The above image is from a small side-street in Tsukishima, just off the main street full of monja restaurants. The material culture is a reverse archeology, with the new vending machines at the bottom, a sign for a now defunct bread company in the middle, and on the second floor balcony a curious assortment of discarded household items, including fans, air conditioner, pots, stools, a laundry rack. In a modernized corporate city, these layers of history would not be visible. Although not literally green, the visibility of refuse is a reminder of the life cycle of man-made creation.
Seeing this collection of domestic refuse reminds me of the more curated version, now in New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), of Song Dong’s Project 90, a display of thousands of objects hoarded by his mother over fifty years in the spirit of wu jin qi yong, or “waste not.”
I am continuing to read Edward Seidensticker’s Kafū the Scribbler: The Life and Writing of Nagai Kafū, 1879-1959 (Stanford University Press, 1965). Kafū’s writing elegantly chronicles the Tokyo seasons, festivals, street scenes, and the clash of old Edo Tokyo with modernizing forces. The passage below seems particularly relevant to my previous post about the Tsukishima omasturi, and demonstrates Kafū’s love for the Sumida River, remnants of Edo, and nostalgic sounds.
“We first waited for everyone to assemble at the Garden of the Hundred Flowers, then proceeded to the Yoaomatsu restaurant. The upstairs room to which we were shown was really too cheap and vulgar, and we asked if there might not be something better, perhaps in one of the outbuildings. It seemed, though, that all the rooms were fairly much the same, and we had to make the best of what we had. It being the night of “the late moon,” the third night after the full moon, we all set out in a boat for the Azuma Bridge. At night you cannot see the factories and bronze statues, and there is only the moon gently lighting the surface of the water, and, white in the mist beyond, the houses of Imado and Hashiba on the left. Ah, here it is, I thought, almost ready to weep– the Sumida! We put the geisha ashore at the Mimeguri Landing, and as the boat tied up at Hanakawado, the drums and flutes of a festival came across the water to us, as if opening a domestic tragedy on the Kabuki stage. And so we disbanded.” (p 66, from Tidings from Okubo)
Last weekend Tsukishima held a lively omasturi (festival) in the summer heat and humidity. The dog above is wearing a traditional happi, a short cotton jacket with a design showing group affiliation. Old and new Japan seemed to come together as this dog’s owner participated in this ancient ritual with his “chosen” family of two well-dressed dogs.
Connecting street festivals to the theme of Tokyo Green Space is the alternative use of streets, not for automobile traffic but for commemoration, community, leisure, and drinking. There is a relaxed atmosphere to Japanese festivals that bring a small-town feeling to the enormous metropolis.
The shrine (omikoshi) paraded through the street is incredibly heavy. This one is being lifted by at least 40 people, with spectators throwing buckets of water and spraying hoses.
A group of mostly elderly carpenters led the procession singing a haunting song. If you click on the YouTube video below you can hear the chorus followed by a soloist and then the chorus again.
And finally, a very short video clip of carrying the shrine and chanting.
What do you think of animals as garden ornaments? It seems that the desire to populate urban areas with animals goes hand-in-hand with cultivating plants. Does it add to urban life or detract?
A sustainability entrepreneur friend recently told me how much he dislikes the “clutter” and bad taste of old ladies using styrofoam planters for street pots. I imagine he would take a similarly dim view of animal ornaments.
There is a sometimes ambiguous line between trash and art, the living and the never animate. I wonder if the garden animals are dissimilar from the public space plants: a way to take ownership of the street, to make public space personal, “alive,” and magical. They can also be chaotic or unattractive.
Below is a statue of “tanoki,” a popular if somewhat obscene racoon figure of myth. I like how he is accompanied by a duck, elephant, dog, elf, two smaller tanokis, and a white picket fence.
Near the Tsukishima riverbank community garden, there is a mid-rise senior center with two simple green wall of ivy. I wonder why it’s not fuller, and whether they are using rainwater capture. Or do the residents or staff water the small pots on each outdoor hallway.
Walking in Tsukishima is an interesting contrast between old and new, green alleys and wide boulevards, wood houses and new construction.
Some of the alleys are remarkably well planted. The alley in the photo above seems to benefit from trees whose roots forced themselves out of their pots and through the pavement. Tsukishima and Tsukudajima survived the earthquake and the war, but the pace of modern development has outpaced preservation.
More photos after the jump.
An architect friend tipped me off to a community garden on a riverbank in Tsukishima. The local government has organized each small section of the concrete retaining wall into individual plots where residents are tending their gardens. It is a great use of dead space, and allows people in a crowded neighborhood to have outdoor plants.
Most of the plots have a simple, double bench structure to hold potted plants. A few have removed the benches and filled the plot with soil. Most are growing flowers, one is dedicated entirely to bonzai.
I wonder if more small parks and un-used spaces can be turned into community gardens. The overall effect displays both individuality and community.
More photos after the jump.