Month: November 2011

Seeking prosperity with rakes, booze, hot glue, tattooed Kewpie

酉の市が大好きです。日本の神道では、神秘的なものと幸運を探しながら、熊手やお酒や入れ墨のキューピーからご利益を得られます。浅草はもっと伝統的ですが、花園神社は私の一番のパワースポットです。歌舞伎町と二丁目とデパート本店の間だから、とてもかっこい人が集まります。三十万円の熊手を見ました。去年私は千円のを買って、今年は二千円のにレベルアップしました。来年はすばらしい年になります。

I’ve written before how Tori no Ichi is one of my favorite festivals, with its focus on seeking spiritual intervention for a prosperous year. Perhaps Asakusa is a more traditional place, but I particularly love attending the festival at Hanozono shrine, mid-way between Kabukicho, Ni-chome, and the department stores. The crowd is Tokyo’s most beautiful people: the world of late night drinkers, huge hair for men and women, animal prints, and shiny fabrics.

If it weren’t for the food stalls, it would be easy to miss the entrance on Yasukuni Dori, with the fiver rows of lanterns barely competing with the neon, fluorescent signage, and hundreds of taxis.

The focal point of the festival are the “kumade,” which are good luck rakes made of bamboo, rice, (often artificial) pine, and paper and plastic good luck charms hot glued. There are dozens of stalls, and the most expensive ones need to be carried out by two men. The one below cost 300,000 yen (almost US $4,000).

In addition to kumade sellers, there are many regular festival food stalls, and also make-shift drinking establishments with tables and chairs. I like how the one below wraps around a mature tree.

The convergence of spirituality, drinking and materialism is dizzying. The proprietress of this food and drink stall is wearing a headband full of cash.

Almost anything can represent good fortune. I love how this Kewpie doll, the mascot of Japan’s #1 mayonnaise, also has a headband of cash and a full body tattoo. There seems to be an even higher than usual correlation between this festival and the yakuza who are its sellers and celebrants.

Even the children’s cartoon Anpan man (his head is a round anko bread that can be eaten when necessary) can be incorporated into the rake.

More unknown fruit

この果物も早く現れて、すぐに消えました。この低い木は刺が多いです。リンゴみたいです。食べられるかどうかと思っています。

These fruit, too, also quickly appeared and then they were gone. The short tree is extremely thorny, and the fruit look like apples. I wonder if they are edible.

Thanks to Janet at Suiseki Art for the help with yesterday’s Chinese quince or “karin” in Japanese.

What is this strange fruit?

先日、近所の家の前に育っている果物を見ました。次には、なくなってしまいました。なんの果物ですか、だれか知っていますか。
One day I saw these fruit growing outside a neighbor’s house. When I went back to get a second look, it was gone. Does anyone know what it is?

Pomegranate also grows well in Tokyo

ザクロも東京で育つことができます。もともと中央アジアのペルシアから来て、地中海地方で人気です。酸っぱくて柔らかいの種が美味しいです。東京では、だれもこの木の果物を食べないから、鳥はうれしいだろう。たまに小さなザクロを盆栽に使っています。

Native to Persia (what is now Iran), pomegranates remind me of the Mediterranean. I was surprised to see a neighbor’s pomegranate tree full of fruit. I guess the neighbor is not eating them, since they are bursting open. The birds are probably happy to eat the delicious seeds, and then distribute them as they travel.

Last year I also took photos of neighborhood fruit trees, including a miniature pomegranate. There are special varieties used in bonsai making.

More persimmons, in Shiho studio’s backyard

この柿の木は史火陶芸教室の裏庭で育っています。二年に一回、果物がたくさん出来ますが、多くない年もたくさんとれます。毎年、義理の母が生徒さんや友だちに果物と果物で作った料理をあげます。秋は柿です。夏はユスラ梅です。東京は、果物の木が多いことを知っている外国人が少ないです。

Many foreigners are surprised just how full of persimmons Tokyo is in the fall. Maybe you’d miss them if you stick to inside the newest malls and corporate developments. But it must be one of the most popular residential trees, and a true marker of fall.

This one is behind Shiho ceramic studio, and the funny story is that my in law teachers say that this year there aren’t so many fruit. Despite being an off year in a two year cycle, there’s actually still quite a lot of fruit. My mother in law is a great cook, and she uses these fall persimmons and also small sour plums in summer for food she shares with students and friends. She didn’t plant these trees but has gotten a lot of use from them in the past ten years.

Some persimmon trees produce fruit that’s best eaten raw, others dried, or cooked into jam or other sweets. For me it’s an acquired taste, but seeing these orange globes dangling across Tokyo is undeniably beautiful.

Espaliered persimmon in front of Aoyama school

「espalier」というフランス語の意味は木を垣根仕立てにすることです。東京ではちょっと珍しいですけど、混雑した都市の中で、この二次元にされた植物は適切です。最近、学校の前に背の高い垣根仕立てにした柿の木を見ました。

I am a big fan of espaliered trees. By pruning a tree into a 2D shape, it fits into the dense urban landscape. Here’s a mature, espaliered persimmon tree in front of a public school in Aoyama. I wonder if the kids will eat the fruit.

I am going to be posting this week different fall fruit trees I’ve seen over the past few weeks. What is your favorite urban fruit tree?

Old storefront in Shimokitazawa full of plants

下北沢を自転車でぶらぶらしていて、きれいな店先を見ました。ずっと前に、店を閉めましたが、まだ歩道の庭は手入れされています。懐かしい気持ちになりました。
Biking in Shimokitazawa, I was struck by this old storefront partly covered in plants. There’s an impressive accumulation of pots, stands, and small trees. In a city of constant demolition and rebuilding, it’s nice to see this relic of the post-war period: clean architectural lines with aging wood and metal fixtures. It seems like the shop closed long ago, but the resident maintains the garden right up against the street.

Cosmos is a fall flower in Tokyo

コスモスは東京の秋の花だと知っていますか。近所の花店で買った。今庭で、ピンクや濃い青や白や黄色の花が多いです。ブルーベリーの葉は紅葉になります。

Did you know that cosmos are a fall flower in Tokyo? You see them everywhere this time of year, so I picked up this one from my neighborhood flower shop. This fall my garden has a lot of pink (roses, fujibakama), deep blue (Okinawa morning glory, lavendar, salvia), and white and yellow (pansies, marigold, geranium). The blueberry bush leaves are also turning red and gold.

Morning glory green curtain still blooming

琉球朝顔がまだ咲いています。狭いベランダでは、庭と洗濯物が一緒です。
The morning glory green curtain continues to bloom and provide some vertical greening on the narrow balcony. In previous years, September hurricanes meant taking down the curtain early. The short-lived flowers keep popping up in different places. I also like how the garden co-exists with other domestic functions like clothes drying. We finally took the summer wind chime down a few weeks ago.

Potting plants for Shiho student ceramic show

今日は史火陶芸教室の展示会の準備をします。どんな植物がいろいろな植木鉢と似合うだろう。着生植物や季節の花と紫キャベツを使おうと思っています。土曜日から展覧会が始まります。写真は、最後の植木鉢の釉がけ前のです。

Today I am potting up plants and getting my flowerpots ready for the Shiho student ceramic show. Above are the last two larger flower pots. When I go to the studio today, I’ll see how they look after being glazed and baked.

The one with the holes can be used with a candle, or you can place a plant inside that you’ve bought at the nursery in its original plastic pot. I like that it’s lighter weight, transparent, and easy to swap plants in and out.

I am also showing small pots and smaller bonsai pots. I have an idea for untraditional bonsai plantings, including air plants that can be removed so you can see the whole ceramic pot. For the larger pots, I’ll try to mix seasonal flowers, purple leafed cabbage, and some of the plants Matthew left in the back garden.

The show starts this Saturday and runs for five days. I’ll be at the gallery on Saturday from  3ish to 7, on Sunday from 5 to 7, and sometime next week depending on my work schedule.

Purple berries on murasaki shikibu pop on light green foliage

紫式部の果実は薄緑の葉に似合います。この特別な秋の植物は『5倍緑』という都市里山箱のなかで成長します。史火陶芸教室の前を、歩行者が注目しています。季節ごとに、小さい風景ができあがります。史火のホームペジで、この5倍緑箱が二年前にどんなだったかを見られます。

I love how the purple berries pop against the light green foliage. This hardy shrub is a classic fall marker, and a reference to the female novelist of the thousand year old Tale of Genji. Unlike my balcony specimen, which dropped its berries while still green, this one outside Shiho ceramic studio looks fantastic. It’s growing in a 5bai midori, the modular urban satoyama box.

I bought the first box two years ago, and the second last year. They really thrive on this north-facing sidewalk and draw attention to the studio and store. If you click on Shiho’s website, you can see on the home page how small the first one was. It just needs lots of water, and very occasional pruning. There are so many local species that each season has something special and evocative of the Japanese landscape.

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.

Real estate image of forest doesn’t match surroundings

最近、贅沢な不動産開発が自然のイメージを広告に使っています。広告の中の田舎の森や現場から離れた風景を見ていると妙な 気持ちになります。本当の都市の森を作れば、不動産の価格はもっと上がります。西新宿で都市の森はどんな風に見えるだろう。

I’ve noticed recently more and more real estate advertising at construction sites and at recently completed buildings that show images of forests or famous urban landscapes that are nowhere near the location. A new luxury development rising at Jingumae 3 chome #37, the site of the former Harajuku Danchi, shows a photo of the ginko trees turning yellow on Icho Namaiki (いちょう並木).

Above is Nishi Shinjuku, which has several new office towers and new apartments on Ome Kaido, towards Nakano Sakaue. Following regulations, these buildings have planted street trees. But it is comical to see the image of a path meandering through a forest that’s half way up the new apartment building.

On the one hand, it’s good to see city people still dream of forests. On the other hand, these wealthy developers and the City of Tokyo regulators could increase the value of their properties by actually turning this marketing image into a reality.

What could an urban forest look like at this intersection?

Buying good luck rakes at Tori no Ichi festival

今年は酉の市が三回あります。もう熊手を買いました。同じ日に新しい仕事の契約を結びましたから、去年のよりサイズアップしました。新宿花園神社のこの祭りが大好き。たくさん水商売のオーナーが参拝にきます。でも、酉の市が三回ある年は、火事の危険が高くなると言われています。

With an entrance on Yasukuni Dori no wider than the average office building, the large Hanazono shrine in Shinjuku can easily be missed. Except in November, when the entrance is filled with lanterns and a giant rake, protected in plastic from the rain, for Tori no Ichi festival.

This festival centers around the sale of lucky rakes, made of bamboo and hot glued ornaments including rice, pine, gold coins, tai fish, and other lucky charms. One variation included all the Anpanman characters.

This year, I “sized up” from last year’s rake. The first day of the festival, I signed a new contract so I guess last year’s rake worked! I dutifully took last year’s rake back to the shrine, and added it to the pile of old rakes.

When you purchase a rake, the sellers gather around and clap wood blocks to wish you luck. I saw one rake purchased that cost 300,000 yen (yes, over US $3,000) and had to be carried by two men. Delivery is probably free when you buy such a huge one.

What makes this particular shrine fun is that all this spiritual and monetary focus caters to the Shinjuku nightlife world, as it stands in the center of Kabukicho, Golden Gai, and Ni Chome.

Because of the vagaries of the lunar year, this year there are three days this month for the festival (Nov 2, 14, and 26). There’s a superstition that when there’s three festival days, there is an increased risk of winter fires.

As fall turns to winter, I expect to hear small groups of people walking my residential neighborhood and clapping wood blocks to warn residents of the danger of fire. In the meantime, this oddly patched warning showed up at a train station. I wonder what word is underneath the English correction.

Shiho ceramic studio’s student exhibit

来週は、史火陶芸教室の生徒展示会です。今回で三回目の参加です。植木鉢花瓶を作りました。時間があれば、是非、来てください。11月19日から11月23日まで、ギャラリー彦にて。杉並区松庵3−37−21です。

Next weekend, November 19-23, is the Shiho ceramic studio‘s annual student exhibit. This will be my 3rd time participating. Please come by in Nishi Ogikubo if you can. There’s a very wide variety of ceramic types and styles, from kitchen goods to accessories and decorative pieces with many affordable items. I’ll be showing some recent flower pots and vases, along with the cafe ole bowl I made as part of this year’s theme.

The address is below. It’s a 4 minute walk from the South exit of the JR Nishiogikubo station on the Sobu and Chuo lines. Gallery Hiko is open from 11 to 18 everyday, except the last day when it closes at 17.
167-0054 Tokyo Suginami-ku Shouan 3−37−21
167-0054 東京都杉並区松庵3−37−21