Walking in Aoyama and Harajuku

On a walk through Aoyama and Harajuku this winter, I entered Hatomori jinja, a beautiful green space with a shrine and and Noh theater.

It was strange to be in an urban oasis of trees and greenery and see this glass encased theater decorated with an elaborate pine tree painting.

Is art civilizing nature? Or is nature sheltering art? I do not understand much about Noh theater but I love how the image of an idealized pine assumes a sacred and formal role in the performance.

Across from the Noh theater is the shrine itself. Because it is winter, there is a circle of rice straw you walk through in order to enter the shrine. I love how this shrine had visual signs about how to wash your hands, and the proper way to pray. Japanese can be very precise in providing step-by-step instructions.

Aoyama is a mostly wealthy neighborhood, and includes a famous ginko lined street as well as the Crown Prince’s residence in Togu Gosho. There are many good-looking modern buildings, too. I was surprised to see this ruined old building.

Finally, heading into Harajuku, I saw an apartment building named Maison Harajuku covered in plants. I believe that it is a single vine originating from the right side of the front of the building. How long could it have taken for the vine to cover the building? What maintenance is required to keep it from swallowing the building?

Edo gardening in wood block prints

Edo gardening in wood block prints

Encouraged by my host Suzuki Makoto sensei at Tokyo University of Agriculture, I recently visited the Edo Gardening Flowers exhibit being held at the Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art until November 26,2009. The exhibit has spectacular colorful wood block prints showing flowers and plants in a variety of urban settings including kimonos, at festivals, commercials nurseries, educational materials, Kabuki actors, and Noh dramas.

The exhibit theme is that the Edo period experienced a “gardening culture” in which a passion for gardens and flowers permeated all social classes, including court nobles, shoguns, feudal lords and the common people. According to the catalogue, “the Japanese people’s passion to flowers surprised the American botanist Robert Fortune as seen in his diary upon his visit to Japan in the late Edo period.”

An interesting comparison is also made between between the widespread practice of Edo gardening and also the interest of common people in wood block prints. It is wonderful to see the use of flowers and plants in both high culture realms and in depictions of everyday life during the Edo period.

Two of my favorite prints are collections of plants used by children to learn the names of flowers. The one below, from the back cover of the exhibit catalog, has the names in hiragana. The exhibit also includes Edo era ceramic plant pots.

Edo gardening in wood block prints

Some more images after the jump, and also a list of plants seen in the wood block prints.

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