drinking

Working class fashions include ink and hair dye

tattoo_sanjamatsuri

祭りでは、下町のファションが見られます。浅草の三社祭では、刺青が多いです。パンクのピンク色の髪もあります。

While much of “proper” Japan forbids the sight of tattoos, at festivals there is a proliferation of working class fashion, including large visible tattoos. I was equally struck by the long pink mane that makes the other fellow look like a punk version of My Little Pony. On-street drinking and smoking are also possible.

Mature cherry trees cross Nakameguro river. Nearly full bloom.

花見に中目黒の川はとてもきれいです。ほとんど満開でした。2012年4月6日。

Nakameguro river is one of the best spots for viewing hanami. Last Friday was approximately 80%. Much family, student, friends, and co-worker public drinking and nature appreciation!

Today it’s windy and raining, so perhaps the season is already over as the petals fall fast.

Biking up the Tama river to sit in cool water

蒸し暑い日に@a_small_labと一緒に多摩川で自転車に乗りました。水は冷たくて、風景は自然です。ここは本当に東京ですか?

It was a great treat to get a bike tour of the Tama river from Akishima to Fussa with Chris from @a_small_lab. The wildness of this wide river in summer was refreshing, and I was surprised to see the rolling hills on the other side. We cooled off in this quiet stretch of water.

Chris showed me the origin of the Tamagawa josui, a historic canal that brought fresh water to Edo since the mid 1600s. It’s hard to believe this mix of wilderness, industrial decay, outdoor municipal swimming pools, river fishing, and residential life is also part of Tokyo.

Rivers in western Tokyo

西東京の三川における、江戸時代にさかのぼる歴史や街と街をつなげる緑や洪水対策の仕組みが観察できます。

Along three western Tokyo rivers you can see Edo history, green corridors, and flood control.

On Linus Yng’s @ArchitourTokyo Western Tokyo bike exploration, we passed three contrasting rivers. The first is a view of the Kanda (神田川) from Yamate Dori (山手道り), with Nishi Shinjuku in the background. Many people have explained to me that the deep channeling is designed to prevent flooding. But it seems nonsensical to me that the entire river, include its bed, must be hard surface with no plant life. Closer to the skyscrapers, I regularly bike along the Kanda at night on the way to my favorite sento, and often hear ducks and other birds. It’s amazing how resilient urban wildlife is, despite our worst actions.

The second image is one of the few remaining, visible portions of the Tamagawa josui (玉川上水). Both the Kanda and the Tamagawa josui were human constructed canals built during the early Edo period to direct fresh water to the castle in the center of Tokyo. This was a massive project with 50 kilometers of canal dug through woodlands, at some points up to 18 meters below ground. This project supplied freshwater to the city, and turned the outer woodlands into productive farm land.

The last image is of the Zenpukuji River (善福寺川), which like the Kanda begins at a natural spring, and flows into the city center. This river has been turned into a very attractive park and green corridor running through much of Suginami. I was fascinated that many recreational facilities, including baseball fields and tennis courts, also serve as flood reservoirs. You can see how the water will flow directly into the sunken sports area in the photo at the bottom.

Fall omatsuri in my neighborhood

The lanterns announce that the omatsuri festival will be happening Using simple plumbers’ fixtures and scaffolding, flexible and removable frames for lighted paper lanterns are erected all over the city.

I find omatsuri incredibly charming: a public street festival evoking rice farming and harvests, organized in Tokyo around tiny local shrines, work organizations, and local associations. A friend told me that in his town, the whole town celebrates together. But in the large megalopolis of Tokyo, the intensely local nature of each celebration is very personal and social.

Members of my apartment building are some of the main leaders of our local shrine’s festivities, which includes children’s and adults’ parading through the streets with portable shrines, flute, drum and bell music, (Japanese) lion dancing, traditional clothes including hapi (cotton jackets), and lots of public drinking.

At the shrine, one of my neighbors offered me a free shaved ice. I hesitated to accept other offers of food or drink because I did not want to be carrying the portable shrine; I know from experience that this is best left to younger and drunker participants.

Just in the other direction, on the same weekend, a small park gets transformed into a space for dozens to do “bon” dancing around a raised platform. Mostly seniors, they dance to various traditional and regional songs, while wearing yukatas. Children and even dogs come wearing this summer kimono. Unlike the local shrine, this small park has an area for more commercial “omatsuri” games and foods, including delicious mini-cakes, the ever present chocolate banana on a stick, yakisoba, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and more shaved ice.

I experimented this time with black-and-white photos that seem to make the event more timeless and nostalgic. It’s funny to see something very contemporary, like a child taking a cellphone photo of her chocolate banana, using this backward-seeming technology and juxtaposed with dances and music that may be centuries old. There’s something timeless about cast iron pans used over a gas grill to make the small cakes sold 12 or 40 to a bag.

I feel a certain surge of excitement when the portable shrines enter the large boulevard or fill the small streets radiating out from it. The shrine is very heavy, and there’s a definite camaraderie formed by sharing this load.

I’ll end the post with a short video of the dancing. The drumming and bells are live, and the other music and voice from an old CD player and simple amplifier sound system.

Spirits, lights, food, prayers, & drinking at summer festival

I managed to visit the Hanazono festival in May twice, once during the day and once at night. In the nighttime, the lights, food, and atmosphere are magical. I particularly like the mix of the spiritual with eating and drinking. A large public space that normally serves as a quiet place with a few people stopping briefly for prayer becomes full of people and celebration.

Hanazono is particularly interesting because of its Shinjuku location in the heart of commerce, commuters, and night life. In all the festivals, the stalls sell the same types of food: yakisoba, okonomiyaki, hot dogs on a stick, fruit encased in clear candy, chocolate bananas, and newer imports like shwarma (called “kebob” in Japan). It seems that the stall operators travel from festival to festival, and I have heard that this business is controlled by the yakuza.

I like how everything that is separate in Western culture gets mixed together in Japan: prayer and eating, spirituality and fun, the sacred and the ordinary. Rows of lanterns hung high signal the special event and add an extra sense of festivity.

Omatsuri in Tsukishima

Omatsuri in Tsukishima, dog

Last weekend Tsukishima held a lively omasturi (festival) in the summer heat and humidity. The dog above is wearing a traditional happi, a short cotton jacket with a design showing group affiliation. Old and new Japan seemed to come together as this dog’s owner participated in this ancient ritual with his “chosen” family of two well-dressed dogs.

Connecting street festivals to the theme of Tokyo Green Space is the alternative use of streets, not for automobile traffic but for commemoration, community, leisure, and drinking. There is a relaxed atmosphere to Japanese festivals that bring a small-town feeling to the enormous metropolis.

Omatsuri in Tsukishima

The shrine (omikoshi) paraded through the street is incredibly heavy. This one is being lifted by at least 40 people, with spectators throwing buckets of water and spraying hoses.

Omatsuri in Tsukishima

A group of mostly elderly carpenters led the procession singing a haunting song. If you click on the YouTube video below you can hear the chorus followed by a soloist and then the chorus again.

And finally, a very short video clip of carrying the shrine and chanting.

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.

Flower power

Salary man taking keitai sakura photo at Imperial Palace

Spring in Tokyo reminds you of the power that flowers have to capture human imagination. Cherry blossom viewing, which has its own name in Japanese, hanami (花見), draws people to socialize outdoors, drinking and eating on blue tarps with family, friends, co-workers and neighbors.

The power of cherry blossoms (or sakura, 桜) even inspires acts of seeming recklessness. In the photo above, an older salary man is perched precariously above the Imperial Palace moat in his quest to take a close-up photo with his cellphone (or ketai).

As an anthropologist and foreigner in Japan, it is also striking to me how specific flower devotion in Japan is. On a hanami stroll, I noticed this beautiful yellow flowering bush called yamabuki, literally “mountain spray.” I have never seen it on either coast in the United States; an internet search gives its English name “kerria.” Despite the crowds in the Tokyo park, I felt that I alone was giving this flower some attention.

Yamabuki in Narita Higashi, Tokyo

At the end of this month, Good Day Books in Ebisu, will be hosting an author’s reading with Enbutsu Sumiko. Her Flower Lover’s Guide to Tokyo offers 40 walks in Tokyo focusing on seasonal flowers in various parks and gardens.

Enbutsu Sumiko, Flower Lover's Guide to Tokyo