Tanuki night-time portrait, with Tokyo Olympic cloth featuring attractive African American athletes



My super-extroverted tanuki co-conspirator, Chris Berthelsen, has relocated to New Zealand. It was touching that at our last public outing his special feature consisted of a 1964 Tokyo Olympic cloth featuring African-American athletes. Although not clear from this poor photo, the setting is Aoyama Danchi, one of tanuki’s favorite urban wild spaces.

Thanks, Chris, for all the creativity and boundary hopping. I was also super happy to hear that the original tanuki mask, made by Chris’ wife, is now in the possession of a Dutch teen in Tokyo.

Seoul’s transformation into livable city. Makes Tokyo look stunted.


In the past five years, Seoul has gone from one of East Asia’s ugliest mega-cities to one of its most livable and attractive. The transformation has been rapid. While I think Tokyo is often stunted by its autocratic government and urban planning, Seoul shows that East Asian cities can be dynamic and forward-looking.

On a visit last summer, I toured new city parks (the Cheonggyecheon river and Seonyudo island), visited art galleries, experienced the mix of old and cutting edge architecture, and met meta-designers, Seoul’s city brand manager, and a national environmental researcher.

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Valued by US preppies, hosta seems ignored in Tokyo


Although hosta is an Asian plant, it’s more popular in America. For Americans, hostal is a very elegant import and expensive feeling. I associate it with upper class neighborhoods in New York City and elsewhere in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. You hardly see it in Tokyo. It’s easy to grow and very attractive I think.

Begonias draw attention to surveillance cameras


You are being watched. Surveillance paired with flowers keep streets attractive and safe. Still, I am not sure I like being watched.

I noticed these lovely hanging begonias on the utility poles leading out from the southeast exit of Shinjuku’s JR station. I was admiring the unexpected late fall color they provide, when I realized that each flower pot is paired with a banner explaining that “security cameras in use.”  Sure enough, above the banner and below the spikes to keep birds off, is a surveillance camera.

The banner is ominous, from the spooky greyscale graphic of two human figures in shadow to the logo with a man and his briefcase crossing the threshold of the kanji for exit in the six kanji that state “Southeast Exit Association.” Isn’t shinwakai (association) normally a volunteer group? The more I think about the Tounanguchi Shinwakai (東南口親和会), the less clear it is who is doing the watching.

Often I fool myself into thinking that Tokyo’s super-respectful public behavior is cultural and comes from positive socialization. I forgot how pride is also reinforced by peer shaming and legal enforcement. Tokyo has minimal public litter and no municipal garbage cans. It can also boast minimal street crime and an enormous number of police on the street.