Please join @a_small_lab and me for a tanuki adventure next Tuesday, July 9, noon to 1 pm, at Shibaura House. Details below. Many thanks to Shibaura House for their support.
SHIBAURA HOUSEに来て、江戸時代から有名なタヌキさんに会いませんか？ 2人の外国人が、タヌキさんをまた東京に呼び戻したいと考えています。東京メトロに乗ってタヌキが友達を作る企画（http://wp.me/piwM0-23e）は、ロンドンのテクノロジー関係の学会で承認されました。スマートフォンがなくても、タヌキさんは友達を作ることが上手です。
Please come to Shibaura House to meet the famous tanuki from Edo. Two foreigners want to welcome shape-shifting tanuki back to Tokyo. Their photo story about Making Friends with Tanuki in the Tokyo Metro was selected by a London technology conference for its unusual real-time interaction. How come, even without a smartphone, tanuki is so good at making friends? Why do we need animals in cities? What is the importance of wild and unexpected things in our lives? Please bring an open mind and your own bento. Let’s go on an adventure.
It’s funny how plants connect you even more with people than nature. Thank you Twitter’s @mygardeninjapan for this apple mint. From balcony to balcony!
I recently met up with Twitter’s @mygardeninjapan after exchanging many online comments and thoroughly enjoying his detailed documentation of his balcony garden in Yokohama. Along with @a_small_lab and Tokyo DIY Gardening‘s Chris, we had a bento lunch in a temple garden and then a fascinating walk around the Omotesando danchi.
It was very kind of @mygardeninjapan to give us these small wooden pots with mint plants from his garden and hand-made signs with illustrated care instructions. His ladybug logo reminds me of his blog story about his efforts to attract ladybugs to his balcony garden. I am looking forward to growing and eating this mint in my balcony.
Last weekend I went to Suwa in Nagano with Kobayashi sensei of Sinajina for the famous, once every six years onbashira festival.
Over two months, the residents of Suwa select enormous trees growing on top of the mountain ridge, cut them and transport them down the hills by dragging them with rope, race down a hill sitting on the logs, and eventually lift them up at several important shrines (while people stand on top of them, I guess, to make it more difficult, heavy and dangerous).
Onbashira is a very pleasant mix of animism, forestry and virility. More on the ceremony later.
But, first, the first joy of taking any trip in Japan is buying a bento at the station. There is an incredible variety, priced from about 500 yen to 1,500 yen. Each comes beautifully wrapped in a box, with fantastic graphic design. You can see some cool typography, artistic mountains and trains, a space shuttle, a pokemon, and cherry blossoms.
I chose the spring special, decorated with sakura petals. Inside I was delighted to find over twenty different foods, including takenoko (bamboo shoots).
Even more remarkable, my box came with a photo and description of the organic rice farmers.
And lastly here’s the purple-striped beauty that got us to the Suwa lake in just two hours from Shinjuku.
Today’s New York Times has a great “Room for Debate” feature where four cultural experts discuss the beauty of the Japanese bento box. Although seemingly off-topic from Tokyo Green Space, the discussion expresses relevant cultural aesthetics and the importance of beauty, simplicity, and care.
John Maeda, the president of the Rhode Island School of Design, talks about simplicity and making due in an island nation with limited natural resources. I like his view that Japanese value “making less into more,” and traces bento creation to Kyoto food, a fanciful illusion that masks limited food resources.
Kenya Hara, art director of Muji and professor of Musashino Art University, talks about shokunin kishitsu, or craftsman’s spirit. By cleaning carefully, working diligently, or preparing lunch boxes with creativity, airport cleaners, construction workers and home-makers make the mundane into something beautiful.
I also like how he claims Japanese have a special ability, “an incapacity to see ugliness,” that allows them to ignore urban chaos, ugly architecture and bad signage. In the drabbest office or construction environment, there is still a space to enjoy a perfect bento lunch.
It is easy to see how some of these ideas are expressed in the beautification of public spaces: ordinary people working within the constraints of an often poorly designed urban landscape, creating small vignettes of beauty with a mix of artistry and care, and sharing these creations with minimal self-importance.
A new branch on Nouka no daikokoro (農家の台所), literally the Farmer’s Kitchen, has opened in Shinjuku, and is extremely popular. Housed on the fourth floor of a new tower, the restaurant brings a farm experience to urban resident with local food, an unusual interior, and information about local farmers.
Above the open kitchen and salad bar hang posters featuring the farmers who are growing the incredibly fresh vegetables being served. The posters are designed to look like election campaign posters, and the signage, including hanging cloth banners, introduce food producers to food consumers.
The unusual farm experience begins with the entrance. Customers enter the restaurant through a large walk in refrigerator full of fresh produce for sale. If the wait for a table is too long, you can also buy a 700 yen (US$8) bento salad lunch and take it to nearby Shinjuku Goen.
Inside, the interior is an odd mix of a futuristic space (silver squishy floor and sleek counters) with a traditional space of tatami mats and low tables, and another utilitarian area of counters and tables near the salad bar. The first room has a papaya tree growing in a sleek tube, and the middle room a greenhouse with shelves of green peppers.
The vegetables were some of the tastiest I have had in Tokyo, and the lunch price very reasonable (800 yen for lunch set, 400 yen additional for raw salad bar). If you can’t get a reservation, it’s best to come late for lunch or early for dinner.