On a hot day, tanuki offered shade to office workers, shared salty snacks with laborers, and interacted with children. Tanuki brought surprise and wonder. Many people, including elementary school students, kept a safe distance from this foreign element. Photo above from Shibaura House’s Facebook.
去年は、Shibaura House で、子供たちと一緒に種爆弾を作る教室、フィールドワークの散歩、そして、食べられる緑を植えるイベントをさせていただきました。
Thanks to Shibaura House for including me in their annual report. Last year, I organized a kids’ seed bomb workshop, a fieldwork walking and mapping event, and vegetable planting at Shibaura House.
東京の緑地空間について研究しています。最近では「海外の日本庭園［＊1］」という、海外にある日本庭園をまとめたウェブサイトの制作にかかわりました。私自身が運営しているブログ「Tokyo Green Space［＊2］」では、東京の自然を観察し、写真とエッセイで紹介しています。
「たべるみどり みるみどり」では、3つのイベントを担当しました。シバウラ・フィールドワークでは、三田の「芝の家」からSHIBAURA HOUSEまで、街なかの緑を記録しながら散策し、参加者のスケッチや写真を集めて、グリーンマップ（緑の地図）をつくリました。 道端の草花を観察したり、通ったことのない細い道を歩くことで、芝浦という地域が参加者の皆さんにとって少し身近な存在になったのではないかと思います。残念ながら雨が降る中での散策になってしまったけれど、皆さん積極的に楽しんでくれたことが印象に残っています。子ども向けワークショップでは、泥だんごの中に植物の種を入れた、タネだんごづくりをしました。子どもを対象に、しかも日本語で講師をするのは初めてでした。とても緊張しましたが、子どもたちが泥を触ることを楽しんでくれてうれしかったですね。片山陽介さん（植物自由区代表）と対談したトークイベントで、都会で緑を楽しむ方法や、海外と日本の緑の比較などについてお話しできたのも楽しかったです。さて、今年はどんな緑を植えましょうか？
デザイン人類学者。東京農業大学研究員。ブログ「Tokyo Green Space」では、東京の小さな緑が「都会の森」へとつながる可能性を探求している。 ＊1：nodaigarden.jp ＊2：tokyogreenspace.com
My super-prolific friend Chris Berthelsen has released two small self-published stories. The first is “Child Scale” or “Rainy Day Treasures” about how Tokyo streets look, smell, and feel for kids. Chris’ writing, mappings, and photographs follows a rainy day walk to the local public bathhouse with a four year old. It’s a rich observation and reflection on play and creativity. The street is the ultimate shared space in our cities, for a variety of ages, walking and transit. After reading Child Scale, I’ll pay more attention to the “floorscape” than my usual rushing or daydreaming.
Child Scale is just $3.50. You get a 112 page download, with A5 print and screen resolution PDFs. The Huffington Post and Atlantic Cities have already referenced this digital booklet. It will be enjoyed by those wanting to think more about Tokyo, urbanism, children, play, and creativity.
The second booklet is by Chris’ son Tonka, who writes about his Tokyo Spider Research. It’s a 19 page booklet that examines spiders found inside and nearby a Tokyo apartment. Tonka’s handwritten notes and photographs provide a detailed document about some of the small creatures sharing our urban lives. The booklet is in Japanese and English, and will certainly inspire you to look more closely at the あimmediate environment around you. It’s just $2 for the download.
Through this blog, I was contacted by Edoble, whose tag line is “free food everywhere, in Tokyo.” Last month Edoble organized a hassaku marmelade party at a small shoutengai in Nakano, not far from where I live.
Edoble’s founder Jess Mantell is a Canadian designer, doctoral student, city explorer, and community organizer. As you can see from the poster above, she’s a great illustrator, too. At Keio University, she previously led a team that created an iPhone app that tracks movement across Tokyo with city sounds.
Edoble’s hassaku marmalade making event was great fun. Hassaku is a citrus tree that I often see growing in older gardens in Tokyo. The tree is very robust, and the fruits bright orange and large starting in winter. Seeing them makes me feel like there’s a bit of Florida or Southern California in Tokyo. But everyone had told me that the fruit is inedible. Jess’ idea was to bring people together to harvest and prepare hassaku.
It seems that if you pick the fruit at different times, the taste changes. Jess spotted mature hassaku trees in an abandoned city middle school near her house in south Nakano. She asked permission from the ward office to harvest the fruit in the spring, and several city workers unlocked the gate and joined her in collecting and sharing the fruit. That alone is pretty cool.
In June, Edoble hosted a marmalade party as a public event at a small space that is shared by the shoutengai association. On June 11, about twenty people very rapidly peeled the fruit, eliminated the membrane, put the seeds and membrane into a cheese cloth, and then boiled everything in four large pots. It was fun to see the amazing knife skills, particularly the older women and one young nursery school chef. We even got some help from some neighborhood kids.
The workshop was super-inspiring. It is great to realize how much food is growing in Tokyo, and that we can join with our neighbors in collecting and preparing super local food. Edoble’s accomplishment was in bringing together residents and local government, children and seniors, mostly Japanese and a few foreigners, mostly women and a few men.
Edoble reminds me that cities can grow a lot more of their own food, and that residents enjoy opportunities to work together and share food. Urban foraging is low cost and high return.
Even though I will be surprised if these pansies can live more than one week in the fluorescent flooded station, it’s lovely to see the flowers with their label identifying the local elementary school. How cool that the students are offering the station something alive.
A fascinating short video from IDG News Service’s @martyn_williams shows the inside of a functioning nuclear power plant in Japan. It’s Kashiwazaki Kariwa, the world’s largest nuclear plant, on the Japan Sea, also known as the East Sea of Korea.
In the past two weeks, we have all learned many details about nuclear power generation: from containment vessels to doughnut-shaped torus, steam venting, cooling pools, basement pumps and generators, and dangers from radioactive iodine and cesium. While the Daichi survived the earthquake, several days without electricity led to pressure build-up, exposed fuel rods, explosions, and radioactive releases.
Most Japanese school children are given tours of nuclear facilities to encourage familiarization and acceptance. Watching the video above, I am struck by the incongruity of these images of rational organization with the recent realization that a lack of power can quickly turn these engineering marvels into a grave threat to human existence.
It is interesting that the video above, and I am certain the hundreds of school tours, fail to mention that the reactors serve a second and equally dangerous function: they are the storage locations for spent nuclear rods. While the active rods have control rods and secured cases, the spent rods seem to be in less protected parts of the reactors.
The explosions at the Daichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima have literally blown the lid off a scary reality that is normally kept far from conscious thinking. Everyone knows that nuclear waste and the long-term dangers it poses are the by-product of this “clean,” low carbon energy. What is less known is that these spent rods remain near population centers and alongside ocean coasts that routinely experience tsunamis and earthquakes. They remain hidden from view within the plants because the rods are difficult to transport safely and few communities would welcome them.
I expect that as the crisis becomes less acute, there will be more attention to the questions of how much energy we need, how to balance what is possible with what is prudent, and how to make visible the true costs of energy production, including the wars used to “secure” petroleum from hostile regions, and the potential contamination of people and land from nuclear power and waste.
In the coming weeks, this blog will focus on recovery from the nuclear crisis, including increased city bicycling, reduced power consumption, and other positive developments. I will also show signs of Tokyo’s spring, and other evidence that the natural world continues in spite of human activity.
The lanterns announce that the omatsuri festival will be happening Using simple plumbers’ fixtures and scaffolding, flexible and removable frames for lighted paper lanterns are erected all over the city.
I find omatsuri incredibly charming: a public street festival evoking rice farming and harvests, organized in Tokyo around tiny local shrines, work organizations, and local associations. A friend told me that in his town, the whole town celebrates together. But in the large megalopolis of Tokyo, the intensely local nature of each celebration is very personal and social.
Members of my apartment building are some of the main leaders of our local shrine’s festivities, which includes children’s and adults’ parading through the streets with portable shrines, flute, drum and bell music, (Japanese) lion dancing, traditional clothes including hapi (cotton jackets), and lots of public drinking.
At the shrine, one of my neighbors offered me a free shaved ice. I hesitated to accept other offers of food or drink because I did not want to be carrying the portable shrine; I know from experience that this is best left to younger and drunker participants.
Just in the other direction, on the same weekend, a small park gets transformed into a space for dozens to do “bon” dancing around a raised platform. Mostly seniors, they dance to various traditional and regional songs, while wearing yukatas. Children and even dogs come wearing this summer kimono. Unlike the local shrine, this small park has an area for more commercial “omatsuri” games and foods, including delicious mini-cakes, the ever present chocolate banana on a stick, yakisoba, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and more shaved ice.
I experimented this time with black-and-white photos that seem to make the event more timeless and nostalgic. It’s funny to see something very contemporary, like a child taking a cellphone photo of her chocolate banana, using this backward-seeming technology and juxtaposed with dances and music that may be centuries old. There’s something timeless about cast iron pans used over a gas grill to make the small cakes sold 12 or 40 to a bag.
I feel a certain surge of excitement when the portable shrines enter the large boulevard or fill the small streets radiating out from it. The shrine is very heavy, and there’s a definite camaraderie formed by sharing this load.
I’ll end the post with a short video of the dancing. The drumming and bells are live, and the other music and voice from an old CD player and simple amplifier sound system.
This image of goats controlling the weeds at a San Francisco bus yard is whimsical and inspiring. Why doesn’t Tokyo (and other big cities) use these natural weed-eaters? The company behind this is called City Grazing, and their slogan: “Our herd of goats are organically fed, will eat your weeds and entertain your children!”
Less famous than spring cherry blossom viewing or fall maple viewing, the Aoyama ginkos draw a crowd to see the gorgeous double allée of ginkos turning bright yellow. Last weekend was probably the peak days, with just the right balance of leaves still on the trees and enough on the ground for children to toss into the air.
As dusk approached, the leaves became even paler and more luminous. It’s wonderful to see how Tokyo residents appreciate well-cared for trees and join together in public to share this seasonal moment.
The ginko tree street is officially called Icho Namiki Meijijingu Gaien. Below is an image from the Tokyo Gymnasium looking out to Gaien Nishi Dori.
“The Japanese think of the City in the way that Englishmen used to think of Mighty London. It is either one or the other. Rice paddies or the Ginza.” (p35)
I am reading the wonderful author Donald Richie’s The Inland Sea, first published in 1971. Richie is the ultimate American expat in Japan, who stayed from the start of the Occupation until today, and this is a classic travel book focused on Seto Nai Kai (the Inland Sea), which I recently visited.
This passage struck me because Ginza Farm, which I have visited for Tokyo Green Space, overcomes the division between city and country by bringing a rice paddy to Ginza, Tokyo’s most celebrated commercial district full of De Beers, Cartier and now of course Uniqlo flagship stores.
Richie’s The Inland Sea also reminds me of the recently deceased French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss’ Tristes Tropiques, which chronicled an Amazon on the verge of extinction. In a similar voyage by boat, Richie bemoans the new highways and lure of the city that threaten the fishing economy and general isolation of these islands and peoples. What used to be called “salvage anthropology” clashes with contemporary feelings by focusing on purity and what is about to be lost. This antique attitude also portrays the writer as both the “first” and last foreigner to capture a vanishing culture, creating a false sense of importance for the individual writer.
Despite this unease, it is hard not to enjoy Richie’s beautiful writing, his insights on insider and outsider culture, and his only partly closeted attraction to Japan. And I do not doubt the gulf that once existed between city and country, which makes the current urban interest in rural life and agriculture all the more indicative of profound social and environmental change.
On a related topic, I read this week in the New York Times that Korea, which is generally more accepting of national diversity, is having difficulties integrating children of mixed marriages. Most mixed children are the progeny of Korean farmers and their Chinese, Filipino and Thai wives. Partly the social question is of race, but also of class and city versus country.
I was struck that Korea shares Japan’s rural abandonment, and seems ahead of Japan in responding through immigration. Perhaps Japan, too, will first open its doors to immigrants willing to live in its rural areas now inhabited almost exclusively by the elderly. Despite Japan’s xenophobia, immigrants as care-givers and farmers seem more likely than the techno fantasy of robots: more cost-effective as workers and more human in terms of care and culture.
On November 1, Ginza Farm celebrated the rice harvest. The event began at 9 am on a Sunday morning and drew a crowd including children, parents, bloggers, an actress in an upcoming movie about farming, and the carpenter Hisano who built the beautiful tanbo, tables and benches. Above entrepreneur Iimura san helps the kids hang the rice along a bamboo rail.
Here’s what the rice looked like just before harvest.
Below is a photo of Hisano san, the Chiba carpenter who created Ginza Farm and Omotesando Farm.
After the jump are photos of the actress helping the children bundle the rice, two kids enjoying the remaining duck, and a sad note about how one duck died the previous week from an assault by a Ginza raccoon.
Michelle Obama has brought beekeeping to the White House, and the New York Times has a lovely three minute video story about this activity that connects the president’s home with Washington DC’s seasonal trees and flowers, and school children. The honey is eaten at the White House and offered as a gift to world leaders.
With the First Family of the United States involved, ultra-local honey production is certain to influence residential and corporate beekeeping around the world. It is the first time that honey has been produced at the White House. This symbolic and practical activity is a great beacon for urban agriculture and ecology.
A related article talks about how the Obamas’ personal chef is involved with food policy making.
On a Tokyo Metro platform, I saw some small children and their mothers gathering around and pointing. On the harsh pavement of the train platform was a praying mantis. The children began screaming and running. I don’t think I had ever seen a praying mantis so far removed from plant life.