fellowship

Visiting green roof company in Shitamachi

屋上と壁の庭はきれいなんです。

Recently, Mukunoki Ayumi gave me a tour of Kuboco, the construction and roof garden company where she works in Shitamachi. She graduated from Nodai, where I am a research fellow. The meeting took place thanks to Edgy Japan‘s Yanigasawa Hiroki.  I immediately recognized the building when I spotted the incredible wisteria that is trellised across one building and climbs to the top of the adjoining 8 story building, where it provides rooftop shade on a trellis structure. Mukunoki-san told me that the vine is just eight years old and very vigorous!

Kuboco designs roof gardens and vertical gardens for commercial and retail buildings as well as residences. Since they are a construction company, they are able to combine garden design and maintenance with structural engineering, water-proofing, and retrofitting trellises for vines and vertical gardens onto older buildings.

Mukunoki-san reports seeing a shift from roof lawns to vegetables in Tokyo. She attributes this to customers wanting less maintenance and greater value from their outdoor spaces. Kabuco has roof gardens on both of its buildings, one a more social space and the other full of experiments with soil depth and new vegetables. Kuboco is very hands-on in providing advice about how to build roof gardens and what to grow. Mukunoki-san explained that last summer she grew tumeric because one of her clients wanted to grow it. On my visit, I saw blueberries, carrots, onions, parsley and other food on their demonstration gardens, and admired how they are testing out what can grow in 5, 10, 20, and 25 cm deep soil boxes. And for a while Kuboco’s roof garden provides fresh vegetables to a local onigiri restaurant.

She also introduced me to the Japanese term for “local food”: 地産地消 (chisanchishou, locally produced and locally consumed, with the first and third kanji being the word soil).

The 8 year old wisteria looks like it’s been on this building for much longer. It blooms best when trained horizontally.

I would love to try blueberries, too. It would be so satisfying to eat fresh blueberries, rather than the supermarket ones that have travelled from as far as Chile.

Newsweek Japan article (日本語)

Newsweek Japan published my article about how Tokyo gardening turns public space into social space. The Tokyo Eye column allows Japanese to see how foreigners view and experience Tokyo, and I was asked to write in a very personal voice about how I experience living in Tokyo and why green space matters. I will post an English version soon.

東京の小さな緑を世界に誇れ

ジャレド・ブレイタマン

08年に仕事で初めて東京を訪れたとき、驚くと同時に感心させられたのは、この都市が実に人間的で、人と植物が共生する通りは活気に満ちあふれていたということだ。

多くの外国人と同じく私が東京に抱いていたイメージは、冷たく立ち並ぶ高層ビルと、渋谷のスクランブル交差点の雑踏、輝く広告のネオンだった。つまり、自然から完全に隔離された世界最大の都市を想像していたわけだ。

私自身これまでずっとガーデニングには深い愛情を注いできたが、東京の住民たちの植物を育てる情熱と創意工夫には今も驚かされる。そして、人間と建物がひしめき合う大都会で人と人を結び付けるコミュニティーが存在するという点にも。

ある日、初心者向けの陶芸教室を訪れた後、狭い歩道のアスファルトの割れ目から美しいパンジーが生えているのを見つけた。

東京ではほんの小さなスペースにも住民が気を配り、「緑の息吹」が宿っている。この印象がきっかけとなり、私はサンフランシスコから東京に移り住む決心をする。私は幸運にも日立と米外交問題評議会(CFR)が提携するフェローシッププログラムの奨学金を得て、デザイン人類学と都市生態学を融合させた「東京の小さな緑」の研究を始めることになった。

東京はアメリカやヨーロッパの都市とは異なり「小さな緑」にあふれていながら、日本人自身にはそのユニークな特徴に気付いていない。道端のパンジーがそれを気付かせてくれた。そこで私は、以下のような問いを掲げてみた。

1.なぜ東京の人々は自分の周りの環境にそれほど気を配るのか。

2.建物が密集する都市部で、自然はどのような役割を果たすのか。

3.東京のガーデニング文化から他の都市は何を学べるのか。

。。。

Newsweek Japan の全記事を読んで下さい!

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.

Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Last week I gave several talks about Tokyo Green Space, including at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Gaimusho, 外務書). The 1960s modernist building and landscaping impressed me. You can see the bright yellow ginkos in the background and the last fall leaves in the foreground.

My main point to the Ministry was that Japan has not done a good job of explaining its accomplishments in creating livable cities. Both its ordinary gardeners who compensate for a history of poor planning, and its landscape visionaries who are creating new public spaces for people and wildlife are unknown within and outside Japan. Most foreigners are surprised at how human-scaled and enjoyable Tokyo is.

Given climate change and global urbanization, Japan should promote its achievements and expertise in new urbanism, with relevance to developed and emerging cities around the world.

I also gave talks last week at Hitachi Ltd Headquarters to an audience that included Hitachi global business, defense systems, environmental strategy, and research institute leaders, as well as Kajima and ARUP biodiversity specialists, university professors, and Japanese media. Voted the MVP (most voted person), I also gave an impromptu speech, in Japanese, at the wonderful TEDxSeeds conference organized by the extraordinary culture curator Satoh Keiko.

Pecha Kucha presentation

Wednesday I presented Tokyo Green Space at Pecha Kucha in Tokyo in front of almost 300 designers, artists and creative types. The biggest crowd pleaser was the photo of the still life of salary man in a flower bed.

I presented half in Japanese and half in English; it was good practice but a little nerve-testing to talk about my research in Japanese.

I was overwhelmed that so many friends came to the presentation, including Shu, Matthew, Katy, Izumi, Shinobu, Shige, Takako, Hagiwara, Mike (TM), Taka, Alban, Claudia, Umeki, Ben, Jesper, and Hannah. Many thanks to Mark Dytham, Astrid Klein and Tomoko for inviting me to participate!

Japan Times: Tokyo’s urban design role

The Japan Times published my op-ed article “Tokyo’s urban design role.” My argument is that Tokyo’s past urban design failures paradoxically make it a model for rebuilding existing cities and designing hundreds of emerging cities. In the context of climate change and global warming, livable cities can create a new balance between people and  nature.

I talk about fireflies, Ginza rice and honeybees, modern bonsai, satoyama in the city, businesses and biodiversity, and how Japan can promote innovations in urban life, alongside achievements in popular culture and high technology.

Speaking at Pecha Kucha on December 2

Next Wednesday night (December 2) I will be speaking at Pecha Kucha night in Tokyo (click for map). The event brings together the widest possible variety of designers– including architects, fine artists, crafts, graphic designers, illustrators, and other creative types.

Pecha Kucha’s name comes from the Japanese phrase for “chit chat,” takes place in an informal club setting with a simple format: presenters each show 20 slides that automatically change every 20 seconds. Begun by Tokyo-based architects Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, the event has spread to 257 cities worldwide. Some past presentations have been put online.

In my 6 minutes and 40 seconds, I will try to speak half in English and half in Japanese. I hope some of my blog readers will be able to attend.

Speaking at Anthropology of Japan in Japan conference

Speaking at Anthropology of Japan in Japan conference

This weekend I will be presenting a talk, “Urban Gardeners and the City of the Future,” in an Urban Japan panel at the Anthropology of Japan in Japan conference. It will be held at Temple University‘s Japan campus, and my panel is Saturday November 7 from 1 pm to 3 pm along with papers on urban bicycling, geisha, street festivals, and gender inequality.

This year is a tribute to Stanford Anthropology Professor Harumi Befu, a scholar of Japanese identity, nationalism and globalization. The conference theme is “Civil Society and Citizenship in MultiNational/MultiCultural Japan.”

Hitachi CFR Opportunities

More than three months into my Council on Foreign Relations Hitachi International Affairs Fellowship, I am astounded by the wide range of activities it has allowed me to participate.

In the past week alone, I met Japan’s most prominent scenario-planning business consultant, Nishimura Michinari of Greenfield Consulting, attended a Japan Initiative forum featuring new Diet members with a prominent design and communication leader, met the former Patagonia Japan president who is now promoting permaculture, heard a lecture about net-native nation from Amazon Japan’s director of public policy, met a Sophia University anthropology professor, was interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle‘s transportation reporter, attended the monthly Pecha Kucha design forum, and visited the Innovation Lab at Hakuhodo, one of Japan’s largest advertising agencies and one of the most beautiful offices I have ever visited.

I realize what a unique opportunity this fellowship is, and am very grateful to my sponsors and the open-minded Japanese who have been very patient with my Japanese and generous with their time.

Metropolis article on Tokyo Green Space

Metropolis magazine article on Tokyo Green Space

Metropolis magazine in Japan published my article on Tokyo Green Space. It’s my first general interest article on some of the amazing green space innovators I have met during my research in Tokyo: including Ginza rice farmers and bee keepers, a modern bonsai Continue reading

10,000 Blog Page Views

10,000 Blog Page Views

Over this past weekend, the Tokyo Green Space blog surpassed 10,000 page views. Begun in August of 2008, blog traffic has been exponential in the past months, with this current month reaching 3,500 views.

It is a great pleasure that the blog’s themes– the remarkable green spaces of Tokyo and the value of urban ecology– have resonated so widely. The international audience includes ordinary gardeners, researchers, professors, students, urban planners, landscape designers, environmentalists, government and corporate leaders.

I welcome all comments in all languages, including Japanese. ありがとうございます。

Rice study at Nodai

Rice study at Nodai

Watching students study rice in a field lab reminded me that, yes, I am really affiliated with an agricultural university in Japan. Nodai is the Tokyo University of Agriculture. The students were counting the number of rice stalks and the number of grains in each specimen. I wonder if the variables involved the plant, the growing medium or environment. The students looked very serious.

Rice study at Nodai

Wildlife in Kamakura

Wildlife in Kamakura, Dragonfly, Hasadera

A day trip to Kamakura to visit a Hitachi environmental strategist turned up many delightful wildlife within Tokyo’s commuter shed. Hasedera Temple has an amazing garden on a steep hillside with views of the ocean. Several types of dragonflies were there, including this amazing red one.

Red dragonfly, Hasedera Temple, Kamakura

Sunning themselves on lotus leaves were turtles.

Turtles, Hasedera Temple, Kamakura

Outside the temple, I was startled to see a swallow’s nest above a convenience store entrance. The young birds seemed unperturbed by people or commerce.

Swallows, convenience store, Kamakura

Equally ubiquitous were hawks, circling, squawking and apparently endangering beach picnics.

Hawk sign, Kamakura

Continue reading

Tokyo in summer

Kafu Nagai self-portrait 1932 Edward Seidensticker biography

“It is the summer that makes life in Tokyo most beautiful . . . Bamboo cages with singing insects, painted fans, mosquito nets, sweet-smelling reed blinds set into miniature landscapes- where else are there appurtenances of such delicacy? . . . Sometimes, walking along a canal of a summer evening, I have found myself drunk with a mood as of hearing a samisen somewhere- in a courtesan’s room, perhaps, in a scene from Mokuami’s ‘The Robbers.'”

Summer is in full force in Tokyo now, and I am turning to literary inspiration to better understand this complex metropolis. Viewed from above, Tokyo is an endless concrete slab with few visible elements of nature. Viewed from the street, the city pulses with human and plant life, and its residents react to the constraints of the built environment with creativity.

In exploring the layers of Tokyo, I am relying on two books written in English. A Enbutsu Sumiko, a Japanese woman educated at Smith College, wrote  “Discover Shitamachi” in 1984, and I have been using it as a guide to the Edo era survivors in the area near the Sumida River first settled by artisans and merchants in the 1600s. Enbutsu also wrote A Flower Lover’s Guide to Tokyo: 40 Walks for All Seasons in 2007, a wonderful book that suggests city walks organized by seasonal flowers.

More recently, I am reading noted Japanologist Edward Seidentsicker’s 1965 literary biography Kafū the Scribbler: The Life and Writing of Nagai Kafu, 1879-1959, from which the quote above about summer comes. Since I am still unable to read in Japanese, I rely on these historic works to better understand Tokyo’s strange mix of history and modernity. Seidensticker’s biography insists that his subject is “better and more important than any of his works” and that his work can only be understand in the context of his life, his city, and the Meiji tension between Edo and modernity.

Kafu Nagai 4 images Tokyo

Whether considering historic sites, ancient festivals and crafts, the ever-active wrecking ball, and latest popular culture, it is humbling to think that this tension between traditional and modern urbanity  has existed for over 100 years in Tokyo. I am looking forward to Seidentsticker’s chronicle of turn of the century Tokyo life, and visiting some of the same places myself to sense if there any echos still audible.