Suntory is part of Ark Hills, a large complex that also includes the luxury ANA Hotel, plus shops, restaurants, residences and business towers. It's not especially handsome, but the amenities are exactly what are needed. If you must, you can grab a sandwich from Subway or a latte from Starbucks. Much better is an inexpensive curry at the counter of funky FISH or surprisingly sophisticated sushi at Kaitenzushi UOKI. Just up the street is Koots Green Tea, with its Starbucks-like green tea concoctions and elegant desserts.
Suntory isn't the only big business promoting music in Tokyo. The Bunkamura — which contains the large Orchard Hall, along with a small theater for drama (Cocoon), a cinema and a museum — is an annex of the massive Tokyu department store in the heart of bustling Shibuya-ku. In Bunkamura, you can also hit the outstanding art bookstore NADIFF, which also carries a hip collection of CDs.
Around the corner from Bunkamura is a six-story Tower Records — said to be the world's largest record store. Its classical fifth floor is legendary. Or at least it used to be when Japan's economy was thriving and before Tower began its own economic downturn. It's still impressive by American standards, but neither it nor the Shinjuku Tower branch (once my favorite record store anywhere) is what it was.
Still, the Japanese are fanatical collectors, and Tokyo record stores are treasure chests, particularly of historic reissues. The most impressive I came across was Soft 3, part of the Ishimaru Denki electronics megastore in Akihabara (Tokyo's so-called Electric City). It has several floors of classical CDs, including many classic live performances.
The mood in Soft 3 is one of quiet reverence, as though CDs are not so much objects of desire as historic cultural documents deserving deep respect. Such feeling for the past is one of the distinctive aspects of classical music in Tokyo. This is a spectacular city of the moment. Earthquakes, wars and a profound Buddhist/Shintoist appreciation for the transience of all things separate Tokyo from a physical record of its history. Buildings come and go, and no one seems to care. New is generally thought better than old. What is preserved is culture.
It is for this reason, and the economic bubble of the '70s and '80s, that Tokyo now has so many new or newish concert halls filled mainly with old music. This is particularly striking at Tokyo Opera City, on the outskirts of Shinjuku.
The main hall there is named after Toru Takemitsu, the great Modernist composer who led the way in merging East with West and who died in 1996. Takemitsu was a beloved figure in Japan and an effective champion of new music.
Now he has become an institution, but no one has come along to take his place. Standard repertory is the standard almost everywhere. New music does, however, find its way into the programming of some Japanese orchestras.
If the new music scene in Tokyo isn't as vibrant as that of, say, the visual arts scene, it does exist. Terry Riley happened to be in Tokyo my first night here, performing in the chapel of the wonderful Jiyu-Gakuen Myonichi-kan, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as a girls' school. This only surviving Wright structure in Tokyo is now an arts center.
A gleefully appreciative audience of young people spilled out of the hall and practically hung from the rafters. Riley performed his personal blend of Minimalism, raga and jazz on the piano, then was joined by Bay Area guitarist David Tanenbaum and, finally, by some Japanese musicians.
Curiously, this is one of the oldest concert venues in the city, although it felt utterly modern in spirit. And it helped put Tokyo's more museum-like classical concerts in perspective.
THE Tokyo Symphony's "Carmen" was not noteworthy, but the acoustics in MUZA, the modest new Kawasaki hall (a 15-minute train ride from the Ginza), are another Toyota marvel, with sound that felt as though it floated effortlessly on a cushion of air. Thanks to modern technology, anything in this hall is a pleasure to hear.
Part of the draw for this "Carmen" is that Tokyo has yet to develop into an operatic capital. The city has a high-tech opera house, the New National Theatre next to Tokyo Opera City (which is not an opera house — go figure), and several companies devoted to Japanese opera, including Nihon Opera Kyokai. But nothing of international stature.
Still, the Japanese do have an innate sense of theater and know how to make even something as nonvisual as an organ recital theatrical. A free lunchtime concert in the large hall of Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space in Ikebukuro turned out to be a four-organ recital. That's because this theater has the only four-in-one organ in the world. Like one of those four-color ballpoint pens, it houses Renaissance, Baroque, French Romantic and modern instruments in one casing, which revolves.
On my last evening in Tokyo, I heard the Bavarian Radio Orchestra play Tchaikovsky's B-Flat Piano Concerto at Suntory. I have no idea how many times I've heard this hoariest of war horses.
My hotel, the Park Hotel Tokyo, was a 10-minute subway ride or an enjoyable two-mile walk from Suntory. I chose it because it provided a remarkable amount of luxury at an average of less than $200 a night and the convenience of being in Shiodome. This new development of skyscrapers is adjacent to the Ginza and next to the Shimbashi station, which allows easy access by train or subway to anywhere in Tokyo.
It was late afternoon, and I walked. On my way, I stopped in at the magnificent Zojo-ji Temple and listened in awe to a chanting priest. I took the elevator to the top of Tokyo Tower, an Eiffel Tower imitation, to watch the sun set over the city; Mt. Fuji was barely discernible in the misty distance.