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?
The Japan Times published my op-ed article “Tokyo’s urban design role.” My argument is that Tokyo’s past urban design failures paradoxically make it a model for rebuilding existing cities and designing hundreds of emerging cities. In the context of climate change and global warming, livable cities can create a new balance between people and nature.
I talk about fireflies, Ginza rice and honeybees, modern bonsai, satoyama in the city, businesses and biodiversity, and how Japan can promote innovations in urban life, alongside achievements in popular culture and high technology.
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.
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.
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.
On the Nodai trip, Suzuki sensei told me of the work he is doing with a Shinagawa school to create a firefly habitat. This summer he took a middle school class to the countryside to experience fireflies. Once there, he also told the kids that they would have to help out in a rice field– a rare experience for most city kids.
Suzuki sensei is now leading meetings with the school about creating a firefly habitat on or near the school yard at Ono Gakuen Joshichuu Gaku (小野学園女子中学). Fireflies require clean, running water, and the school has the rights to unused wells and is near a stream that has been covered in concrete for decades.
The project has a small funding from the Japanese Ministry of Education, and in addition to Nodai, other participants include school administrators, parents, firefly habitat expert and Nodai alumnus Sakurai Jun (櫻井淳), and a specialist from the Tokyo Four Seasons Hotel (Chinzan-so), which is famous for its urban firefly garden.
In Japan, fireflies are associated with agriculture and rice paddies, and is the title of a chapter of the thousand year old novel The Tale of Genji. Fireflies are also associated with the folklore of hitodama, fiery apparitions of the souls of the recently dead that trick and beguile the living.
I am very inspired by Suzuki sensei’s vision for bringing nature and magic to urban kids with firefly habitat. I wonder how many streams and canals can be daylighted, what plants will promote urban biodiversity, what insects and animals are most important for promoting wildlife in the city.
(Note: Photo by Akihiro, shared on Flickr through Creative Commons)
Google Maps has introduced a new Favorite Places series highlighting global cities with places chosen by local visionaries, designers, museum directors, architects, environmentalists, artists and entrepreneurs. Above is Aoki Yoko’s favorite places in Tokyo and Japan; she’s the founder of cafeglobe.com. Some of her favorite places include urban community farms, old-growth Tokyo forest, a farmers’ market, and a natural springs park that is a firefly habitat. Other Tokyo experts include geek blogger Danny Choo, a flower artist, cameraman, and Shitamachi priest. A very cool introduction to global cities and places you might not know about.