earthquake

Former support beam, made of redwood, is featured in garden seating re-design

clintonpark_elevated_beam

庭には家の中にあった柱の一つが置いてありましたが、それを座れるベンチにしました。重いレッドウッドの柱が浮いているみたいに見えます。「レッドウッド」は「セコイア」とも呼ばれます。カリフォルニアにたくさんある木で、虫やカビに強いから、建築に使われます。

In the thirteen years that I have taken care of this San Francisco garden, the former support beam from the basement has always been part of the landscape. This visit, I excavated below the beam, so that it’s floating and providing a place to sit and face the kitchen steps. The home was built in 1907, after the big 1906 earthquake.

Domesticated Mount Fuji in today’s Edo

mtfuji_clothespins_nakano_b

江戸時代から、富士山と都市は一緒にイメージされています。最近、富士山の噴火に関する記事が多いですね。

Recently, there have been several reports that Mount Fuji may erupt and cause an earthquake, or vice versa. What I love about this giant volcano is its utterly domestic and urban nature. Today’s urban views, completely with laundry drying, are an extension of hundreds of years of Edo visual representation.

Geisha meeting house is one of Shibaura’s oldest buildings. Still elegant and would be lovely if restored.

恊働会館という木造建築物は1936年に建てられて、昔は芸者が話し合いをする場所でした。多分、去年の地震で破損しましたが、まだ上品に見えます。

Called the Kyodo Kaikan, and built in 1936, this wood story house that once was a geisha meeting house is now closed, possibly because of damage from last year’s earthquake. It still looks elegant.

Irises blooming in former Mitsubishi garden

深川の清澄庭園で、きれいな菖蒲が咲いていました。この日本庭園は江戸時代に作られて、明治時代に三菱の創設者が世話をしました。東日本大震災のせいで、石灯ろうが倒れていました。

Visiting Chris and Eiko one recent Sunday, I had the chance to visit Kiyosumi garden in Fukagawa, and see the irises in bloom. Kiyosumi (清澄庭園) dates back to early Edo, and was then owned by the Mitsubishi founder in the Meiji period. It’s a lovely strolling garden with a pond. I had forgotten that June is the month to see irises, and I love how they are used in traditional Japanese gardens with running water and pine trees.

I was surprised also to see so many stone lanterns disassembled. Perhaps they fell down during the East Japan earthquake, and it’s prudent to leave them down in case of after shocks.

Shin Koenji garden explodes in mega-growth

 東日本大地震の影響で、東京の庭の草木がものすごく育ったと、日本のお母さんが言っています。

Recently, my mother-in-law surprised me by telling me that she attributes her garden’s explosive growth this spring to the Tohoku earthquake on March 11.

I was surprised, too, by its mega-growth: the hydrangea are enormous, once small variegated vines are sprawling, the self-sown shuro palm is pushing lots of new leaves. The growth is all the more suprising since the garden is very shaded, particularly after the plum and persimmon trees leaf out in April. I inquired about fertilizer use, but m-i-l insists that she adds nothing more than frequent watering when there’s no rain.

I love how her recent attachment to gardening have transformed a rarely used place into a great addition to her home and pottery studio.

This small garden includes the fruit trees that pre-date the studio, volunteer plants like the palm tree, and more recent garden plants. The sour plum tree produce thousands of tiny fruits that m-i-l makes into a home-made jam.

From Shiho blog.

Old landscape thrives on its own and with some pruning by neighbors

私のアパートの近くにきれいな木造の家があります。自然と近所の人たちのおかげで、この景色は元気です。

Just three days after the earthquake and radiation leakage, I noticed the very elderly security guard at the supermarket loading area applying a pruning saw to a tree across the alley. The tree was part of the landscape outside a beautiful abandoned wood house. The guard did a skillful pruning job. It seemed a strange gesture given the uncertainties and shortages at the time.

The wood house is one of the few pre-war structures nearby, and whatever plants are in front survive because they are extremely hardy and suited to Tokyo’s climate. Once the potted tree had been pruned back, I could see clearly that the pot was split down the middle, the roots circumventing the asphalt, and the tree naturalized in the city. The abandoned house and garden are a small neighborhood treasure. I also love the thick row of ferns, the multi-level racks with potted plants, and how the front entrance has turned into a small jungle.

First sakura after great earthquake

井ノ頭公園が花見を中止するというのは、本当でしょうか。先が見えないので、みんなが不安で落ち着かないようです。

My friend Matt sent me this intricate sakura weather map: it shows the updated forecast for the start of cherry blossoms across the Japanese archipelago. Even if you can’t read Japanese, it’s impressive to see how much weather forecasting amplifies cherry blossom season.

Today I also heard from Twitter’s @Matt_Alt that there are big signs at Inokashira park Big asking visitors to refrain from holding cherry blossom viewing parties there. This is one of Tokyo’s most famous parks, and one of the most popular places for young people to celebrate spring with all night and all day drinking parties.

It’s now just over two weeks after the horrific natural and man-made disaster that began with the East Japan great earthquake. With looming energy shortages, national mourning for the dead, and continued fears about nuclear fallout, Tokyo life will not be the same. Yet it is still impossible to fully know what will emerge in the coming months and years.

Will these events increase or reverse Japan’s hyper-urbanization? How will people respond to new concerns about food and water safety? Can the government and industry regain trust and provide leadership? How can civil society contribute to rebuilding the country and restoring Japan’s international reputation?

And can public spaces and local businesses flourish in a time of anxiety and uncertainty?

Inside a Japanese nuclear power plant

原発についてたくさん勉強になりましたけれども、毎日の生活とエネルギーの本当のコストの問題が残っています。

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.

Conservation and sharing

東京のみんなが協力しているのを感じます。

Thank you to everyone who has reached out to inquire about Tokyo and its residents’ wellbeing this week. We appreciate that so many people are helping with the rescue and recovery.

I saw this Tokyo conservation poster online. It’s good to focus on conservation and sharing while tolerating the after-shocks and nuclear radiation fears. Tokyo was very fortunate compared to the horrible destruction in the north, with almost 20,000 missing and dead and 500,000 homeless.

The Tokyo cityscape is much darker at night. Outdoor signage, video screens and billboards have been turned off. It seems everyone is pulling together.

Help Japan recover from earthquake

Beautiful poster by James White.

Tokyo survived the quake with only minor inconveniences (no trains, subways, cellphones). We are concerned about those in Miyagi (宮城県). Here’s a list of places where you can help.

Canadian Red Cross
American Red Cross
Doctors without Borders
Oxfam

Canada: Text REDCROSS to 30333 to donate $10
USA: Text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10
Ireland: Text REDCROSS to 57500 to donate €5

Nihonbashi trees preserved by government & corporations

In Nihonbashi, you can still see a few old trees preserved alongside rare, pre-war government and corporate buildings.

日本橋には、昔から生き残っている木がまだ少しある。そのわきに、戦前に建てられた政府や企業のビルがある。

Recently I spoke with Canada’s Discovery History channel filmmakers about urban planning in Tokyo, and they requested that we film at Nihonbashi. What was once the center of Edo Japan is now buried beneath an elevated freeway. I used this opportunity to explore Nihonbashi’s surroundings, and came across some interesting government and corporate trees. These sites were not included in the filming, but I found them interesting.

The giant pines outside the old Bank of Japan building are very impressive. While the structure is partly covered in blue tarp and seems unused, the elegant landscaping with more than a dozen, perfectly pruned trees looks magnificent.

I was also impressed to see Mitsubishi’s river-side warehouse at the Edobashi crossing. This building, too, seems to have survived the great Kanto earthquake and the United State firebombing during World War II. In Tokyo, buildings are constantly raised and rebuilt, which almost always means destroying the old landscapes. It’s interesting to spot a few examples of building preservation that also protect older trees and landscapes.

Visionary concept for reviving the Kyobashi river

Recently I heard Mishima Yoshiki present a paper about the revival of the Kyobashi river in central Tokyo. Like most of Tokyo’s legendary rivers and canals, it has long been buried underground, when the Edo tradition of water transportation gave way to twentieth century freeways for private autos and commercial trucks.

Mishima’s paper was presented at the Tokyo University’s Asia Mega-Cities symposium in a session devoted to urban rivers. His paper was co-authored with Hayashi Masaki, Shikanai Kyoko, and Ishikawa Mikiko. Mishima is a PhD candidate at Todai’s graduate school of engineering, and a landscape architect trained at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Many landscape architects and urban historians point to the centrality of water in Tokyo’s history, and there is a growing desire to see its renewal in our post-industrial era. Mishima’s talk highlighted the Edo functions of the Kyobashi river, the history of its “reclamation” or burial, and the opportunities to remake it today.

Mishima’s project team chose the Kyobashi river because it is in central Tokyo and it is relatively short, with a history of connecting the Edo castle to the ocean. The paper introduced the concept of the kashi, a riverside commons that served as a place for unloading goods and commercial markets and where no private structures were allowed to be created. Today it has exceptional potential because it represents a mere 600 meters of the 320 kilometer Tokyo Expressway system, and is used by only 4,000 of the 53,000 daily expressway vehicles. Plus, its central location offers enormous potential as public open space and high rent commercial space.

Mishima explained how the Kyobashi river, like most of Tokyo’s waterways, became devalued and ultimately buried in the twentieth century when natural and human disasters overwhelmed the city. The 1923 Kanto Earthquake destroyed the kashi, and many private buildings were constructed. River commerce had already declined, and increasing garbage raised sanitation problems. The firebombing of Tokyo during World War II left huge piles of ashes along the river banks, making open space again a place for waste.

The post-war period saw some bizarrely futuristic plans. The 1950 “Sky Building Plan” envisioned building twelve story buildings above the old river, with an expressway running through the second floor. I am curious why this plan was ultimately rejected. In its stead, the city built a series of elevated freeways, mostly public and some privately owned, with several including the Kyobashi river having commercial tenants on the ground floor.

I enjoyed seeing the model of the renewal of the Kyobashi river. Using rainwater, treated sewage, and springs, there were would be plenty of water to support the new river. Water is constantly being pumped out from the subway tunnels (this happens in New York City as well, which I learned in the fantastic book The World without Us by Alan Weisman).

The Kyobashi river concept combines commercial development with the creation of a huge new green corridor. Some buildings would be placed on the new river, as a way to generate revenue for the construction and maintenance of the new public spaces. Green roofs would integrate the new buildings with the park. People would have access to the river on bridges, plazas, water decks, and recreational boats. It would be great to also see a river edge that combined some elements of natural riverbank vegetation and habitat.

Several factors make the idea of this project at least conceivable. One, the Kyobashi river area is small and borders high rent Ginza. Second, the elevated freeway, like most of Tokyo’s expressways, was built in the rush to “modernize” before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Therefore, they do not meet current earthquake standards, and the city currently faces a choice between expensive retrofitting or potential collapse. (The earthquake damage to San Francisco’s Embarcadero freeway in 1989 provided the impetus for freeway removal and opening the bay to the city in the early 2000s, which has been a huge success). Lastly, the low rent payed by the private company suggests that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and its residents receive minimal compensation in exchange for the environmental costs of the freeway.

Tokyo as example for how to rebuild Haiti

Urban planners Matias Echanove and Rahul Srivastava have a provocative essay in the New York Times about how post-war Tokyo can serve as an example of rebuilding Haiti. Researchers and activists who have worked in Tokyo and Dharavi, Mumbia, the authors evoke the strength of Port-au-Prince in its “urban landscapes (of) communities, street life, resourcefulness, aspirations and dynamic local exchanges.”

They urge a decentralized and highly participatory urban renewal with government investment in infrastructure and dense, low-level structures built by local efforts. I like their view that cities are about resourceful people and not large-scale developments. It is particularly timely to remember now how Tokyo rebuilt after the war (and the 1923 Kanto earthquake) and became a megacity that combines futuristic elements with a vibrant civic life.

You can learn more about their work at Urbz, “user-generated cities.” Below is an image from the Japan Society website of the 1923 Kanto earthquake in Tokyo.

Tokyo University Sanshiro-ike garden in fall

On a beautiful warm November day, I discovered Tokyo University’s Sanshiro-ike garden. I had a few moments before a meeting, and saw on the campus map that there was a central garden on the main campus. I had assumed it would be a formal garden.

I was very surprised to descend a small hillside and encounter this natural looking pond. Looking in all directions, one sees only trees, water and sky, despite the compact size of the garden. Even on a warm weekend day with early fall foliage, few visitors were there. I was enchanted by the incredibly natural and removed-from-the-city feeling in this garden inside central Tokyo and Japan’s most famous university.

It takes a lot of artifice to make a city garden look so natural. The waterfall is amazing.

Continue reading to see some more images from Tokyo University, aka Todai.

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