clean

After massive cleaning, balcony floor is very clean, and plants even more modular

garden_detail_new_wood_floor_home_balcony
大掃除の後で、ベランダの床がとてもきれいになりました。今は、植木鉢を動かしやすいです。

Because the building was inspecting and maintaining the drains, we cleaned out the old rotted path, and all the accumulated dirt and roots that had jumped the pots. The balcony floor is now much cleaner, and it’s easier to move the plants around in new configurations.

Tanuki arrives in Azabujuban and stores his bike in his scrotum

麻布十番に来たときに、タヌキは自分の大きな睾丸の中に自転車を保管しています。駅の辺りをきれいにしています。

Tanuki doesn’t clutter the Azabujuban station area with his bike. He stores his bike in his giant scrotum.

Pleasures of Tokyo trains and subways

東京の電車と地下鉄は分け合う空間です。時々、居心地の悪いときもありますが、いつも東京的で面白いと思います。

It’s hard for people outside Tokyo to imagine what using Tokyo transit is like. The busiest station, Shinjuku station, handles over 2.5 million users per day, more than any other station in the world. And, yes, early morning rush hour and the last trains around midnight are not comfortable. This photo is from 10:23 am on a Saturday morning in the Marunouchi line, and you can see that the train is quite full.

What does it feel like to be surrounded by so many people on your way to work, school, errands, or fun?  Office workers, school children, families, construction workers, teens, dogs in bags, babies, elderly people. I find it exhilarating, intimate, and educational. Mostly people pretend they are in their own space and do not look directly at others. Courtesies include taking children’s shoes off before letting them stand on the cushioned seats, and drying umbrellas to keep the train clean.

Many people hide behind earphones, portable game players, comics and books. Others are sleeping. Yet there is no mistaking that you are in a shared space, one person among masses going about their lives. If you keep your eyes open, you can sense that others are also quietly observing. Taking the train is a good way to get out of your own head space, and sense other people’s moods, fashions, and presence.

Inside a Japanese nuclear power plant

原発についてたくさん勉強になりましたけれども、毎日の生活とエネルギーの本当のコストの問題が残っています。

A fascinating short video from IDG News Service’s @martyn_williams shows the inside of a functioning nuclear power plant in Japan. It’s Kashiwazaki Kariwa, the world’s largest nuclear plant, on the Japan Sea, also known as the East Sea of Korea.

In the past two weeks, we have all learned many details about nuclear power generation: from containment vessels to doughnut-shaped torus, steam venting, cooling pools, basement pumps and generators, and dangers from radioactive iodine and cesium. While the Daichi survived the earthquake, several days without electricity led to pressure build-up, exposed fuel rods, explosions, and radioactive releases.

Most Japanese school children are given tours of nuclear facilities to encourage familiarization and acceptance. Watching the video above, I am struck by the incongruity of these images of rational organization with the recent realization that a lack of power can quickly turn these engineering marvels into a grave threat to human existence.

It is interesting that the video above, and I am certain the hundreds of school tours, fail to mention that the reactors serve a second and equally dangerous function: they are the storage locations for spent nuclear rods. While the active rods have control rods and secured cases, the spent rods seem to be in less protected parts of the reactors.

The explosions at the Daichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima have literally blown the lid off a scary reality that is normally kept far from conscious thinking. Everyone knows that nuclear waste and the long-term dangers it poses are the by-product of this “clean,” low carbon energy. What is less known is that these spent rods remain near population centers and alongside ocean coasts that routinely experience tsunamis and earthquakes. They remain hidden from view within the plants because the rods are difficult to transport safely and few communities would welcome them.

I expect that as the crisis becomes less acute, there will be more attention to the questions of how much energy we need, how to balance what is possible with what is prudent, and how to make visible the true costs of energy production, including the wars used to “secure” petroleum from hostile regions, and the potential contamination of people and land from nuclear power and waste.

In the coming weeks, this blog will focus on recovery from the nuclear crisis, including increased city bicycling, reduced power consumption, and other positive developments. I will also show signs of Tokyo’s spring, and other evidence that the natural world continues in spite of human activity.

Wild parrots in Hiroo

Walking on a small street in Hiroo, in central Tokyo, we heard a strange noise and saw some people staring at a persimmon tree. On closer examination, we saw that there was a flock of wild green parrots gathered in this tree. The green on orange colors perched on a leaf-less tree is sublime.

I have seen wild parrots throughout San Francisco, and there was even a movie about them. I didn’t realize that Tokyo was warm enough for them to survive outdoors. I wonder how many there are.

Speaking with a woman recently about urban ecology, she told me that she enjoys city bird-watching. It made me realize that bird-watchers, particularly those who enjoy their hobbies in the city, can be an important voice for improving urban landscapes and habitats. Maybe urban bird-watchers are analogous to surfers who have been active in the clean ocean movement.

Public behavior: Tokyo’s advantage in building a livable city

Vandalism of Paris' Velib, bike sharing program

A recent New York Times story about vandalism of Paris’ visionary Velib bike-sharing program highlighted an enormous advantage that Tokyo has in creating great public spaces: the respect that citizens pay to shared space and to each other.

To mitigate climate change, reduce traffic and clean the city’s air, Paris created a remarkable bike sharing program, with over 20,000 bicycles available throughout Paris at a very low rental price. With 50,000 to 150,000 daily trips, this bike-sharing program created a real impact on how residents and tourists traversed the city. Since 2007, more than 80% of the sturdy bicycles have been stolen or vandalized beyond repair.

The New York Times quotes Parisian police and sociologists who blame the attacks on “resentful, angry or anarchic youth” in a “socially divide Paris.”  Specific blame is given to suburban youth, the mostly poor immigrants who live in the outskirts of the city and view the bicycles as a symbol of urban privilege that they lack.

Compared to the extreme inequality in many global cities, Tokyo remains surprisingly safe and clean. This allows for some amazing new public spaces, from the wonderous Ginza Farm open to everyone and unguarded– disturbed in five months only by a raccoon hungry for one of its ducks (more on this later)– to the many common gardens and plants placed outside homes and shops.

Most Tokyo residents are unaware that their relative social harmony is unique. With public behavior the norm, there are unparalleled opportunities to create even more exciting new public spaces that revitalize human life connected to plants and wildlife. Public spaces open at night, habitats that require clean running water, valuable plants that require time and care to mature, the care that individuals and organizations invest in place-making are all more likely to be respected and allowed to thrive in Tokyo.

Velib poster

Why are neighborhood parks so sad?

Why are neighborhood parks so sad?

I am struck by how poorly maintained and under-used many of the residential neighborhood parks are. This one, close to where I live, is large, has many mature trees facing the street, and has almost no usage. To call it uninviting and unloved would be an understatement.

Why are neighborhood parks so sad?

The street side is almost promising. There is a long row of mature trees and a community bulletin board. Next to the bulletin board, and also on the far end of the park, are designated areas to leave your trash. Unfortunately, there is no receptacle for the bagged garbage, so crows and cats pick through the bags and the contents start to disperse.

Why are neighborhood parks so sad?

The entrance to the park reveals vast areas of gravel, unplanted beds, and few amenities or attractions. The size of the park only underscores the waste of so much public space going unused. Given how avidly neighbors tend to their tiny gardens and occupy small strips of public space, why are local governments unable to harness this human resource for beautifying and maintaining public space?

I can imagine many other uses for the park: community vegetable gardens, flower contests, rice field, bee hives, food stand, children’s play area, public art-making space. Given limits to local government budgets, maybe there would be a way to attract corporate sponsors and neighborhood volunteers. If more people were attracted to enter the park, I am sure it would be cleaner and more inviting.

After the jump is a photo inventory of the current park assets, mostly aging structures with a surprising amount of trash. During my visit I noticed a small garden crew and two people on a bench.

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Removal of green curtain in Suginami

Removal of green curtain in Suginami

Last week, on October 7, I took a friend by the Suginami Ward office to see their giant green curtain. Unfortunately, the workers were in the final stages of removing it: sweeping up, saving the net for next year, cleaning the planter boxes (which last winter they filled with pansies), collecting the information signs.

Removal of green curtain in Suginami

It seemed a little early, until the next day when I realized what chaos Typhoon #18 would have caused. Our balcony garden suffered some damage to our green curtain, which is a mere 2 meters by 4 meters. I can only imagine how the wind would pull on Suginami Ward office’s seven story green curtain, and deposit leaves and vines in all directions. I wonder if a typhoon had come in September, if they would have dismantled it beforehand.

Removal of green curtain in Suginami

It’s sad to realize that fall has most definitely replaced summer. I wonder if the vines will be composted? Suginami is one of Tokyo’s few wards with residential composting, so I hope so!