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Making Friends successful encounter on Shibaura sidewalk, before being stopped by plainclothes policeman

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タヌキさんの「うまい棒」をもらった人は、しあわせになるそう。このイベントの途中で、お私服警官に、この辺りで、おかしい外人が子供に近づいているという通報があったと言われました。

Tanuki received many types of responses walking the streets of Shibaura. I like this guy’s face as he holds onto the umaibo salty snack given by tanuki. Tanuki also gave some masks to kids leaving school. A less friendly encounter was the plainclothes policemen who told us that there are had been many disturbing reports of foreigners coming and taking photos of school children. He looked like a normal 30 year old on a bike, until he flashed his badge. Fortunately, tanuki was not detained this time!

Weekly flower display at Kiba Metro Station

Thanks to Chris Palmieri of AQ design studio, here are two photos of a weekly flower display at Kiba Station, on Tokyo Metro’s Tozai line (T-13). The flower arrangement is created by a flower shop called Kawashima (フラワーショップ・カワシマ) in what seems to be an informal public-private partnership.

I like how the local flower shop is offering this public improvement and receiving some publicity for their work. It’s also incredibly lovely that they provide the names of the flowers they use with a simple hand drawing. My only question is why they are unable to make a slight improvement to the scuffed stand.

In the US or Europe, I imagine the entire arrangement, including the vase, would be quickly stolen. In Japan, there is much more opportunity to share individual and small business gardening with strangers.

Small shrine in Akihabara provides respite and carnal spirituality

One of the pleasures of Tokyo is discovering small gems that are unexpected. Arriving a few minutes early to a meeting in Akihabara last month, I stumbled upon this small shrine that faces the south side of the Kanda River near Akihabara, best known for electronics, manga, and geeks. The surrounding streetscape is a crowded jumble of 80s buildings with a few pre-war relics.

It was great to duck into the shrine, and enjoy the shade, the running water in the stone basin for ritual hand washing, the wood structures, and the quiet of a place with few visitors. Enjoying this mini oasis, I realized that all the statues involve animals with huge balls.

I recognize tanuki, but I think there are other animals, too. On second viewing, the husband pointed out that all of the figures, despite looking quite different, are tanuki. Although many shrines feature foxes (kitsune, or oinarisama), it is rare to see a shrine focused on tanuki. A placard explains that “tanuki” is a pun on words that also means “passing the other” and refers to Edo women who competed with each other to produce male heirs.

Miso making party

My relatives’ ceramic studio recently hosted a miso-making party. The process is both simple and also time-consuming. First the soy beans are soaked in water. We started with 11 kilos of beans, and about 12 people who mashed and combined the ingredients by hand.

The beans are then cooked in a pressure cooker. We had three pots going at once.

The beans are then mashed by hand. In the upper left hand of the photo above is a mortar and pestle; the wooden pestle is made from Sansho, the Japanese pepper tree (Zanthoxylum piperitum).

More photos about miso making after the jump

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Preparing plants for New Year’s celebration

Sinajina class: Preparing plants for New Year's celebration

Recently I had the pleasure of taking Kobayashi Kenji’s modern bonsai class at Sinajina. In addition to making my own miniature landscape with a black pine, rock and moss, I learned that gardening in October is focused on making plants beautiful for New Year’s celebrations and guests.

The class used eight year old black pine trees. First we removed all the old, longer pine needles by hand and with tweezers. We removed nearly all the old soil to replace it with a fresh mix that includes volcanic rock and to expose some of the oldest roots at the base of the trunk. Then, we examined the tree to identify its “face” and position the tree in its new pot. Finally we added moss– in my case a taller hill that passes underneath one of the roots and a lower meadow– and small rocks.

Pruned red pine in residential garden, preparing for New Year

Careful attention to form and style is clearly something that extends from miniature landscapes to residential garden landscapes. I am sure that many home-owners and gardeners are pruning their trees now to make sure that they are spectacular at New Year.

I also learned how to distinguish between black pine and red pine. Black pine needles are hard, unbending and sharp, while red pine needles are much softer to touch. Only when fully mature do red pine trees exhibit the bright red trunk that also distinguishes them. Black pine trees are mostly found near the sea, whereas red pine trees grow in the mountains.

Kobayashi Kenji at Sinajina class

Kobayashi sensei continues to be an inspiring guide to plants in urban life. In his anthropomorphism, plants become more human, and humans more embedded in nature. Plants are like people, he explains, in that they require most care during their first year, including more water. Once domesticated, plants cannot be returned to the wild since they have lost their survival skills and require continued human care.