Ikebana International asked me to write about Tokyo street gardens and share my photos for their member-supported publication that dates back to 1956. Thanks to the editor Kim Schuefftan for allowing me to reach a very different garden audience. I am curious what Ikebana International and Tokyo Green Space readers think about the article, Tokyo Street Gardens: Unrecognized Beauty (7 page PDF, 1.4 MB). Volume 58, Issue 2, pp 24-30. 2014.
I was very flattered that one of Australia’s top geography textbooks, published by Wiley, included my photograph of Ginza Farm in their “Japan and Korea” page. My father in law was confused by the idea of the two countries together. I’d like to think it’s a hopeful gesture. Of course, since it’s an Australian textbook, the atlas is clearly centered on Australia and its immediate neighbors.
東京の路地に小さな庭のスペースを作る方は、一般のルールに従わないところが素敵です。このブログの写真を使って、友達のショウさんがBell Street Filmsと一緒に３０秒のビデオを作ってくれました。去年、ショウさんはベランダの庭にデザイン人類学校と東京グリーンスペースについてビデオを作りました。
This 30 second clip features my photographs of flowerpot gardens and stories about their makers, who explain to me how they break the law in order to create safer streets. Last year, my friend Sho’s Bell Street Films made a short video about Tokyo Green Space and design anthropology, shot mostly in my balcony garden.
Around this time last year I worked with film photographer Daisuke Hamada on a long article about flower pot gardens in Tokyo for The Plant, a semi-annual magazine from Spain. The article combines a personal essay about the pleasure of urban gardening and includes two interviews with my Nakano neighbors who have created public beauty with very limited space and budgets. Some blog readers have asked for a copy, so I am attaching a PDF scan here (3 MB).
Shared Beauty: Tokyo’s Pot Gardens. The Plant, Issue #3. Fall, 2012.
A Japanese engineer who had worked on the Panama Canal created this important floodgate and canal alongside the Arakawa River in the 1920s. The red paint and the cherry blossoms make it scenic as well as functional.
UPDATE: Above is the film version, which took awhile to be developed. The colors seem much richer than the digital iPhone image below.
My super-prolific friend Chris Berthelsen has released two small self-published stories. The first is “Child Scale” or “Rainy Day Treasures” about how Tokyo streets look, smell, and feel for kids. Chris’ writing, mappings, and photographs follows a rainy day walk to the local public bathhouse with a four year old. It’s a rich observation and reflection on play and creativity. The street is the ultimate shared space in our cities, for a variety of ages, walking and transit. After reading Child Scale, I’ll pay more attention to the “floorscape” than my usual rushing or daydreaming.
Child Scale is just $3.50. You get a 112 page download, with A5 print and screen resolution PDFs. The Huffington Post and Atlantic Cities have already referenced this digital booklet. It will be enjoyed by those wanting to think more about Tokyo, urbanism, children, play, and creativity.
The second booklet is by Chris’ son Tonka, who writes about his Tokyo Spider Research. It’s a 19 page booklet that examines spiders found inside and nearby a Tokyo apartment. Tonka’s handwritten notes and photographs provide a detailed document about some of the small creatures sharing our urban lives. The booklet is in Japanese and English, and will certainly inspire you to look more closely at the あimmediate environment around you. It’s just $2 for the download.
When people ask me about positive government action for urban nature, I always point to the Suginami ward’s giant green curtain. This massive screen of vines rises each summer on their eight story ward office next to the Minami Asagaya station on the Marunouchi subway line. It has inspired local residents to create their own balcony green curtains, inserted a huge green space that occupies very little square footage on the ground, and demonstrated that their old office building can be energy saving, attractive, and full of life.
Walking to meet a friend for lunch, I passed this beautiful, lush green wall in Aoyama. Is this the wall designed by Frenchman Patrick Blanc? There seem to be several types of stores here, plus a faux church wedding mill in the back.
最初のフィルムに、一番好きな中野と新宿の庭の写真をとりました。飯島さんの花の壁はとても素敵です。Plant Journal という雑誌の記事に、インタビューをしました。訪ねたときに、飯島さんは、「今、何も咲いていません」と言っていました。フィルムなので、イメージが古く見えますね。
For my first roll of film, I took photos of my favorite gardens in Nakano and Shinjuku, plus my own balcony garden. In the foreground above is Iijima-san’s flower wall house. He has 500 hundred potted plants, mostly flowers, rising from the street to the roof. I interviewed Iijima-san for the Plant Journal article I wrote recently.
His first sentence in greeting us was, “There’s nothing blooming now.”
It’s funny how using a film camera makes the image itself look older. The texture and colors in this image seem so different than the bright and flat images I am now accustomed to seeing with digital images. In the next days, I’ll put up more images from this first roll.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear from English artist Simon Parish, who shared with me (and my readers) his drawings of Tokyo potted plant gardens. I love his compositions, the contrast between the line drawings and the (hand-colored?) plants and pots, the mix of cultivated and semi-wild urban vegetation.
Simon explained that he lived in Tokyo about 20 years ago. I am super impressed with his current art work, and feels it evokes the types of Tokyo city gardens that this blog celebrates. Maybe, garden-wise, Tokyo does not change so much over the decades or even centuries.
The day after Japan suspended operations at the last nuclear plant, there was a celebration in Koenji that involved speeches, protest signs, marching, music, and fun costumes. Unfortunately, as soon as the march began, there was incredible hail and wind. Nonetheless, it was a happy parade throughout Koenji.
On the first anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters, I spent the afternoon at a memorial in Hibiya Park, and then joined tens of thousands forming a human chain around Japan’s national assembly, the Diet. I snapped a lot of photos, along with @sub_fauna, who took some great photos.
It was great to see so many people coming together to ask for fundamental change to energy and politics. Striking were the number of seniors, the odd costumes including several Pokemon, the mix of the mournful and colorful. A few Japanese friends asked me what a “human chain” was, as if it were a complicated imported notion. It was very touching to see people holding hands around the center of government.
I was also impressed with how organized the entire demonstration and policing were. The long cross-walk in front of the Diet was occupied only while the light was red. The police remained very calm, and their main tools were rolls of neon police tape, megaphones, and fabric traffic barriers with rings for lines of police to easily hold.
I love how this mature garden is growing in soup pots on the sidewalk in Shibaura.