden, starting me off thinking about putting up a post of aggregated photos. Thanks Bruno!
My good friend Jason Collin`s photo of the Sofitel- Jason is yet another person leaving, in the next few weeks, after 5 years in Tokyo- headed back to the States with his Japanese wife. Good luck, Jason!
Twin Towers over Shinobazu pond- thanks to Naotakem for this image.
Beautiful crisp shot looking up the Sofitel- thanks to Caspar B. for this image.
A panorama by Jason.
The Sofitel and cherry blossom over Shinobazu pond. Thanks to sevargmt for this image.
The Sofitel by night, looking up. Thanks to ataq411 for this image.
Gorgeous dusk shot- thanks to Fui for this image.
The Sofitel by night, looking across the pond. Thanks to ataq411 for this image.
The Sofitel from space- thanks to Googlemaps for this image.
My only shot in this series, the current view over Shinobazu pond, with no Sofitel in sight.
Location – Ueno, Tokyo
Entry – No chance, it`s gone.
Facts – Completed in 1994, refurbished 8 years later in 2000, demolished only 6 years after in 2006.
Architect – Kiyonori Kikutake, the same guy who built the similarly trapezoidal Edo-Tokyo Museum in Ryogoku.
Highlights – Memories of seeing it and thinking- `what the heck is that?`, thoughts of `mono no aware` or `the sadnes of being human’- the impermanence of things.
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