My super-prolific friend Chris Berthelsen has released two small self-published stories. The first is “Child Scale” or “Rainy Day Treasures” about how Tokyo streets look, smell, and feel for kids. Chris’ writing, mappings, and photographs follows a rainy day walk to the local public bathhouse with a four year old. It’s a rich observation and reflection on play and creativity. The street is the ultimate shared space in our cities, for a variety of ages, walking and transit. After reading Child Scale, I’ll pay more attention to the “floorscape” than my usual rushing or daydreaming.
Child Scale is just $3.50. You get a 112 page download, with A5 print and screen resolution PDFs. The Huffington Post and Atlantic Cities have already referenced this digital booklet. It will be enjoyed by those wanting to think more about Tokyo, urbanism, children, play, and creativity.
The second booklet is by Chris’ son Tonka, who writes about his Tokyo Spider Research. It’s a 19 page booklet that examines spiders found inside and nearby a Tokyo apartment. Tonka’s handwritten notes and photographs provide a detailed document about some of the small creatures sharing our urban lives. The booklet is in Japanese and English, and will certainly inspire you to look more closely at the あimmediate environment around you. It’s just $2 for the download.
Tokyo is a city always being re-built. In this frame, you see the telephone booth in the midst of street repair, the 1960s Bauhaus-style public housing called “danchi,” and in the distance Sky Tree and a recent luxury tower with heliport. I am fascinated by the heliports on the new luxury towers by the waterfront. Are they a requirement for safety? Or a marketing tool for real estate companies? Should the 99% without access to heliports be concerned?
I love how these Shiba festival musicians are performing in a wooden boat. The musician closest to me put on the mask when he saw me reach for my camera. I love that there’s a boat in the street in front of McDonalds.
On a wide boulevard normally devoted to multi-lane auto traffic, nothing could be more beautiful than the site of elegant ladies in matching kimonos and hats dancing in synchronized movements. The summer and fall Shinto festivals transform business Tokyo into a series of village parties evoking an agrarian culture rarely sensed inside the megalopolis.
Below are photos from the Shiba matsuri. The sub-group near my friend Bas’ home displayed photos from the 1945 festival, just a month after the end of the war in which the entire neighborhood and much of Tokyo was burnt to the ground. The last photo shows a man who is both telling stories and selling bananas, a continuation of an Edo-era festival character.
In the photos you can see how on a special holiday, the streets, overpasses, convenience stores, and other mundane urban spaces are transformed into a very social and well dressed public environment.
Compared to the last photos, this narrow street in Shimbashi, an older business district that’s no longer Tier A real estate, allows pedestrians to take full use of the street and offers an amazing variety of products, signs and even foods spilling out of the shops.
最初のフィルムに、一番好きな中野と新宿の庭の写真をとりました。飯島さんの花の壁はとても素敵です。Plant Journal という雑誌の記事に、インタビューをしました。訪ねたときに、飯島さんは、「今、何も咲いていません」と言っていました。フィルムなので、イメージが古く見えますね。
For my first roll of film, I took photos of my favorite gardens in Nakano and Shinjuku, plus my own balcony garden. In the foreground above is Iijima-san’s flower wall house. He has 500 hundred potted plants, mostly flowers, rising from the street to the roof. I interviewed Iijima-san for the Plant Journal article I wrote recently.
His first sentence in greeting us was, “There’s nothing blooming now.”
It’s funny how using a film camera makes the image itself look older. The texture and colors in this image seem so different than the bright and flat images I am now accustomed to seeing with digital images. In the next days, I’ll put up more images from this first roll.
It is amazing that this house and tall garden still exist in Tokyo. I love how thick the garden is, and how open the entrance is to the street.
In Tokyo, it rarely snows, and when it does, it’s usually gone within minutes or at most a day. It’s been super cold recently, and there’s been ice on the roads for some time now. Please be careful on bike or on foot.
Ome Kaido is a large boulevard in my neighborhood that dates to Edo times when this area was largely fields. I like how the ginko trees provide a unifying element to a heterogenous streetscape of abandoned post-war buildings mixed with newer commercial, residential and even light industrial buildings from every decade since.
Directly across the street from this corner is a ten story office building. I noticed the roof-top sports facility years before I recognized the logo at the entrance that marks it as the headquarters of one of Japan’s leading adult content companies.
There are many urban sights in Tokyo that are jarring to newcomers, perhaps none more so than the giant electricity poles. Well, there’s also garbage incinerators with tall chimneys in every neighborhood, elevated freeways, endless rows of fluorescent lights stacked high on exposed residential hallways, and the zeal for paving over almost all surfaces.
This photo was taken near Shin Koenji where the elevated main power line crosses Itsukaichi Kaido, a road that dates back to Edo and maybe earlier. You can just make out a silhouetted ripe persimmon fruit. Sometimes these unattractive elements create their own rhythm and patterns in urban life.
Recently I have been spending more time on this Shimokitazawa shoutengai, or commercial strip full of very small businesses. This one is northwest of the station, and somewhat hard to find. What’s great is its combination of shops run by old timers alongside imported hipster clothes, one of Tokyo’s best coffee shops called Bear Pond that roasts their own beans, a hookah bar, and at least ten hair salons.
There are thousands of these shopping streets in Tokyo, near transit stations and along routes that connect homes, workplaces, schools, and leisure areas. It’s strange that Tokyo Metropolitan Government is still so focused on cars and their movement across the city at the expense of walking and biking and other forms of common space usage. There is little government recognition or support for the idea that these relics of past decades are in fact some of Tokyo’s most forward-looking urban public spaces.
Lively pedestrian zones are common in Europe, and becoming more so in many cities in the United States. By not segregating cars, pedestrians, and bicycles, the street pace slows down to pedestrian speed while still allowing passage for delivery trucks and cars. The way the street is painted makes it appear even more narrow, providing further social cues about speed and usage.
Many of Tokyo’s shoutengai are suffering as consumers shift towards shopping at big box stores and driving as a primary form of transportation. The city government is truly looking backwards when it promotes automobile usage and fails to recognize the value of these vernacular public spaces that support human interaction and the environment.