Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Post War Gardening in Tokyo

Last month after getting chased out of the Japan Alps by a typhoon, we took one of our visitors to the Edo-Tokyo Museum. One of our favorites, the museum is incredibly informative and interesting without being overwhelming. It also affords a glimpse into the complex history and development of Tokyo as a city, which is utterly fascinating.

We stopped by a small special exhibit showcasing photographs taken by foreign soldiers just after World War Two ended. (Unfortunately, this particular exhibit is now over.) Running from the very earliest days to the end of the occupation, the pictures documented the daily life of citizens living and rebuilding a city devastated by war. Simple yet powerful images of people shopping, cooking, celebrating festivals, and taking the train illustrate how much has changed since those days of black markets and bombed out buildings.

The above picture, taken in 1945 near Shinbashi, shows a woman plowing a field to prepare it for planting. Heart-breaking and uplifting all at once, the image put a lump in my throat. Who knows what she and her family endured those days, like so many other families around the world at that time? Yet, on that clear day she thought about planting seeds. The garden, I am sure, would prove pivotal to their survival - food to eat, to trade, and to share - and perhaps gave the family some pleasure in new life and a new beginning. Or at the very least distracted them momentarily from the sorrow and difficulty of those times. Much like a garden has always done, I suppose.

Recommended Reading
While I have not read Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime by Kenneth I. Helphand, (2006), I would dearly love to do so. Listen to this interview with the author and read this excerpt to hear of other gardens, large and small, tended by gardeners in prison camps, on bases, and in war zones.

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