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New year decorations of pine and bamboo at local shrine

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地元の神社には素敵な新年の飾り付けがあります。今年、写真をもっと上手になりたいので、新しいプロジェクトを探しています。

I love the simple pine and bamboo strapped to the entry gate of my local shrine. This is where we start the new year a few minutes past midnight with the neighbors drinking amezake and enjoying a small fire. Even the graffiti is cute. This new year, I will try to improve my photography, and seek a greater capacity for identifying the path of least resistance.

The gate outside the small shrine near our apartment. I went to offer thanks today for visa renewal.

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新しいビザをもらったので、今日、地元の神社に参って、お礼をしました。鳥居とイチョウの葉がとても秋っぽいですね。

I stopped at the local shrine today to offer thanks for my visa renewal. The gate and the ginkgo leaves made me stop.

Tokyo Tower is a rare landmark

東京タワーは東京の数少ないランドマークの一つです。ニューヨークやパリと全然違います。東京には終わりもなければ、中心もありません。川からの有名な景色もなくて、他の都市にあるように超高層ビルが並ぶ景色もありません。東京タワーは昭和のレトロモダンです。

Few buildings in Tokyo are as iconic as Tokyo Tower. In a mega-city that sprawls as far as Japan’s second largest city, Yokohama, Tokyo lacks a single center, a recognizable river, or a conventional view of its skyscrapers, unlike NYC’s Hudson River or Central Park views.

I like how the top photo’s framing of Tokyo Tower mixes auto traffic with mature trees and a shrine entrance gate in a nostalgic ode to the 1950s. The lower photo shows its reflection at night in an office mid-rise.

Giant wood support for landmark tree

最近、古いケヤキを支える木造の補助 ができました。下を歩くと、近所の方も、この補助と木を見ているのに気がつきました。2つの役割 があります。木を守るだけでなく、近所の方がこの木は特別だと気がつきます。多分、この木はこの近所で一番古い木です。木造の補助は神社の鳥居みたいです。

Recently, I’ve noticed this enormous new wood support for the giant zelkova tree in front of my local elementary school.  I’ve noticed other neighbors stopping to admire the giant support and the tree.

I like how the elegant support structure protects the tree and also draws attention to its significance. This traditional style Japanese garden technique also evokes the gates outside Shinto shrines.

I’ve blogged about this landmark tree before in April and also last year. One sign says that it’s 1,000 years old. While I doubt that, it’s still a remarkable tree, and probably the oldest living being in the neighborhood.

Rice in buckets outside Waseda campus gate

Seeing rice grown in buckets and styrofoam boxes always amazes me: focusing the national obsession with the main staple into a city scale. No one will get full from miniature rice farms, but I am sure that tending rice in the city makes residents appreciate eating rice even more. These buckets were lined up outside a gate at Waseda’s main campus.

Spirits, lights, food, prayers, & drinking at summer festival

I managed to visit the Hanazono festival in May twice, once during the day and once at night. In the nighttime, the lights, food, and atmosphere are magical. I particularly like the mix of the spiritual with eating and drinking. A large public space that normally serves as a quiet place with a few people stopping briefly for prayer becomes full of people and celebration.

Hanazono is particularly interesting because of its Shinjuku location in the heart of commerce, commuters, and night life. In all the festivals, the stalls sell the same types of food: yakisoba, okonomiyaki, hot dogs on a stick, fruit encased in clear candy, chocolate bananas, and newer imports like shwarma (called “kebob” in Japan). It seems that the stall operators travel from festival to festival, and I have heard that this business is controlled by the yakuza.

I like how everything that is separate in Western culture gets mixed together in Japan: prayer and eating, spirituality and fun, the sacred and the ordinary. Rows of lanterns hung high signal the special event and add an extra sense of festivity.

Kishibojin Temple in Zoushigaya (part 6)

The end of Eri’s walking tour was the magnificent Kishibojin temple. The buildings are old, pre-dating the war and probably the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake, but most remarkable is a 30 meter high ginko tree with an 8 meter circumference said to be 600 years old. You can see it above surrounded on three sides by red gates.

Eri knows a lot about folklore, and explained that Kishibojin is a female diety who was originally a cannibalistic demon who repented and became a protector of children and women. She is known as Hariti in Sanskrit. In Japanese, the kanji for Kishibojin is a modified version of the character for “demon” (oni) missing a dot that symbolizes the horns that she lost during her conversion.

A famous street lined with Zelkova trees leads up to the temple.

Agris Seijo rental farm in Seijogakuenmae

I visited Odakyu’s Agris Seijo rental farm in Seijogakuenmae in Setagaya and was prepared to be charmed by a community vegetable farm built by a rail company above their tracks. Three years ago, the Odakyu corporation rebuilt the station, undergrounded the railway, and used some of the new land to promote urban farming. But I left feeling somewhat strange that reclaimed land could be gated and restricted. Although it is the rail company’s property, I think they missed a huge opportunity to create a great space for the neighborhood.

The farm is entered through a two story building that has a plant store on the first floor, spilling into the sidewalk, and a club room on the second floor. On entering the building, I learned that the garden was gated, and that no photographs were allowed. With my Tokyo University of Agriculture business card, I was handed a visitor’s pass. Two explanations were given about the no photography policy: customers would be concerned about their privacy, and photographers might misrepresent the photos they take. Please note that all the photos in this post were all taken from public roadways outside the gates.

Once inside, I discovered that this Agris Seijo has 303 rental plots, ranging in price between 5,500 and 14,500 yen per month ($60 to $175) depending on size and sunlight. 70% of the plots are being used, and the farm is organized in two seasons, with a fallow period during winter. Many of the customers are first time vegetable growers, and there are classes and staff to help them.

Some of what I observed: an elderly man harvesting giant sweet potatoes. Attractive netting with metallic strips to deter birds and insects. Some very attractive plots with broccoli, rainbow chard, carrots, celery, lettuce, salty leaf, peppers, basil, cauliflower, onion, eggplant, daikon radish.

Clearly burying the tracks below grade reduces railway noise for the neighbors and adds soil and plants which benefits the environment. There are benefits for customers and neighbors. Yet, I was struck by how empty the farm was during my weekday visit, and wondered why only 70% of the plots are rented after three years of operation. I also wonder if the customers or the railway company owner feels more special or important because of the gated aspect of the garden. In a city that is remarkably safe, I cannot imagine why there is a real need for keeping people out.

This wealthy project reminds me of the community garden I observed in Tsukushima. There, neighbors invested great time and effort in making beautiful spaces on an existing concrete river embankment. It appears that each gardener is expressing their own passions and perhaps competing with their neighbors. At no cost to the local government, neighbors have beautified dead space which can now be enjoyed by anyone. The Tsukushima community garden is completely accessible 24/7 and shows how ordinary people can create a great public space.

Some more thoughts and image about Odakyu after the jump.

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