The mild San Francisco winter has been delightful. Palm trees add to California’s allure. This is the top of the palm tree trunk in the previous photo.
Even my California friends misunderstand this term. They think it might be a bird that loves the snow. No, it’s an expression in the US’s Northeast to describe often elderly people who spend the winters in Florida.
This year, I’ve prematurely become a Pacific snowbird, spending the winter working in San Francisco, where I lived almost my entire adult life before moving to Tokyo. Living in two Pacific Coast cities is very stimulating.
I love how this row of skinny palm trees greets visitors to Onjuku, Chiba right from the station. They look like Mexican fan palms (washingtonia robusta) which are very common in California.
Onjuku is an 80 minute ride on the express train, and the beach is a 10 minute walk away. It’s great to visit the beach even for an afternoon. The trip by train is also fun. I love to see the port buildings and activities.
I was fortunate to attend a photography workshop last week with the theme of Cities and Xerox. The event gathered about twenty Japanese creatives– including a sound engineer, high school art teacher, students, guidebook writer, book editor, lawyer, and salaryman– and together we created giant photographs layered together.
The workshop process was simple yet very fun. We were asked to take photographs on our way to the workshop. Then we each chose our best photographs for three topics: breakfast, landscapes, and people. The photographs were sent to FedEx Kinko to be blown up into various sizes. And then we worked together to layer them and staple them to a wood board, which would allow art center visitors to browse the images. While we waited for the photographs to be printed and biked back to the workshop, we also silkscreened t-shirts with the word “XEROXed.”
It’s great to see other people’s photographs and see how they view Tokyo. I was particularly struck by the breakfast images: everything from a traditional Japanese breakfast (many courses, including fish, rice, miso soup, pickles, etc) to a Denny’s, coffee, and those odd, squeezable jelly drinks in foil that are popular in Japan yet seem more suited to outer space. I was the only foreigner, but felt very welcomed by the organizers and participants.
The workshop was led by accomplished photographer Hirano Taro, who became famous for taking photographs of empty pools in California used by skateboarders. The workshop took place at Vacant art space in Harajuku as part of a series of Romantic Geography events created by Too Much Magazine’s Tsujimura Yoshi.
You can see our photographs through May 22 at Vacant. There are also coffee and beeswax events coming up. I had a fantastic time, and was very impressed with how accessible, fun and collaborative this event was.
The San Francisco Chronicle quoted me about what California can learn from Japan’s high speed rail. Japan’s rail success is not just about traveling quickly between cities, but the convenience and efficiency of city transit and car-free living.
Cool San Francisco project to turn an empty downtown development site into a temporary California wildflower meadow and pollinator garden that will attract butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and other pollinators. The two organizers are Rebar, a public space arts group, and Pollinator Partnership, which aims to make city and farm ecosystems hospitable to pollinating species.
With the Copenhagen international climate conference approaching in December, the reaction of business leaders to climate change is becoming increasingly dynamic.
Recently California’s Pacific Gas and Electric, PG&E, resigned its membership in the United States Chamber of Commerce in protest of their positions on climate change and cap-and-trade proposals. Its spokesperson referred to its “disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort” scientific findings about global climate change. Other members such as Nike and Johnson & Johnson have tried to distance themselves from the Chamber’s environmental statements and activities.
In Japan, the nation’s most prominent business association, Keidanren, strongly supported the Liberal Democrat Party and their recent low carbon emissions targets. There seems to be considerable conflict with the current Democratic Party Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s ambitious goals of a 25% reduction in emissions, including technology transfers to developing countries.
I recently learned that there is a second business council in Japan called Keizai Doyukua (Japan Association of Corporate Executives), headed by the CEO of Ricoh, that is closer to the new prime minister and more open to the new global business opportunities that environmental regulation will bring. It is interesting to note which corporate executives Hatoyama recently appointed to the Government Revitalization Unit, a key committee on eliminating government waste: Kyocera Corp. Honorary Chairman Kazuo Inamori and Kikkoman Corp. Chairman Yuzaburo Mogi.
Reading about the drastic budget cuts in my home state of California makes me wonder about the potential future of green cities in that state and in the United States. After months of political deadlock, governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and a divided state Congress agreed on $US 30 billion in cuts over two years to schools, colleges, health, welfare, prisons, recreation and other services.
A New York Times analysis quotes University of California, Berkeley professor of political science Bruce E. Cain saying, “In the end, we do not know for sure whether the California public really wants the California dream anymore. The population is too diverse to have a common vision of what it wants to provide to everyone. Some people want the old dream, some want the gated privatized version, and some would like to secede and get away from it all.”
The conventional wisdom that California or the United States has no “common vision” reflects a political and cultural deficit, and will create more long-term damage than the economic downtown. For many government and educational authorities, diversity makes a convenient excuse for an unwillingness to invest in social programs that broadly benefit the public good. Nostalgia for previous boom times obscures the massive investment and cultural change needed to create green and sustainable cities.
A US teacher’s blog reminded me of the importance of gardens in Japanese public schools. Loco teaches in a Yokohama junior high school, and remarked at how different Japanese and New York school facilities are.
At his school, there are two ponds, turtles, fish, and carefully pruned trees. The gardens are largely maintained by the students and staff. In contrast US students generally have no responsibilities for cleaning their classrooms or maintaining the grounds.
Another feature of Japanese school gardens is the frequent presence of at least one large cherry tree. These trees’ blossoms mark the ending and beginning of the school year in March and April.
In the United States, there is now an Edible Schoolyard movement to bring vegetable gardens to schools as a way to educate kids about food and the environment. The Berkeley California middle school garden was founded in 1995 by noted cook and food activist Alice Waters, who is now advising the Obamas about the organic White House vegetable garden. It would be interesting to bring this school vegetable garden concept to Japan.