In my home city of Melbourne the population density is estimated at 430 people per square kilometre. In Tokyo the figure is 6000 people per square kilometre.
Japan has an overall population density of approximately 350 people per square kilometre. In Australia you’re looking at roughly three people per square kilometre*. That’s right, three.
That’s ample room to swing a cat, even of the sabre-tooth variety. If you’re antisocial by nature you could stroll around your square kilometre and feel fairly confident you wouldn’t bump into a single soul.
OK, much of Australia’s red, ‘dead’ heart is desert and unsuitable for high density habitation. This is why we sunburnt Aussies stick to the coastlines where it is wetter and greener. It’s also why the density numbers for Melbourne and Sydney are so much higher than the national average — and why traffic and public transport issues are top of mind for so many people.
For all our huffing and puffing, Melbourne’s 430 people / km2 hardly compares with Tokyo’s 6000. We could learn a lot from the Japanese mega-city.
My sense of Tokyo is that for all the crowding it doesn’t feel cluttered. The populace live side-by-side politely, patiently and efficiently. Space, the commodity many Australians have in abundance, is rarely wasted.
Living in Tokyo made me conscious of how we can make do with less. Why build big houses full of single-purpose rooms that are empty most of the day when you can stow your bedding each morning and turn sleeping space into living areas?
If you absolutely must own a motor vehicle, why not opt for a petite machine purpose-built for the tight parking spaces available.
A gap between buildings could fit one car-parking space — or six if you build an elevator that enables cars to be stored on top of each other. A steep, narrow sliver of land that’s probably no good for anything else could be perfectly fine for a cemetery.
Japanese garden design also reflects this capacity to optimise surroundings. Entire gardens are designed around what does NOT fit in a property. You simply ‘borrow’ scenery in the background, such as a hillside or a neighbour’s tree, by framing it with plants in your own garden.
Paths in Japanese gardens meander. The wisdom of a winding path, apart from being an excellent metaphor, is that each change of angle provides a different view. The gardener can craft several scenes from one. With this in mind they deliberately slow our progress, encouraging meditation and appreciation, rather than impatience and bustle.
The other place where this cultural prescription to slow down was obvious was in the public baths. We stayed a week in the mountains where the plumbing was often frozen solid. This didn’t matter as bathing took place at one of several local ‘onsen’.
Part of the reason I’m posting this so long after our trip is that I have been musing over the things I liked best about Japanese customs. Ten months down the track, I have to say I miss the public baths.
The onsen routine involved stripping down, scrubbing forensically in an open showering area, then moving to hot/very hot/cold indoor or outdoor pools to soak. I suspect public (segregated) bathing probably lessens hang-ups about body image but the ritual certainly had other benefits.
The onsen deliberately takes the pace off your life. It cleanses not just the outer layer but the inner, soaking up accumulated stress. As a full stop to a 24-hour period, it’s a very smart piece of punctuation.
I reckon I could use an onsen in my ‘hood.
(*I note that population data does not include those held in refugee incarceration facilities. My point is not that this would alter population density; the statistical impact is likely to be insignificant in an Australian context. It’s more a realisation that once you’re a stateless person, you’re apparently also a non-person. You don’t count in the country where you are seeking refuge.)
Melbourne singer, songwriter, actress and entrepreneur Clare Bowditch is the driving force behind the annual Big Hearted Business seminars in which artists are educated in ways of business and business people in the mysteries of creativity. I’ve never attended and can’t this year, (much as I’d like to,) but the concept seems mighty fine to me.
As an author I wish I didn’t have to think about money. Ever. Ideally, my day would be spent dreaming up characters and action. Word flow not cash flow. Places and plots not profit and loss. So any tips that render the money side of existing easier would truly be golden.
It’s a bit of a detour but I’m reminded of when a newspaper asked a fantastic local author what she might do with the windfall from a major literature prize she had just won. The author answered that she would buy a new kettle. That speaks volumes about arts funding in Australia, people.
Starving artists aside, the bodacious Ms Bowditch is gifting even us non-attendees Inspiration Bombs via her BHB website. I was drawn to this one because it features not only words from musician Missy Higgins but the art-in-progress of Ghostpatrol, a combination too good to miss.
Some of the comments that struck a chord with me go to the importance of not second guessing what will appeal to consumers, particularly in the age of cowardly instant feedback via (anti)social media. The wonderful Ms Higgins says:
“It helps to just pull back and go, you know what, I am just going to do what I do and have faith that there’s going to be a market out there for me. The only thing you can do is do your best and do what comes naturally to you and the rest will follow. But it absolutely never works if you try and cater toward a potential fan base.”
She continues: “True originality is not going to be understood straight away. And it’s not going to be understood by a lot of people. If you’re truly creative and truly original then you’re going to have a lot of people feel strongly about it. Either way, you are going to polarise people but that’s the only way to come up with something that’s truly great.”
Like Ms Higgins, I take inspiration from many places. Songs, movies, gardens, wielding of words, visual art and creative people generally. So it put a smile on my face to find a Ghostpatrol on my way to a recent writing course. Here it is for you.
Anyone that follows me via Instagram (tpegler) will know I’ve been posting a lot of photos of street art. Partly this is a reflection of the city I live in. Melbourne is blessed with great artists and a culture that is evolving – becoming better at recognising differences between random acts of public art and mindless vandalism.
There were other factors that drew me to the street artists, too. When I made the difficult decision to walk away from a regular income to concentrate on creativity, family and health, I was drawn to others who have made similar choices. I wanted to surround myself with ideas, courage and creativity.
The main reason I began photographing street art is I became acutely aware of transience. What’s here today isn’t necessarily still with us tomorrow. An artist can spend days on a magnificent piece, only to have idiot taggers deface it the following night or a council whitewash it after a week or two. To my mind, this makes sharing images of guerilla art important. As an author, I write a book but my work doesn’t really exist unless people read it. Art needs to be seen so I wanted the street art to live and be enjoyed beyond the back lanes and alleys around town.
After talking to a couple of street artists, I learned that there are different perspectives on the impermanence of their work. Some see the damage wrought by weather, wildlife and taggers as organic, unpredictable enhancements of their work. The art takes on a life of its own and grows into its setting.
At other public places, such as Hosier Lane in the CBD, artists take turns at showing their wares. A doorway off Flinders Street that featured a powerful portrait of Heath Ledger as the Joker, by OD, was recently repainted with an intricate stencil of an elderly woman’s lined face, by ELK. For all I know the door might have a new identity now. The artists understand their work has a limited time in the sun.
That said, there’s anger, too. When a significant piece of work is attacked by someone who clearly only aims to deface or destroy something they couldn’t do themselves, the art community understandably bristles. Sadly, no matter how savvy the town becomes, there will always be morons and vandals.
Anyway, just as I feel honoured to hang out with other authors and illustrators, I get a great deal of pleasure wandering around the city and recognising the work of local artists. I now have a small piece by Baby Guerilla on the wall in my office (purchased from a gallery) and hope to collect other artists’ works. Why? Because each piece is a reminder of the power of art – to make us think, feel and understand other people’s stories.
I’ll share some favourite images here and in posts to come. Maybe the inspiration will flow through to you, too.
All photos are my own. For further insight into street art, check out Dean Sunshine’s Land of Sunshine or, for a YA spin, Cath Crowley’s fantastic Graffiti Moon.