Unless otherwise noted, all photographs by Shigeo Ogawa.
Normally a cemetery wouldn’t be on our list of recommended sites to see, but the Makomanai Cemetery is one of the most awe-inspiring places we’ve ever been. Located in the outskirts of Sapporo, a large stone Buddha occupies the sprawling landscape. All 1,500 tons of it has sat alone there for 15 years. But when the cemetery decided they wanted to do something to increase visitor’s appreciations for the Buddha, they enlisted architect Tadao Ando, who had a grand and bold idea: hide the statue.
Photo by Hiroo Namiki.
“Our idea was to cover the Buddha below the head with a hill of lavender plants,” said Ando. Indeed, as you approach “Hill of Buddha” the subject is largely concealed by a hill planted with 150,000 lavenders. Only the top of the statue’s head pokes out from the rotunda, creating a visual connection between the lavender plants and the ringlets of hair on the Buddha statue’s head.
Upon entering, visitors are forced to turn left or right and walk around a rectangular lake of water before entering the 131-ft (40-meter) long approach tunnel. The journey is a constant reminder of the weather, the breeze and the light, and is works in tandem to heighten anticipation of the statue, which is only visible once you reach the end of the tunnel.
Any time of the year, visitors will have a different experience. The 150,000 lavenders “turn fresh green in spring, pale purple in summer and silky white with snow in winter.” It really is a miraculous work of environmental art. (Syndicated from Spoon & Tamago)
Kyoko Bowskill, the founder of Tokyo-based LINK, is working to revive the centuries-old Japanese tradition of carrying objects of all sorts in beautiful reusable squares of fabric: furoshiki. Made from smooth and lightweight cotton fabric and measuring 90cm square (about 35 inches), these furoshiki can be twisted into wine bottle carriers, folded for gift-wrapping, knotted into a quick tote bag, spread out for a picnic, or simply tossed around your shoulders as a scarf.
From the initial design to the finishing touches, each scarf is hand-made. LINK collaborates with designers around the world to create new imagery for their scarves, adding a modern spin to the age-old concept. The small factory where each scarf is made has decades of experience that they use to pull each screen print; carefully air dry the scarves, and hand-roll and sew each seam for a polished finish.
In 2005 Kito Fujio quit his job as an office worker and became a freelance photographer. And for the last 12 years he’s been exploring various overlooked pockets of Japan like the rooftops of department stores, which typically have games and rides to entertain children while their parents are shopping. More recently, he’s taken notice of the many interesting cement-molded play equipment that dots playgrounds around Japan.
The sculptural, cement-molded play equipment is often modeled after animals that children would be familiar with. But they also take on the form of robots, abstract geometric forms and sometimes even household appliances. Fujio’s process is not entirely clear, but it appears he visits the parks at night and lights up the equipment from the inside, but also from the outside, which often creates an ominous feel to the harmless equipment.
Speaking of harmless, the nostalgic cement molds have been ubiquitous throughout Japan and, for the most part, free of safety concerns. That’s because the cement requires almost no maintenance; maybe just a fresh coat of paint every few years. The telephone (pictured below) is evidence of how long ago the equipment was probably made.
The sculptural cement equipment was a style favored by Isamu Noguchi, who designed his first landscape for children in 1933. Many of his sculptural playground equipment can be found in Sapporo but also stateside at Piedmont Park in Atlanta.
Thanks to the Library of Congress, you can browse and download high-resolution copies of more than 2,500 Japanese woodblock prints and drawings from the library’s online collection. The prints, most of which are dated before the 20th-century, were amassed from a large group of collectors, including notable donors such as President William Howard Taft and Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Despite the diversity of genres and traditions represented by the library’s large collection, the most prolific works are ones created in the tradition of the Japanese art form of Ukiyo-e or Yokohama-e. Ukiyo-e was developed in the city of Edo (now Tokyo) between 1600 and 1868 during a relatively peaceful period. The subject and inspiration for many of the prints includes that of entertainment and leisure, such as scenes from kabuki theater and fashionable restaurants.
The style of Yokohama-e was built on methods of production from Ukiyo-e around the time that American naval officer Matthew Calbraith Perry (1794-1858) led an expedition to Japan in the mid-1850’s. New trade agreements between Japan and the West brought travers to the country, inspiring Japanese artists to capture tourists walking throughout the port city, and borrow images from Western newspapers.
You can see the entire collection of historic works on the Library of Congress’s website. (via Open Culture)
In most countries, the design of manhole covers is scarcely given a second thought other than the basics of material and a generic pattern resulting in drab metal circles with a purely utilitarian function. But after World War II, city planners in Japan proposed the idea of allowing each local municipality to design their own manhole cover as part of an effort to raise awareness for costly sewage projects. Designs would reflect local industry, culture, and history. The result was a huge success, and now over 19,000 manhole cover designs can be found embedded across 95% of all municipalities in Japan.
John Daub from ONLY in Japan recently visited the Nagashima Imono Casting Factory to see how the manhole covers are designed and built. He also stopped by an annual gathering of enthusiasts called the Manhole Summit that began in 2014, and learned about a new deck of Japanese Manhole Trading Cards.
In the Northeast suburbs of central Osaka stands a curious train station unlike any other. Kayashima Station features a rectangular hole cut into the roof of the elevated platform and, from inside, a giant tree pokes its head out like a stalk of broccoli. It’s almost like a railway version of Laputa.
The large camphor tree is older than most records but officials believe it to be around 700 years old. The story of how this tree and station became, quite literally, intertwined, varies depending on who you ask. It certainly has to do with a great reverence for nature, but also a fair amount of superstition.
Kayashima Station first opened in 1910 and, at the time, the camphor tree stood right next to the station. For the next 60 years the station remained largely unchanged. But an increase in population and overcrowding began to put pressure on the station and plans for an expansion where approved in 1972, which called for the tree to be cut down.
But the camphor tree had long been associated with a local shrine and deity. And when locals found out that station officials planned to remove the tree there was a large uproar. Tales began to emerge about the tree being angry, and unfortunate events befalling anyone who attempted to cut it down. Someone who cut a branch off later in the day developed a high fever. A white snake was spotted, wrapped around the tree. Some even saw smoke arise from the tree (it was probably just a swarm of bugs).
And so, the station officials eventually agreed to keep the tree and incorporate it into the new elevated platform’s design. In 1973 construction began and the new station was completed in 1980. The station even surrounded the base of the tree with a small shrine. To this day, the tree still stands thanks to a strong, local community and a little bit of superstition. (syndicated from Spoon & Tamago)