The new leaves on this old zelkovia welcome a new school year at the elementary school in Nakano. In Japan, the school year, new hires, and the new fiscal year all start on April 1. Most schools have a cherry tree which is often in full bloom at school start. The zelkova leaf out in the following weeks. More subtle than cherry blossoms, new leaves are a lovely spring sight.
I’ve taken photos of the same tree in late winter last year.
Several people have asked me about the syllabus for the Tokyo University graduate seminar I am teaching this summer. The course title is Mega-Cities: Design Anthropology and Urban Landscapes. You can download the syllabus here (86kb pdf). Please let me know what you think.
Starting tomorrow I will be teaching a graduate seminar at Tokyo University. The course title is “Mega-Cities: Design Anthropology and Urban Landscapes” in the Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies. This master’s and PhD program is taught in English to foreign students, mostly from East Asia. I am very excited to see Tokyo through the students’ eyes. They will be closely observation urban life and documenting it online. My challenge to them is to connect experiential learning with history, comparative study, and theory.
This azalea is blooming in two colors on a wet spring day. Azaleas remind me of the mid-Atlantic in the United States, as they are commonly planted with Japanese maples, rhododendron, and flowering cherry trees. The rhaphis palm that serves as a companion plant is better suited to Tokyo than the frost-prone mid-Atlantic. In Tokyo, azaleas are often planted in low hedges alongside boulevards, as well as in traditional and small residential gardens.
These NHK images show how, over the past several centuries, Tokyo filled in the bay, built canals, and later, in the last satellite image, filled in the canals. (Via Mutant Frog Travelogue).
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.
Our balcony jasmine just started blooming this weekend. It’s early, isn’t it? The balcony is already filling up with this sweet scent.
This potted jasmine is growing behind the washing machine and up onto the net that will again support our summer green curtain. It hardly went dormant in the winter.
I planted this jasmine last year in a fairly small pot. While I thought it might bloom last year, it never did. It can be hard to know how long to wait when a plant doesn’t grow well at first, especially if you have a limited space like an apartment balcony. This time, I am glad I was patient.
Fifteen minutes on the express train and four blocks from the station, my friend Joan is farming a small plot of land. It’s actually several short rows that form part of a much larger city farm owned and operated by a Japanese retiree. As soon as I saw him, I was glad that I, too, had prepared for weeding and harvesting by wearing the all important white work towel.
Joan blogs and writes about urban farming, farmers’ markets, city landscapes, and Japan travel. It was very exciting to actually see Joan at her farm. I was impressed that she had also recruited a neighbor and her husband’s co-worker to help with tidying up the winter beds, getting ready for planting, and harvesting and taking home the last winter vegetables. There was a huge leafy bounty that Joan shared with us: Russian kale, red karashina, brocoli, spinach, komatsuna, and shungiku. Joan also sent me home with some bergamot that I am growing on my balcony. I am still waiting for Joan’s famous bergamot potato salad recipe. And I was able to share what Joan gave me with three other households.
We all gathered at the farm just two weeks after the Tohoku quake, tsunami and nuclear crisis. It was great to be outdoors, talking about city vegetables, chatting with friends and new acquaintances. I liked hearing about Joan’s permaculture ideas of doing less, leaving flowers to attract pollinators, and hand mowing rather than eliminating the weeds between rows. The Japanese man who owns the farm clearly has a different attitude since he keeps his farm empty of all plant life except for the vegetables he grows. I can sense that Joan and the farmer each want to show the other how to farm. There’s both conflict and mutual respect for each’s passion for city farming.
I hope to go back as often as I am invited.
Maybe you don’t associate cherry trees and palm trees. They are an odd pair, with this type of palm tree being a self-sower in Tokyo, and the cherries being selected from nurseries and carefully tended for decades.
By now, the cherry blossoms are ending. The petals pool up in a pink carpet, and new leafs shoot out from the dark branches. Once there’s more green than pink, this cherry mini-season is officially over.
Here are some photos of cherry blossoms seen walking and taking the train in my neighborhood. A dusty elementary school soccer field is bordered by shuro palm trees and cherry trees in full bloom. Waiting for the JR train, the platforms face into a canopy of mature trees. On a small street, fallen blossoms attract a child’s attention.
I have lost a number of bonsai over the past two years. It was a pleasant surprise to see these little leaves appear. I need to replace the moss.
The big cherry blossom sites, including Inokashira park, Yoyogi park and Yasukuni shrine, are wonderful places for get-togethers with outdoor drinking and eating. But I also love seeing the cherry trees in full bloom while walking around the city. This old cherry tree is blooming on a small street, with the Nakano high rise telecom tower in the background.
I also love how every public school has at least one cherry tree at the entrance; the elementary school nearby has a dusty soccer field surrounded on three side by gorgeous cherries.
In the American Anthropologist, the one hundred plus year journal of academic anthropology, Professor Robert Rotenberg reviewed Tokyo Green Space as an example of public anthropology. The article came out last fall, but I only recently learned about it. I am very honored to be recognized, and hope that it leads to more discussion about the value of anthropology for public policy and new urbanism.
David Vine, Alaka Wali, and Melissa Checker, the Public Anthropology Review editors, introduce Professor Rotenberg’s review in their introduction:
Next, Robert Rotenberg discusses Jared Braiterman’s Tokyo Green Space blog on “microgardening.” The blog is documenting efforts to use gardening in the smallest and most unusual urban spaces—rooftops, walls, schools—“to support biodiversity in the world’s largest city” (this issue). Of particular interest to environmental and urban anthropologists, not to mention gardeners, Rotenberg’s review describes a blog that combines design anthropology, lush color photography, and the eye and imagination of the flaneur to explore a transforming Tokyo.
The citation is Rotenberg, Robert, Tokyo Green Space, American Anthropologist, volume 112, number 3, pp 463-464, September 2010. You can download a copy here.
Zelkova, called keyaki in Japanese (ケヤキ), are a gorgeous Tokyo street tree. The best boulevards of mature zelkova are in Asagaya and Omotesando. Here you can see the branches are just leafing out. In the back of the detail image is Itoh Toyo’s sculptural building for Tods that appears to be built of zelkova branches rather than steel.
I have been working most of March and early April in Nishi Azabu Juban, and I often bike to the office. Biking in Tokyo is fun for discovering back streets, but its also fun to speed along a straight boulevard, especially one with such a magnificent canopy. These photos were taken near my new favorite retro van turned into mobile espresso shop, Motoya Express.
There are many types of cherry trees blooming in Tokyo. I like this very pink one outside a Nakano apartment building.
There is going to be an anti-nuke demo in Koenji this
Saturday Sunday with live music, activists, and ways to help Koenji’s sister city Minami Souma, which is within the Fukushima 30 km evacuation zone. The concert is from 3 to 5 pm at the Koenji Chuo Park. At 5 pm it will head to Koenji Kitaguchi Hiroba. It’s being called a Choukyodai Demo (Super Huge Demo or 超巨大).
There’s information in English about Saturday’s demo, and the organizer Matsumoto Hajime of the political art collective Amateur Revolt (Shirouto no Ran or 素人の乱). And there’s more information about 4.10 原発やめるデモ in Japanese.