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.
[Date: March 7, 2011]
I love how this ordinary Shibuya building uses minimal natural materials, including wood, stone, and sakura branches, to create an elegant and nostalgic atmosphere.
A reminder that tomorrow night is the Tokyo DIY Gardening Workshop at 3331 Arts Chiyoda, a great new arts space in a converted junior high school. I took these photos last week when I went there for a planning meeting with my workshop co-organizer Chris Berthelsen of Fixes. It’s great that in addition to all the art exhibit, gallery and office spaces inside, the front of the 3331 Arts Chiyoda is a very welcoming park with a lawn and shade trees (plus a very popular smoking area next to a public bathroom).
For non-Japanese and non-parents, it’s a great experience to see the inside and even the roof of what seems like a typical city school: old wood shoe lockers, simple yet sturdy furniture, and rooms that seem very Bauhaus in their streamlined functionality. The roof is also interesting because for city schools that is probably where most if not all recreation takes place. For some reason the art space created this small lawn area, and of course I followed Chris’ lead in taking off my sandals and walking bare-foot on the grass.
3331 Arts Chiyoda has also set up dozens of rental plots for people who want to grow vegetables. If anyone is nearby, there seem to be plenty of vacant spaces, and it would be a cool place to grow vegetables and to get to know the arts groups and activities in the building.
The chain link fence on the sides and top, the institutional clock, even the caged loudspeakers evoke an ordinary childhood scene that is unfamiliar to me. It’s cool to experience these spaces, and imagine that many of the people I know in Tokyo attended schools like this.
Urban nature has a beauty that is amplified by its proximity to quotidian activities. This late blooming, pom-pom cherry is in the final stage of blooming. Behind it is a 1970s apartment building with futons and bedding hung outside the window to air out. It finally feels like spring this week. It is this unlikely combination of temporality and permanence, beauty and function, people and plants, the sublime and the ordinary that make Tokyo such a lovely place to live.
Last week I gave several talks about Tokyo Green Space, including at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Gaimusho, 外務書). The 1960s modernist building and landscaping impressed me. You can see the bright yellow ginkos in the background and the last fall leaves in the foreground.
My main point to the Ministry was that Japan has not done a good job of explaining its accomplishments in creating livable cities. Both its ordinary gardeners who compensate for a history of poor planning, and its landscape visionaries who are creating new public spaces for people and wildlife are unknown within and outside Japan. Most foreigners are surprised at how human-scaled and enjoyable Tokyo is.
Given climate change and global urbanization, Japan should promote its achievements and expertise in new urbanism, with relevance to developed and emerging cities around the world.
I also gave talks last week at Hitachi Ltd Headquarters to an audience that included Hitachi global business, defense systems, environmental strategy, and research institute leaders, as well as Kajima and ARUP biodiversity specialists, university professors, and Japanese media. Voted the MVP (most voted person), I also gave an impromptu speech, in Japanese, at the wonderful TEDxSeeds conference organized by the extraordinary culture curator Satoh Keiko.
I have posted before with some sympathy for how ordinary Tokyo people express their desire for public, urban nature, even with fake flowers and real ivy in plastic bottle containers in such unlikely places as a Metro men’s room. I have more ambivalent feelings about the widespread retailing use of fake leaves to signal fall.
Above is a photo from my neighborhood supermarket. Is nature not signaling seasons clearly enough? Are plastic plants the best the supermarket can do to mark seasons. What about seasonal foods and vegetables? Are these leaves stored, washed, and brought out the next year?
The second image is from a neighborhood pachinko parlor. This one mixes an abundance of fake flowers and sexy female imagery to attract attention and customers. I have a feeling that these flowers might have looked better when first installed, and that they may remain next to the Metro station for many more years to come.