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Monthly Archives: September 2010

Chris has taken images from last month’s Tokyo DIY Gardening workshop at 3331 Arts Chiyoda, and created an amazing interactive map of Tokyo green space.

Using photos, pens, markers, origami, and other stuff, 30 participants drew a giant collaborative map of Tokyo’s existing and imagined green spaces. In this interactive version, Chris shows off the final map, which was two by four meters, with detailed images of 46 spaces.

Beyond our initial ideas, the collaborative map produced a huge  variety of green spaces at many different scales, all of which make or could make Tokyo a livable city. We are planning to further document this mapping workshop, including other layers and voices, and we’d like to share it with a wide audience. Please feel free to link to it, leave comments, and share with others.

Roppongi is a very foreign neighborhood for me since I rarely visit its offices, nightclubs and museums. However, with the recent conference, I took a friend along a back street between mega developments Mid Town and Roppongi Hills. We stumbled a very charming, small park named Roppongi West Park (六本木西公園). It was a welcome escape from the elevated freeways and concrete overload.

The park provides a great amount of shade and the loud murmur of cicadas. My fellow Maryland state friend and I wondered how come mid-Atlantic cicadas only appear every seven years, while Japanese ones go through similar seven year cycles but appear annually. The park had benches with businessmen smoking, chatting, using their cellphones, and escaping their offices. There were also sand box, playground, and a public bathroom.

Seeing this small gem made me think about the up-until-now unrealized possibilities for the mega developers to connect with their neighborhoods through landscapes. Mori Building talks about how its vertical gardens lower summer time temperature in its neighborhoods. And Mitsubishi Estate is concerned with making Marunouchi more attractive through livable streets.

Creating gardens and habitats that extend to nearby  pocket parks, as well as neighboring residential and commercial gardens, could brand these new places with historical memory, a signature fruit tree, butterfly or bird habitat, outdoor recreation, and innovative public place making. While the developers goal is to maximize rental income, attention to the neighborhood, its existing assets and people, could be a low-cost and high impact way to brand, differentiate, and attract visitors and tenants.

District landscaping is one of the most economical and transformative improvements. By extending beyond the limits of a single property or the holdings of one developer, district landscaping is vital to place-making, memory, habitat, and human affection.

I took a short break from the Epic 2010 ethnography in industry conference to see the Mori Art Museum’s Sensing Nature exhibit. Friends had told me about it, so I had high expectations. The exhibit is very conceptual and sensory at the same time, unfolding in a series of large installations that are familiar and strangely new views of our relationship with nature. It continues until November 7 at the top of Roppongi Hills.

It is a strange experience to go from the 62nd floor observatory, with 360 degree views of Tokyo and beyond, into these enormous and enclosed gallery spaces created by three mid-career Japanese artists: Yoshioka Tokujin, Shinoda Taro, and Kuribayashi Takashi. There are feathers, wind, water, forests, mud, mountains, and glass.

I was also struck that in almost all these the imaginative “new worlds,” it is impossible to experience the artists’ dreams without also being hyper-aware of our own presence within them. It is interesting to watch the reactions of other visitors, and to even catch unexpected images of ourselves. I highly recommend visiting the exhibit.

Did you know that Japan has a famous set of seven fall flowers? In Japanese it’s 秋の七草 (aki no nana kusa).

Here are the names in Japanese and English オミナエシ (valerian)、ススキ (miscanthus)、ナデシコ (dyanthus)、キキョウ (Chinese bellflower)、フジバカマ (boneset)、クズ (kuzu)、ハギ (bush clover).

The list goes back to the ninth century, and is related to haiku. The Japanese Wikipedia page shows the seven fall flowers at the Ise shrine. They are all hardy plants native to Japan.

I noticed this set because my neighborhood flower shop sold me kikyou recently. My balcony garden also has fujibakama (フジバカマ) and nadeshiko (ナデシコ). I should look for the other four to better connect my small garden with Japanese culture.

BTW, spring has a set of seven edible herbs, which are eaten on the seventh day of the new year.

This image of goats controlling the weeds at a San Francisco bus yard is whimsical and inspiring. Why doesn’t Tokyo (and other big cities) use these natural weed-eaters? The company behind this is called City Grazing, and their slogan: “Our herd of goats are organically fed, will eat your weeds and entertain your children!”

Today’s mild typhoon is a welcome relief after more than six weeks of record-breaking heat and absolutely no rain in central Tokyo. I was getting worried about the street trees and all the “independent” plant life that survives in Tokyo without human care.

For some reason, the bitter melon I planted by seed in April only recently started climbing like crazy. Here’s an image of a baby bitter melon in the rain, with its flower still attached. Hope to eat some in a few weeks.

Did you know that Japanese typhoons are not given names like in the United States? Today’s typhoon is simply 10W.

This Shinjuku ni-chome sidewalk garden is exceptional in its size, care, and labeling. The gardener lives in a former shop in an old building on what is now a busy entertainment district. From the sidewalk, you can see what appears to be merchandise, t-shirts and a few dress shirts, in the front room open to the street.

The gardener and his wife are often visible in the inner room which is partly visible. This type of retail/residential architecture is very Tokyo mid-century, and there are examples in many neighborhoods of former shop owners living in these spaces, some with remnants of their former businesses.

What I love about this sidewalk garden is the gardener’s obvious care and attention to creating a display of many plants. Nearly all of the pots rests on stools or low tables, with the highest ones closest to the road and the lower ones facing pedestrians on the sidewalk.

I am also amazed that the plants are all labeled, even the most obvious ones such as “rose” (バラ). I asked the older man why he labeled them, and he said that people often ask him and he doesn’t always remember the plant name.

The other amazing thing about the garden is just how big it is. There is easily more than one hundred plants. In addition to cover five meters or more in front of his building and his neighbors, he also expanded to an equally large area across the street. He is often outside watering and taking care of the plants.

I admire this gardener’s love for plants, his colonizing public space, and adding beauty in a crowded neighborhood.

Omotesando is Tokyo’s most exclusive shopping street, a zelkovia-lined street of international brands for sale in buildings designed by world-renowned architects (Dior, Ralph Lauren, Channel, Louis Vuitton, etc). Surpassing Ginza for shopping, Omotesando also has spiritual significance as the entrance to Meiji Jingu shrine.

Rushing to an appointment, I was stunned to see this mobile bonsai shop outside a construction site. It’s typical in Tokyo that cycles of renewal involve demolition, scraping, and rebuilding. More surprising is to see how this plant sales person has staked out valuable real estate for a shop that can be unloaded from the three-wheeled scooter’s back trunk.

The trunk itself is used as a display case, and the front of the scooter covered in a banner announcing that its owner is selling bonsai plants.

Both in terms of retail structure and goods, the incongruity could not be greater: mobile and monument, formal and informal, luxury and sidewalk, imported and indigenous, fashion and plants.

In today’s sweltering heat, my Tokyo DIY Gardening co-instigator Chris Berthelsen and 3331 Arts Chiyoda‘s Emma Ota documented the giant green city map created in the art center workshop two weeks ago.

It’s always inspiring to work with Chris, who is full of creative ideas and the energy to realize them. He’s already shared one small portion of the presentation: a model of the personal impact of urban green space. We will be sharing various slices of the green map once we’ve sorted out the images.

The map itself is two meters by four meters, and made of standard A4 papers taped together. The thirty participants included a school child, musicians, ceramicists, textile buyer, real estate developer, architect, arts administrator, senior citizens, and some random people who were walking by.

They used a mix of images we provided, plus blue string, markers, pens and things they brought, to create collages of urban green spaces that they knew or wanted. They also wrote down project ideas on small forms embedded in the map. Here’s images from the workshop.

Chris and I are eager to share these images and stories with you soon. Here’s some photos on the 3331 Arts Chiyoda website.

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