Each day I have been trying to make one foray out into a new natural space or thing–a way to explore my neighborhood, the things and people in it. The geography around here has changed vastly, I am told by an 85-year-old man I met yesterday. I went over to Zenpukujigawa Ryokuchi kōen (park), about 5 minutes away. I had heard it was a great place for cherry blossoms, and in general, a greenspace not to be missed, as it snakes along the Zenpukuji River. One of the neighborhoods around here is called Horiuchi–“within the moat.” This moat no longer exists, due to the massive public works projects of post-1860s modernity that buried various water functions underground. But the geography is still dotted with names that recall that waterworks system.
Anyway, I was standing looking at a big map of the park–I had actually mixed it up with another park, and was getting squared away. The guy already looking at the map, on a bike, started talking to me, and telling me about the neighborhood. He said when he was growing up, and even after the war, it was really spooky–really dark, no real road, a path not big enough even to drive a vehicle through. He said he had just been thinking of an event that took place caddy-cornered from where we were standing. I could only imagine how dark and forlorn a dusty place it would have been, before baseball fields, a real road, and street light. In the year the war ended (1945), a JAL stewardess–one of the real glamour jobs of the time–had been stabbed to death, and buried, by a Belgian priest. The priest then took advantage of diplomatic immunity (I am fuzzy on these details) and skipped the country without a trace, and “justice was never done.” At that point, a policeman rode by on a bicycle, clocking the conversation. You may understand why I forgot to take a picture of urban nature at that point!
I walked back to the train, and off to work, where I took the above photo–some of the higanbana splashed all over. They are said to signal the beginning of cold weather, and also mark the equinox, which is a big day for encountering the dead. Yes, there is the obon festival, with all its dances, in August, but as a colleague reminded me, the equinox is the day WE go to THEM, they don’t come to us–to do the maintenance of gravesites, memories, and ongoingness. (There is a whole literary lore of the higanbana, which I hope to get to at another time.)
The effort at place-foraging goes hand in hand with also setting up my own roof garden, and figuring out how to extend into a more bona fide “community gardening” mode, both at home and in work. I was initially elated at seeing how many pins for “nursery” there were nearby–it turns out that they are actually day care centers (保育園). Yay for day care access, but places to get plants and supplies in hand are a bit scarcer, alas. So I had the latter-day urban natural experience of mail-ordering soil, along with a mini-composter the likes of which we could sure use in the US. The delivery guy saved me from carrying heavy-kilo bags a mile from the nearest Home Depot-like place in the ‘hood, where the available soil was all hopped up with chemicals anyway. There is a whole world of things to conceptually translate, making an edible garden on a roof in Tokyo, and calculating food-miles in a very different way…that is one of them.