country

Summer festivals bring a country feeling to Tokyo

東京の夏の祭りが大好きです。地域の一体感と神聖な感じを体験できます。東京なのに、田舎の村にいる感じがします。

I am a huge fan of Tokyo’s summer festivals. Sacred and community-based, these festivals involve shrine carrying, chanting, grunting, drums, flutes, and bells, ritual clothing, and close proximity between neighbors.

Sidewalk rice is decorative and brings a little country to the city

夏の歩道で稲を育てています。田舎の気分を都市で味わえます。

Growing rice in buckets on the sidewalk isn’t likely to put any rice farmers out of business. Still, it’s a lovely sight in Tokyo during the summer, and brings a country feeling into the hard-surfaced city.

Koenji street looks like narrow country lane, with stone walls and old gardens

自転車で高円寺から戻ってくるときに、この狭い路地を見つけました。数十年前の田舎の雰囲気 があります。

I found this lane when biking home from Koenji. I felt like I was in a small town, many decades ago.

Lotus 149 publishes my photos of urban rice farming in Tokyo

「Lotus』というイタリアの雑誌に私の東京の農園の写真が二つでました。パソナのロビーの田んぼ銀座農園の空き地の田んぼの写真が選ばれました。「Lotus』には素敵な建築のプロジェクットがたくさんのっています。四角いかたちです。もっと東京のグリーンスペースを雑誌に紹介したいです。

Lotus Editorial kindly sent me a copy of Lotus 149, titled Lotus in the Field, which explores the relations with the countryside. Lotus is a beautifully designed, Italian-English bilingual architecture quarterly from Milan.

Lotus 149 includes two of my urban agriculture photographs: one of Pasona’s corporate lobby rice field, the other an outdoor, temporary rice field in Ginza that took advantage of an empty lot between demolition and new construction.

I was happy to see that my Pasona photograph extends into a second page, and I like how the image shows a more ambivalent side of the project than the text and photos provided by the architects and corporation. Especially with the post-3.11 energy shortages after the nuke plants have been suspended, creating a show garden with grow lights looks less than utopian.

You can see the original 2009 and 2010 posts on Tokyo Green Space that inspired Lotus 149: about Pasona, and about Ginza Farm.

Springtime at Omotesando Koffee. The small garden and old house make you feel like you’re on a country lane.

Omotesando Koffee の入口はとても素敵です。美味しいコーヒーが飲めるだけじゃなくて、小さい庭が四季を感じさせてくれます。春に、桜とモクレンが咲いていて、金属製の花瓶には毎週、違う花がいけてあります。おしゃれなお客さんは三年以上の常連で、バリスタオーナが東京に来る前に、大阪のカフェにも行きました。

This is the lovely entrance to Omotesando Koffee. It would be enough just being one of Tokyo’s best espresso coffee bars. O K also sells a single pastry that is eggy and square and incomparable. And O K has a micro-garden that is incredibly charming, with many traditional Japanese plants including maple and a lovely drooping cherry tree with long stemmed flowers.

The fashionable gentleman in the photo explained to me that he used to drink coffee at the Osaka coffee bar run by the same owner, before he moved to Tokyo three years ago. In the foreground is a lovely, metal sculpture and flower vase with understated petals.

Visiting Omotesando Koffee you feel like you’re on a country lane, not in the middle of a mega-city.

Irises blooming in central Tokyo

東京の中心にあるのに、花菖蒲が前にある家は田舎にあるみたいですね。
I have found this wonderful short-cut between Yoyogi and Omotesando on bike. It passes a lot of houses with gardens. On my way to a meeting, I had a nice long chat with a small office owner who was tending a beautiful clematis vine. And then I saw this house with irises outside. If you ignore that you are in the center of Tokyo, it seems like a simple country house, no?

Scarecrow mixes tradition and commerce

I already forgot where I saw this scarecrow last week. I find the image haunting and overwhelming.

There’s something very Japanese about this scarecrow and its placement in an ad campaign. The farmer’s clothes evoke the past, the expression is at once cute and creepy, and a figure created to deter birds from the field draws attention to a graphic overload of ads highlighting ready-made foods from the countryside and the “Christmas fair.”

This excess of visual symbols in a small space is a kaleidoscope of opposites: 2D and 3D, paper and cloth, old and new, city and country, national and imported, food and commerce, artisanal and industrial. The patterns, colors, fonts, photos, graphics, and references are dizzying.

Small gardens and quiet lane in Higashi Nakano

A few weeks ago I took a long, rambling walk with Chris Berthelsen, author of the amazing blog Fixes which “investigates alterations of space/objects at the public/private boundary in suburban Tokyo.” I love his close observations, unlimited curiosity, and attention to materials and human effort and satisfaction.

The goal of our walk was to explore an area neither of us knew and attempt to get lost. In addition to some inventive fixes at a tiny park, we saw many beautiful gardens in Higashi Nakano. I love how the garden in the photo above focuses almost entirely on cymbidium orchids and clivia. Also noteworthy are the re-use of cinder blocks, the shelf that provides space for another level of plants, and the care in providing beauty at the edge between private and public space.

Another garden uses the two sides of a house to create a complex perennial garden using flower pots. Great variety of texture, color, and plant variety. I can only imagine how much more beautiful the garden would be if it were planted in the soil, and allowed to grow so much bigger.

I certainly would have missed this small garden below where both plants and bikes are tied with string to the window grate. It’s great to see that no space is wasted, and that multiple functions can be supported despite all constraints.

And lastly, I found this small, unpaved lane to be incredibly charming. The stick and bamboo fence, the line of trees and shrubs, the materiality of the soil all made me imagine that we were in a small country town, not two kilometers from the Shinjuku skyscrapers. There are still areas that seem wild within the center of Tokyo.

City and Country, 1970s and now

“The Japanese think of the City in the way that Englishmen used to think of Mighty London. It is either one or the other. Rice paddies or the Ginza.” (p35)

I am reading the wonderful author Donald Richie’s The Inland Sea, first published in 1971. Richie is the ultimate American expat in Japan, who stayed from the start of the Occupation until today, and this is a classic travel book focused on Seto Nai Kai (the Inland Sea), which I recently visited.

This passage struck me because Ginza Farm, which I have visited for Tokyo Green Space, overcomes the division between city and country by bringing a rice paddy to Ginza, Tokyo’s most celebrated commercial district full of De Beers, Cartier and now of course Uniqlo flagship stores.

Richie’s The Inland Sea also reminds me of the recently deceased French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss’ Tristes Tropiques, which chronicled an Amazon on the verge of extinction. In a similar voyage by boat, Richie bemoans the new highways and lure of the city that threaten the fishing economy and general isolation of these islands and peoples. What used to be called “salvage anthropology” clashes with contemporary feelings by focusing on purity and what is about to be lost. This antique attitude also portrays the writer as both the “first” and last foreigner to capture a vanishing culture, creating a false sense of importance for the individual writer.

Despite this unease, it is hard not to enjoy Richie’s beautiful writing, his insights on insider and outsider culture, and his only partly closeted attraction to Japan. And I do not doubt the gulf that once existed between city and country, which makes the current urban interest in rural life and agriculture all the more indicative of profound social and environmental change.

On a related topic, I read this week in the New York Times that Korea, which is generally more accepting of national diversity, is having difficulties integrating children of mixed marriages. Most mixed children are the progeny of Korean farmers and their Chinese, Filipino and Thai wives. Partly the social question is of race, but also of class and city versus country.

I was struck that Korea shares Japan’s rural abandonment, and seems ahead of Japan in responding through immigration. Perhaps Japan, too, will first open its doors to immigrants willing to live in its rural areas now inhabited almost exclusively by the elderly. Despite Japan’s xenophobia, immigrants as care-givers and farmers seem more likely than the techno fantasy of robots: more cost-effective as workers and more human in terms of care and culture.

Nodai Student Workshop: Country and City

Nodai Student Workshop: Country and City

Nodai’s Garden Design Lab, part of the Landscape Architecture Science Department, invited me to their student workshop and welcome party last week. To help everyone get to know each other, students organized a workshop on the differences between country and city (田舎と都市, inaka and toshi).

Nodai Garden Design Lab workshop

It was fun to participate. The structure was very open-ended and interesting. In tables of about 8 people each, we brainstormed, using post-it notes, and then grouping them into categories. Actually, this framework reminded me of corporate workshops I have attended and organized.

Nodai Garden Design Lab workshop

Our group finished by allowing students to situate themselves on a country-city continuum. The nerdy guy who lives in Akihabara and I were the super-city participants, and I was struck that even our small group had a wide range of self-identification including super-country.

Students come from a variety of places, and more than a few seem to be children of garden business families. There were several graduate students over 40, three from China, one from Brazil, and an associate who also comes from Maryland by way of Brown University and Barcelona.

The workshop was followed by eating and drinking, first in the Lab, and then at an izakaya across the street. Suzuki sensei gallantly paid the large tab. I felt very welcomed and very fortunate to participate in this dynamic environment.