Sunflowers by Tokyo Metro station

Recently I was going into the Tokyo Metro station not far from my house, and I noticed a young woman spraying these blooming sunflowers. She explained she was killing bugs, and that she worked at the hair salon on the other side of this very random looking planting bed.

I was very charmed that this young woman had claimed ownership of this informal planting bed. Based on the strange mix of plants, it is clear that it is the repository of many people’s different efforts over the years. The hardiest plants seem to have survived.

I am sure the hair stylist enjoys getting out of the shop, and the effect of her care is a piece of natural street beauty at the intersection of a dense residential neighborhood and the transit system that animates the city.

“Pure living” idea salon tomorrow night in Tokyo

PSFK Tokyo pure living idea salon

New York’s PSFK is organizing an “ideas salon,” sponsored by Nissan, about “pure living” and how it is manifested in design, technology, urban living and transportation. It’s tomorrow evening at Claska in Meguro, and unfortunately sold out.

Speakers include Peter Rojas – Technology Guru, Founder at gdgt, Engadget and Gizmodo, Marc Alt – Green Visionary, Founder at Marc Alt + Partners, Mark Dytham – Creative Catalyst, Partner at Klein Dytham architecture, and Founder of Pecha Kucha, Rie AzumaLifestyle Architect, Azuma Architecture, Danny Choo – Japan Sub-Culture Authority, Mirai Inc.,, Hiromi Matsubara – Green Media Activist, Co-founder,, and Piers Fawkes – Trends Expert, Founder at PSFK (moderator).

(Disclosure: Piers treated me to a lovely breakfast this morning in Shibuya).

Nodai Trip (part 2): Obuse

Obuse Revitalization

Obuse, as I mentioned in the previous post, is a revitalized small town that was once a center of commerce and culture. Revitalization centers on tourism and agricultural production, with a restored city center that is very charming. Above are wood sidewalk pavers made from chestnut trees: unique and tied to the town’s 600 year history, in which chestnuts were one of the few agricultural products that could grow in the silty river valley.

Obuse sake distillery renovated

It was also wonderful to see the old sake distillery buildings reworked into a chic restaurant and high end hotel. It is rare in Tokyo to see creative re-use of old buildings. The restaurant where we ate featured chestnuts with rice, and displayed an enormous wood sake barrel and old photographs in the bathroom. I like how preservation and stylishness are combined here.

Obusedo Honten Restaurant

The Obusedo Honten Restaurant serves seasonal food and aims to be a “vegetable showroom” with a “from the countryside to the kingdom concept.” The restaurant was able to accommodate all 55 of us, and it was chic and tasty.

In addition to the obligatory “omeyage” store where you can buy chestnut sweets to bring back from your trip, there is also a revitalized Masuichi-Ichimura Sake Brewery that uses old techniques like wood barrels for distilling and ceramic bottles for sale. Again, they do a terrific job of making Japanese rural traditions modern and appealing.

Obuse Masuichi Ichimura Sake Brewery

One of the driving forces behind Obuse’s revitalization is an American woman named Sara Marie Cummings, who settled in the town more than 15 years ago. In a country that is often resistant to foreigners, it is great to see how an American has helped this town find its future by reviving its past and appealing to modern sensibilities. She gave a brief talk to the students and professors.

Obuse's Sara Marie Cummings talks to Nodai students

Cummings has created a cultural salon and a marathon to engage locals and bring in visitors. In collecting information about the town, the students and I discovered that there is also an “Open Garden” program where residents and small businesses create gardens open to the streets and sidewalks. A plaque shows their participation, and provides an English-only welcome.

Obuse Open Garden

See some more photos after the jump:

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