I love walking by this wood house in Suginami. It’s a relic of an earlier time: a large wooden house, mixing Western and Japanese architectural elements, and a large garden. Seeing a remnant from the past makes it easier to imagine what this area once looked and felt like. I’d like to sleep under these huge, old trees.
I love how the very top of Tokyo Station is now visible above the scaffolding. An incredibly efficient urban transportation system makes Tokyo a green city free of auto dependence and isolation. In a city repeatedly destroyed by disasters and constantly in the process of being rebuilt, the 97 year old Tokyo Station is a rare public building from the Meiji era.
I am excited to see the restoration complete, and to experience the grandeur of this central node in Tokyo and Japan’s rail system. Shinjuku Station supports more people per day (over 2.5 million), but like much of Tokyo it is visually a non-place: three department stores from the 1960s through 1980s, sprawling underground passageways, and no particular front or main entrance.
Here’s what Tokyo Station looked like in 2007, courtesy of 663highland. Will there be a party when the project is complete? Or a centennial celebration?
Now that I have posted about Hakone moss outside the organized visit, I will also share some images from the Nodai school trip. Above you can see how many students, faculty, and research fellows participated on the trip by counting the shoes.
We stayed at Hotel Yoshiike, a ryokan with an amazing Kyoto style stroll garden that is large and other worldly. The buildings are very 1960s style boxes, but the gardens make you lose track of both time and place. There is something truly masterful about the streams and pond, the wandering paths, the careful plantings and attentive maintenance.
In addition to appreciating the garden, there were enormous meals, much drinking, and onsen bathing.
The other stunning garden we saw was designed for Yamada Denki’s corporate villa by one of Japan’s most celebrated contemporary landscape designer, Sakakibara Hachiro, who also created the modern Japanese garden at Tokyo MidTown. The contrast between the two gardens is stunning: while Yoshiike is flat and terraced, Sakakibara’s is vertical and borrows from the surrounding landscape of steep, forested hills. There is a lot of drama and movement in the garden in terms of waterfalls and paths.
The Tenseien shrine turns a (mostly?) natural waterfall into a shrine. I had never seen the Shinto rope and paper decorations attached to a waterfall.
We also visited this charming Meiji-era house, a small “out-building” attached to a larger villa. The image at the top with the shoes came from this entrance.
More photos after the jump.
Leaving Nodai one December day, I was struck by the bright yellow color of this ginko tree, and how it dwarfs the small street. This is the main street connecting Nodai with the Odakyu line, and the numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists far outnumber cars.
Much of Nodai’s built enviornment are 1950s Bauhaus-style six story buildings, including the one in our lab, with some newer buildings also. Outside of the library is a beautiful quad with old trees that give you a sense of the age and history of this Meiji era campus.
It was raining last Friday when I came for the Garden Lab bonenkai, or end of year party. In the middle of winter, Tokyo is very dry so I am trying to enjoy the last rain.
On my way to Temple University, I passed the Sannohashi bridge, and realized that the river was almost completely covered by an elevated freeway. Later I learned the river is called Furukawa (古川), an extension of the Shibuyakawa.
The freeway destroys all the life the river could support, and also diminishes the value of the houses left in its shadows.
This is just one of many Tokyo rivers, canals and historic bridges buried by freeways. A hopeful vision of what could be is seen in the “daylighting” of Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon (Hangul: 청계천) river. As it is now, what remains of the river is a dead space created through poor planning.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Bureau of Construction has a cool interactive map showing every bridge of this river, with photos of each bridge and the views upstream and downstream. And there are photos of this river during Edo, Meiji and contemporary times.
Aoyama Gakuin, one of Tokyo’s oldest schools, is a green oasis between Omotesando and Shibuya. Founded by American Methodist Episcopalians 135 years ago, the campus includes elementary to university education and has educated many of the country’s elite. The grounds include soaring trees, gardens that combine Japanese and Western styles, and neo-Gothic buildings.
The tall pine trees reminded me of Tokyo University of Agriculture, also founded in the Meiji period, and the buildings seem intentionally Ivy League, versus the more Bauhaus buildings at Nodai. Aoyama Gakuin’s location in central Tokyo makes it a natural oasis for people and wildlife.
Summer in Shinjuku Gyoen is a wonderful escape from the crowded, hot city. The shadows seem extra dark, and the sound of the cicadas (semi, or 蝉) was loud. Click the short video below to hear the sounds of the cicadas on August 15, 2009. You can hear three of the four types of cicadas that mark early, mid and late summer in Tokyo.
Shinjuku Gyoen is one of central Tokyo’s largest green spaces open to the public: 58 hectares (or 144 acress) with a 3.5 kilometer circumference. There are French, English and Japanese gardens, an expansive lawn, and 20,000 trees.
Occupying what was once the personal residence of Edo daimyo Naito Kiyonari, the garden was created during the Meiji period in 1872 to promote modern agriculture, became the Imperial Botanic Garden, burned almost completely during the Tokyo fire bombing in World War II, and later opened as a public park.
Today, in addition to serving as a popular recreation spot, particularly during hanami (cherry blossom viewing), Shinjuku Gyoen provides cuttings and seeds for buttonwoods (sycamores) and tulip trees (liriodendrons) that are later planted as roadside tree in Tokyo.
“It is the summer that makes life in Tokyo most beautiful . . . Bamboo cages with singing insects, painted fans, mosquito nets, sweet-smelling reed blinds set into miniature landscapes- where else are there appurtenances of such delicacy? . . . Sometimes, walking along a canal of a summer evening, I have found myself drunk with a mood as of hearing a samisen somewhere- in a courtesan’s room, perhaps, in a scene from Mokuami’s ‘The Robbers.'”
Summer is in full force in Tokyo now, and I am turning to literary inspiration to better understand this complex metropolis. Viewed from above, Tokyo is an endless concrete slab with few visible elements of nature. Viewed from the street, the city pulses with human and plant life, and its residents react to the constraints of the built environment with creativity.
In exploring the layers of Tokyo, I am relying on two books written in English. A Enbutsu Sumiko, a Japanese woman educated at Smith College, wrote “Discover Shitamachi” in 1984, and I have been using it as a guide to the Edo era survivors in the area near the Sumida River first settled by artisans and merchants in the 1600s. Enbutsu also wrote A Flower Lover’s Guide to Tokyo: 40 Walks for All Seasons in 2007, a wonderful book that suggests city walks organized by seasonal flowers.
More recently, I am reading noted Japanologist Edward Seidentsicker’s 1965 literary biography Kafū the Scribbler: The Life and Writing of Nagai Kafu, 1879-1959, from which the quote above about summer comes. Since I am still unable to read in Japanese, I rely on these historic works to better understand Tokyo’s strange mix of history and modernity. Seidensticker’s biography insists that his subject is “better and more important than any of his works” and that his work can only be understand in the context of his life, his city, and the Meiji tension between Edo and modernity.
Whether considering historic sites, ancient festivals and crafts, the ever-active wrecking ball, and latest popular culture, it is humbling to think that this tension between traditional and modern urbanity has existed for over 100 years in Tokyo. I am looking forward to Seidentsticker’s chronicle of turn of the century Tokyo life, and visiting some of the same places myself to sense if there any echos still audible.