Month: March 2011

Huge sakura branches outside soba restaurant

ありきたりの渋谷のビルのなかで、木や石や桜の枝のような自然の素材がおしゃれでなつかしい雰囲気を作っています。

[Date: March 7, 2011]

I love how this ordinary Shibuya building uses minimal natural materials, including wood, stone, and sakura branches, to create an elegant and nostalgic atmosphere.

Small plum tree bonsai in full bloom

お店の外で、盆栽の梅がのんびりと咲いています。

I love how this extravagantly blooming plum tree is sitting outdoors at night, unprotected and unmindful of its surroundings.

[Date: March 3, 2011].

White snowy blossoms

植木鉢でも地面でも、コデマリの白い花はきれいです。

Note: For the next days, I’ll post some garden pictures I took in the weeks before the earthquake. These are images from the end of winter.

Spiraea cantoniensis (コデマリ or kodemari in Japanese) makes lovely snow blossoms in winter. I like how it looks equally good as a rambling, woody bush, or as a small balcony plant.

Although this species is most diverse in East Asia, according to Wikipedia, Native Americans have used it as an aspirin-like medicine.

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?

Making bonsai pots at Shiho

史火の教室で盆栽用の植木鉢を作っています。

In the aftermath of the tsunami and nuclear crisis, it seems many have retreated into their homes and offices. Now more than ever is the time to go outside, interact with neighbors, and support your local small businesses in Tokyo: restaurants, vegetable shops, artisans, and creative studios.

I started making a series of bonsai pots at the ceramic studio Shiho. Here’s the basic process:

Step 1: Create shapes. Form clay into a block, slice off slabs, place slabs around molds covered in cheese cloth, remove, and let sit to harden.

Step 2 (between 2 days and 2 weeks after creating shapes): Trim the tops and sides. Add holes and channels for drainage. Carve name in bottom.

Step 3: First firing.

Step 4: Add glaze. I will leave each pot partly unglazed to show off the clay.

Step 5: Second firing.

The whole process may take 6 to 8 weeks, depending on the studio’s firing schedule and my free time.

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

Street-side potted hydrangea is already leafing out

街で見つけたこの鉢植えのアジサイはもう葉が出てきています。続けていくことと期待感は、ガーデニングの楽しみのひとつです。

Walking at night, I noticed that this potted hydrangea is already leafing out, despite recent cold temperatures. It’s lovely to see this plant coming back to life for another season. It’s the mix of continuity and expectation that makes gardening so satisfying.

Location: Shinjuku ni-chome, outside of a small restaurant.