You can spot tanuki’s tail sticking out of the guard house at this imperial entrance. Through Saturday, November 3, Culture Day in Japan, the Geihin-kan, or State Guest house, will open its garden to the public. It’s about 100 yards south and slightly west of the Yotsuya station in Moto-Akasaka. I will not pass up the opportunity to enter a vast and well groomed garden that is not normally open to the public. I am curious who will show up.
Recently I took a day trip to Iwaki with my in-laws. We ended the afternoon on the top floor of a 1980s hotel in a cafe which had the clever idea of placing sand on the floor below the tables that face out on the coast. On closer examination, I realized that both the small hill and the seashore are covered in concrete.
The view reminded me of Alex Kerr’s Dogs and Demons about how the institutional forces that lead the government to degrade the countryside and the environment. On the one hand, pouring concrete on the hillside protects the houses below, and presumably what look like huge concrete children’s jacks on the shore prevent flooding. But did they need to build houses on such perilous land, or was the lure of construction profits and kickbacks too great to pass up?
The City of San Francisco has created a cool program encouraging people to adopt at San Francisco street tree for Christmas instead of purchasing a dead pine tree. City residents can choose between Southern Magnolia, Small Leaf Tristania, Strawberry Tree, and New Zealand Christmas Tree. For US$95 you can pick up a 2 meter potted tree in early December. The trees will be planted on San Francisco streets after the holiday, and adoptive families are invited to help.
This is a smart idea to eliminate the waste of traditional Christmas trees and to involve residents in a very personal way with the city’s goal of doubling its 110,000 street trees. The website has great links to learn more about the human benefits of urban trees, and the current and historical state of San Francisco’s urban forest.
From Inhabitat (click for more images), I read about a design concept for high-rise suburban living called Skyburb. It’s designed by Sydney architects Tzannes Associates to provide flexible, modular, and park-like vertical spaces in densely built areas. I am a bit skeptical about the idea of “introducing qualities of the suburbs into denser urban environments” because it is hard to imagine suburban living without privatized open space, automobile dependency, and nuclear family anomie. I think revitalized cities can and must do better than that. Still, the open steel structure and heavily green renderings are certainly appealing.
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.
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.