At night the shipping, warehouses, and freeway snarl of Tatsumi takes on a different feeling with more shadows. In the summer the air is cooler, and the mix of lighting creates a slick veneer.
I love this large shrine and wooded grounds in Kichijoji. Towards the end of a summer afternoon, the shadows and quiet are very inviting. The shrine is called Musashino Hachimangu (武蔵野八幡宮), and it’s on an old street that connects Shinjuku with the (now) inner western suburbs called Itsukaichi Kaido (五日市街道). A hundred years ago, Musashino and Nakano were farms, and you can see the kanji for “field” in both of these town names.
Do trees make the human environment more attractive, or do human environments make trees more attractive?
On an elevated pedestrian bridge just outside Iidabashi station, on the way to Koishikawa Korakuen, this gorgeous street tree and its fiery leaves caught my attention. It stands in front of two intersecting wide boulevards, two elevated freeways, and two shadowed canals. Not only does the tree soften the urban blight of devoting so much space to cars and their air pollution. I think the mundane and gruesome human environment also elevate the tree’s beauty beyond what it might attain in more pristine wildness.
Taking care of bonsai trees makes you pay more attention to details. I love how this tiny Japanese maple’s shadow accentuates its twisty, thin trunk. I am thinking about how best to prune it once the leaves get bigger. I don’t want it to get too tall or too full around the length of the trunk. This is my first bonsai, purchased last summer at Sinajina. There’s an older post of its fall foliage.
In urban settings, shrines and the entrances to cemeteries are open all day and night. Especially at night, they provide equal doses of nature and mystery that is both within and separate from normal urban life. These long exposure photos capture some of the magical beauty of nighttime trees, plants, shadows and stones.
This experience in a nighttime cemetery reminds me of a term I recently learned from a Tokyo University professor who works at Hakuhodo: harappa (原っぱ). Harappa is an in-between urban and wild place that traditionally allowed children a space to play and explore. It could be a meadow, a grove of trees, or an abandoned building. With ever increasing construction and denser urban lives, these liminal spaces are harder to find. Shrines function as one of the most solid barriers against total urbanization.
A small tip: I recently learned how to take crisp nighttime photos with an inexpensive digital camera. To avoid shaking and blurring from long exposures, use the timer and set the camera on a hard surface.
Summer in Shinjuku Gyoen is a wonderful escape from the crowded, hot city. The shadows seem extra dark, and the sound of the cicadas (semi, or 蝉) was loud. Click the short video below to hear the sounds of the cicadas on August 15, 2009. You can hear three of the four types of cicadas that mark early, mid and late summer in Tokyo.
Shinjuku Gyoen is one of central Tokyo’s largest green spaces open to the public: 58 hectares (or 144 acress) with a 3.5 kilometer circumference. There are French, English and Japanese gardens, an expansive lawn, and 20,000 trees.
Occupying what was once the personal residence of Edo daimyo Naito Kiyonari, the garden was created during the Meiji period in 1872 to promote modern agriculture, became the Imperial Botanic Garden, burned almost completely during the Tokyo fire bombing in World War II, and later opened as a public park.
Today, in addition to serving as a popular recreation spot, particularly during hanami (cherry blossom viewing), Shinjuku Gyoen provides cuttings and seeds for buttonwoods (sycamores) and tulip trees (liriodendrons) that are later planted as roadside tree in Tokyo.