local

Picked up some shade plants from monthly San Francisco Botanic Garden plant sale

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サンフランシスコの植物園で素敵な日陰用の植物を買って、電車で運んできました。月に一回、植物の販売があります。

I had a great time visiting the monthly San Francisco Botanic Garden’s plant sale, run by volunteers for fundraising. There are always very unique plants and lots of expert advice. Compared to commercial sellers, the plants have all been tested and cultivated locally, and the prices are very good. I filled a cardboard box with 12 small plants that cost $65, and hauled it home on the MUNI train.

Below is a luculia bush, which was flowering exuberantly when purchased. It’s my third. They grow easily, and the scent is lovely.

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Abandoned local house has super-sized garden plants

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廃墟になった家のまわりに、だれにも世話をされていない庭がどんどん大きくなっています。アジサイはかなり背が高いと思いませんか? 東京では、一年中雨が降ります。

This is one of the tallest hydrangeas I have ever seen. It’s growing outside this once handsome house near where we live. Tokyo’s ample year-round rain make it easy for plants to survive without our help. I’m hoping they won’t tear down the place soon, because this wild garden only requires being left alone.

Camphor tree gets mossy in Izu, and stands tall in central Tokyo

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最近、クスノキという巨大な木について知りました。中伊豆で見たものは、幹に苔がいっぱい生えていました。東京のオフィス・タワーの前にも、もっと乾燥したクスノキを見つけました。とても素敵だと思います。

I recently noticed this giant evergreen tree called camphor (or kusunoki in Japanese). A single, well cared for tree can easily become a local landmark. The above tree is in a mountaineous area of Izu. Below in front of a glass and metal tower in Shiba, across from Tokyo Tower.

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Selling small fig trees at local flower shop

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いつも行く中野の花屋さんは、このかわいいイチジクを売っていました。もちろん、ベランダに一つ買いました。たったの700円!

I couldn’t resist buying one of these tiny fig trees for sale at a Nakano flower shop I frequent. Only 700 yen!

Local groups assemble in Shinjuku ni chome for Hanazono festival

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新宿の花園神社の祭りで、路地にそれぞれ違う町内会の服装が見えます。このリーダは僕にピースサインをしています。

Two different groups are occupying a Shinjuku ni-chome side street. At first I wondered why the leader was pointing at me. Then I realized he was giving me the peace sign. The in-between ritual time is just as fascinating as the heavy lifting of the portable shrines. I wish the streets were this lively every day.

New year decorations of pine and bamboo at local shrine

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地元の神社には素敵な新年の飾り付けがあります。今年、写真をもっと上手になりたいので、新しいプロジェクトを探しています。

I love the simple pine and bamboo strapped to the entry gate of my local shrine. This is where we start the new year a few minutes past midnight with the neighbors drinking amezake and enjoying a small fire. Even the graffiti is cute. This new year, I will try to improve my photography, and seek a greater capacity for identifying the path of least resistance.

The gate outside the small shrine near our apartment. I went to offer thanks today for visa renewal.

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新しいビザをもらったので、今日、地元の神社に参って、お礼をしました。鳥居とイチョウの葉がとても秋っぽいですね。

I stopped at the local shrine today to offer thanks for my visa renewal. The gate and the ginkgo leaves made me stop.

Suginami ward’s giant green curtain shows positive activity by local government

今年の杉並区役所のグリーンカーテンはすてきです。

When people ask me about positive government action for urban nature, I always point to the Suginami ward’s giant green curtain. This massive screen of vines rises each summer on their eight story ward office next to the Minami Asagaya station on the Marunouchi subway line. It has inspired local residents to create their own balcony green curtains, inserted a huge green space that occupies very little square footage on the ground, and demonstrated that their old office building can be energy saving, attractive, and full of life.

Please contribute to Tokyo Local Fruit study

東京の地元で出来た果物を食べたり、育てたり、分け合ったりしていますか。地元で取れた、非商業の果物に関する話を集めています。あなたの話を聞かせてください。

アンケート:http://bit.ly/yVlIOI

Do you eat, grow, or share local fruit in Tokyo? We are collecting stories about Tokyo local, or non-commercial, fruit. Please share yours.

Survey: http://bit.ly/yVlIOI

Image: Jess Mantell. Project partners: Jess Mantell and Chris Berthelsen.

Inspired by Shibaura House, a new type of office and community space

オランダ大使館の文化・デザイン関係の方の紹介で、新しいShibaura Houseを訪れて、創設者の伊東 勝さんに会いました。去年建てられたこの建物は、広告会社の事務所を兼ねたコミュニティスペースです。
妹島和世という有名な建築がガラスと鋼を使って、非常に透明で簡潔で上品な建物を作りました。アウトドアスペースがたくさんあります。伊東さんの展望を反映していて、とても型破りなのです。広告のためでないものを作りたいそうです。これから、もっと土を取り込んで植物を植える予定です。どんな活動がこんな建物を近所の良いコミュニティーにできるでしょうか。どうやって人を引き付けられますか。どのようにスペースの効果を倍にすることができますか。より良い未来を作るために、どの過去のものを使えるのか。ミツバチやニワトリや野菜やフルーツや里山の植物を育てたら面白いと思います。新しいスペースと伊東さんの創造的な力で、芝浦ハウスが成長するのを楽しみにしています。

Thanks to Mr Bas Valckx, who works in culture and design affairs at the Netherlands embassy, last month I had the great pleasure of meeting Mr Ito Masaru, who has created Shibaura House as the headquarters of his advertising agency, Kohkokuseihan, and a new community space between Rainbow Bridge and Tamachi station in Minato-ku.

The building, designed by prominent Japanese architect Sejima Kazuyo of SANAA and completed in the summer of 2011, is as stunning as one could imagine: floor to ceiling glass walls, each floor plate unique, a form that combines transparency, simplicity, and elegance. There’s a sizable roof and three outdoor areas, a rectangular balcony and two curvy, double height voids.

But I was even more impressed by Mr Ito’s vision for work, community, and art. He kindly gave Bas and me a tour, which included rental areas, his company’s office, meeting spaces, and a ground floor cafe open to the public. Mr Ito is extremely knowledgable about urban planning, art history, and even permaculture.

His reason for creating Shibaura House and his plans for its future are inspiring and unconventional. He told me that his motivation for creating Shibaura House was to create the very opposite of the advertising business that he runs. And while he is pleased with how the building turned out, he is eager now to make it more alive, with more soil, people, and activity.

Too often, even in Silicon Valley, I have seen companies seek to wall themselves off from neighbors and outsiders. Global icons like Facebook, Google and Apple locate their employees in office parks, making their facilities off limits to non-employees and promoting secrecy over collaboration. I think Mr Ito’s bold vision suggests new ways to use real estate, to operate a company, and to become a vital part of local neighborhoods.

The neighborhood context is very diverse and layered: close to canals and the Tokyo Bay, near a main water processing facility, and neighbors with a variety of architectural styles from post-war, 70s residential, to more recent projects. As Bas reminded me, the area is reclaimed land from Tokyo Bay from the Edo period.

I’d love to see more plants, wildlife, and agriculture at Shibaura House. Things like bee hives, chicken coops, urban satoyama plants. It would also be great to see Shibaura House engage its neighbors with  with local food, plants, and wildlife habitat connecting buildings and waterways with green walls, roofs, and sidewalks. I am eager to see how Shibaura House grows and takes shape in the coming years.

Mini apples in flower arrangement

あなたの近所の花屋はミニりんごを売っていますか。楽しいと思っています。東京でよく見ます。この壁の花瓶を史火陶芸教室で作りました。

Does your local florist include mini-apples in their arrangements? It’s very common now in Tokyo, and I think it adds a fun element. This wall vase I made at Shiho ceramic studio.

Fall festivals along the old main roads in western Tokyo

西東京の9月の祭りは、旧街道の住民を繋げます。御神輿やお盆踊りや神社の祭りは地元の神を見えるようにします。秋の祭りも町の人々に農業の周期を思い出させます。音楽や衣装や銀賞や踊りが大好きです。特別の料理、提灯、お年寄りや高校生が集まって、普通の公共空間が生き生きとしてきます。

One of my favorite times in Tokyo are the September festivals, with portable shrine carrying and yukata-clad dancing happening in small groups up and down the main roads that pre-date the west-bound Marunouchi subway and Chuo train line. These photos are from Ome Kaido and Itsukaiichi Kaido.

The fall festivals connect city life with agrarian traditions, and by bringing the shrines into the road they literally bring the local spirits into view. I like the music, the costumes, chanting and dancing. But also the festival food stalls, lanterns, and crowds of seniors and high schoolers.

Giant wood support for landmark tree

最近、古いケヤキを支える木造の補助 ができました。下を歩くと、近所の方も、この補助と木を見ているのに気がつきました。2つの役割 があります。木を守るだけでなく、近所の方がこの木は特別だと気がつきます。多分、この木はこの近所で一番古い木です。木造の補助は神社の鳥居みたいです。

Recently, I’ve noticed this enormous new wood support for the giant zelkova tree in front of my local elementary school.  I’ve noticed other neighbors stopping to admire the giant support and the tree.

I like how the elegant support structure protects the tree and also draws attention to its significance. This traditional style Japanese garden technique also evokes the gates outside Shinto shrines.

I’ve blogged about this landmark tree before in April and also last year. One sign says that it’s 1,000 years old. While I doubt that, it’s still a remarkable tree, and probably the oldest living being in the neighborhood.

7-Eleven quickly replaces light bulbs at local store

セブン・イレブンがすばやく電球を変えています。節電のために、LEDは大切です。百万人以上が新しい照明を見ることができるでしょう。この近所の店では、施工中なのに、店舗は営業しています。LEDのほうがきれいだと思いますか?

It’s very impressive how quickly 7-Eleven can install new lighting. LEDs are a huge shift in lighting, and this very prominent example will influence millions of consumers.

Many companies have agreed to large energy reductions, up to 20 and 25 percent. I noticed this van outside my local 7-Eleven yesterday. They changed the store’s lighting to LEDs without closing the business. Another store I passed yesterday in western Tokyo was also updated. I wonder how soon all the 7-Elevens will be using these very low energy lights.

I think the new strips of small lights produce a more pleasant light than the old fluorescent tubes. What do you think?

First sakura after great earthquake

井ノ頭公園が花見を中止するというのは、本当でしょうか。先が見えないので、みんなが不安で落ち着かないようです。

My friend Matt sent me this intricate sakura weather map: it shows the updated forecast for the start of cherry blossoms across the Japanese archipelago. Even if you can’t read Japanese, it’s impressive to see how much weather forecasting amplifies cherry blossom season.

Today I also heard from Twitter’s @Matt_Alt that there are big signs at Inokashira park Big asking visitors to refrain from holding cherry blossom viewing parties there. This is one of Tokyo’s most famous parks, and one of the most popular places for young people to celebrate spring with all night and all day drinking parties.

It’s now just over two weeks after the horrific natural and man-made disaster that began with the East Japan great earthquake. With looming energy shortages, national mourning for the dead, and continued fears about nuclear fallout, Tokyo life will not be the same. Yet it is still impossible to fully know what will emerge in the coming months and years.

Will these events increase or reverse Japan’s hyper-urbanization? How will people respond to new concerns about food and water safety? Can the government and industry regain trust and provide leadership? How can civil society contribute to rebuilding the country and restoring Japan’s international reputation?

And can public spaces and local businesses flourish in a time of anxiety and uncertainty?