Sunset on balcony garden adds golden hue



Sunset on my balcony garden is often spectacular. As the sun drops behind Mount Fuji, the garden glows with golden light. I couldn’t decide which of two photos to use, so here is both the waist high and from the ground views.


Seeing Mount Fuji reminds me that I am in Tokyo


I am always delighted to see Mount Fuji from our balcony. In the morning, it glistens with snow, and at  sunset the backlighting and colors are extraordinary. Seeing Mount Fuji reminds me that, yes, I am in Tokyo.

Tokyo Tower at sunset, rising above thick canopy of trees

今年はスカイツリーが注目を集めているが、東京タワーもまだきれいな建物です。 芝公園から見ると、この素敵な木の上からそびえています。

Sky Tree is getting all the attention this year. But Tokyo Tower remains a beautiful structure. I especially like seeing it from leafy Shiba Koen with its magnificent trees.

Setting sun as big as Mount Fuji


Sometimes I am aware that my home office has a sublime view.

Mount Fuji at end of road at sunset


I bike down this road so often, and suddenly I am surprised to see Mount Fuji at the very end. How come I am seeing it here for the first time? Maybe it’s the red of the sky against the traffic and brake lights.

Itsukaichi Kaido is one of the main Edo roads connecting Tokyo with western Japan. Near the city, it connects Koenji with Kichijoji while veering across and away from the Chuo train line. It also crosses the Zenpukuji river, which is a lovely greenway far from the train stations and mostly enjoyed by the neighbors.

Sunset over Shimokitazawa commercial street


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.

Mount Fuji is on fire!

The fall sky is incredibly clear, and we often see Mount Fuji from our balcony at sunrise and sunset in these months. Still there are times I go out into our narrow high-rise garden, look out, and feel startled and humbled by the overwhelming beauty of this celebrated natural and spiritual landmark.

The world’s most famous natural landmarks are in some ways like our global cities’the most famous built landmarks. Mount Fuji, like the Eiffel Tower, has a form and mythology that all of us know before setting eyes on it.

Mount Fuji has been represented over many centuries and in many forms, from fine art, most notably Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji, to countless sento mosaics. Until the Meiji era, women were prohibited from its summit. Yet despite our investing so many cultural meanings on this mountain, its presence exceeds human memory and most likely our specie’s future.

Mount Fuji’s sublime appearance on the horizon lifts our vision from a prosaic cityscape, packed with non-descript, high-rise and low-rise residences, television, cellphone and lightening antennas, giant power lines, and a garbage incinerator. As a dormant volcano it, too, has a temporal form, yet its scale and longevity makes our human presence feel very transitory.

Inujima: Reclaiming the Past to Envision the Future

Inujima: Reclaiming the Past to Envision the Future

In spring the sustainability director of ARUP showed me the incredible designs for Inujima Art Project, and I had known immediately that I wanted to visit and see it for myself. In an earlier post, I discussed its zero energy use through a creative natural cooling, heating and lighting system, and its wastewater recycling program.

Also listed was the the architecture by Sambuichi Hiroshi, art by Yanagi Yukinori using elements from Mishima Yukio’s house and writings, and the benefactor Fukutake Soichiro, Benesse‘s owner and the creator of nearby Naoshima, another island in the Seto Inland Sea.

Inujima: Ruins and Forest

Visiting Inujima on a beautiful fall day in October and spending the night in a school house closed many years ago and converted into a hostel was an incredible experience combining nature, recent history, art, and questions about Japan’s industrial past and its 21st century future.

Inujima: Reclaiming the Past to Envision the Future

Inujima in the early 20th century was a small island with over 3,000 inhabitants in the early 20th century. In a brief period of ten years, Inujima was the site of a massive seirenshou, or copper refinery, placed in the Seto Inland Sea to keep the intense pollution away from Japan’s population centers. With the collapse of copper prices after only ten years, the refinery closed and the island entered a long period of decline.

Inujima: Reclaiming the Past to Envision the Future

Today there are approximately 50 residents, with an average age of 70 or more. The chimney built just before the refinery closed now serves as an integral part of the zero emissions temperature system in the new museum structure. Earlier chimneys had less structural integrity, and large parts of the refinery, including its original power station, are now being reclaimed by thick forest.

After the jump, a discussion of the art work and the island today.

Continue reading