foreigner

More persimmons, in Shiho studio’s backyard

この柿の木は史火陶芸教室の裏庭で育っています。二年に一回、果物がたくさん出来ますが、多くない年もたくさんとれます。毎年、義理の母が生徒さんや友だちに果物と果物で作った料理をあげます。秋は柿です。夏はユスラ梅です。東京は、果物の木が多いことを知っている外国人が少ないです。

Many foreigners are surprised just how full of persimmons Tokyo is in the fall. Maybe you’d miss them if you stick to inside the newest malls and corporate developments. But it must be one of the most popular residential trees, and a true marker of fall.

This one is behind Shiho ceramic studio, and the funny story is that my in law teachers say that this year there aren’t so many fruit. Despite being an off year in a two year cycle, there’s actually still quite a lot of fruit. My mother in law is a great cook, and she uses these fall persimmons and also small sour plums in summer for food she shares with students and friends. She didn’t plant these trees but has gotten a lot of use from them in the past ten years.

Some persimmon trees produce fruit that’s best eaten raw, others dried, or cooked into jam or other sweets. For me it’s an acquired taste, but seeing these orange globes dangling across Tokyo is undeniably beautiful.

Urban photography workshop at Vacant art center

都市とゼロックスという写真のワークショップに参加しました。たくさん勉強になって、楽しかったです。@TaroHirano77 や @VACANTbyNOIDEA や @toomuchmagazine や @sk8linus にありがとうございます。

I was fortunate to attend a photography workshop last week with the theme of Cities and Xerox. The event gathered about twenty Japanese creatives– including a sound engineer, high school art teacher, students, guidebook writer, book editor, lawyer, and salaryman– and together we created giant photographs layered together.

The workshop process was simple yet very fun. We were asked to take photographs on our way to the workshop. Then we each chose our best photographs for three topics: breakfast, landscapes, and people. The photographs were sent to FedEx Kinko to be blown up into various sizes. And then we worked together to layer them and staple them to a wood board, which would allow art center visitors to browse the images. While we waited for the photographs to be printed and biked back to the workshop, we also silkscreened t-shirts with the word “XEROXed.”

It’s great to see other people’s photographs and see how they view Tokyo. I was particularly struck by the breakfast images: everything from a traditional Japanese breakfast (many courses, including fish, rice, miso soup, pickles, etc) to a Denny’s, coffee, and those odd, squeezable jelly drinks in foil that are popular in Japan yet seem more suited to outer space. I was the only foreigner, but felt very welcomed by the organizers and participants.

The workshop was led by accomplished photographer Hirano Taro, who became famous for taking photographs of empty pools in California used by skateboarders. The workshop took place at Vacant art space in Harajuku as part of a series of Romantic Geography events created by Too Much Magazine’s Tsujimura Yoshi.

You can see our photographs through May 22 at Vacant. There are also coffee and beeswax events coming up. I had a fantastic time, and was very impressed with how accessible, fun and collaborative this event was.

“Do You Really Like Living Here?” A Foreigner’s Perspective on Tokyo

Huffington Post published the English version of my article, “‘Do You Really Like Living Here?’ A Foreigner’s Perspective on Tokyo.

“Do you really like living in Tokyo?” is a question I am often asked here. Despite living in Tokyo for two years now, I cannot discern if this question expresses national modesty, a sense of inferiority, or ignorance of the experience of daily life in the United States.

. . .

Read the full article on Huffington Post. It was originally published in Japanese by Newsweek Japan under the title, それでも外国人が東京暮らしを愛する理由 (Despite that, why foreigners enjoy Tokyo living) on October 28, 2010.

Newsweek Japan article (日本語)

Newsweek Japan published my article about how Tokyo gardening turns public space into social space. The Tokyo Eye column allows Japanese to see how foreigners view and experience Tokyo, and I was asked to write in a very personal voice about how I experience living in Tokyo and why green space matters. I will post an English version soon.

東京の小さな緑を世界に誇れ

ジャレド・ブレイタマン

08年に仕事で初めて東京を訪れたとき、驚くと同時に感心させられたのは、この都市が実に人間的で、人と植物が共生する通りは活気に満ちあふれていたということだ。

多くの外国人と同じく私が東京に抱いていたイメージは、冷たく立ち並ぶ高層ビルと、渋谷のスクランブル交差点の雑踏、輝く広告のネオンだった。つまり、自然から完全に隔離された世界最大の都市を想像していたわけだ。

私自身これまでずっとガーデニングには深い愛情を注いできたが、東京の住民たちの植物を育てる情熱と創意工夫には今も驚かされる。そして、人間と建物がひしめき合う大都会で人と人を結び付けるコミュニティーが存在するという点にも。

ある日、初心者向けの陶芸教室を訪れた後、狭い歩道のアスファルトの割れ目から美しいパンジーが生えているのを見つけた。

東京ではほんの小さなスペースにも住民が気を配り、「緑の息吹」が宿っている。この印象がきっかけとなり、私はサンフランシスコから東京に移り住む決心をする。私は幸運にも日立と米外交問題評議会(CFR)が提携するフェローシッププログラムの奨学金を得て、デザイン人類学と都市生態学を融合させた「東京の小さな緑」の研究を始めることになった。

東京はアメリカやヨーロッパの都市とは異なり「小さな緑」にあふれていながら、日本人自身にはそのユニークな特徴に気付いていない。道端のパンジーがそれを気付かせてくれた。そこで私は、以下のような問いを掲げてみた。

1.なぜ東京の人々は自分の周りの環境にそれほど気を配るのか。

2.建物が密集する都市部で、自然はどのような役割を果たすのか。

3.東京のガーデニング文化から他の都市は何を学べるのか。

。。。

Newsweek Japan の全記事を読んで下さい!

City and Country, 1970s and now

“The Japanese think of the City in the way that Englishmen used to think of Mighty London. It is either one or the other. Rice paddies or the Ginza.” (p35)

I am reading the wonderful author Donald Richie’s The Inland Sea, first published in 1971. Richie is the ultimate American expat in Japan, who stayed from the start of the Occupation until today, and this is a classic travel book focused on Seto Nai Kai (the Inland Sea), which I recently visited.

This passage struck me because Ginza Farm, which I have visited for Tokyo Green Space, overcomes the division between city and country by bringing a rice paddy to Ginza, Tokyo’s most celebrated commercial district full of De Beers, Cartier and now of course Uniqlo flagship stores.

Richie’s The Inland Sea also reminds me of the recently deceased French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss’ Tristes Tropiques, which chronicled an Amazon on the verge of extinction. In a similar voyage by boat, Richie bemoans the new highways and lure of the city that threaten the fishing economy and general isolation of these islands and peoples. What used to be called “salvage anthropology” clashes with contemporary feelings by focusing on purity and what is about to be lost. This antique attitude also portrays the writer as both the “first” and last foreigner to capture a vanishing culture, creating a false sense of importance for the individual writer.

Despite this unease, it is hard not to enjoy Richie’s beautiful writing, his insights on insider and outsider culture, and his only partly closeted attraction to Japan. And I do not doubt the gulf that once existed between city and country, which makes the current urban interest in rural life and agriculture all the more indicative of profound social and environmental change.

On a related topic, I read this week in the New York Times that Korea, which is generally more accepting of national diversity, is having difficulties integrating children of mixed marriages. Most mixed children are the progeny of Korean farmers and their Chinese, Filipino and Thai wives. Partly the social question is of race, but also of class and city versus country.

I was struck that Korea shares Japan’s rural abandonment, and seems ahead of Japan in responding through immigration. Perhaps Japan, too, will first open its doors to immigrants willing to live in its rural areas now inhabited almost exclusively by the elderly. Despite Japan’s xenophobia, immigrants as care-givers and farmers seem more likely than the techno fantasy of robots: more cost-effective as workers and more human in terms of care and culture.

Nodai Trip (part 2): Obuse

Obuse Revitalization

Obuse, as I mentioned in the previous post, is a revitalized small town that was once a center of commerce and culture. Revitalization centers on tourism and agricultural production, with a restored city center that is very charming. Above are wood sidewalk pavers made from chestnut trees: unique and tied to the town’s 600 year history, in which chestnuts were one of the few agricultural products that could grow in the silty river valley.

Obuse sake distillery renovated

It was also wonderful to see the old sake distillery buildings reworked into a chic restaurant and high end hotel. It is rare in Tokyo to see creative re-use of old buildings. The restaurant where we ate featured chestnuts with rice, and displayed an enormous wood sake barrel and old photographs in the bathroom. I like how preservation and stylishness are combined here.

Obusedo Honten Restaurant

The Obusedo Honten Restaurant serves seasonal food and aims to be a “vegetable showroom” with a “from the countryside to the kingdom concept.” The restaurant was able to accommodate all 55 of us, and it was chic and tasty.

In addition to the obligatory “omeyage” store where you can buy chestnut sweets to bring back from your trip, there is also a revitalized Masuichi-Ichimura Sake Brewery that uses old techniques like wood barrels for distilling and ceramic bottles for sale. Again, they do a terrific job of making Japanese rural traditions modern and appealing.

Obuse Masuichi Ichimura Sake Brewery

One of the driving forces behind Obuse’s revitalization is an American woman named Sara Marie Cummings, who settled in the town more than 15 years ago. In a country that is often resistant to foreigners, it is great to see how an American has helped this town find its future by reviving its past and appealing to modern sensibilities. She gave a brief talk to the students and professors.

Obuse's Sara Marie Cummings talks to Nodai students

Cummings has created a cultural salon and a marathon to engage locals and bring in visitors. In collecting information about the town, the students and I discovered that there is also an “Open Garden” program where residents and small businesses create gardens open to the streets and sidewalks. A plaque shows their participation, and provides an English-only welcome.

Obuse Open Garden

See some more photos after the jump:

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Aoyama Cemetery

Aoyama Cemetery

Braving the summer heat, I walked through the huge green space of Aoyama Cemetery in Minato. Despite the approach of the obon holiday, there were few people inside the park, including a solitary runner and a few cars passing through. The cicadas were incredibly loud, and large crows perched in the trees.

Aoyama cemetery

Aoyama Cemetery is Tokyo’s largest (26,000 square meters), with hills, valleys, many trees, and a central lane with 200 cherry trees. The 100,000 graves include Hachiko, famous Japanese politicians and artists, as well as a foreigner section (gaijin bochi).

The cemetery is incredibly central, and provides a mix of natural views and tombs juxtaposed with the sights of new skyscrapers on the periphery. There is an odd resonance between the tombs and the tall buildings in the distance.

Aoyama cemetery Aoyama cemetery crow