visible

Working class fashions include ink and hair dye

tattoo_sanjamatsuri

祭りでは、下町のファションが見られます。浅草の三社祭では、刺青が多いです。パンクのピンク色の髪もあります。

While much of “proper” Japan forbids the sight of tattoos, at festivals there is a proliferation of working class fashion, including large visible tattoos. I was equally struck by the long pink mane that makes the other fellow look like a punk version of My Little Pony. On-street drinking and smoking are also possible.

Pink and white azalea in private garden visible from the street

azelia_nakano二色のツツジが大好きです。この家で育っている花が路地から見えます。

This two color, pink and white azalea, is one of my favorite spring flowers.

An old danchi housing from the 1950s being replaced with “The Garden Residence”

garden_residence3_nakano

家の近くで、古い団地が新しいマンションに建て替えられています。Garden Residenceという英語の名前はありふれていると思います。

A large parcel in my neighborhood is being excavated for a new housing project, called “The Garden Residence.” Who doesn’t like gardens, but couldn’t they have come up with a more unique name? I am curious what landscape will be visible to the neighbors.

garden_residence2_nakano garden_residence_newconstruction_nakano

Showa window visible through the fruit trees

showa_house_trees_from_path_nakano

歩行者路で、昭和時代風の窓が柿と梨の木の後ろに見えます。中野で。

I pass this house frequently on the way to the station. The metal fence is truly ugly, but somehow from this angle, there is a beauty and mystery to this old home. They’re growing persimmons and pears.

Roof top garden at new Omotesando Tokyu mall is much livelier than I expected

新しい屋上の庭はいいデザインで、大きい木があって、いい気持ちです。もうたくさんの人がこの場所を見つけたようです。表参道の東急モールです。

The rooftop garden of the new Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku mall, the one with the fun house, crazy mirror escalator entrance, it is much more lively than I expected. On a nice day, it draws a large crowd to relax and chat in the shade. I am impressed with the generously tall size of the trees, the irregular openings of the deck for plantings, and the many levels that provide seating and variation. The roof garden is partly visible from the sidewalk, unlike the older department store roof gardens, and forms part of the architecture of the building. Perhaps that’s why it’s more discoverable and popular.

Small Showa garden visible from the lane. Plum blossoms, shuro palm, and bamboo.

昭和時代の庭に、梅が咲いています。落葉生の木も常緑のシュロと竹もあります。西東京のこんな自宅の庭が減っています。

Winter provides a glimpse into this small Showa-era garden. Close to the house is a plum tree in bloom. Bordering the new development are evergreen plants including bamboo and the shuro palm.

Yokohama’s lovely ferry terminal and promenade

都市計画が良くないのに、東京生活は素晴らしいと友達に話します。最近、TEDxSeedsに行って、横浜の港でまた遊びました。大さん橋という国際埠頭はきれいな建築や商売や水辺公園を組み合わせています。横浜がこんな新しい開いたスペースを作られるならば、東京もできるはずです。

I often tell people that Tokyo’s urban life is wonderful in spite of city planning. On the one hand, this view valorizes the activities of everyday people in making public spaces alive with plants, care, and community. On the other hand, it also expresses a resignation that city leaders cannot or will not improve city life.

Recently I attended TEDxSeeds at Yokohama’s restored port. In addition to wonderful historic buildings that are preserved and reused, the entire port area has a revitalized public park and waterfront promenade. One of the most spectacular public places is the undulating rooftop park above the International Ferry Terminal, designed by London’s Foreign Office Architects; in Japanese it’s called Osanbashi.

This is a bold example of creating a new open space that combines commerce (the business of loading and unloading passenger ships) with a place for residents and visitors to stroll and relax on the waterfront. I heard one Yokohama resident refer to the building as “the whale” building because of its curvy surface.

If Tokyo city leaders thought big, what kind of new public spaces could be created here? How could some of its past be made visible and accessible today? What natural resources could be reclaimed with great architecture and some vision? It seems in terms of city planning that Japan’s other cities are more dynamic and more forward-looking than its capital.

Tokyo Station peeking out from scaffolding

足場の上に、東京駅が見えます。東京駅はめずらしい明治の建物です。そして、最上級の交通機関の象徴でもあります。対照的に、新宿駅のほうがもっと人に使われますけれど、正面玄関がありません。修復終了のパーティーはあるのでしょうか? 2014年の100周年の祝賀会に行きたいです。

I love how the very top of Tokyo Station is now visible above the scaffolding. An incredibly efficient urban transportation system makes Tokyo a green city free of auto dependence and isolation. In a city repeatedly destroyed by disasters and constantly in the process of being rebuilt, the 97 year old Tokyo Station is a rare public building from the Meiji era.

I am excited to see the restoration complete, and to experience the grandeur of this central node in Tokyo and Japan’s rail system. Shinjuku Station supports more people per day (over 2.5 million), but like much of Tokyo it is visually a non-place: three department stores from the 1960s through 1980s, sprawling underground passageways, and no particular front or main entrance.

Here’s what Tokyo Station looked like in 2007, courtesy of 663highland. Will there be a party when the project is complete? Or a centennial celebration?

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.

Sky Tree rises above Tokyo skyline

「東京スカイツリー」は日本語英語です。ネイティブにはこの名前はちょっと変です。もう遠くにスカイツリーが見える。ところで、この写真の中で、本当の木はどこですか?

Tokyo Sky Tree is rising on the eastern side of Tokyo. As the new digital television tower, it replaces Tokyo Tower as a symbol of “new” Tokyo. It’s scheduled for completion at the end of this year, and is already visible across Tokyo. In this picture, you can see Nakano Sakaue on the right and Sky Tree in the center.

The Japanese name for Sky Tree sounds funny in English, with two syllables becoming five unrecognizable ones. It’s スカイツリー, or Su-ka-i Tsu-rii. Japanese English is truly its own language. It’s also funny that they chose to use “tree” as a metaphor for this giant tower. In this view from here to there, across Tokyo, there are very few if any trees, green walls or roofs.

ここの話, Koko no hanashi: Talking about Here

The incredibly prolific, creative, and productive Chris Berthelsen has launched a new public project, called ここの話, Koko no hanashi: Talking about Here. It’s an amazing, low tech and also analog project that creates community dialogue about public, publicly visible, and abandoned urban spaces. He’s prototyped it this week in western Tokyo, and you can read about it online and follow its progress through Twitter and a mailing list.

Talking about Here relies on a simple framework: placing a laminated sign and a simple question, like “Why can’t we use this park at night,” to invite neighbors to discuss very local spaces that are shared, visible, or under-utilized. People can respond using the QR code, or by simply writing in the notebook that is attached to the sign with a pen. Responses will be collated on a stripped down blog specific to each location.

The five initial locations are an interesting mix: a bleak park in front of a factory (run-down, official), a friendly neighborhood park which has been declared a ‘night no-go zone’ (well-kept, official), a park under an elevated freeway (run-down, secluded, official), an abandoned car in an apartment complex parking lot (illegal use), and a deserted house on a school route (run-down, private property).

The prototype just went up this week, and there are many questions: Will the signs be taken down? Will officials contact Chris to question his actions? Will neighbors use the QR code or notebooks to record their feeling and memories? Will neighbors be interested to read what other neighbors record?

I am always amazed at Chris’ imagination and ability to make things happen, with low fidelity tools and a bit of daring. We have worked together in creating the Tokyo DIY Gardening project, including the blog and collaborative mapping workshop last August at 3331 Arts Chiyoda. I believe he’s now got four projects launched in his spare time, all of which are shared freely online.

I have asked Chris if I can participate in Phase 2 of this project. I already have a few places in mind: a beautiful abandoned wood house with a garden that is minimally maintained by a neighbor, a pedestrian path that is heavily used and sitting above an old creek, my neighbors’ fruit trees. It might be interesting to ask property owners if they would like to have a sign that seeks comments about their public gardens. I wonder what the reaction will be?