I tweeted a bit back that I’m reading the book Rivers Lost, Rivers Regained: Rethinking City-River Relations, and so far it hasn’t disappointed. More info for sure on some of the great content on cities and rivers forthcoming. However, an intriguing concept mentioned in the intro was the Japanese concept of shin-sui, which the authors loosely define as “playing with water”. They mention these in an overall trend of cities refocusing on their urban rivers, and specifically of ways to encourage people reconnecting with these urban waterways. The authors bring up urban waterfront parks, and mention these “shin-sui” parks as a way of connecting with natural processes:
” “Although these projects were conducted for recreational rather than ecological purposes, they helped to turn people’s eyes back to nature.” (18)
Translation being a tricky thing, there’s multiple meanings that emerge when one starts digging into the concept of shinsui (and someone with a grasp of Japanese beyond my total lack thereof please correct me). Online definitions, include water references, summarily – flood, fuel & water, inundation, as well as having meanings for adoration, cooking, salary.
Another reference in a book that popped up in a Google search, Japan for Kids, has a great way of describing the parks a friendship: “A new concept in neighborhood playground is a ‘shinsui park.’ Shinsui means literally ‘to be friendly with water.’ A shinsui park is one with plenty of water attractions that provide children with a chance to get use to water by playing in it.” (127)
The designs for these transcend the mere “splash play” or water park, but do share some of the same elements of interactivity and immersion. Owing to the diversity of density of Japanese cities, they are often narrow, but it does show the potential for even abstracted water courses to co-exist with urbanization.
Otonashi Shinshi Park is one of these very urban examples, located in the northern area of Tokyo and literally wedged in a channel between development. You get a feel for the scale and elements, in this case a high-walled channel that opens up to some more interactive and tactile elements.
A little more lush version from photographer Andy Serrano is found at Oyokogawa Shinsui Park, which he describes: “The park runs alongside the Oyoko-gawa River in the Sumida Ward of Tokyo, and is a popular place for local residents who play, walk, fish, and even swim there. With the Tokyo Sky Tree looming nearby, cherry blossom season gives visitors a taste of Japan’s dual natures: historic traditions side-by-side with ultra-modernity, natural beauty next to futuristic technology and architecture.”
The Tanada Shinsui Park on the Houzuyamma River in the village of Toho in Fuuses some vernacular elements to create a “River pool…for the infant and elementary school children [and the] …”Koinobori pool” river pool is a pool that uses the difference in height of the rice terraces.”
Another urban example is sculptural pools of the Arima River Shinsui Park near Kobe, Japan, which is located near Arima Onsen, one of the oldest hot springs locations in the country.
As mentioned, these few examples I’ve show are not about restoration, and vary from just parks by the river to ones with active recreation elements focused on water. While natural edges occur, many are somewhat channellized, highly designed and very abstracted river environments — akin the art-side of the conceptual continuum of restoration. The goal here is more recreational, but, as the editors of Rivers Lost mention, they may provide a powerful precedent for engaging people of all ages with their natural waterways, and informing urban residents on the natural processes
HEADER: Otonashi Shinsui Park – Tokyo, via Japan by Web