sign

What would you draw on this young guy’s body?

free_paint_please_shibuya

この人の体に、あなたなら何を描きますか? 「Free paint」というサインを持って渋谷駅の前にいました。皆にマーカーで何かを描いてください、と言っていました。彼の足に「Eat me」と書きました。だれかが「バカ」と書いていましたが、かわいそうですね。「Eat me」の意味は何ですかと聞かれたので、やさしい招待ですと答えました。

At first, I wasn’t sure what he meant with his “FREE PAINT” sign outside Shibuya station on a warm summer day. He quickly invited me to photograph and to paint his body. When I wrote “eat me” on his leg, he asked about the meaning of this simple phrase. Someone had already written “stupid” on his shoulder, so maybe he was already strung by the cruelty of strangers. I explained that “eat me” was a friendly invitation to interaction. What would you draw on this young guy’s body?

free_paint_eat_me_shibuya

Can you spot the Shibuya river? It’s below everything else.

陸橋や自転車駐車場やオフィスビルの後部やスロットクラブの看板やほかの看板の下に、ほんの少しだけ残っている渋谷川が流れています。渋谷を歩いていて、川がないことに気がつきます。渋谷川がきれいなら、楽しめるのに残念です。

Below the overpasses, bicycle parking, the rear end of office buildings, signs for Slot Club and other shops, runs what remains of the Shibuya river. Rivers and ports traditionally animate cities, allowing for trade, transportation, and food. In Shibuya, it’s easy to think there is no river at all. What a wasted opportunity.

Omotesando Koffee has perfect traditional Japanese garden

隠れたところにある『Omotesando Koffee』というカフェに、小さくて完璧な日本庭園があります。ムクゲやモミジやアジサイのような伝統的な植物はたくましくて、育てやすいです。歴史もあります。コーヒーはとても美味しいです。

Minimal and superb Omotesando Koffee is a modular cube inside an old Omotesando house. It’s supposed to last one year, after which the building may be “reformed” as the Japanese call it.

In addition to delicious coffee in a nearly hidden spot, Omotesando Koffee has the most perfect Japanese garden with two benches for seating. I love the stone path, old light fixtures, and the very Tokyo odd mix of wood, bamboo, and the ubiquitous cinder block.

It’s a very small garden, with many traditional and resilient Japanese plants, including hollyhock, maple, and hydrangea. Worth finding if you’re in the area. Hollyhock is becoming my favorite late summer flower.

For those far away, I have included an image of the sign outside (it looks like a black frame), and the clever way they turn standard paper bags into a lovely and minimal branded object.

Why are there so few old trees in Tokyo?

どうして東京は木がないところが多いのでしょう?特に、都市キャノピーを作れる成熟した木がたくさんありません。新しい工事は、古いランドスケープを取り除いてしまいます。渋谷区は、どれだけ木があるかを確認して、住民に知らせて、木の価値について説明して、保護しようとしています。

Many parts of Tokyo seem perversely devoid of tree canopy. That’s why I was thrilled to see this very public sign on a chestnut tree (shiinoki or シイノキ) in Shibuya ward. The tree sits at the back of the Naganuma School for Japanese study, in an area where large office buildings and residences are still being constructed. In almost every urban construction site, the prior landscape is scraped.

I am not sure how much protection this sign offers the tree, but it’s good to know that the city is aware of the value of mature trees, and that passers-by will see the sign and wonder where the other trees went.

Early fall color despite heat still on full blast

It’s been Tokyo’s hottest summer on record. While officially summer is over, it’s still 35 celsius during the day and not much cooler at night. That’s why I was so surprised to see this red maple leaf at the Nezu Museum garden last Thursday. This sign of fall seems a cruel joke.

Ginkos are leafing out

From one week to the next, ginko trees go from bare to green. This incredible transformation is another sign of spring.

I kept expecting these trees to leaf out earlier, but they wait until mid-April. Ginkos and zelkova are common trees on Tokyo’s large boulevards. Their repetition adds a certain grandeur to the streetscape.

Signs of spring

Tokyo has had a strange April. Last Friday there was hail. I was surprised to hear a squishy sound beneath my shoes. Will winter never end? Fortunately, it is now a bit warmer, and I managed to pot up all the small plants I bought for my balcony garden: columbine, two types of jasmine, some yellow button flowers, a clover, and a small purple green vine.

The cherry blossoms ended suddenly with the rain and wind: briefly, the trees are redder as just the flower stems remain, and then suddenly the trees start leafing out. As soon as cherry blossoms pass, dogwood opens up.

Tokyo has a lot of dogwood trees, which come from the mid-Atlantic of the United States. The tree represents a cultural exchange between nations, with Japan providing Washington D.C. with monumental cherry trees, and the United States offering Japan dogwood. It’s strange that many Tokyo residents do not know the origin or significance of dogwood trees. They remind me of my childhood in Baltimore.

One thousand year old zelkova tree

At the entrance to a public elementary school near our apartment is an enormous tree that I frequently pass by. On the other side of the entrance is a beautiful cherry tree. I didn’t pay any attention to the larger tree until the husband remarked that it sports a sign declaring it a “thousand year old zelkova” (in Japanese, it’s keyaki, けやき).

I went back, examined the tree more carefully, and took some photos. Does anyone know if this one thousand year designation is literal or figurative? It seems incredible, especially when compared with what I thought was an ancient ginko tree at Kishbojin Temple in Zoushigaya, reportedly 600 years old.

Looking carefully at this zelkova tree, I can see that there are huge fissures in the trunk and the tree has been pruned radically, including all the main branches and even the base close to the ground. I would like to think that this tree is a local treasure, and that someone is taking good care of it. Its age gives it character, and its canopy is still very impressive.

Why are neighborhood parks so sad?

Why are neighborhood parks so sad?

I am struck by how poorly maintained and under-used many of the residential neighborhood parks are. This one, close to where I live, is large, has many mature trees facing the street, and has almost no usage. To call it uninviting and unloved would be an understatement.

Why are neighborhood parks so sad?

The street side is almost promising. There is a long row of mature trees and a community bulletin board. Next to the bulletin board, and also on the far end of the park, are designated areas to leave your trash. Unfortunately, there is no receptacle for the bagged garbage, so crows and cats pick through the bags and the contents start to disperse.

Why are neighborhood parks so sad?

The entrance to the park reveals vast areas of gravel, unplanted beds, and few amenities or attractions. The size of the park only underscores the waste of so much public space going unused. Given how avidly neighbors tend to their tiny gardens and occupy small strips of public space, why are local governments unable to harness this human resource for beautifying and maintaining public space?

I can imagine many other uses for the park: community vegetable gardens, flower contests, rice field, bee hives, food stand, children’s play area, public art-making space. Given limits to local government budgets, maybe there would be a way to attract corporate sponsors and neighborhood volunteers. If more people were attracted to enter the park, I am sure it would be cleaner and more inviting.

After the jump is a photo inventory of the current park assets, mostly aging structures with a surprising amount of trash. During my visit I noticed a small garden crew and two people on a bench.

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