education

A mobile app for city residents to monitor and promote urban wildlife

Takahashi Yusuke, a database expert with a Keio PhD, and I created a poster for the URBIO conference last month introducing a mobile app for city residents to monitor and promote urban wildlife.

In brief, our mobile app entitled UBITS (Urban Biodiversity Identification and Tracking System) allows school children, bird watchers, gardeners, hobbyists, and amateur naturalists use their mobile phones to capture images, sounds and locations of birds, butterflies, bees, insects, trees, and other plant life; query multiple databases to identify wildlife and plant species; participate in collaborative mapping of urban species by location, frequency and time of year; and increase habitat for urban biodiversity.

The project is at concept stage, and it would be great to find a start-up, corporation or university that can fund a working prototype and launch this application for iPhone or Android. Participatory science that promotes increased habitat provides an excellent branding opportunity, educational tool, and new way to bring nature to the city.

Edo gardening in wood block prints

Edo gardening in wood block prints

Encouraged by my host Suzuki Makoto sensei at Tokyo University of Agriculture, I recently visited the Edo Gardening Flowers exhibit being held at the Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art until November 26,2009. The exhibit has spectacular colorful wood block prints showing flowers and plants in a variety of urban settings including kimonos, at festivals, commercials nurseries, educational materials, Kabuki actors, and Noh dramas.

The exhibit theme is that the Edo period experienced a “gardening culture” in which a passion for gardens and flowers permeated all social classes, including court nobles, shoguns, feudal lords and the common people. According to the catalogue, “the Japanese people’s passion to flowers surprised the American botanist Robert Fortune as seen in his diary upon his visit to Japan in the late Edo period.”

An interesting comparison is also made between between the widespread practice of Edo gardening and also the interest of common people in wood block prints. It is wonderful to see the use of flowers and plants in both high culture realms and in depictions of everyday life during the Edo period.

Two of my favorite prints are collections of plants used by children to learn the names of flowers. The one below, from the back cover of the exhibit catalog, has the names in hiragana. The exhibit also includes Edo era ceramic plant pots.

Edo gardening in wood block prints

Some more images after the jump, and also a list of plants seen in the wood block prints.

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Diane Durston talks about Old Kyoto and Portland

Diane Durston

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/


Ginza Farm Update

Ginza Farm rice

Yesterday I stopped by Ginza Farm to check on the rice. As you can see in the photo above, the rice seeds are already forming. Despite the challenges of growing rice in a high rise-district, as Iimura-san explained last month, the plants are thriving.

In fifteen minutes, I saw fifteen visitors, plus the attention of the construction workers next door. One visitor was a Ginza gallery worker, another a retiree and his wife, a chef, two smartly dressed young women, and a young guy taking photos of the ducks. Clearly, Ginza Farm has become a neighborhood treasure, with repeat visitors checking on the progress of this urban farm.

Ginza Farm ducks

Born on July 3, the ducks have become almost full grown in just over two months. They have gone from cute yellow ducklings to mature, striped fowl. The sign in front of them explains that they are an integral part of the rice farming, in a method called aigamo nouhou (あいがも農法). Ducks that are a cross-breed that includes wild duck eat weeds and insects in the rice paddy, and provide fertilizer with their droppings. This natural method reduces pesticide, insecticide, and fertilizer, and has been introduced throughout Asia. Aigamo nouhou rice farming was used in pre-Edo Japan, and was recently revived in the 1990s.

Ginza Farm ducks explain aigamo nouhou farming

I am amazed at how well Ginza Farm attracts the neighbors’ attention, how well they communicate their commitment to natural farming, and how they combine attractive design with environmental education. In addition to the well crafted wood logs that forms the paddy and provides seating and tables, there are flowering morning glories, potted pine trees, bamboo, hostas, and wind chimes as decoration.

Morning glory at Ginza Farm

For more information on Japan-Bangladesh duck-rice farming cooperation and science, please see Hossain, Sugimoto, Ahmed, Islam, Effect of Integrated RiceDuck Farming on Rice Yield, Farm Productivity, and RiceProvisioning Ability of Farmers,” Asian Journal of Agriculture and Development, Vol 2, No 1, 2005, pp 79-86.