If you look in the center of the photograph, you can see a bee pollinating this Japanese snowbell tree (styrax japonicus, or エゴノキ). It is planted in the very narrow gap between a house and a small street in Nishi Azabu Juban. I learned online that the wood of this tree is used to make a string instrument called a “kokyuu,” which is similar to a shamisen.
I love these bright red spider lilies, called higanbana in Japanese (ヒガンバナ). They are extremely hardy, and pop up everywhere in the fall on green stalks with no leaves. The name means fall equinox flower.
I learned in Kevin Short’s wonderful book Nature in Tokyo that Japan has few native red plants; he connects this absence to the fact that most insects do not see red, and that Japan has no hummingbirds to pollinate red flowers.
Yamada Yuriyuki (山田順之) , a biodiversity specialist at Kajima, one of Japan’s largest construction companies, appears in a video on Japanese TV about Kajima’s beekeeping and biodiversity education work. Kajima has started a hive in one of their buildings, and is studying how and where bees travel.
Yamada-san makes the important point that “greening” is not just about aesthetics but about eco-systems. Bees play an important role because they pollinate fruit trees that in turn attract birds. Bees also scare away crows. And it is because of the decline of bees in the wild that farmers need to manually pollinate fruits and vegetables. The video also shows how Kajima has educated school kids about the value of bees.
I am curious how far bee-keeping can take off in Tokyo, and the connections its advocates can make with native plants, urban wildlife, and city agriculture.