urban thoughts


Juxtaposition of small and large in central Tokyo

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Sharing images of Tokyo with @citiesforpeople

Human scale in mega cities - photos taken in Minami Azabu where I lived for 3 years - the walk to my children's school.

 Tiny car mechanics next to shops and restaurants.
 Mini tyre garage.
Teeny tiny corner garden flower bed.
 Washing hanging out to dry - no tumble dryers even in tiny appartments.
 Small car parked off road in tiny space beside small house with flowerpots.
 Always space for plants and bike parking even when no pavement or side walk,
 Miniscule fishing club in central Tokyo - overlooked by 2 storey detached houses.
 Corrugated metal single storey dwelling - probably 25 square metres) - includes planters, washing line and possible fishing rods.
 No terraces in Tokyo because of earth quakes - even first floor appartments have washing lines.
 Immaculate mini garden - all in pots with trellis - at the front door of this house.

Mini police station - every few hundred metres - a police station in case you lose something or have an emergency.  Manned by  polite unformed policeman (with bike).

Small wooden house between modern apartment blocks.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

the culture of threshold

Threshold.  Front doors.  Public - private.  The in-between space.  

Transition from public realm to private space.  Fascinating for architects - it's a complex space.

In Japan, strangers and neighbours only come to the 'genkan' - the entrance hall where you take off your shoes.  It is rare to be invited into the private domain, to step up into the house.  Only specially invited guests.

And the letter box, is usually on the front gate - not the front door - so the postman does not have to cross into the semi-private space ... similar to the US, France, Belgium - many countries have separate 'mail boxes'.  But note the official plaque with the names of registered residents and the authorised address and post code.

What is different is having the name of the family on the front of the house - not the name of the house, but the name of the family.  

On the 'mail box' are the official registered residents - and the postman will not deliver unless the name on the letter matches with the one on the 'mail box'.  I discovered this when living in Tokyo and a dear friend sent me a Birthday card.  Like many friends, she uses has never got used to my married name and uses my maiden name.  However, the postman did not know who Lucy Malein was and returned the card to sender - all the way back to Berlin.

Here are some images from suburban Kobe: you can see the front door up the steps, behind the gate.

 Family name, letter box and door bell at street level.
Decorative metal gate, brick detail, front door, family name and letter box.

 Family name and door bell on horizontal Flemish style bricks.
 Extended family - looks like recent addition.
 Gate post in grey bricks with inset family name on white marble; fancy metal gate.
 Family name on dark green marble.
 Family name on white marble; granite gate post.
 Gate post in decorative brick with letter box and family name.
 Horizontal metal gate, name and mini garden - wintertime.
 Family name - engraved but a bit worn,
 Family name and some shinto New Year decorations - steps to front door through metal gate.  Hope you appreciate how every example is different and personalised.

Monday, 4 February 2013

New Year's Day visit to the shrine

In Japan, New Year's Day is celebrated by the first meal and the first visit to the shrine.  
The special meal is a feast presented in a lacquered bento box: and a grilled snapper fish.

The visit to the shrine is a jolly affair - with street stalls selling toffee apples and yabi-soba.  I like to pay my respects to the local gods.

This is a local suburban shrine in Kobe.

A shinto shrine can be recognised by the orange gates leading to the most sacred space.

This year is year of the snake - so there are snakes decorating everything - I think this one is also a bell.
At the shrine, you can buy lucky charms to guard you against traffic accidents or help you find true love (we bought ones against traffic accidents to carry with us as we cycle round Oxford).

You can also buy wooden boards to write prayers and wishes: in other years, I have bought these as souvenirs.

When you have written your prayer, you hang it on a special stand and leave it there for anyone to read (if you can read Japanese or Taiwanese)

You can also buy a 'fortune' paper - when you have read it, you fold it carefully and tie it onto the branch of a tree - 

In shinto traditions and architecture there is a celebration of the natural world - the cycle of life and the power of nature, natural materials and the waving of twigs.  I love the way the paper fortunes are left to blow in the wind in the same way I am awed by the ritual re-building of the Ise shrine every 20 years.