field

Native palm trees in Chichijima

Noyashi_Chichijima

小笠原に自生するヤシの種類は二つあります。ビロウヤシはうちわ形の葉があって、辺りの植物より背が高いです。ノヤシは羽のような葉と木の幹に金の輪があります。

Ogasawara has two native palm trees. Both have very simple common names in Japanese: biroyashi, which means fan palm or Chinese fan palm,  and noyashi, a feather palm that uses the “no” of Nakano, which means field or rustic. The noyashi has beautiful, almost golden leaf bases on its trunk.  Below, in a nature sanctuary on the east side of Chichijima, the biroyashi rise above the low scrub on steep cliffs.

Biro_yashi_Chichijima

Shinto prayers at nearby empty lot. Will a house replace this summer-time bat field?

shinto_prayers_empty_lot_na
新しい家を建てる前に神道の儀式をするのは、日本の習慣です。夏、この空き地には、コウモリがよく来ました

I did a double take on my bike as I passed this portable Shinto ceremony on a nearby empty lot. Ostensibly, they are praying to the local gods in advance of constructing a residence. But I think this is not the first year they’ve done the ceremony here.

This summer the weeds were rampant, and the empty space became a bat colony. Somehow the Mercedes in the foreground of a Japanese religious ritual no longer surprises me, even in Nakano.

Baseball field next to Shuto expressway in Shiba

芝の首都高速道路の隣に野球場があります。東京の密度に私は今でも驚きます。

Next to the Shuto expressway in Shiba are baseball fields, tennis courts, a shrine, office buildings, hotels, and the vestiges of a river. Tokyo’s density still astounds me.

Pine trees and lawn create a silent landscape

皇居の前に、黒松がたくさんあって、芝生は広いです。空っぽな感じがします。こんなに完璧な芝生を見ると、使われている有害な農薬のことを考えてしまいます。活気のない印象があります。

On the East Side of the Imperial Palace, there are hundreds of black pine trees in a vast field of lawn. Although the surrounding streets are full of cars, there’s an eery silence and emptiness in the park. Maybe it’s also the perfect quality of the lawn that also strikes me as life-less and full of harmful chemicals.

Small corn field in Setagaya

世田谷の畑でトウモロコシが育っています。農大に行く途中は、住宅が多いです。

To get to Nodai, I bike along a long and straight road covering an old water pipe. Last time I saw this small corn field in Setagaya, surrounded by various types of dense housing.

Studying firefly habitat in Gunma with a Tokyo middle school

東京農業大学の鈴木先生は東京の中学校でホタルの生息地を作る予定です。毎夏、先生と中学生は群馬県に行って、ホタルを観察して勉強します。今回、私も招待されました。

ホタルにはきれいな水と暗闇が必要です。鈴木先生によると、都市の生息地には社会的なデザインも要ります。学校のとなりのお寺や退職をした方たちのセンターも参加できます。

川場村に来て、中学生たちは田んぼの草むしりをして、小さい川でカニとカエルを観察しました。都市の子供なのに、中学生たちは本当に勇気があります。

夜に、ゲンジボタルとヘイケボタルを見ました。林と田んぼのそばにはホタルがいっぱいいます。

なかのビレジ」というホテルに泊まりました。内側は和風モダンで、外側は山の一部 みたいです。湯名な坂倉建築研究所はホテルを作りました。

川場村では、たくさんリンゴが育っています。最近、ブルーベリーも育っています。

Tokyo University of Agriculture Professor Suzuki is planning a firefly habitat at a junior high school. Each year, teachers and students from the Tokyo school visit Gunma to study fireflies. This year I was also invited.

Fireflies need clean water and darkness. According to Professor Suzuki, creating habitat in the city also requires a “social design.” The temple, cemetary, and senior center near the school are also invited to participate.

When we arrived at Kawaba-mura, the school girls weeded a rice field and played with frogs and crabs in the creek. Even though they are city kids, the students are very brave.

At night, we saw Genji fireflies and Heiki fireflies. There are a lot of fireflies on the edge between the forest and the rice field.

We stayed at a hotel called “Nakano Village” which on the inside is Japanese modern style, and on the outside the building looks like part of the hillside. It was designed by the famous Sakakura Associates.

Kawaba mura has many apple orchards, and recently they are also growing blueberries.

The trip made me think of the following:

  • How can gardens be created in multiple connected sites?
  • How can all city and country kids learn about each other’s environments and lives?
  • How can cities begin to value darkness as essential to their vitality?
  • How can kids and adults create habitat and support wildlife where they study, work, play, and live?

Late afternoon outside Kichijoji shrine

この吉祥寺の神社の木陰と静けさはとても良い雰囲気です。武蔵野八幡宮という神社は大きくて、木がたくさんあります。神社の前は五日市街道という古い道路です。この道路は新宿と西の街をつなげます。百年前、武蔵野や中野は農園だけでした。

I love this large shrine and wooded grounds in Kichijoji. Towards the end of a summer afternoon, the shadows and quiet are very inviting. The shrine is called Musashino Hachimangu (武蔵野八幡宮), and it’s on an old street that connects Shinjuku with the (now) inner western suburbs called Itsukaichi Kaido (五日市街道). A hundred years ago, Musashino and Nakano were farms, and you can see the kanji for “field” in both of these town names.

More neighborhood cherry blossoms

うちの近所には、学校や駅や小さな路地に桜があります。子供たちも気がついています。東京ではシュロという椰子の木と一緒に桜が見れます。

Maybe you don’t associate cherry trees and palm trees. They are an odd pair, with this type of palm tree being a self-sower in Tokyo, and the cherries being selected from nurseries and carefully tended for decades.

By now, the cherry blossoms are ending. The petals pool up in a pink carpet, and new leafs shoot out from the dark branches. Once there’s more green than pink, this cherry mini-season is officially over.

Here are some photos of cherry blossoms seen walking and taking the train in my neighborhood. A dusty elementary school soccer field is bordered by shuro palm trees and cherry trees in full bloom. Waiting for the JR train, the platforms face into a canopy of mature trees. On a small street, fallen blossoms attract a child’s attention.

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.

Woman’s Day features Tokyo Green Space photos

Woman’s Day published a “Magnificent Urban Gardens” feature for Earth Day. The ten photos include two from Tokyo Green Space: Ginza Farm’s rice field and the sidewalk pansies photo that is the project icon. I am amazed that these photos are in the context of famous and not so famous world city gardens, including Patric Blanc’s London Athenaeum Hotel, NYC’s High Line, Chicago’s City Hall, and a cool basil wall next to a NYC pizza oven.

I love how the focus is on beauty as much as environmental benefit.

Nodai Astro-Turf

Nodai Astro-Turf

University summer break extends through the end of September. I was a bit shocked to see the Tokyo University of Agriculture laying down astro-turf on a playing field close to the center of campus. Some artificial grass defenders might say that it reduces the amount of pesticide and fertilizer, and is somehow more environmental.

Still, I wonder if paving over a huge swath of land is really more environmental. What petrochemicals have gone into the manufacturing and installation of this “ever-green” turf? It seems doubly ironic at a leading agricultural university whose plant specialists should be researching and promoting playing field turfs that stand up to heavy use and do not require chemical pesticide and fertilizer.

Given the TMG’s plans to install grass fields at primary and secondary schools, and the vast number of amateur and professional playing fields, focusing on the best natural turfs seems essential for biodiversity, storm run-off, energy independence, and heat island effect.

Update: One Nodai professor told me that with the artificial turf there will be no fireworks accompanying the famous “daikon dance” this fall. Click the Youtube video below to see this proud and somewhat strange Ag U tradition! I am looking forward to attending a “daikon dance” event this fall.

Another video featuring a strange mix of martial choreography, giant vegetables, and singer Koizumi Kyoko.

Visiting Nagano and Niigata with Nodai

Niigata Dream House

Last week I visited Nagano and Niigata prefectures with Nodai. It was my first experience seeing the incredible beauty of the countryside, the rice fields and satoyama ecosystems, steep hills, wood houses, and small towns. The focus of the trip was rural revitalization and experiencing history, both centuries-old and more recent, in landscape.

Although I had heard of satoyama from 5bai Midori, I had not expected to be so overwhelmed by the exuberant greenery of rice field, abundant water and forest. In some ways, the agricultural landscape looks like it had been there for 2,000 years of co-habitation between people and nature. Because of the small plots and terraces, much of the farming is still done by hand, and there was no evidence of industrial agri-business like flat Kansas wheat fields or Maryland chicken mega-factories.

Matthew Puntigam photo of Niigata satoyama

Our university field trip made clear that this is no pastoral eden. Abandoned houses and schools reflect a rapidly aging and shrinking population, and we witnessed buildings from Japan’s 1980s Bubble that were shuttered or on the verge of bankruptcy.

The trip included three major locations connected to efforts by Nodai’s professors in the Garden Design Laboratory and Landscape Architecture Science. The tour was led by Professors Shinji, Suzuki and Hattori.

1. Obuse in Nagano: an Edo town that was once a center of commerce and culture due to its location at the confluence of the Matsu-kawa River and Chikuma River, with a six hundred year history of chestnut trees and one hundred year old sake distillery. Today there is a famous Hokusai Museum, restaurants, chestnut foods, sake production, a marathon, and an “open garden” town program.

2. New Greenpia (ニュー・グリーンピア), a massive resort built in the 1980s to provide outdoor experiences for working class urban residents. A central feature is a garden designed by a Nodai professor, and the resort history shows how the exuberance of the Bubble laid a poor foundation for the past two decades. Its name refers to its green mission and its uto*pia*n ambitions.

3. Echigo Tsumari Art Triennial, which describes itself as “350 artworks, deployed in communities, rice fields, vacant houses and closed schools, are the fruit born from the collaboration and exchanges between rural locality and city, artist and satoyama, and young and old.” A Niigata Art Triennial director spoke with our group outside Marina Abramovic’s Dream House (see Nodai Trip, part 4, for more on this installation and Niigata Art Triennial).

Nodai Students in front of Niigata Dream House

The trip also included a chance to speak informally with the professors, graduate and undergraduate students, and Research Fellow, plus banquets with enormous portions, visits to Japan’s giant highway rest stops, and onsen bathing.

Nodai students at trip banquet

And lastly, there was an informal lesson on making onigiri for my foreign colleague and me.

I’ll post more photos and observations from the trip in the next days.

Hakutsuru Sake’s rooftop rice garden

Hakutsuru Sake rooftop rice field in Ginza

This amazing photograph of Hakutsuru Sake rooftop rice field in Ginza comes from photographers Diane Cook and Len Jenshel, and appeared as part of National Geographic’s global green rooftop photo essay.

This is the third urban agricultural project in Ginza, in addition to the Ginza Honey Bee Project and the Ginza Farm.

Interview with Iimura Kazuki (飯村一樹) at Ginza Farm

Interview with Iimura Kazuki (î—ë∫àÍé˜) at Ginza Farm

Last week I sat down with Iimura Kazuki (飯村一樹) at Ginza Farm, with a translator, and learned much more about his ideas for Ginza Farm, his background and his next project.

Iimura-san told me that he is very interested in urban farming in Japan and worldwide. His background has given him unique skills for pulling off something that at first seems impossible: creating a ground level rice farm in one of Tokyo’s most expensive neighborhoods.

Iimura-san recently worked with rural towns on revitalizing their small commercial streets, most recently in Shizoka. He realized that this local problem required new connections with the rest of the world. When he turned his attention to Tokyo farming, he drew on Ginza connections he forged as a venture capitalist. And finally his obvious skill with growing comes from his childhood on his parents’ farm in Shimoutsuba in Ibaraki prefecture, a town known for its high quality rice. The Ginza Farm soil and rice come from his parents’ farm.

How did Iimura-san secure a site that is on a small side street west and north of the intersection of Chuo Dori and Yanagi Dori (not far from the twisty De Beers building)? Using connections with tax accountants and attorneys, he located the plot and spent six months negotiating with the landlord. Although I do not know the details, apparently lending land between demolition and construction confers some significant tax advantages, yet still it took a long process of negotiation.

A giant photo banner at the back of the field proclaims that “One hundred rice farmers make Japan healthy.” Below is information about the supporting farms. Iimura-san contacted some of Japan’s most award-winning farms, appealing to their pride and patriotism. He spent two months sending documents and gaining equal support from these farmers.

Some of the activities at Ginza Farm have included a farmer’s market, a Tanabata festival with Nagashi Somen (noodle rolling along a long bamboo tube). At the festival, he said that the kids who participated were initially afraid of getting dirty, but that within five minutes they were throwing mud and “becoming monsters.” He wonders if it might have been the first time for many of these city kids to play in the dirt.

The field, the sitting area of benches and tables, the awning are all very rustic and well crafted. Iimura-san told us that a famous bamboo artist and his workers built much of it.

Iimura-san said that many types of people have visited. With the introduction of the ducklings, more women have become interested. I noticed an interesting mix of Ginza workers, including construction workers and shop clerks. Iimura-san explained that the school kids who helped plant the farm each received a plant to take home. Iimura-san was very proud that one kid came back to tell him that the rice he cared for was bigger and stronger than the Ginza Farm’s.

A true farmer, Iimura-san told me of very specific growing problems in Ginza that makes it hard to grow rice well. The sun does not shine into the field until 9 am which is bad. At night, the field is full of artificial light, which he has attempted to control with a large black plastic curtain he closes at dusk. “It’s important for the rice to sleep.” And finally, the night time temperature in Ginza is too warm, without the cool breezes found in the countryside.

Iimura-san has many future plans: to create another Ginza Farm next year, to find new markets for Japanese rice, and to open a rental farm (貸し農園) with sixteen roof top plots on the top of the Paul Smith building in Omotesando. He says the rental farm has wonderful views of Roppongi and Tokyo.

Iimura-san’s resourcefulness and passion will be very helpful, and I am looking forward to visiting Ginza Farm again and his next projects.

The photo at the top of the post and below show how the rice and the ducklings have grown so much within 10 days. While my last visit he showed me a tiny frog, this time he pointed out a small snail on the trunk of the entrance-way maple tree.

Ginza Farm ducks