Recently I brought 28 participants of the Dutch-Tokyo Still City workshop on “post-growth” urban life to Hamarikyu garden. This photo captures the simultaneity of activities inside and outside the garden: Edo-style pruning of pine trees, city dwellers enjoying traditional tea, port and luxury housing structures, even an incinerator chimney.
Fall brings clear skies and dramatic clouds. How come the top looks like a natural wonder and the city below is littered with antennas, utility poles, and a giant incinerator?
There are many urban sights in Tokyo that are jarring to newcomers, perhaps none more so than the giant electricity poles. Well, there’s also garbage incinerators with tall chimneys in every neighborhood, elevated freeways, endless rows of fluorescent lights stacked high on exposed residential hallways, and the zeal for paving over almost all surfaces.
This photo was taken near Shin Koenji where the elevated main power line crosses Itsukaichi Kaido, a road that dates back to Edo and maybe earlier. You can just make out a silhouetted ripe persimmon fruit. Sometimes these unattractive elements create their own rhythm and patterns in urban life.
The fall sky is incredibly clear, and we often see Mount Fuji from our balcony at sunrise and sunset in these months. Still there are times I go out into our narrow high-rise garden, look out, and feel startled and humbled by the overwhelming beauty of this celebrated natural and spiritual landmark.
The world’s most famous natural landmarks are in some ways like our global cities’the most famous built landmarks. Mount Fuji, like the Eiffel Tower, has a form and mythology that all of us know before setting eyes on it.
Mount Fuji has been represented over many centuries and in many forms, from fine art, most notably Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji, to countless sento mosaics. Until the Meiji era, women were prohibited from its summit. Yet despite our investing so many cultural meanings on this mountain, its presence exceeds human memory and most likely our specie’s future.
Mount Fuji’s sublime appearance on the horizon lifts our vision from a prosaic cityscape, packed with non-descript, high-rise and low-rise residences, television, cellphone and lightening antennas, giant power lines, and a garbage incinerator. As a dormant volcano it, too, has a temporal form, yet its scale and longevity makes our human presence feel very transitory.
Before the rainy season and summer heat, I took a few day trips in Tokyo. One of the more remarkable places is Yumenoshima (夢の島), which means Dream Island.
It was begun in the 1960s as a place to store huge amounts of garbage by creating a large island in Tokyo Bay. Today it has an enormous incinerator, spectacular greenhouse for plants, a gym, a marina, and some overgrown park areas.
Of the palms I recognized the Canary Island palm, and what look like Mediterranean palms. Mostly deserted excepted for a few people going to the gym and cut off from the city by freeways, the park is large and somewhat mysterious. I love how the area around the incinerator and marina are full of surveillance video cameras and speakers everywhere playing muzak.