I’ve posted photos and written about this flower wall garden for The Plant, a visually stunning semi-annual magazine about urban nature. Even in winter, the garden is so colorful. Really, it is one of Nakano’s most incredible personal gardens, with hundreds of flowers covering the three story facade.
This is the view from my apartment building lobby on a rainy spring day. Because of energy conservation, many lights are turned off. This increases the contrast between indoors and outdoors.
I walk through this lobby every day, and rarely think about it or consider taking a photo. Recently, I participated in the Xerox and City photo workshop at Vacant, led by Hirano Taro and organzized by Too Much magazine as part of their Romantic Geographies series. We were asked to take photos of our breakfast and then our trip to the workshop in Harajuku. It made me think more about spaces that become automatic or ignored.
Tokyo residents are more aware of energy use and lighting now. Many parts of the city are less brighly lit: from billboards to train stations to residences. By lowering our lighting, we are more attuned to natural cycles, and more sensitive to the boundaries between private and public, indoor and outdoor, personal and shared resources.
The lanterns announce that the omatsuri festival will be happening Using simple plumbers’ fixtures and scaffolding, flexible and removable frames for lighted paper lanterns are erected all over the city.
I find omatsuri incredibly charming: a public street festival evoking rice farming and harvests, organized in Tokyo around tiny local shrines, work organizations, and local associations. A friend told me that in his town, the whole town celebrates together. But in the large megalopolis of Tokyo, the intensely local nature of each celebration is very personal and social.
Members of my apartment building are some of the main leaders of our local shrine’s festivities, which includes children’s and adults’ parading through the streets with portable shrines, flute, drum and bell music, (Japanese) lion dancing, traditional clothes including hapi (cotton jackets), and lots of public drinking.
At the shrine, one of my neighbors offered me a free shaved ice. I hesitated to accept other offers of food or drink because I did not want to be carrying the portable shrine; I know from experience that this is best left to younger and drunker participants.
Just in the other direction, on the same weekend, a small park gets transformed into a space for dozens to do “bon” dancing around a raised platform. Mostly seniors, they dance to various traditional and regional songs, while wearing yukatas. Children and even dogs come wearing this summer kimono. Unlike the local shrine, this small park has an area for more commercial “omatsuri” games and foods, including delicious mini-cakes, the ever present chocolate banana on a stick, yakisoba, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and more shaved ice.
I experimented this time with black-and-white photos that seem to make the event more timeless and nostalgic. It’s funny to see something very contemporary, like a child taking a cellphone photo of her chocolate banana, using this backward-seeming technology and juxtaposed with dances and music that may be centuries old. There’s something timeless about cast iron pans used over a gas grill to make the small cakes sold 12 or 40 to a bag.
I feel a certain surge of excitement when the portable shrines enter the large boulevard or fill the small streets radiating out from it. The shrine is very heavy, and there’s a definite camaraderie formed by sharing this load.
I’ll end the post with a short video of the dancing. The drumming and bells are live, and the other music and voice from an old CD player and simple amplifier sound system.
In today’s sweltering heat, my Tokyo DIY Gardening co-instigator Chris Berthelsen and 3331 Arts Chiyoda‘s Emma Ota documented the giant green city map created in the art center workshop two weeks ago.
It’s always inspiring to work with Chris, who is full of creative ideas and the energy to realize them. He’s already shared one small portion of the presentation: a model of the personal impact of urban green space. We will be sharing various slices of the green map once we’ve sorted out the images.
The map itself is two meters by four meters, and made of standard A4 papers taped together. The thirty participants included a school child, musicians, ceramicists, textile buyer, real estate developer, architect, arts administrator, senior citizens, and some random people who were walking by.
They used a mix of images we provided, plus blue string, markers, pens and things they brought, to create collages of urban green spaces that they knew or wanted. They also wrote down project ideas on small forms embedded in the map. Here’s images from the workshop.
Chris and I are eager to share these images and stories with you soon. Here’s some photos on the 3331 Arts Chiyoda website.
Newsweek Japan published my article about how Tokyo gardening turns public space into social space. The Tokyo Eye column allows Japanese to see how foreigners view and experience Tokyo, and I was asked to write in a very personal voice about how I experience living in Tokyo and why green space matters. I will post an English version soon.
What do you think of animals as garden ornaments? It seems that the desire to populate urban areas with animals goes hand-in-hand with cultivating plants. Does it add to urban life or detract?
A sustainability entrepreneur friend recently told me how much he dislikes the “clutter” and bad taste of old ladies using styrofoam planters for street pots. I imagine he would take a similarly dim view of animal ornaments.
There is a sometimes ambiguous line between trash and art, the living and the never animate. I wonder if the garden animals are dissimilar from the public space plants: a way to take ownership of the street, to make public space personal, “alive,” and magical. They can also be chaotic or unattractive.
Below is a statue of “tanoki,” a popular if somewhat obscene racoon figure of myth. I like how he is accompanied by a duck, elephant, dog, elf, two smaller tanokis, and a white picket fence.