In the heat of summer, Karuizawa remains cool and elegant. We found a moss forest, streams, and a small lake. It is just an hour from Tokyo by bullet train, and easy to rent a bike near the station. We passed many tennis courts, but did not meet any royalty. By accident, we met the charming proprietress of a coffee shop frequented by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1977.
Diane Durston of the Portland Japanese Garden invited me last week to visit the Nezu Museum, which recently reopened. The art collection of scrolls and screens representing nature from the fourteenth century are stunning, as is the new building designed by Kuma Kengo is a wonderful example of “wafu modern” (和風モダン), a modernization of traditional Japanese design. But mostly I was drawn outside to the large garden.
The winding paths and unexpected size make you feel far from Aoyama. Although just outside the main exhibit hall, the garden is marred by the sight of the strangely tall and also squat Roppongi Hiills Tower, once inside the garden it is a fantasy of forest punctuated by old tea houses, streams and ponds. The garden has been revived yet retains a look of simplicity and wildness. Originally it formed part of the home of the museum founder Nezu Kaichiro, the Tobu Railway president and industrialist who was a collector of pre-modern Japanese and Asian art.
Perhaps even better than Kuma Kengo’s main exhibit hall is his modern take on the Japanese tea house. The new cafe is incredibly light and airy, opening out on to the garden and with an interesting ceiling light that looks like illuminated stone.
Since our visit last Friday, the weather has turned much cooler, especially at night. The next few weeks will have wonderful fall foliage in the garden.
On the Nodai trip, Suzuki sensei told me of the work he is doing with a Shinagawa school to create a firefly habitat. This summer he took a middle school class to the countryside to experience fireflies. Once there, he also told the kids that they would have to help out in a rice field– a rare experience for most city kids.
Suzuki sensei is now leading meetings with the school about creating a firefly habitat on or near the school yard at Ono Gakuen Joshichuu Gaku (小野学園女子中学). Fireflies require clean, running water, and the school has the rights to unused wells and is near a stream that has been covered in concrete for decades.
The project has a small funding from the Japanese Ministry of Education, and in addition to Nodai, other participants include school administrators, parents, firefly habitat expert and Nodai alumnus Sakurai Jun (櫻井淳), and a specialist from the Tokyo Four Seasons Hotel (Chinzan-so), which is famous for its urban firefly garden.
In Japan, fireflies are associated with agriculture and rice paddies, and is the title of a chapter of the thousand year old novel The Tale of Genji. Fireflies are also associated with the folklore of hitodama, fiery apparitions of the souls of the recently dead that trick and beguile the living.
I am very inspired by Suzuki sensei’s vision for bringing nature and magic to urban kids with firefly habitat. I wonder how many streams and canals can be daylighted, what plants will promote urban biodiversity, what insects and animals are most important for promoting wildlife in the city.
(Note: Photo by Akihiro, shared on Flickr through Creative Commons)
A great article in today’s New York Times about “daylighting” the Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul. Daylighting refers to uncovering streams buried under pavement. Three miles of elevated freeway were removed, a plant-rich stream restored, and central urban land was converted from car-centric to people-centric.
- summer temperature reduction by 5 degrees Fahrenheit
- improved storm drainage, which global warming has worsened
- reduction in small-particle air pollution from 74 to 48 micrograms per cubic meter
- less auto congestion despite the loss of vehicle lanes
- bio-diversity gains include 25 versus 4 fish species, 36 versus 6 bird species, and 192 versus 15 insect species
- 90,000 daily visitors, including walking and picknicing
- higher real estate values for adjacent buildings
- political gains for former mayor, now South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (also formerly head of construction at Hyundai Corporation)
- restoration of the historic center of a 600 year city
Government officials and urban planners from Los Angeles, Singapore, San Antonio, and Yonkers have expressed interest in restoring urban streams. Sadly, the article did not mention anything about Tokyo, where most of its historic canals and rivers are covered by streets and elevated freeways.