Another fast and cheap climbing vine is called “balloon vine” (fusenkazura) in Japanese. I love how it spreads out, attaches to the rope, and offers white flowers and odd sacks.
I love this hemp rope and lightening-bolt like paper decoration that makes visible the sacredness of the mature trees in the center of Meiji Jingu shrine. Approaching the shrine through a magnificent planned forest, visitors sense that this place has been set apart from a city that is in state of constant change.
Fellow Shiho ceramic studio student Hagiwara-san organized a new year ornament or shimekazari workshop. It was so fun to work with beautiful, fresh materials, including several types of pine needles, pine cones and woody seed husks, Shinto folded paper, rice, ribbons and ropes, berries and rose hips, even dried chocolate cosmos and other leaves.
In past years I’ve bought them from Muji or even the supermarket. It was fun how all of the hand-made shimekazaris turned out differently. Some had circular and oval bases made of twigs and bamboo, others were tied together in a bunch. I used wires to attach the mini pine cones and even a yuzu.
Hagiwara-san is also a loyal Tokyo Green Space reader. Thank you!
Tokyo residents and small businesses welcome the gods in temporary homes built of bamboo, pine, and plum blossoms.
I love how the best ones are hand-crafted from pine, bamboo, and plum blossoms. They are intended to be temporary homes for the Shinto gods (kami, 神様). I like the idea that you can create a temporary house for the gods to visit at new year. The three heights of the kamomastu represent heaven, humanity, and earth- in descending order. The shimekazari are smaller, with Shinto rope holding charms such as oranges, folded paper, rice straw, and ferns.
Shimekazari (標飾り) and Kadomatsu (門松) are traditional New Year’s ornaments placed on walls and on the sidewalks outside shops and homes. The city simultaneously empties of people and fills with physical connections to mountains and spirits. This year I took photos of the widest variety I could find in the areas I visit on typical days: on a car bumper, outside a sento, next to a wall of cigarette advertisements, on a busy boulevard, outside a barbershop, pachinko parlor, 24 hour convenience store, and a department store.
After the holiday, these decorations should be burned at a shrine. By mid-January, they are already a faded memory.
See more photos after the jump.
I have started to notice all over Tokyo that people are creating makeshift plastic rope trellises for summer morning glory vines. This one near my home is particularly ingenious: the trellis wraps around two blue buckets containing the vines, and the rope is looped over the street tree. A zig-zag pattern is added for extra support.
Is this a new trend? I am looking forward to watching these plants grow this summer.
UPDATE: One month later, the vines cover the trellis, and I realize that it’s bitter melon, not morning glory. The vegetables are ready to eat.
A few weeks ago I took a long, rambling walk with Chris Berthelsen, author of the amazing blog Fixes which “investigates alterations of space/objects at the public/private boundary in suburban Tokyo.” I love his close observations, unlimited curiosity, and attention to materials and human effort and satisfaction.
The goal of our walk was to explore an area neither of us knew and attempt to get lost. In addition to some inventive fixes at a tiny park, we saw many beautiful gardens in Higashi Nakano. I love how the garden in the photo above focuses almost entirely on cymbidium orchids and clivia. Also noteworthy are the re-use of cinder blocks, the shelf that provides space for another level of plants, and the care in providing beauty at the edge between private and public space.
Another garden uses the two sides of a house to create a complex perennial garden using flower pots. Great variety of texture, color, and plant variety. I can only imagine how much more beautiful the garden would be if it were planted in the soil, and allowed to grow so much bigger.
I certainly would have missed this small garden below where both plants and bikes are tied with string to the window grate. It’s great to see that no space is wasted, and that multiple functions can be supported despite all constraints.
And lastly, I found this small, unpaved lane to be incredibly charming. The stick and bamboo fence, the line of trees and shrubs, the materiality of the soil all made me imagine that we were in a small country town, not two kilometers from the Shinjuku skyscrapers. There are still areas that seem wild within the center of Tokyo.
Sinajina, the modern bonsai shop in Jiyugaoka, always has beautiful small bonsai inside with a focus on seasonal plants and flowers. Outside the shop, there are always rows and rows of plants that can be used for bonsais or landscaping. There are also some larger plants, like the tree above that is growing out of a giant mound of moss.
Sinajina always has amazing moss, and Kobayashi Kenji sensei and his staff are very skilled at combining the moss to look like a single piece. The moss is always gorgeous in the small bonsai, but this large one is spectacular.
Below is a shot of some of the unstaged inventory, including a pine with a miniature rope sculpture like the ones used in winter to prevent damage from snow that are typical in traditional Japanese gardens.
Onbashira’s most famous event is the swift and dangerous ride down the steep hill on the giant logs. Yet there are also many other images from the festival that struck me. Above are “chindonya” (チンドン屋), a Showa custom that mixes Edo and clown costumes, music, and drag to create a human walking advertisement.
I was also struck at how much Japan’s postal and rail services celebrate the festival. In an era where electronic mail makes the postal service seem like a relic, Japan Post regularly sets up booths at events and festivals to sell commemorative stamps. I also like how JR rail station agents have their own “happi,” or festival coats that combine their modern logo with designs that evoke sacred rituals and community.
Finally, I was struck by this enormously thick “enclosing rope,” in front of one of the Suwa shrines. These braided, rice straw ropes signal purification and ward off evil spirits. I have never seen one this thick. We were told that it was made for this year’s festival, and will stay until the next festival in six years time.
At this shrine, we met a group of seniors in their 70s. They had walked from Nihonbashi in Tokyo all the way to Suwa. The 200 kilometer walk took them ten days. Japanese are incredibly strong!
I am still pondering last weekend’s trip to the Onbashira (御柱祭) festival in Suwa. It was surprising to see that this uniquely Japanese event has been picked up by the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper website and the Sacramento Bee (check them out for much better photos than mine). I also defer to Wikipedia for explaining the two and half month series of events, from cutting the trees with special axes, to riding the logs down a steep hillside, to erecting them at the shrines.
One amazing fact is that this festival has been going on for 1,200 years.
Some of my observations:
1. I wrote earlier about this unusual mix of animism, forestry, and virility. Animism because of the care and respect for the trees as sacred objects. Forestry because of the tremendous skills in cutting the trees and the long tradition of relying upon wood for buildings, fuel and paper. Virility because of the reckless riding of the logs, which often turn and injure the riders. This year there was a dislocated shoulder. In previous festivals, there have been deaths.
But while the log riding is considering the central activity, with large crowds and television coverage, the entire festival features seemingly impossible actions made more difficult by the rituals. Not only are the 20 meter logs carried through the hills and streets, but there are dozens of people standing on the logs which can only make the load heavier. Likewise, in photos showing how they lift the logs at the shrine to stand as vertical pillars, you can see that celebrants again stand on the logs as they are being lifted, adding more weight and danger.
2. In thinking about animism, forestry, and virility, I left out community. The entire series of rituals require hundreds and hundreds of participants, and thousands of spectators who are witnesses in person and through television sets. Hauling the logs are many teams of mostly men in traditional outfits, with different colored shirts marking sub-groups. The logs are tied with ropes and there must have been hundreds of people dragging them through the town. This image of community and exertion was perhaps more inspiring than the very rapid descent down the hillside.
3. There is also tremendous hospitality. Chigira, a young woman who has worked at Sinajina for several years, is from Suwa, and she meticulously organized our weekend. Siblings were marshaled to ferry our group of 11 from site to site, and her parents warmly welcomed us. We learned that weddings are avoided during festival years because the festival and the welcoming of guests is such a large expenditure for all the towns people.
4. While picniking and waiting to watch the log riding on the steep slope, Ito Hiromasa, the Executive Producer and Director of TEDxSeeds said hello to me. It was one of those realizations that Japan is a very small country, and that Onbashira Festival connects city and country people in a deep way. Ito-san also was impressed by the spirituality and mysteriousness of the event. He observed that the great care and hospitality show that the Suwa townspeople “love their culture, land, nature, ancestor and themselves.” These words and feelings seem uniquely Japanese, and I am still thinking about their meaning.
Before the new year, I took a walk with Alastair Townsend, an American architect in Tokyo, from Yanaka to the new Sky Tree in Mukojima. Above is a sushi restaurant in Kiyokawa, a mostly desolate stretch in the middle of the walk. I was impressed how the shop owners created such a dense jungle in the small space between the restaurant and the sidewalk. The variety and density are magnificent, and it is only with careful observation can you observe the plastic pots supporting this small forest, and the chain link fence buried many years ago in plants.
After the jump, some more images including a decorative rope and bamboo structure covering a sculpted pine tree, the contrast between old and new houses, a residential orange and bonsai persimmon, a pygmy date palm that survives the Tokyo winter, and the oddly named “Sky Tree.”
Above is a kadomatsu, or new year’s decoration that rests on the ground. These large ones are usually in front of businesses. This one is in front of one of my favorite Tokyo haunts: the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium constructed for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and open to the public now in central Tokyo.
The materials are bamboo, pine, straw and red berries. I love the decorative rope flower and the splayed straw at the base. Below is the shimekazari hanging outside of our apartment door. Notice the folded paper and rice stalk. After the holiday, these plant-based new year’s symbols are burned at shrines. So different than the un-ceremonial sidewalk dumping of US Christmas trees.
Happy new year! Best wishes for a bright new decade.