April 1 is the start of the business and school years in Japan. Recently my thoughts have turned to escaping the city, which I recently accomplished. What better than a long sea voyage to the remote island of Chichijima? Sub-tropical and isolated from continental evolution, Chichijima is part of the Ogasawara islands one thousand kilometers south of Tokyo. Administratively, they are part of Tokyo. Yet a far side of Tokyo removed from ordinary urban life.
Of the two options, we chose the 25 hour ferry boat from Hamamatsucho over the mega-cruise ship out of Yokohama. Given the amount of time in transit, the boat itself is a major element of visiting the islands. This large ship called Ogasawara Maru carries up to a thousand people as well as all supplies, cars, and even livestock for the few thousand inhabitants of this island group.
The design evokes Japanese efficiency and optimism of the 1980s, sturdy, reliable, with few frills and no luxuries. I love the dolphin artwork, and brass rails. Unfortunately, because of the weather and conditions, the captain’s tour was canceled on both directions.
My friend Matt sent me this intricate sakura weather map: it shows the updated forecast for the start of cherry blossoms across the Japanese archipelago. Even if you can’t read Japanese, it’s impressive to see how much weather forecasting amplifies cherry blossom season.
Today I also heard from Twitter’s @Matt_Alt that there are big signs at Inokashira park Big asking visitors to refrain from holding cherry blossom viewing parties there. This is one of Tokyo’s most famous parks, and one of the most popular places for young people to celebrate spring with all night and all day drinking parties.
It’s now just over two weeks after the horrific natural and man-made disaster that began with the East Japan great earthquake. With looming energy shortages, national mourning for the dead, and continued fears about nuclear fallout, Tokyo life will not be the same. Yet it is still impossible to fully know what will emerge in the coming months and years.
Will these events increase or reverse Japan’s hyper-urbanization? How will people respond to new concerns about food and water safety? Can the government and industry regain trust and provide leadership? How can civil society contribute to rebuilding the country and restoring Japan’s international reputation?
And can public spaces and local businesses flourish in a time of anxiety and uncertainty?
San Francisco’s Sanchez Elementary School has created a vertical garden that is edible and off the grid. Solar panels and windmills provide electricity for the irrigation system, and power a weather station so that kids can monitor the climate and how it relates to plants. The kids learn about plants, science, and food by growing things like mustard greens. Apparently the total cost was $10,000, and the project benefited from volunteers from the Slow Food movement. Great use of a limited space, and great to see kids learning about where their food comes from. Very inspiring!
The weather is turning very cold in Tokyo, the leaves are turning color and fall camellias are now in bloom. This bright pink “sazanka” (サザンカ) surprised me on my walk through Koenji. Below you can see the context of this unexpected pleasure.
At many Tokyo bus stops, one can see old seats that have been anonymously contributed to the city scape. Sometimes you see old office chairs that swivel, or recycled dining room chairs. Some weather the rain better than others.
Certainly these volunteer seats provide more function than beauty to the street. A city-funded program would be more consistent and attractive. Still, the care that someone has taken to provide a public amenity where none existed is remarkable.
Like public greening, volunteer seats at bus stops blur the line between public and private space, and between municipal and volunteer street creation. It shows how city residents cultivate their environment, provide for their neighbors, and make small improvements.