fire

Fire-colored African daisies on Tokyo balcony

ベランダに、火のような色のアフリカ・デイジーが咲いています。史火陶芸教室で作った植木鉢で一番大きいです。

African daisies on Tokyo balcony. This is the largest of the handmade ceramic pots I have made at Shiho studio.

True horticulturalists like rare plants, or specialize in specific species. And garden snobs often like a constrained palette. For my own garden, I like a lot of color and don’t mind the most ordinary plants if they are colorful and hardy.

Buying good luck rakes at Tori no Ichi festival

今年は酉の市が三回あります。もう熊手を買いました。同じ日に新しい仕事の契約を結びましたから、去年のよりサイズアップしました。新宿花園神社のこの祭りが大好き。たくさん水商売のオーナーが参拝にきます。でも、酉の市が三回ある年は、火事の危険が高くなると言われています。

With an entrance on Yasukuni Dori no wider than the average office building, the large Hanazono shrine in Shinjuku can easily be missed. Except in November, when the entrance is filled with lanterns and a giant rake, protected in plastic from the rain, for Tori no Ichi festival.

This festival centers around the sale of lucky rakes, made of bamboo and hot glued ornaments including rice, pine, gold coins, tai fish, and other lucky charms. One variation included all the Anpanman characters.

This year, I “sized up” from last year’s rake. The first day of the festival, I signed a new contract so I guess last year’s rake worked! I dutifully took last year’s rake back to the shrine, and added it to the pile of old rakes.

When you purchase a rake, the sellers gather around and clap wood blocks to wish you luck. I saw one rake purchased that cost 300,000 yen (yes, over US $3,000) and had to be carried by two men. Delivery is probably free when you buy such a huge one.

What makes this particular shrine fun is that all this spiritual and monetary focus caters to the Shinjuku nightlife world, as it stands in the center of Kabukicho, Golden Gai, and Ni Chome.

Because of the vagaries of the lunar year, this year there are three days this month for the festival (Nov 2, 14, and 26). There’s a superstition that when there’s three festival days, there is an increased risk of winter fires.

As fall turns to winter, I expect to hear small groups of people walking my residential neighborhood and clapping wood blocks to warn residents of the danger of fire. In the meantime, this oddly patched warning showed up at a train station. I wonder what word is underneath the English correction.

Firefly habitat in Okayama

Firefly habitat in Okayama

During an October visit to Okayama, a friend stumbled upon an amazing firefly habitat in Nishigawa park, a small canal with a lovely walking path cutting through the center of the city. Although now hatching below water, as the sign above shows, it was amazing to see how a city creats an urban habitat for fireflies. And it reminds me of Professor Suzuki Makoto’s firefly project in Shinagawa, Tokyo.

Okayama firefly habitat

The firefly habitat occupies one long block of the Nishigawa park, which has different walkways, seating areas and plant arrangements on each block. For fireflies, there is a small slow-flowing, side canal where the fireflies hatch on the opposite side of the wood bridge from the main canal. A huge wall of vegetation provides nocturnal darkness and protection.

Firefly habitat in Okayama

I am curious how long the park has been around, and what it is like during summer firefly season.

More on Nishigawa park after the jump.

Continue reading

Dead space by design, II

Dead space by design

This five or ten year old residential mid-rise residential building is surrounded on two sides by hardscaped alleys that provide fire access. This design intentionally creates dead space since the developers chose not to allow pedestrian traffic. Nor did they create any amenity that would attract residents. Perhaps it keeps the apartments quieter, but this space is effectively dead for the public and even the residents.

This is a larger scale version of my previous post about dead space featuring fenced-in concrete triangles created to prevent bike parking near a Metro entrance and on a walking path, and excess pavement between houses.

Why old homes and city farms are disappearing

Kyodo mansion entrance

For a city that suffered tremendous human and structural damages from World War II fire bombs, it is sad how little efforts are taken to preserve older houses and farms in Tokyo. The tax code, which levies an inheritance tax on the real value of property, literally forces many families to sell or subdivide their childhood homes in order to pay the tax bill.

Kyodo mansion overview

When parents die, the wooden homes with large yards and small urban farms become quickly transformed into multi-unit condos and apartments. New construction in Tokyo is often cheap and pre-fabricated, with the idea being that buildings should last for thirty years before being raised and rebuilt. Old gardens and trees are replaced with hardscape that provides neither shade nor habitat.

Kyodo mansion side view

Above are images of a grand home and garden near Nodai, the Tokyo University of Agriculture. It is one of only a handful of historic homes along the 20 minute walk between the Kyodo station and Nodai.

Below is an example from my neighborhood of brand new construction of a six unit building on what was previously a single family lot with garden. The amount of planting probably covers less than 2% of the lot size, and there’s four parking spaces paved in front.

New construction in Nakano

Changes to the tax code are necessary to stop this steady erasure of history and habitat. Click the link below to see another nearby house during demolition and its rebuilt form.

Continue reading

Mori Building’s Vertical Garden City

Mori Building's Vertical Garden City

Mori Minoru’s Mori Building is Tokyo’s largest urban real estate developer. His Vertical Garden City idea and Urban New Deal Policy are private enterprise visions for a re-made city that is at once more densely populated, more environmental and green, and more profitable for the largest developers. 

I had the intriguing experience of being invited to witness a presentation by Mori Building company for a US journalist. Asked to remain silent so as not to detract from the journalist’s work, I witness one foreign journalist, a simultaneous translator, a guide from the Tokyo Foreign Correspondent’s Club, two Mori Building Public Relations officer and one urban planner. This is clearly a business where image is created through tremendous resources.

Continue reading