Signs of spring

Tokyo has had a strange April. Last Friday there was hail. I was surprised to hear a squishy sound beneath my shoes. Will winter never end? Fortunately, it is now a bit warmer, and I managed to pot up all the small plants I bought for my balcony garden: columbine, two types of jasmine, some yellow button flowers, a clover, and a small purple green vine.

The cherry blossoms ended suddenly with the rain and wind: briefly, the trees are redder as just the flower stems remain, and then suddenly the trees start leafing out. As soon as cherry blossoms pass, dogwood opens up.

Tokyo has a lot of dogwood trees, which come from the mid-Atlantic of the United States. The tree represents a cultural exchange between nations, with Japan providing Washington D.C. with monumental cherry trees, and the United States offering Japan dogwood. It’s strange that many Tokyo residents do not know the origin or significance of dogwood trees. They remind me of my childhood in Baltimore.

Peach truck

Peach truck in Jiyugaoka

A common Tokyo summer sight are mini pick-up trucks parked near train stations selling fruit, like this peach truck in Jiyugaoka. The sign on the back says “Directly from Yamanashi, cheap, cheap.”

The summer fruit vendor remains me of the “Arabbers” of Baltimore, who since the early 1800s have sold fruit and vegetables on highly decorated horse-drawn carts. According to the preservation society, the numbers have recently increased from one to six arabbers still working today.

Arabber in Baltimore

Growing rice on small street in plastic buckets

Rice growing in small bowls

One of my neighbors cultivates her entrance and the side of the street along her building. Recently she showed me that she is growing rice in three small plastic buckets. I am impressed with this small bit of urban farming, so evocative of Japan’s agriculture and scaled for the city.

Her small garden spans public and private space, and is constantly changing by season; last month was hydrangea and peony, now rice and roses. She is constantly present on the street taking care of her plants and chatting with passer-bys. Her presence is reminiscent of the urban life created by Baltimore “stoops,” marble block steps, yet without the steps.