I love how this narrow Nishi Azabu Juban bar is defined by the street tree out front. The bar and tree are named カクレミノ (kakuremino, or Dendropanax trifidus). The building front is largely glass and wood beam, with the tree providing some privacy and mystery. The tree has been espaliered so that it grows in barely two dimensions.
According to Wikipedia, this evergreen tree is native to lower Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu, and Okinawa.
I was startled by this tiny garden door, not much taller than the bike’s handlebar. It’s amazing that in Harajuku there are still some old houses with their lush gardens. Most have been torn down and converted into multi-family buildings with minimal green space. While the wall prevents a full view, the small forest rising up and out of the property seems full of mystery and life.
In urban settings, shrines and the entrances to cemeteries are open all day and night. Especially at night, they provide equal doses of nature and mystery that is both within and separate from normal urban life. These long exposure photos capture some of the magical beauty of nighttime trees, plants, shadows and stones.
This experience in a nighttime cemetery reminds me of a term I recently learned from a Tokyo University professor who works at Hakuhodo: harappa (原っぱ). Harappa is an in-between urban and wild place that traditionally allowed children a space to play and explore. It could be a meadow, a grove of trees, or an abandoned building. With ever increasing construction and denser urban lives, these liminal spaces are harder to find. Shrines function as one of the most solid barriers against total urbanization.
A small tip: I recently learned how to take crisp nighttime photos with an inexpensive digital camera. To avoid shaking and blurring from long exposures, use the timer and set the camera on a hard surface.
I recently visited Konoike Tomoko’s (鴻池朋子) immersive retrsopective show called Inter-Traveller at the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery. Presented as a child-like journey to the center of the earth, Konoike’s art creates a universe of myths in which nature and humans become merged in fantasy: six-legged wolves, wolves and butterflies with young girl’s legs and red running shoes, volcanoes with human faces, a fuzzy ball character with legs and no head, a giant ball with antlers and wings and human birth, swords, and giant books.
This first comprehensive exhibit include pencil on paper, painting, fusuma screens, installations, animations, and sculpture. Some rooms are entered by very low passage ways, and the second to last room has a giant spinning baby’s head covered in mirrors, surrounded by mariners’ ropes and broken glass. The movement of light around the room made me hold on to the railing with intense vertigo. The final room almost forces the visitor to confront nature and death in a tangible way; fortunately there was a discreet side escape for the squeamish.
I mention Konoike’s work because her wonderous myth-making projects a vision of humans in a state of crisis and seeking meaning through nature, mystery and travel. Just as some argue that most agricultural invention and technology comes from cities, I felt that Konoike’s art, while drawing on the natural world and spirits, is deeply urban and contemporary. The journey to the center of the earth and to rebirth, she suggest, involves imagination, play and communication between the living and the dead. I was not surprised to learn that her atelier is in one of the world’s most urban locations, Akihabara, and that her background includes toy and character design along with fine arts.