This vase is made with kakishibu, a dye made from persimmons. The vase was a gift from my in-laws, who brought it back from a trip to Shikoku. The bright red of the keitou flower (celosia argentea, or plumed cockscomb) seems to overwhelm the film.
Wrapped in rice stalks to protect them from the cold, these tall sidewalk cycads add an element of traditional Japanese gardens to a large city street. I love the craft and care visible in the wrapping, and the shapes look almost human. I included the photo below to show off the fantastic 1960s or 1970s architecture of the residential building nearby.
This small succulent pair has grown well all winter long on my balcony. I brought it inside for a few days on our window seat. This is one of the first ceramics I made at my in-laws’ crafts studio, Kuge Crafts. I’m working with them now to create a new website for their studio.
This rice stalk skirt is a beautiful and seasonal Japanese garden craft. The intent is to naturally attract and remove harmful insects, although now it seems that some famous gardens no longer use it because it traps both harmful and beneficial insects.
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.
Sakura season is perhaps my favorite time in Tokyo. After a long cold winter, the beauty of cherry blossoms is stunning. I have been out and about this past week, enjoying hanami, or cherry blossom viewings with friends. In addition to socializing in parks, cherry blossoms also brighten every corner of the city: from the entrances of school yards to a single tree in an otherwise unattractive neighborhood. Going about by foot or by train, it is impossible not to catch a glimpse of mature trees bursting with pink petals.
The sakura theme gets carried over into food items, from Kit Kats to Starbuck drinks. And as if nature is not enough, it is also brought indoors with real branches and even paper crafts, as in this JR station near our apartment.
I’ll be adding many more posts about this season in the next days. . .
Using an old school notebook as an iPad cover is both crafty and funny. What’s sad is that San Francisco bloggers are speaking seriously about the need for camouflage to use the newest tech toy in public transit. Given how common iPhone thefts are in San Francisco public buses, this is already a concern and the subject of a betting pool over when the first case will be reported.
The case is certainly crafty, but I guess the user isn’t planning on using it in public. Isn’t the solution for residents to demand greater safety in public spaces? How can public transit be an attractive, let alone an efficient, alternative to private vehicles if people feel unsafe?
Diane Durston will be speaking on Wednesday, October 28, 2009 at the International House of Japan. Her talk is entitled “Bringing Old Kyoto Home: Author Re-invents Japan in a Pacific Northwest Garden.” She will talk about preservation of Kyoto historic buildings (Kyo-machiya and machinami), and how she has brought Japanese craft and culture to a wide variety of United States forums and audiences.
Diane is currently the Curator of Art, Culture and Educator at the Portland Japanese Garden, the finest Japanese garden in North America. She is the author Diane of many books and articles, including Old Kyoto, in print since 1986 and the current second edition with a forward by Donald Richie. Previously she worked with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Whitney Museum, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania.
You can reserve online a seat for the talk at: http://www.swet.jp/index.php/events/october_28_bringing_home_old_kyoto/
“It is the summer that makes life in Tokyo most beautiful . . . Bamboo cages with singing insects, painted fans, mosquito nets, sweet-smelling reed blinds set into miniature landscapes- where else are there appurtenances of such delicacy? . . . Sometimes, walking along a canal of a summer evening, I have found myself drunk with a mood as of hearing a samisen somewhere- in a courtesan’s room, perhaps, in a scene from Mokuami’s ‘The Robbers.'”
Summer is in full force in Tokyo now, and I am turning to literary inspiration to better understand this complex metropolis. Viewed from above, Tokyo is an endless concrete slab with few visible elements of nature. Viewed from the street, the city pulses with human and plant life, and its residents react to the constraints of the built environment with creativity.
In exploring the layers of Tokyo, I am relying on two books written in English. A Enbutsu Sumiko, a Japanese woman educated at Smith College, wrote “Discover Shitamachi” in 1984, and I have been using it as a guide to the Edo era survivors in the area near the Sumida River first settled by artisans and merchants in the 1600s. Enbutsu also wrote A Flower Lover’s Guide to Tokyo: 40 Walks for All Seasons in 2007, a wonderful book that suggests city walks organized by seasonal flowers.
More recently, I am reading noted Japanologist Edward Seidentsicker’s 1965 literary biography Kafū the Scribbler: The Life and Writing of Nagai Kafu, 1879-1959, from which the quote above about summer comes. Since I am still unable to read in Japanese, I rely on these historic works to better understand Tokyo’s strange mix of history and modernity. Seidensticker’s biography insists that his subject is “better and more important than any of his works” and that his work can only be understand in the context of his life, his city, and the Meiji tension between Edo and modernity.
Whether considering historic sites, ancient festivals and crafts, the ever-active wrecking ball, and latest popular culture, it is humbling to think that this tension between traditional and modern urbanity has existed for over 100 years in Tokyo. I am looking forward to Seidentsticker’s chronicle of turn of the century Tokyo life, and visiting some of the same places myself to sense if there any echos still audible.