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Providing a temporary home for the gods in Tokyo: Shimekazari and Kadomatsu for the New Year

東京のお正月の時だけですが、神様を迎え入れます.

Tokyo residents and small businesses welcome the gods in temporary homes built of bamboo, pine, and plum blossoms.

I love how the best ones are hand-crafted from pine, bamboo, and plum blossoms. They are intended to be temporary homes for the Shinto gods (kami, 神様). I like the idea that you can create a temporary house for the gods to visit at new year. The three heights of the kamomastu represent heaven, humanity, and earth- in descending order. The shimekazari are smaller, with Shinto rope holding charms such as oranges, folded paper, rice straw, and ferns.

Shimekazari (標飾り) and Kadomatsu (門松) are traditional New Year’s ornaments placed on walls and on the sidewalks outside shops and homes. The city simultaneously empties of people and fills with physical connections to mountains and spirits. This year I took photos of the widest variety I could find in the areas I visit on typical days: on a car bumper, outside a sento, next to a wall of cigarette advertisements, on a busy boulevard, outside a barbershop, pachinko parlor, 24 hour convenience store, and a department store.

After the holiday, these decorations should be burned at a shrine. By mid-January, they are already a faded memory.

See more photos after the jump.

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A tree of death outside Family Mart

I was speechless when I first saw this craft project outside a local convenience store. Perched above a cardboard box is a tree of death, made of dozens of cigarette cartons and festooned with Christmas lights. Maybe it was meant to generate attention for tobacco purchases before the recent 40% tax increase. I wonder who came up with the idea: the local store manager? a clerk inspired by craft or commerce?

When I think of all the urban dead space, retail store fronts are a real lost opportunity. This one is special in that in addition to being a missed opportunity for plants and life, it actively promotes death. I am still surprised how Japan lags the advanced nations in curbing smoking.

A rare visit to Roppongi brought to my attention another death environment. This is a free and public “lounge” where you are invited to sit down and puff some tobacco while surrounded by branded ads. I am sure there’s plenty of money to be made in selling death, but it’s a disgrace to see public space devoted to this activity.