Month: December 2009

Happy new year 2010

あけましておめでとうございます! 2010 began on a cold night in Tokyo one hour ago. We visited our local shrine: no line, hot rice drink, and a tiny bonfire. The small shrine’s doors were open, revealing that our local gods live amidst folding chairs and assorted bric-a-brac.

The visit to the shrine followed many hours of Kouhaku, the annual music extravaganza on NHK, plus a Johnny’s shmorgasbord of dozens of boy bands, dizzying video displays, and stages gliding over crazed fangirls. A very traditional new year in Japan.

Below is the “blue” moon, the second full moon of the month. Best wishes for the new decade!

Winter night in Shinjuku

Tokyo looks magical at night. Taken in Shinjuku, near the Shinjuku Gyoen, it seems as if the Docomo tower is communicating with the crescent moon. It is completely dark, and only 5:08 pm.

(Date: December 20. Tonight is a “blue moon,” the second full moon of the month).

New year decorations

Above is a kadomatsu, or new year’s decoration that rests on the ground. These large ones are usually in front of businesses. This one is in front of one of my favorite Tokyo haunts: the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium constructed for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and open to the public now in central Tokyo.

The materials are bamboo, pine, straw and red berries. I love the decorative rope flower and the splayed straw at the base. Below is the shimekazari hanging outside of our apartment door. Notice the folded paper and rice stalk. After the holiday, these plant-based new year’s symbols are  burned at shrines. So different than the un-ceremonial sidewalk dumping of US Christmas trees.

Happy new year! Best wishes for a bright new decade.

Writing for Newsweek Japan

I am on a deadline for an article for Newsweek Japan. It will be my first article published in Japanese about Tokyo Green Space. There’s so much I wanted to say, and after several efforts I felt completely stuck with a looming deadline.

Fortunately, the husband is a writing genius, and he helped me diagram my article, create a story, several themes, and tone of voice. And then he taped it to the wall above the kitchen table where most of this blog is written.

I will post the article soon, in Japanese and English. Thanks, husband!

Urbio 2010 conference in Nagoya

Nagoya will be hosting a conference next May called URBIO 2010, on urban biodiversity and design. The conference precedes October’s 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 10) which will also be held in Nagoya.

I am excited about the conference’s focus on urban biodiversity. With the world rapidly becoming urban, and Japan leading the way in rural to city migration, cities are becoming key sites for human life and the promotion of biodiversity.

The deadline for suggesting a presentation is December 31, so please sign up now if you want to attend. My understanding is that all presentations will be accepted as the organizers are trying to create an inclusive experience.

Over the past months I have realized that Nagoya is promoting many new urbanism events, including a recent Creative Design City Nagoya conference, which had a keynote by Professor John Wood of Goldsmiths, University of London.

東京新聞が「Tokyo Green Space」について書いてくれました

東京新聞が「Tokyo Green Space」について書いてくれました。十二月七日に日立で行ったプレゼンテーションのことに関してです。

Tokyo Shimbun wrote about Tokyo Green Space. The article is about my presentation conducted on December 7 at Hitachi’s headquarters.

Fall foliage in bonsai

Suddenly the ten or so leaves on our maple bonsai have turned red. The leaves are a rust shade, and the stems cherry red. Soon the little tree, bought at Sinajina during the summer, will be bare for the winter. Just a week ago, the tree was just starting to turn red, in the stems and in flecks on the leaves.

Shrines prepares for new year

The small shrine near our apartment is preparing for new year. The entrance gate has pine and bamboo decorations, and the tent is ready for the celebration. This shrine is very charming because of its small scale and its housing our extremely local gods. I have found myself drawn here several times this year, and I look forward to spending some minutes there to welcome the new year with the neighbors and the spirits that connect us with each other and this small part of Tokyo.

Winter flowers, with spring and fall references

I am surprised to see narcissus flowers blooming outdoors just days before the winter solstice. These photos are from Shinjuku Gyoen, which is amazingly beautiful in every season.

I love how the narcissus contrast against the dormant, leaf-less cherry trees above. And below their bright white flowers pop against a bed of fallen ginko leaves.

Graffiti art

I have written on this research blog about vertical space being an underused resource in cities. Many walls could serve as gardens, habitat, and “green curtains.” There is also room for art on the countless dull urban surfaces. The photo above shows graffiti by the aptly named Jef Aerosol, who contributed to a fun art show covering the interior and exterior of Tokyo’s French Embassy, scheduled to be demolished soon and replaced with a high-rise apartment building. Even embassy compounds must contribute to urban development, but for now you can wander through the old building and see installation art in “No Man’s Land.”

Wild parrots in Hiroo

Walking on a small street in Hiroo, in central Tokyo, we heard a strange noise and saw some people staring at a persimmon tree. On closer examination, we saw that there was a flock of wild green parrots gathered in this tree. The green on orange colors perched on a leaf-less tree is sublime.

I have seen wild parrots throughout San Francisco, and there was even a movie about them. I didn’t realize that Tokyo was warm enough for them to survive outdoors. I wonder how many there are.

Speaking with a woman recently about urban ecology, she told me that she enjoys city bird-watching. It made me realize that bird-watchers, particularly those who enjoy their hobbies in the city, can be an important voice for improving urban landscapes and habitats. Maybe urban bird-watchers are analogous to surfers who have been active in the clean ocean movement.

Winter flowers in balcony garden

Reading about this weekend’s winter snowstorm in the US mid-Atlantic, I realize how mild and wonderful Tokyo winters are. December is the season for camellias, and the balcony garden also has pansies, fairy white daisies, cyclamen, geranium, decorative cabbage, one last morning glory flower, and a maple bonsai just turning red now.

Below you can see the 5bai Midori satoyama box that has a mix of countryside plants, including deciduous and evergreen small shrubs, grasses, vines, and weeds.

Street music

Many Tokyo train stations, and particularly Shinjuku station, are magnets for street musicians. Although not a “green space” in terms of biodiversity, street music contributes to livable streets and creative cities.

Music in public spaces makes streets and sidewalks more than places to pass through on the way to somewhere else. And with a continuous flow of people, these station performances offer incredible exposure for bands.

This jazz group played well, and a large crowd stopped to watch them despite the cold night.

Shimekazari at Muji

On my way to price a vaccuum cleaner for our tatami floors (ended up buying at 1300 yen used vaccuum at a recycle shop), I was surprised to see this display of shimekazari at Muji, which was busy blasting Xmas music and offering holiday specials.

Shimekazari are end of the year Shinto displays for the home. They can include rice, rope, pine, and folded paper, and welcome ancestral harvest kami or spirits. Smaller ones hang on the door, and larger ones sit outside of homes and shops.

Seeing shimekazari inside Muji was an uncanny juxtaposition of Shinto shrine and modern commerce, old Japan and Xmas, agrarian and urban.