personal

Even in winter, this Nakano house is covered in flowers

flower_wall_context_winter_nakano
冬でも、この中野の家は、花であふれます。壁に、植物が五百ぐらいあります。

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.

flower_wall_winter_nakano flower_wall_dense_winter_nakano

Leaving the apartment on a rainy spring day

アパートの入り口から見えた、雨降りの朝の景色です。節電ですから、電気をほとんど消しています。中と外の対象がはっきりしていますね。

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.

Fall omatsuri in my neighborhood

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.

Documenting Tokyo DIY Gardening workshop’s green city map

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 article (日本語)

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.

東京の小さな緑を世界に誇れ

ジャレド・ブレイタマン

08年に仕事で初めて東京を訪れたとき、驚くと同時に感心させられたのは、この都市が実に人間的で、人と植物が共生する通りは活気に満ちあふれていたということだ。

多くの外国人と同じく私が東京に抱いていたイメージは、冷たく立ち並ぶ高層ビルと、渋谷のスクランブル交差点の雑踏、輝く広告のネオンだった。つまり、自然から完全に隔離された世界最大の都市を想像していたわけだ。

私自身これまでずっとガーデニングには深い愛情を注いできたが、東京の住民たちの植物を育てる情熱と創意工夫には今も驚かされる。そして、人間と建物がひしめき合う大都会で人と人を結び付けるコミュニティーが存在するという点にも。

ある日、初心者向けの陶芸教室を訪れた後、狭い歩道のアスファルトの割れ目から美しいパンジーが生えているのを見つけた。

東京ではほんの小さなスペースにも住民が気を配り、「緑の息吹」が宿っている。この印象がきっかけとなり、私はサンフランシスコから東京に移り住む決心をする。私は幸運にも日立と米外交問題評議会(CFR)が提携するフェローシッププログラムの奨学金を得て、デザイン人類学と都市生態学を融合させた「東京の小さな緑」の研究を始めることになった。

東京はアメリカやヨーロッパの都市とは異なり「小さな緑」にあふれていながら、日本人自身にはそのユニークな特徴に気付いていない。道端のパンジーがそれを気付かせてくれた。そこで私は、以下のような問いを掲げてみた。

1.なぜ東京の人々は自分の周りの環境にそれほど気を配るのか。

2.建物が密集する都市部で、自然はどのような役割を果たすのか。

3.東京のガーデニング文化から他の都市は何を学べるのか。

。。。

Newsweek Japan の全記事を読んで下さい!

Animal garden ornaments

Tsukishima garden animals

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.

Tanoki and animal friends in Nakano