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RIBA Norman Foster Travelling Scholarship

Day 90

The Final Day - Ueno Park

Tokyo, Japan

I met with Tak Arai and Benedict Marshall on my final day to discuss their ongoing research into the future of Ueno Park. Tak has modelled the entire park area in a CAD file, and walked me through the neighbourhood from his screen. He highlighted the natural territories, the local architecture, and the pedestrian routes that connected them together; pointing out potential ways to increase footfall in the area. 


Later that afternoon, I went to the site to experience Ueno in person. Wandering around the Shinobazu Pond as the evening sun shone through the water lilies; I took a moment to reflect on this miraculous landscape. This was the perfect end to a truly life-changing trip.

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Day 82

National Museum of Emerging Science

Tokyo, Japan

Odaiba has a rich selection of science and technology museums, art exhibitions, and futuristic showrooms that show off the latest in robotic engineering. I visited the Miraikan museum to explore their incredible exhibitions on the speculative frontiers of life, the universe, earth, and bio-tech laboratories. The Miraikan museum also showcases a series of short-term exhibitions, and I was lucky enough to catch the fantastic ‘Design Ah!’ exhibition.

The ‘Design-Ah!’ exhibition is a highly immersive experience that materialises many of the key concepts in this book. The photograph (right) shows a room filled with numerous doorways, each relating to a different species. Children would try and squeeze themselves through the tiny doorways that were designed for cats, dogs, and other mammals - whilst adults prodded the small opening near the ceiling, that were designed for birds and bats.

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Day 83

Gordon Matta-Clark Exhibition

Tokyo, Japan

I visited the Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, to explore their exciting new exhibition on the late Gordon Matta-Clark (1943–1978) entitled ‘Mutation in Space’. The artist and activist seemlessly worked across the mediums of painting, architecture, street installations, and food - creating provocative artwork that forcefully encouraged social change. One of his most famous 

mutations in the form of architecture 

(or ‘anarchitecture’), was his artwork entitled ‘Splitting’ (1974).

In this performative piece, he filmed himself literally dissecting buildings by cutting and carving them into fragmented blocks with household tools. He would remove entire storeys, and slice through brick facades to create poetic voids that spilled out - offering unlikely pathways through his architectural interventions. Matta-Clark was also fascinated by nature, and would sketch tree-based patterns and diagrammatic installations.

Day 84

Under The Rainbow Bridge

Tokyo, Japan

A flight of Japanese cormorants dry their wings in the hot sun, directly under the famous Rainbow bridge that connects the Odaiba waterfront to Shibaura Pier. These cormorants are the same species as the domesticated birds that were trained by master fishermen to catch Ayu (sweetfish) in Kyoto.


But unlike their domesticated 

relatives, these birds roam freely around the Tokyo Bay area, hunting fish along the Arakawa River.

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Day 85


Tokyo, Japan

The bronze statue of a dog outside Shibuya Station marks the spot where Hachikō, a loyal Japanese Akita, used to stand and wait for his owner to arrive home from work. 

Ueno Hidesaburō, the dog’s owner, would commute daily to work, and Hachikō would leave the house to greet him at the end of each day.


When professor Ueno suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage on May 21, 1925 - Hachikō waited faithfully for his owner to exit the station. He waited for the next nine years, nine months and fifteen days - appearing every day, precisely when the train was due at the station. Hachikō is a cultural icon in Shibuya, with other species now capturing the public eye in his shadow.

Day 86

Staging Nature in Minato

Tokyo, Japan

Taking a day to enjoy Tokyo’s fascinating experimental architecture in Minato - I visited Kengo Kuma’s ‘Sunny Hills Cake Shop’. The wooden diamond latticing structure wraps around the building both internally and externally, and as Kuma notes, this was inspired by tree branches and their light-dappling effect. Kuma also stages nature by filling the interal space with plants that weave up the central staircase.

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Day 87

Dog Walking with Daisuke

Tokyo, Japan

I met with Daisuke Sanada, a local Lead Architect at SUWA Architects + Engineers. He kindly took me to his superbly designed home in West Toyko, to experience a greener side of the city that still retains the essence of Satoyama.

Daisuke is focused on the art of Japanese craft, and the synergy between natural materials and cultural tradition. This is self-evident in his wonderful home; which is intricately carved into the landscape of an adjacent sloping forest.

Day 88

Animal Architecture in Tokyo

Tokyo, Japan

Daisuke Sanada kindly drove me out to visit a little-known former pharmaceutical house near to his family home. This ancient house had a beautiful thatched roof, and a wooden column that was precariously perched on a small stone. I asked Daisuke why the column was so ominously balanced on a stone, and he explained that it allowed the building a degree of flexibility during earthquakes. Rather than snapping, the column would shake free from the stone, and could then be repositioned when the tremors stop. Whilst walking around the grounds of this ancient house, we noticed this stunning little piece of animal architecture floating on the pond. Daisuke exclaimed, “it’s a duck house!”

...but it appeared as though a family of Terrapins had moved in. This miniature display of designed cohabitation was a reminder of the enduring relationship between wildlife, and the local cultivators that balance their own personal comfort with a deep respect for the natural environment.

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Day 89


Tokyo, Japan

On my final night in Tokyo I took to the bustling streets of Shinjuku, to experience the neon lights, ramen noodles, and late-night izakayas that have made this place a global icon. The entire district is awash with shimmering skyscrapers, flashing signage, limousines, talking robots, Pachinko slot machines, food stalls, and salesmen touting their local businesses to tourists. This place 

is the epicentre of extreme culture. A dazzling microcosm of modern prosperity that has human entertainment at its rapidly

beating heart.

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Day 74


Analysis of Omotehama Beach

Omotehama, Japan

The Omotehama Museum presents a comprehensive study of loggerhead turtles through history - merging quantitative and qualitative research from numerous local sources. Mina and Yuzi have curated decades of field research to argue for proactive change on the Omotehama beach; starting with the removal of the misplaced concrete tetrapods that block migrating turtles from reaching their natural nesting habitats. 

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Day 75


Through ‘The Sea of Trees’

Mount Fuji, Japan

Continuing eastward towards Tokyo, I nervously cycled through the infamous Aokigahara - a 30km2 dense forest that is said to be haunted by yūrei (ghosts). 

The forest thrives on the hardened lava that spewed from Mount Fuji back in 864CE. But in recent years, Aokigahara has become synonymous with death. It has become internationally known as “Suicide Forest”, due to the mysteriously high number of deaths that occur within the thick foliage each year.

Day 76

5th Station

Mount Fuji, Japan

The sheer monumentality of Mount Fuji is utterly incomprehensible. Nothing compares to this phenomenal place.


I began my journey to its summit at 

Lake Kawaguchi - and cycled to the highest tarmaced point of the 

mountain - ‘The Subaru 5th Station’.

The views over Yamanashi were breathtaking, so I waited there until the sun set to begin my hike to the summit. With my head torch set, and my boots strapped, my mission was to catch the sun rise over Tokyo.

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Day 77

Summit at Dawn

Mount Fuji, Japan

It was 5.03am when I photographed this image. I was stood at the summit of Mount Fuji, and could see the curvature of the earth behind the glowing mass that was Tokyo. After eight hours of climbing with Duvan (a new Swiss friend that I met along the way), we were now the highest people in Japan. Unbeknownst to us, a storm was on its way that would render us practically blind. As the winds picked up and a red mist of sand descended on us, the rest of Japan was waking up to the news that Typhoon Jebi was on its way. But for this brief moment, I could see the world’s largest urban landscape as part of something much larger.

Day 78

Drenched in Kamakura

Kamakura, Japan

Leaving Mount Fuji in the distance, the penultimate cycle ride was the harshest that I would experience. Typhoon Jebi was battering Japan’s coastline, and the only two direct roads to Kamakura were under water. My new route would take me over Mount Mikuni in torrential rain, with 18% cobbled descents. To top this off, a major road had collapsed, and emergency forces had sealed off the entire area. Fortunately, after some negotiation, a team of very diligent soldiers carried my bicycle through the rubble so that I could continue my journey. As the sun set in Kamakura, the rain stopped and the sky turned a majestic shade of violet. 

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Day 79

Arrival into Odaiba

Tokyo, Japan

I arrived into Tokyo as the sun set on a clear blue Saturday afternoon. The roads were mysteriously quiet, so I cycle a victory lap of the artificial island of Odaiba under a grid of tron-like street lights. I had cycled over 1200km across some of the most stunning landscapes that I have ever seen - but now it was time to get off my saddle and explore the final mega-city of the trip. Entering through the many suburban neighbourhoods of the Greater Tokyo Area was an eye-opening experience.

After seeing the glow of Tokyo from the summit of Mount Fuji, I had imagined an endless city of skyscrapers and neon lights. But in fact the suburbs were made up of relatively unimposing, low-rise neighbourhoods, with large green public spaces along the arterial routes. Like everywhere else in Japan, these public spaces were spotless, and there was a well-stocked vending machine every 100 metres for me to top up on cold coffee.

Day 80

Island in the City

Odaiba, Japan

I took my camera and walked around the man-made island of Odaiba on my first day in Tokyo. 

This fascinating island was originally conceived in the 1850’s as a defense mechanism, to protect the mainland of Edo from sea-based attacks. The name ‘Daiba’ in Japanese refers to the cannon batteries that were placed on the manmade islands.

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Day 81

Battery Three, Battery Six

Tokyo, Japan

According to historical studies in civil engineering, the Bakufu intendant Egawa Hidetatsu originally planned 11 battery islands to be built across Tokyo Bay. These fortress islands were designed to protect the bay area from large ships, but only six were ever fully realised. The ghosts of 

Japan’s military past still rest on the water, but the batteries are now symbols of wildlife conservation. The perfectly square ‘Battery No.3’ is now a tranquil public park that overlooks Odaiba beach.

And ‘Battery No.6’ is now a veritable wilderness that has been dedicated to wild birds. It has been left to flourish, and is completely inaccessible to the public.

Day 72


Loggerhead Turtle Crisis

Omotehama, Japan

I met with Mina and Yuzi, a locally famous marine conservationist couple that spearheaded a campaign to fix Japan’s coastline mismanagement. They founded the Omotehama Turtle Museum, and invited me to stay with them to learn about the local loggerhead turtles, and the giant concrete tetrapods that are buried across the coastline.

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Day 73


Hatchling Cages

Omotehama, Japan

Mina took me to Omotehama beach to see the hatchling houses that have been built to save the plummeting loggerhead turtle population. However, as Mina explained, the houses now act as giant food-banks for predators, and actually make life more difficult for the turtles. Some local conservationists still dig up nest sites and relocatie them in the hatchling houses, in a vain attempt to manage the escalating crisis.

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Day 71


Cycling Mount Gozaisho

Koka, Japan

Riding through the Satoyama landscapes of Koka towards the coast of Hamamatsu - the day began with a challenging but peaceful ride over Mount Gozaisho in 38°C. 

It ended in a dark and dangerous slog across the flat plains of Toyohashi during a treacherous thunderstorm. After 182km of stunning rural scenery, I finally made it to the Omotehama coastline.

Day 70


Satoyama Landscapes

Koka, Japan

‘Satoyama’ is a Japanese word that refers to the agricultural bufferzones between arable flat-lands and mountain foothills. These bufferzones were once a signature feature of the Japanese landscape, as villagers developed a close relationship with their surroundings over centuries of cultivation, coppicing, fertilization, and forest maintenance. With these landscapes now in decline, ‘The Satoyama Initiative’ was established at UNESCO in 2009, to promote their recovery and conservation.


Day 69


Lost in the Bamboo Forest

Kyoto, Japan

Continuing my investigations into the complex symbiotic relationships between wildlife, architecture, landscape, and philosophy -

I ventured out to the Arashiyama Forest, to learn about the history of a majestic natural material that is popular in all of these spheres: Bamboo.

Bamboo has a rich history in Japanese architecture, and contemporary practitioners such as Kengo Kuma are returning their focus onto the creative functionality of this diverse material. I lost myself in the forest, and was able to catch a glimpse of the 

species that thrive in amongst the tangled bamboo roots - namely, the slightly terrifying yellow and black banded Jorō spider.

Day 68 (Night)


A Night of Cormorant Fishing

Kyoto, Japan

As night fell on Arashiyama, I took a boat out to the Katsura River to watch the old master fishermen preparing for a long night of traditional cormorant fishing. The fishermen use trained cormerants to catch river fish; leading them out on leashes, under a large flame to steer them towards the fish. The birds dive to catch their prey, but the fish remain in their throats due to a snare that the fishermen then pull in order to steal their catch.

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Day 67



Kyoto, Japan

My journey through Kyoto took me to the highly revered Kinkaku-Ji Buddhist temple. As one of the most famous buildings in Japan; the glistening Kinkaku-Ji pavilion is covered with pure gold leaf, and is topped with a thatched pyramid of shingles that form the roof. The architecture blends three distinct styles across its three storeys, from the first floor ‘Chamber of Dharma Waters’ (in Shinden-Zukuri style), to the second floor ‘Tower of Sound Waves’ (in Buke-Zukuri style), and finally to the third floor ‘Cupola of the Ultimate’ (in Zenshūyō style). The magnificent gardens that surround the pavilion are a classic example of Muromachi Period garden design (14th century) - which greatly emphasized the correlation between architecture and landscape.

Day 68


Hiking Mount Arashiyama

Kyoto, Japan

A troop of japanese macaques live high up in the mountains of Arashiyama in the peripheries of central Kyoto - so I hiked the winding route to go and meet them. A small observation deck has been erected to capitalize on their presence, but rather than caging the animals, it is the admirers that go behind bars. The deck acts as an informal feeding station - but both the 

monkeys and the humans are free to roam. 


Day 66


Amazing Infrastructure in Harie

Harie, Japan

My second trip with Seita Mori took us to Harie, ‘The Village of Living Water’. This village is locally famous for its incredible communal infrastructure that connects individual kitchens to the village’s canal system. Each Kabata (flooded kitchen) is filled with carp that swim around and purify the water in the process. The local residents clean their dishes and store food in the water, feeding the fish in the process. A perfect example of mutualism between nature and culture.

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Day 65


Hata Rice Terraces

Hata, Japan

I met with Seita Mori, an incredibly well-informed landscape engineer based in Kyoto - and he took me to the village of Hata, to explore the unique rice fields and ecologies that have formed there since World War II. Unlike the traditional grid-like layouts of rice fields found in the area, Hata’s rice terraces ripple sporadically across the horizon, and require a unique water circulation system that relies on collective intelligence and communal cooperation to distribute the water evenly.

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Day 63


Nara Sika Deer

Nara, Japan

The relationship between Sika Deer and the city of Nara is a phenomenal example of the power of cultural species. These spiritually cleansing animals roam freely around the city, completely unfazed by the crowds that flock to see Nara’s famous landmarks.

The deer have learnt to bow (a sign of deep respect in Japanese custom), to communicate that they want food. The locals treat the deer as communal pets, offering food and water if they are ever approached. This stunning display of mutual respect is even extended to the wider infrastructure of road networks - as cars wait patiently whilst the deer skip across their path. The deer are still conceivably wild animals, but their relationship to humans has evolved alongside centuries of cultural integration.

Day 64


Adventures in Gion

Kyoto, Japan

Arriving into Kyoto after a short cycle from Nara, I was amazed at how many statues of Tanuki I could see perched in gardens and on window sills. Tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs) have a strange cultural reputation in Japan - with many local people telling stories of their mischievous ways. The animals are depicted in Japanese folklore as ghostly supernatural creatures that can fool people by way of shapeshifting.


Day 62


Nara Temples

Nara, Japan

I continued eastward, to Japan’s former 8th century capital - the ancient city of Nara (formerly, Heijo). The city is a popular pilgrimage destination for Buddhists and Shintoists, famous for its incredible array of temples, shrines, and pagodas that nestle into beautiully manicured landscapes. 

Tōdai-ji, one of the most observed temples in Japan, houses the world’s largest bronze statue of The Great Buddha.

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Day 61


Exploring Osaka’s Food Culture

Osaka, Japan

Dōtonbori’s soaring street-food hoardings are as surreal and colourful as the public food preparations below.


From Kani Doraku’s mechanical crab, to the giant inflatable blowfish that dangles outside Zuboraya - Osakans know how to sell a dish.

Day 60


Naniwa Yodogawa Festival

Osaka, Japan

The Naniwa Yodogawa Festival is an annual event that takes place on the banks of the Yodo River in central Osaka. 

After a long day of intense heat, tens of thousands of people gathered in traditional brightly coloured yukata (lightweight kimonos), to enjoy a feast of fireworks and local 



Day 59


The Long Road to Osaka

Osaka, Japan

With the long sweeping roads of rural 

Honshu behind me - I was now in the mega metropolitan triangle of Kyoto - Osaka - Kobe. I went to Dōtonbori, a bustling central district in Osaka, where I met with the owner of the Lucky Owl cafe; the first of many strange owl cafes to spring up in the area. I questioned the owner on her methods of captivity and domestication, and she was keen to assure me that the birds are regularly taken to larger enclosures where they can fly around. I remain unconvinced

that this subculture promotes a healthy relationship with animals - but I visited these tremendous birds in her cafe to try and understand the appeal of the place. The experience was a bizarre and bittersweet menagerie of wide eyes, ruffled feathers, and blunted beaks. A lesson learnt in the dangers of archaic designer captivity.

Day 58


The Long Road to Osaka

Osaka, Japan

With 185km of road in front of me, in 39°C heat, I slowly pedalled along Honshu’s southern coastline towards Osaka. Cities and villages blurred into peri-urban landscapes and rural fields - which then blurred into rice paddies, wetlands, and industrial parks. The array of stunning Satoyama landscapes along this route was awe inspiring - and the gradual ebbs and flows in urban density felt so cohesive at this pace.


Day 57


Okayama Wilderness

Okayama, Japan

Korakuen Garden features a wonderful maze of streams, bridges, and serpentine pathways - where I got lost in the thick forest that envelopes the central lakes. 

Glimpses of the famous Okayama Castle, nicknamed ‘Crow Castle’ because of its bold black exterior, can be spotted seemingly rising out of the sculpted tree canopies beyond the Asahi River.

Day 56


Korakuen Garden

Okayama, Japan

Eager to explore and compare Japan’s 

cherished landscaping masterpieces - I 

cycled to Okayama, to visit the beautifully tranquil Korakuen Garden. 

Korakuen Garden is one of the ‘Three Great Gardens’ of Japan, and features groves of plum, cherry and maple trees, tea and rice fields, perfectly cut lawns, and a small crane aviary. This immersive wilderness is filled with tiny pavilions hiding in the trees.


Day 54


The Rural Drought

Fukuyama, Japan

This once fertile industry is embedded into the religious, political, sociological, environmental, and geomorphological underpinnings of Japanese culture - but is losing ground as the complexities of farming as a


full-time profession is increasingly becoming a thing of the past.

In the midst of Japan’s hottest summer on record, farmers battled with temperatures of 41.1C as they ploughed their scorched fields. But Japan’s agricultural crisis has 

become a generational problem more than a seasonal one, as 6 in 10 farmers in Japan are now over the age of 65.

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Day 55


Cycling to Onomichi

Onomichi, Japan

This 60km long bridge connects Japan’s main island of Honshu to the Shikoku 

island, passing through six small islands in the Seto Inland Sea en route. 

The bridge is famous among cycling enthusiasts due to its vast cycling network - which glides elegantly through stunning satoyama buffer zones, merging the natural island topographies with mega-



Day 53



Ōkunoshima, Japan

Ōkunoshima was reportedly removed from maps during the Second World War, as the Japanese army secretly produced over 6,000 tons of poison gas on the island in a bid to win the war.

74 years on, and the island has become an unlikely paradise for an enormous colony of rabbits. With no keystone predator on the island to regulate their population, the island is now famous for its abundance of fluffy residents.

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Day 52



Itsukushima, Japan

Wild Sika Deer have adapted to urban life on Itsukushima island, and have lost their fear of humans. And whilst they do not speak our language, they do communicate their wants and needs via their body language and territorial marking. The Sika Deer queue patiently for food outside the local restaurants that line Itsukushima’s northern coast. The restaurant owners regularly greet the deer, and feed them leftovers with a bowl of fresh water.

This symbiotic relationship promotes a closer integration with the local ecology, and reflects the island’s rich history as a sacred Shintoist retreat.

Day 51


Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Hiroshima, Japan

After the A-bomb was dropped over Hiroshima in the summer of 1945, American newspapers reported that “For seventy-five years nothing will grow”.

They were wrong. That Autumn, as the survivors of the blast began to clear the charred ruins from their city, they noticed new buds sprouting from the scorched earth. The ground had returned to life, and provided the Japanese survivors with something tangible to nurture, as they rebuilt their homes from nothing.

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Day 50


The Road to Hiroshima

Hiroshima, Japan

Travelling from the small southern island of Kyushu, to the main island of Honshu, I drifted through towns and villages until I finally reached Hiroshima. After 12 hours of rolling hills and twisting highways, I arrived at the central Peace Memorial Park, where I spent the afternoon collapsed in the shade. That evening, I ventured into the bustling city centre to learn the art of Okonomiyaki, and get a taste of Hiroshima’s vibrant izakaya scene.

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