Japanese kids love to use nets to capture small wildlife. This net can be used to capture kabuto mushi beetles on land, and also crayfish in creeks.
This rice stalk skirt is a beautiful and seasonal Japanese garden craft. The intent is to naturally attract and remove harmful insects, although now it seems that some famous gardens no longer use it because it traps both harmful and beneficial insects.
Art provides a beautiful way to invite the smallest and least cute wildlife into our lives. I want this bug home!
This beautiful “habitat sculpture” was created by Kevin Smith, with inspiration from Lisa Lee Benjamin of Urban Hedgerow, and featured at San Francisco’s Flora Grubb Garden. It is made from salvaged and natural materials, and promises to attract a variety of insects. The San Francisco Chronicle recently ran a story about creating “bug hotels.”
Art is a valuable way to help us invite nature into our lives. And insects, often ignored by city dwellers, are bottom-of-the-food-chain and critical for supporting a variety of wildlife and plant life. I like how Lisa talks about the importance of expanding our “tolerance” for wildlife that may not immediately appeal to us.
I love these bright red spider lilies, called higanbana in Japanese (ヒガンバナ). They are extremely hardy, and pop up everywhere in the fall on green stalks with no leaves. The name means fall equinox flower.
I learned in Kevin Short’s wonderful book Nature in Tokyo that Japan has few native red plants; he connects this absence to the fact that most insects do not see red, and that Japan has no hummingbirds to pollinate red flowers.
Via Twitter, I’ve come across some fantastic new urban ecology projects in San Francisco:
Nature in the City, an NPO focused on conservation, restoration and stewardship. Currently creating habitat corridors for the the Green Hairstreak (Callophrys dumetorum), a small butterfly present in only three places in the city.
Urban Gleaning Program, a project of San Francisco’s Department of Public Works that encourages city residents to collect fruit from city trees and community gardens and distribute them to the homeless and hungry.
Urban Hedgerow, a new global cities project that creates space and allow more of our wild world into the city. The project joins urban naturalists and artists to increase insect, animal, and plant life, with projects starting in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, the UK.
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.
Last month, I posted a video with the sound of summer cicadas, of which there are four types. Several weeks later, the cicadas have been replaced by crickets, called suzu mushi (鈴虫), or little bell.
In a city that appears from up high to be covered in concrete for as far as the eye can see, it is amazing to be able to hear so many insects and experience the passing of the seasons. Click below to hear the sound of cicadas reaching a 10th floor apartment near central Tokyo.
On the Nodai trip, Suzuki sensei told me of the work he is doing with a Shinagawa school to create a firefly habitat. This summer he took a middle school class to the countryside to experience fireflies. Once there, he also told the kids that they would have to help out in a rice field– a rare experience for most city kids.
Suzuki sensei is now leading meetings with the school about creating a firefly habitat on or near the school yard at Ono Gakuen Joshichuu Gaku (小野学園女子中学). Fireflies require clean, running water, and the school has the rights to unused wells and is near a stream that has been covered in concrete for decades.
The project has a small funding from the Japanese Ministry of Education, and in addition to Nodai, other participants include school administrators, parents, firefly habitat expert and Nodai alumnus Sakurai Jun (櫻井淳), and a specialist from the Tokyo Four Seasons Hotel (Chinzan-so), which is famous for its urban firefly garden.
In Japan, fireflies are associated with agriculture and rice paddies, and is the title of a chapter of the thousand year old novel The Tale of Genji. Fireflies are also associated with the folklore of hitodama, fiery apparitions of the souls of the recently dead that trick and beguile the living.
I am very inspired by Suzuki sensei’s vision for bringing nature and magic to urban kids with firefly habitat. I wonder how many streams and canals can be daylighted, what plants will promote urban biodiversity, what insects and animals are most important for promoting wildlife in the city.
(Note: Photo by Akihiro, shared on Flickr through Creative Commons)
A great article in today’s New York Times about “daylighting” the Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul. Daylighting refers to uncovering streams buried under pavement. Three miles of elevated freeway were removed, a plant-rich stream restored, and central urban land was converted from car-centric to people-centric.
Government officials and urban planners from Los Angeles, Singapore, San Antonio, and Yonkers have expressed interest in restoring urban streams. Sadly, the article did not mention anything about Tokyo, where most of its historic canals and rivers are covered by streets and elevated freeways.