Bus stop chairs are gifted, unmatched, and spontaneous




This sidewalk and street have nearly no visible plants. Yet anonymously gifted bus stop chairs are very Tokyo and very much in the spirit of Tokyo green space. Reacting to a lack of infrastructure– no shelter and no seating– neighbors simply recycle and re-use stuff from their homes and share it with neighbors in a public space.

Few designers could have coordinated this unlikely mix of colors, fabrics, and shapes. Its aesthetic arises from its spontaneous appearances. Is this the most beautiful, practical, or ideal solution to the lack of infrastructure? Probably not, although it reflects generosity and concern for others in shared spaces.

I have been writing about Tokyo green space for a while, ever since moving here three years ago. Tokyo is surprisingly green and livable despite the complete absence of planning for public open space, from its rise as Japan’s Edo capitol in the 1600s through the 20th century’s natural and man-made calamities that twice obliterated the city.

Tokyo has such forward-looking urban features like walkable small streets dominated by pedestrians and bicyclists. But these vital paths exist not because of  contemporary Tokyo’s good planning, but because the bureaucracy still in the thrall of automobile infrastructure and mega-developments hasn’t had the chance to alter them.

Documenting Tokyo green space has been a way for me to understand the life of this city. The grass-roots reclaiming of public space certainly increases the city’s appeal. But, post 3.11, I also now wonder if the residents haven’t demanded enough of the city leaders. We now know more clearly the dangers of leaving vital decisions to reckless and outdated politicians and bureaucrats.

As this difficult year ends, I wonder what all of us can do to create a more alive city.

Sky Tree rises above Tokyo skyline


Tokyo Sky Tree is rising on the eastern side of Tokyo. As the new digital television tower, it replaces Tokyo Tower as a symbol of “new” Tokyo. It’s scheduled for completion at the end of this year, and is already visible across Tokyo. In this picture, you can see Nakano Sakaue on the right and Sky Tree in the center.

The Japanese name for Sky Tree sounds funny in English, with two syllables becoming five unrecognizable ones. It’s スカイツリー, or Su-ka-i Tsu-rii. Japanese English is truly its own language. It’s also funny that they chose to use “tree” as a metaphor for this giant tower. In this view from here to there, across Tokyo, there are very few if any trees, green walls or roofs.