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Gorgeous mini-pomegranates match home’s Showa-era, crimson ceramic tiles

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ミニ・ザクロが本当に素敵ですね。昨日のヒマワリと同じの庭ですが、家の側で育っています。

I don’t know if you can eat these mini-pomegranates but they are really stunning. This is just on the other side of the wall from the yellow sunflower image I posted yesterday. I love how this gardener maximizes space by extending out into the public realm. The road-side part of her garden also gets more sunshine.

Elegant ladies dancing on the street at Shinto festival in Shiba

お祭りのときに、素敵な着物を着たおばあさんが、路上で踊っています。友だちのバスと、9月の芝のお祭りに行きました。

On a wide boulevard normally devoted to multi-lane auto traffic, nothing could be more beautiful than the site of elegant ladies in matching kimonos and hats dancing in synchronized movements. The summer and fall Shinto festivals transform business Tokyo into a series of village parties evoking an agrarian culture rarely sensed inside the megalopolis.

Below are photos from the Shiba matsuri. The sub-group near my friend Bas’ home displayed photos from the 1945 festival, just a month after the end of the war in which the entire neighborhood and much of Tokyo was burnt to the ground. The last photo shows a man who is both telling stories and selling bananas, a continuation of an Edo-era festival character.

In the photos you can see how on a special holiday, the streets, overpasses, convenience stores, and other mundane urban spaces are transformed into a very social and well dressed public environment.

Tanuki visits the imperial State Guest House at nite. You can visit the garden tomorrow during the day.

夜、タヌキさんは皇族の迎賓館を訪ねます。明日の日中、文化の日のおかげで、誰もがその庭を見れます。楽しみにしています。

You can spot tanuki’s tail sticking out of the guard house at this imperial entrance. Through Saturday, November 3, Culture Day in Japan, the Geihin-kan, or State Guest house, will open its garden to the public. It’s about 100 yards south and slightly west of the Yotsuya station in Moto-Akasaka. I will not pass up the opportunity to enter a vast and well groomed garden that is not normally open to the public. I am curious who will show up.

Long public path at Shinjuku Gyoen is an idyllic nature escape

新宿御苑の脇にある長い路はきれいです。木陰も小川もあります。夏は涼しいです。

It’s always fun to walk along this public path on the Shinjuku side of Shinjuku Gyoen. Shaded by tall trees, it’s a pleasant escape from the hard urban surfaces. There’s even a reconstructed creek to evoke the springs and rivers that used to flow naturally here.

One of my favorite public gardens is in the center of Shinjuku ni-chome

この歩道の植木鉢の庭が大好きです。新宿二丁目のまんなかにあって、両側の道路に百以上の植物があります。それぞれにラベルがついています。

In the center of Shinjuku ni-chome, a man who seems to have lived in the same shop house for many decades has created a narrow garden in the 25 centimeters between sidewalk and street. It occupies his side of the street, and the opposite side of the street, with well over 100 pots all existing in public space that is frequented by patrons of the hundreds if not thousands of small gay bars. It has the largest number of gay bars of any gay neighborhood in any city in the world. I like how the gardener has labeled all his plants, some pots are secured with chains, and some propped up on beer crates.

Mature cherry trees cross Nakameguro river. Nearly full bloom.

花見に中目黒の川はとてもきれいです。ほとんど満開でした。2012年4月6日。

Nakameguro river is one of the best spots for viewing hanami. Last Friday was approximately 80%. Much family, student, friends, and co-worker public drinking and nature appreciation!

Today it’s windy and raining, so perhaps the season is already over as the petals fall fast.

The end of the walkway is approaching

友だちに会うために、最近に辰巳に行きました。運河がきれいで、新しいマンションが建設されています。しかし、公共のインフラは不全なままです。改良して、水辺に近づけるほうがいいと思います。東京湾をもっと感じたいです。

I recently visited Tatsumi, a landfill island near Yumenoshima in in Koto-ku for a house party. There are lot of new housing developments alongside the canals and neighboring old housing complexes. It’s sad that the public infrastructure is so incomplete. This neighborhood would be much more appealing if the canal-side sidewalks and parks were continuous. This lack of access to the Bay makes me often forget that there is a Tokyo waterfront.

Bus stop chairs are gifted, unmatched, and spontaneous

この歩道と道にあまり植物がありません。けれどもこの停留所の席はとても東京っぽくて、東京グリーンスペースと関連しています。政府はインフラを作ってくれませんから、住民は独自に家の物をリサイクルして、再利用しています。そんな住民のおかげで、公共スペースを分かち合えて、楽しいです。
こんな結果をどのデザイナーも作れません。色も布地も形もみんな違います。この解決法はとてもきれいで適切とはいえませんが、優しい気持ちが伝わります。

この停留所は東京グリーンスペースの比喩です。昔、公共スペースは計画されたことがありません。今は都市の指導者と官僚が車中心社会とメガ開発を支えすぎます。3.11の前、政府が悪くても、東京はいい都市だと思いました。3.11の後、無能な指導者は危ないと思います。

年末が近づくにしたがって、もっと生きている都市をどう作れるかと考えています。

This sidewalk and street have nearly no visible plants. Yet anonymously gifted bus stop chairs are very Tokyo and very much in the spirit of Tokyo green space. Reacting to a lack of infrastructure– no shelter and no seating– neighbors simply recycle and re-use stuff from their homes and share it with neighbors in a public space.

Few designers could have coordinated this unlikely mix of colors, fabrics, and shapes. Its aesthetic arises from its spontaneous appearances. Is this the most beautiful, practical, or ideal solution to the lack of infrastructure? Probably not, although it reflects generosity and concern for others in shared spaces.

I have been writing about Tokyo green space for a while, ever since moving here three years ago. Tokyo is surprisingly green and livable despite the complete absence of planning for public open space, from its rise as Japan’s Edo capitol in the 1600s through the 20th century’s natural and man-made calamities that twice obliterated the city.

Tokyo has such forward-looking urban features like walkable small streets dominated by pedestrians and bicyclists. But these vital paths exist not because of  contemporary Tokyo’s good planning, but because the bureaucracy still in the thrall of automobile infrastructure and mega-developments hasn’t had the chance to alter them.

Documenting Tokyo green space has been a way for me to understand the life of this city. The grass-roots reclaiming of public space certainly increases the city’s appeal. But, post 3.11, I also now wonder if the residents haven’t demanded enough of the city leaders. We now know more clearly the dangers of leaving vital decisions to reckless and outdated politicians and bureaucrats.

As this difficult year ends, I wonder what all of us can do to create a more alive city.

Tokyo metabolizing creates vision for Tokyo as new urban form

「東京は人間のための都市(まち)に向けて変容していけるのでしょうか。」週末に、『家の外の都市の中の家』という展示会を見ました。新しい社会条件に、東京の建築家が創造的なアプローチをします。人間が都市で一番な要素であれば、その都市はどんな風に見えるでしょうか。他人を認識することが良いことならば、住宅はどのように変わるでしょうか。建物と建物の隙間が、建築物と同じくらい大事ならば、都市生活はどう感じるだろうか。時間があれば、10月2日まで展示会をご覧ください。

“Tokyo seems to be changing into a city that is meant for people,” concludes the introduction to the Tokyo Metabolizing exhibit at the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery. The exhibit combines models and ideas from three architecture firms, Atelier Bow-Wow, Nishizawa Ryue, and Kitayama Koh, and formed part of the 2010 Venice Biennale.

Tokyo Metabolizing provides context for the rapid development of the world’s largest mega-city, and suggests new ways of living well in the city. I like how the architects respond with new dwelling types, including a blending of home and office, residences that share common spaces, and apartments where connectedness with others is valued more than privacy.

The architects are responding to new  realities of who we live with and how we want to live. In Tokyo the average household is less than 2 people, and these smaller households seek new connections with neighbors, colleagues, and friends. I think the most radical suggestion is that an awareness of other people living around you might be considered a positive feature rather than something to be concealed or suppressed.

The metabolizing title harks back to a radical modernism from 1960s Tokyo, and foregrounds the city as a living organism: with a life, history, and progression. Carolyn Steel, in her book Hungry City, uses the concept of the city as an organism  to focus attention on urban food delivery, prep and consumption. The urban built environment is also reflection of social life– from tax policy to demographics– and human aspirations.

I liked that Atelier Bow-Wow focuses on the untapped value of Tokyo’s void spaces: in-between, often wasted space between structures, which have potential for re-use and for gardens, community, and nature in the city.

The exhibit has great scale models, and is at Opera City until October 2. Also worth seeing is a special exhibit of recent works by young artist Ishii Toru (石井). Ishii creates psychedelic contemporary fantasies– full of convenience stores and fast food logos– using a traditional yuzen method of dyeing fabric.

Tokyo Station peeking out from scaffolding

足場の上に、東京駅が見えます。東京駅はめずらしい明治の建物です。そして、最上級の交通機関の象徴でもあります。対照的に、新宿駅のほうがもっと人に使われますけれど、正面玄関がありません。修復終了のパーティーはあるのでしょうか? 2014年の100周年の祝賀会に行きたいです。

I love how the very top of Tokyo Station is now visible above the scaffolding. An incredibly efficient urban transportation system makes Tokyo a green city free of auto dependence and isolation. In a city repeatedly destroyed by disasters and constantly in the process of being rebuilt, the 97 year old Tokyo Station is a rare public building from the Meiji era.

I am excited to see the restoration complete, and to experience the grandeur of this central node in Tokyo and Japan’s rail system. Shinjuku Station supports more people per day (over 2.5 million), but like much of Tokyo it is visually a non-place: three department stores from the 1960s through 1980s, sprawling underground passageways, and no particular front or main entrance.

Here’s what Tokyo Station looked like in 2007, courtesy of 663highland. Will there be a party when the project is complete? Or a centennial celebration?

Sunset over Shimokitazawa commercial street

最近、よくこの下北沢の商店街に行きます。日暮れはとてもきれいです。自転車で行けて、おいしいコーヒーのお店があります。東京の商店街には、いろいろ小さな店があります。商店街のデザインは散歩したり、ぶらぶらしたりすることがしやすいようになっています。古いけれど、商店街のストリートデザインはヨーロッパとアメリカで人気が出てきています。どうして都庁は車を支持して、商店街を支持しないのでしょう?

Recently I have been spending more time on this Shimokitazawa shoutengai, or commercial strip full of very small businesses. This one is northwest of the station, and somewhat hard to find. What’s great is its combination of shops run by old timers alongside imported hipster clothes, one of Tokyo’s best coffee shops called Bear Pond that roasts their own beans, a hookah bar, and at least ten hair salons.

There are thousands of these shopping streets in Tokyo, near transit stations and along routes that connect homes, workplaces, schools, and leisure areas. It’s strange that Tokyo Metropolitan Government is still so focused on cars and their movement across the city at the expense of walking and biking and other forms of common space usage. There is little government recognition or support for the idea that these relics of past decades are in fact some of Tokyo’s most forward-looking urban public spaces.

Lively pedestrian zones are common in Europe, and becoming more so in many cities in the United States. By not segregating cars, pedestrians, and bicycles, the street pace slows down to pedestrian speed while still allowing passage for delivery trucks and cars. The way the street is painted makes it appear even more narrow, providing further social cues about speed and usage.

Many of Tokyo’s shoutengai are suffering as consumers shift towards shopping at big box stores and driving as a primary form of transportation. The city government is truly looking backwards when it promotes automobile usage and fails to recognize the value of these vernacular public spaces that support human interaction and the environment.

American Anthropologist profiles Tokyo Green Space

百年以上も発行されている人類学の学術誌「アメリカン・アンソロポロジスト」から「東京の小さな緑」についての記事が出ました。 「東京の小さな緑は新しい公共の人類学だ」という言葉をいただきました!

In the American Anthropologist, the one hundred plus year journal of academic anthropology, Professor Robert Rotenberg reviewed Tokyo Green Space as an example of public anthropology. The article came out last fall, but I only recently learned about it. I am very honored to be recognized, and hope that it leads to more discussion about the value of anthropology for public policy and new urbanism.

David Vine, Alaka Wali, and Melissa Checker, the Public Anthropology Review editors, introduce Professor Rotenberg’s review in their introduction:

Next, Robert Rotenberg discusses Jared Braiterman’s Tokyo Green Space blog on “microgardening.” The blog is documenting efforts to use gardening in the smallest and most unusual urban spaces—rooftops, walls, schools—“to support biodiversity in the world’s largest city” (this issue). Of particular interest to environmental and urban anthropologists, not to mention gardeners, Rotenberg’s review describes a blog that combines design anthropology, lush color photography, and the eye and imagination of the flaneur to explore a transforming Tokyo.

The citation is Rotenberg, Robert, Tokyo Green Space, American Anthropologist, volume 112, number 3, pp 463-464, September 2010. You can download a copy here.

First sakura after great earthquake

井ノ頭公園が花見を中止するというのは、本当でしょうか。先が見えないので、みんなが不安で落ち着かないようです。

My friend Matt sent me this intricate sakura weather map: it shows the updated forecast for the start of cherry blossoms across the Japanese archipelago. Even if you can’t read Japanese, it’s impressive to see how much weather forecasting amplifies cherry blossom season.

Today I also heard from Twitter’s @Matt_Alt that there are big signs at Inokashira park Big asking visitors to refrain from holding cherry blossom viewing parties there. This is one of Tokyo’s most famous parks, and one of the most popular places for young people to celebrate spring with all night and all day drinking parties.

It’s now just over two weeks after the horrific natural and man-made disaster that began with the East Japan great earthquake. With looming energy shortages, national mourning for the dead, and continued fears about nuclear fallout, Tokyo life will not be the same. Yet it is still impossible to fully know what will emerge in the coming months and years.

Will these events increase or reverse Japan’s hyper-urbanization? How will people respond to new concerns about food and water safety? Can the government and industry regain trust and provide leadership? How can civil society contribute to rebuilding the country and restoring Japan’s international reputation?

And can public spaces and local businesses flourish in a time of anxiety and uncertainty?

“Protect Your Personal Space with Mace”

「 催涙ガススプレーで個人のスペースを守って」アメリカでは、危険じゃないときにでも、催涙ガスを使ってもいいのでしょうか?

Riding the BART, the San Francisco Bay Area transit line, I was surprised to see this ad for mace, with the offer to get a 30% discount by typing in BART during the online check-out.

The idea that you can use a powerful chemical irritant to create a four meter wide personal space in public seems laughable in a dense city like Tokyo. Here, you can wear a face mask and maybe get a few extra centimeters of personal space as people may be afraid of influenza. To get 4 meters of space, you would have to smell very bad.

Are there other ways to feel safe in public? In the US, is it really OK to use mace when you are not being attacked and just want some extra breathing room?