animal

Professor Owl teaches a class of animals, near Nodai campus

農大の近くに、梟先生が動物のクラスを教えています。コンクリート・ブロックの壁の中に、小さな驚きです。

What a happy classroom taught by professor owl. Yuki spotted this cute diorama in the gap space in a resident’s cinderblock wall, between Nodai and the Kyodo station. What a tiny surprise.

San Francisco’s new urban ecology projects

Via Twitter, I’ve come across some fantastic new urban ecology projects in San Francisco:

Nature in the City, an NPO focused on conservation, restoration and stewardship. Currently creating habitat corridors for the the Green Hairstreak (Callophrys dumetorum), a small butterfly present in only three places in the city.

Urban Gleaning Program, a project of San Francisco’s Department of Public Works that encourages city residents to collect fruit from city trees and community gardens and distribute them to the homeless and hungry.

Urban Hedgerow, a new global cities project that creates space and allow more of our wild world into the city. The project joins urban naturalists and artists to increase insect, animal, and plant life, with projects starting in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, the UK.

Small shrine in Akihabara provides respite and carnal spirituality

One of the pleasures of Tokyo is discovering small gems that are unexpected. Arriving a few minutes early to a meeting in Akihabara last month, I stumbled upon this small shrine that faces the south side of the Kanda River near Akihabara, best known for electronics, manga, and geeks. The surrounding streetscape is a crowded jumble of 80s buildings with a few pre-war relics.

It was great to duck into the shrine, and enjoy the shade, the running water in the stone basin for ritual hand washing, the wood structures, and the quiet of a place with few visitors. Enjoying this mini oasis, I realized that all the statues involve animals with huge balls.

I recognize tanuki, but I think there are other animals, too. On second viewing, the husband pointed out that all of the figures, despite looking quite different, are tanuki. Although many shrines feature foxes (kitsune, or oinarisama), it is rare to see a shrine focused on tanuki. A placard explains that “tanuki” is a pun on words that also means “passing the other” and refers to Edo women who competed with each other to produce male heirs.

Shiho ceramic studio’s new blog

The Shiho Togei ceramic studio where I make flowerpots and vases just set up a new blog. There are some great photos of student works, like Sally’s animals above, wrapped for transport to a bizen or wood-fired kiln in Numazu during this week’s Golden Week holiday. The blog includes birthday parties, photos of the back garden, visitors, and student ceramics.

FarmVille, an addiction to virtual farming

Farmville, an addiction to virtual farming

Can anyone comment on this recent story about FarmVille? Apparently, Farmville is Facebook’s most popular application with 62 million users since it started this June. Like the Sims or Tamagotchi pets, players must carefully tend to their virtual worlds, in this case crops, farm animals and neighbors. Created in San Francisco, this game is popular with city people and farmers from around the world.

Fox face

Fox face

Fox face is a common fall plant that city residents bring into their homes. I was surprised that it does not require water, and will last two months. It is a fruit related to eggplant and tomato, and has the name “fox face” because of its resemblance to the animal. Some of the fruits have what appear to be ears, but not this one. It make a nice alternative to pumpkins.

Fireflies in Tokyo

Fireflies, photo by Akihiro, Flickr, Creative Commons

On the Nodai trip, Suzuki sensei told me of the work he is doing with a Shinagawa school to create a firefly habitat. This summer he took a middle school class to the countryside to experience fireflies. Once there, he also told the kids that they would have to help out in a rice field– a rare experience for most city kids.

Suzuki sensei is now leading meetings with the school about creating a firefly habitat on or near the school yard at Ono Gakuen Joshichuu Gaku (小野学園女子中学). Fireflies require clean, running water, and the school has the rights to unused wells and is near a stream that has been covered in concrete for decades.

The project has a small funding from the Japanese Ministry of Education, and in addition to Nodai, other participants include school administrators, parents, firefly habitat expert and Nodai alumnus Sakurai Jun (櫻井淳), and a specialist from the Tokyo Four Seasons Hotel (Chinzan-so), which is famous for its urban firefly garden.

In Japan, fireflies are associated with agriculture and rice paddies, and is the title of a chapter of the thousand year old novel The Tale of Genji. Fireflies are also associated with the folklore of hitodama, fiery apparitions of the souls of the recently dead that trick and beguile the living.

I am very inspired by Suzuki sensei’s vision for bringing nature and magic to urban kids with firefly habitat. I wonder how many streams and canals can be daylighted, what plants will promote urban biodiversity, what insects and animals are most important for promoting wildlife in the city.

(Note: Photo by Akihiro, shared on Flickr through Creative Commons)