The Tokaido is the most famous route in Japan, linking its two major population centers: Kanto (essentially Tokyo and its suburbs) and Kansai (Osaka and Kyoto). Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the Daimyo, local rulers of Japan’s regions, were required to spend one year out of every two at the capital (then named Edo), and so had to cross the country on a regular basis. The Tokaido was the main route for those coming from the West, making it the central artery of early modern Japanese travel.

How can one design a city to be more like Tokyo? This is the challenge that Jorge Almazan and Studiolab have set themselves in studying what they describe as “one of the most vibrant and liveable cities on the planet”. Their method involves categorizing Tokyo’s subparts into different types of development, and charting the emergence over the last 150 years of a series of distinctive styles of urban space. By doing this, they not only hope to explore the city for the interested reader and traveler, but also to draw out a series of practical lessons for the urban planners of the future.

In the early 2000s, a group of anthropologists formed the Matsutake Worlds Research Group (MWRG). Their object of collaborative study was to be the matsutake mushroom and the ways in which humans interact with it. 15 or so years might seem a long time for a scholar (let alone a team of them) to study a single mushroom; nevertheless their project is ongoing, having produced two research monographs so far: Anna Tsing’s The Mushroom At The End Of The World and now Michael Hathaway’s What A Mushroom Lives For, as well as a series of essays. There promises to be at least one more book yet to come. 

It is widely accepted that Japan is a country deeply in touch with the natural world. From wall hangings of cranes and turtles, to carp banners flapping in the breeze, haiku about a frog in an old pond, and folk tales about foxes and badgers, Japanese arts and culture are suffused with images of nature. Moreover, in the present day, tourism is sold using images of cherry blossoms, autumn colors, and monkeys bathing in hot springs.