A single tree standing in the entrance to a modern Tokyo house provides a marvelous contrast between the traditional and the new. The beauty of the single tree and the clean lines of the boxy concrete home create a uniquely Japanese feeling, or what I introduced recently as wafu modern (和風モダン) in relation to Kuma Kenga’s new Nezu Museum and tea house.
The intricately pruned pine tree evokes hundreds of years of Japanese garden design almost single-handedly. The pairing suggests a forward-looking aesthetic that remembers and revitalizes traditional culture elements.
From an ecological perspective, the single tree and minimal shrubs provides very little habitat. This quiet cul-de-sac suffers a typical Tokyo over-abundance of pavement, which is a certain pathway to Tokyo Bay pollution from storm runoff and an obstacle to insect and plant life that could feed and shelter bees, birds and other urban wildlife.
Still, the effect of the tree is all the more dramatic against the excess of hardscape. I also would regret if urban ecology became a quantitative calculation of efficiencies and benefits. There must be a place for not only traditional culture but also the type of human care and aesthetic appreciation manifest in this stylized pine tree.
Michelle Obama has brought beekeeping to the White House, and the New York Times has a lovely three minute video story about this activity that connects the president’s home with Washington DC’s seasonal trees and flowers, and school children. The honey is eaten at the White House and offered as a gift to world leaders.
With the First Family of the United States involved, ultra-local honey production is certain to influence residential and corporate beekeeping around the world. It is the first time that honey has been produced at the White House. This symbolic and practical activity is a great beacon for urban agriculture and ecology.
A related article talks about how the Obamas’ personal chef is involved with food policy making.
Fox face is a common fall plant that city residents bring into their homes. I was surprised that it does not require water, and will last two months. It is a fruit related to eggplant and tomato, and has the name “fox face” because of its resemblance to the animal. Some of the fruits have what appear to be ears, but not this one. It make a nice alternative to pumpkins.
Recently I visited Suntory Midorie‘s showroom in Aoyama. The entrance vertical green wall with their company name was most impressive in terms of plant diversity and aesthetics. There are also about ten other designs showing the variety of looks they can create with wood frames and internal pump and watering system.
Suntory Midorie has created these indoor walls for offices, malls, cafes, airport lounges, and hair salons in Tokyo and Osaka. The systems use artificial planting material (half the weight of soil), hydroponic systems automated with pumps and timers, with water collecting at the base. The water drips from top to bottom once a week, and Suntory Midorie provides monthly maintenance to its corporate clients.
In addition to these framed walls, Suntory Midorie also makes a horizontal roof top system that’s been used by Mitsui on an office tower near the Imperial Palace to mitigate the heat island effect and lower air conditioning costs. Suntory Midorie has done some exterior green walls, for a cafe, a hotel pool area, and a group of Shibuya vending machines.
A miniature system of small indoor frames, with no mechanical system, is sold online for residences and marketed as something young girls might enjoy taking care of. Suntory Midorie was founded in March 2008, and became independent of its beverage manufacturer parent company Suntory in April 2009.
This week is Japan’s Obon festival, a Japanese Buddhist custom of honoring ancestors’ spirits. Mid-August is a time when many Japanese take vacation, some to visit their home towns and others simply to get away or take a rest. Obon is a 500 year tradition that includes offerings in home altars, special dances and lantern festivals.
The date varies by region and by neighborhood. Tsukudajima had its festival in mid-July. The shift in the timing of the Obon festival is discussed by Nagai Kafū in his Tidings from Okubo. Kafū laments the change from fall to summer, from lunar to solar calendars, and from agricultural Edo to modern “careless” Tokyo.
After three days of rain, autumn suddenly deepens. Not waiting for the night, the crickets sing their loudest under the verandas. Their singing somehow brings to mind a Japanese wife of old, sad and yet alluring, at work on her husband’s clothes in the dim light of a paper lantern. . . . Under the old lunar calendar the festival of the dead came at the beginning of autumn. Every unfilial son, however profligate and however forgetful of home he might have been on ordinary occasions, must have thought of his dead mother and father in the sadness of the autumn dews. But now we have imitated the West and adopted the solar calendar, and the festival comes just after the June rains or toward the middle of the summer. The sadness with which the dead ought to be remembered is wholly lacking. The morals of a country are in danger when they are cut loose from the beauty of its soil and its seasons. The makers of our new age have been careless in many ways.” (p 238, Edward Seidensticker’s Kafū the Scribbler: The Life and Writing of Nagai Kafū, 1879-1959, Stanford University Press, 1965).
An interesting video from CNN about one Kawasaki family’s choices in constructing a house with minimal environmental impact: passive daytime lighting, low flow faucets, double paned windows, solar water heater, and a roof garden for cooling the home and providing vegetables. There is also discussion of Panasonic’s Eco Idea House with an energy management network and fuel cells.
Panasonic projects a 66% reduction in carbon emission levels from 1990 to 2010 in the house of the future. And it also envisions “universal design” principles to allow for optimal usage by the elderly and disabled.
The floor plan shows the existence of “grandmother’s room” and a home theater room, along with a “wellness corner” and “energy corner.”