gift

Dressed like human gift packages at Shibuya station

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夏の浴衣は季節の素敵なプレゼントのようです。少し不便かもしれませんが、上品です。一瞬、渋谷駅にいるのを忘れました。

Is it the ribbon tied in the back? Summer yukatas are the best. Maybe not the most practical clothing, but certainly stylish and elegant. I momentarily forgot I was at Shibuya station.

 

Gifts are essential ingredient for Making Friends

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マルセル·モースという昔のフランス人類学者によると、プレゼントを提供するのが社会の基盤になります。「友達を作ろう」の企画に使えるアイデアです。

According to the early French anthropologist Marcel Mauss, gifts are the foundation of society. They are certainly convenient for Making Friends.

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Tanuki offers taxi driver some scrotal treats

優しいタヌキさんは、タクシー運転手に特別なお菓子を上げています。タクシー運転手は、あやしいと思っているようです。

Ever friendly tanuki wants to share the bounty from his scrotum with a passing taxi driver. The gift was not accepted.

Which part is most useful for making friends? Tanuki makes guest appearance at morning story-telling

S.C.R.O.T.U.M.の来校!大型絵本でたぬきの「ともだちづくり」の力についての発表です。
先生のコメント:「お父さんのお話は、何と、自作の大型絵本!たぬきの体の一部分は、とてもすごい能力があり、それを使って友達も簡単に作れそうです。たぬきの魅力を再発見できました。また、大型絵本も寄付してくださり、いつでも見られるようになっています。ご来校の際は、是非、ご覧ください。」

S.C.R.O.T.U.M.‘s Chris Berthelsen spreads the word of inter-species friendship to a local elementary school and leaves a gift of a large format picture book for future reference. We were impressed by the teacher’s acceptance of our presentation of inter-species friendship, and her enthusiasm to make it top news in “this week’s newsletter”. Not many families, and (I think) zero fathers take part in the tradition of ‘morning storytelling’. They’re all too busy. Hopefully the positive write up will encourage them to take a morning off from their work.

The book itself is a one-off production – a quickly printed out selection of S.C.R.O.T.U.M’s Animal Architecture submission with Jess Mantell, and Jared’s “Making Friends” photo montage. We were inspired by the enthusiasm of the children and their incisive questions, especially “so what part of the body does the female tanuki use to make friends?”. We are now in an ongoing (and legal) study with this bright 8 year old girl.

Highway rest stop cherry blossoms. Unlike US, Japanese rest stops are immaculate.

きれいな桜がサービスステーションにあります。日本のは米国のより全然違います。

I love this elegant cherry tree in bloom at a highway rest stop. In the background, you can see a row of cherry trees lining the highway. I am rarely a car passenger in Japan, but I was my in-laws on a day trip last weekend.

In the United States, highway rest stops have a bad reputation: dirty, few food options, insufficient toilets, and an atmosphere of decrepitude and crime. In Japan, they are immaculate, constantly renovated, over-supplied with clean toilets, food options that rival a large mall, and endless rows of souvenir edible gifts for people you will visit or for friends and family back home.

Gorgeous winter bonsai gift in kintsugi bowl

友達が新年のきれいな盆栽を作ってくれました。金継ぎをした植木鉢に常緑樹のアセビが植えてあります。

This beautiful, new year bonsai made by a friend matches an evergreen tree with a pot re-made from shards.

I received this gorgeous new year bonsai gift from Matthew Puntigam, a friend and research fellow colleague at the Tokyo University of Agriculture’s Landscape Architecture Science department (農大). It’s a perfect new year gift: the woody bark tree retains its leaves in winter, the beautiful bowl re-created to show its cracks, lush moss and stones from a recent trip to Mie.

The tree is called アセビ (Asebi in Japanese, and Pieris japonica in Latin). My childhood home in the mid-Atlantic United States had a pair of these flowering broad-leaf evergreens by the front door. This specimen is simultaneously showing new growth and flower buds.

The method of putting broken ceramics back together is called 金継ぎ (kintsugi). This pot is one of Matt’s first, which he learned at the Suginami ceramic studio Shiho (史火) where I also make flowerpots and vases. Often gold is used, but I think silver goes very well with the black ceramic and winter bonsai.

Japan Elections, Economy and Plants

Aso and Hatoyama, Japan election 2009

Today is Japan’s national elections, with the opposition Democratic Party expected to take power in a landslide victory over the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, previously out of power only once since 1955. The electoral shift has been related to the nearly two decades economic decline and a desire for political change.

Recently, the British owner of one of Tokyo’s most expensive plant shops explained to me how the current economic downturn is affecting sales at his store. Global banks, corporate headquarters, and office lobbies have suspended regular deliveries, forcing the plant shop to layoff employees and reduce salaries.

In this difficult economy, the shop’s revenue has become more heavily dependent on government and the yakuza. In anticipation of today’s election, a US political advisor has ordered 480 of his most expensive white orchids, five stems for 50,000 yen ($535) each, for each winner of the lower house of the Diet. That single order is worth $250,000. It is interesting how an election creates direct economic benefits, and the owner is sad that it does not happen more often.

The other clients who have not cut back in spending are the yakuza. According to my source, the yakuza routinely order very expensive plants and flowers to send to their rivals. They also insist that delivery be made by the shop’s truck, even in Osaka and Kobe so that the prestige of the Tokyo shop is circulated publicly. I was taken aback at the idea of sending such lavish gifts to one’s rivals, but apparently the yakuza, like almost all other sectors of this consensus-oriented society, strive to maintain positive relationships with their enemies.