Month: July 2010

Sunflowers on sidewalk

I love the small strips of green space between the sidewalk and the street. Generally, orderly bushes like azaleas are maintained by the local government. But there is always also a mix of volunteers plants and volunteer gardeners. In the scorching heat of July, these sunflowers are well over two meters tall. A week after taking this photo, I saw that the flowers had opened.

Tokyo-DIY-gardening project launches!

I am super-excited to let everyone know that in partnership with the amazing Chris Berthelsen of Fixes, we have launched a new project called Tokyo-DIY-gardening. There is a website where we hope others will contribute. You can follow our Twitter  hash tag #tokyoDIYgardening.

And, if you are in Tokyo, please come to our interactive workshop at the new 3331 Arts Chiyoda space where we introduce the project and invite a collaborative mapping and re-imagining of Tokyo as the greenest city full of gardens, plants, and trees. The workshop will be held in Japanese and English on August 21 from 7 to 9 pm.

Chris and I are excited to participate in the Grand Opening series of events at 3331 Arts Chiyoda, and look forward to opening our project to many voices.

Strange performance and installation combines washing machine, tree and city streets

I mentioned earlier the cool new art space called 3331 Arts Chiyoda that has been created in a closed junior high school. One of the fun installations was this classroom with a tree growing in a washing machine, and a video projection showing this unlikely pair being pushed around the neighborhood. Somehow combining these basic city elements and moving them through unexpected environments is comical and surreal.

Town creates art in rice paddies for economic revival

The New York Times ran a great story about how a small town in northern Japan named Inakadate has been creating art works using colored rice as a way to attract tourists and revive a struggling economy. Creating this living art work has brought the community together and draws up to 170,000 visitors to this town of fewer than 9,000 mostly elderly residents.

Five colors of rice plotted intricately on the field yield this image of a samurai fighting a warrior monk. The cost of renting and planting the field is about US35,000 making this an affordable rural revitalization effort. Last year 170,000 visitors came to view the rice art. And each year the town tries to outdo previous efforts to continue to gain media attention and visitors.

Growing sidewalk rice in styrofoam box

I wonder what this sidewalk rice tastes like? Will the gardener make a special meal with it? It’s great to see how enthusiastic people are to grow the most basic Japanese food, using a recycled styrofoam box. This same gardener is also growing cherry tomatoes and ornamentals. I like the juxtaposition of street, plants, and laundry hanging to dry.

Eating balcony-grown watermelon

In San Francisco, my garden is shaded and the cold summer makes growing vegetables very difficult. It’s been fun this summer to grow a variety of vegetables in our sunny high-rise balcony in Tokyo. This weekend I harvested and ate my first home-grown watermelon.

It looks big in the photo above, no? Actually, the two fruit that formed were not much bigger than oranges. I kept hoping that they would get a bit bigger, but finally I decided to harvest them.

Here’s what it looked like cut open. It was very sweet and just right for one person.

To get a sense of the scale, you can see the two watermelons paired with a single cucumber below. The cucumber seems to go from tiny baby to full-size in just one week. It’s been a great summer vegetable, probably the most successful plant in the balcony farm. (There’s also eggplant, some very stunted corn, and 4 lemons).

Morning glory green curtain in front of 3331 Arts Chiyoda

3331 Arts Chiyoda is a cool art space recently created by the Chiyoda ward government. They converted an old junior high school into exhibition galleries, art studios, and creative industry offices. In addition to a beautiful remodel of the unused school building, the ward also refurbished a small park at the entrance.

Katsuhiko Hibino created this  created this beautiful morning glory green curtain rising on the front side of 3331 Arts Chiyoda. Called the Asatte Asago project, the morning glory seeds here had been taken to space by Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamasaki. The project involves community gardening and sharing across different regions of Japan.

Other green projects at 3331 Arts Chiyoda include Chaco Kato’s”Slow Wheat” project at the cafe, with wheat grass plants that will be used as a health drink. The art space is also offering small vegetable plots on the school’s rooftop. If you live nearby, check it out!

On August 21, 2010, Chris Berthelsen of Fixes and I will lead a bilingual interactive workshop on greening the city from 7 to 9 pm. More details will appear soon. The same day, Kato-san will be teaching a beginner’s compost class in the late afternoon.

Passion flower vine brightens inner city

Vines are a perfect city plant: requiring relatively little soil and space, covering large vertical areas, providing seasonal foliage and color. This wispy white passion flower is lovely.

Update: Since Jason informed me that maybe it isn’t a passion flower vine, I have added a second image. Anyone else have an idea what it is? Do you think that gourds/melons/squash are being formed? The added image also shows how the vine both covers that wall between properties and also decorates the side gate.

Simple wood bench provides resting place at city shrine

On my walk with Chris Berthelsen through Harajuku, Jingumae, and Sendagaya, we stumbled into the Hatomori shrine (鳩森神社). In front of its splendid Noh theater, we noticed several lovely and very simple benches made of logs and what look like giant metal staples. Along with plenty of shade, it’s great this city shrine also provides a place to rest.

Tiny garden door leads to mini-forest in Harajuku

I was startled by this tiny garden door, not much taller than the bike’s handlebar. It’s amazing that in Harajuku there are still some old houses with their lush gardens. Most have been torn down and converted into multi-family buildings with minimal green space. While the wall prevents a full view, the small forest rising up and out of the property seems full of mystery and life.

Ivy trained into an X-shape topiary

I love how this ivy has been trained into a perfect X-shape topiary. Clearly following the form of the steel support for the apartment building’s facade, the tidy and even pruning also demonstrates the gardener’s on-going care. This local person must enjoy plants and the opportunity to make something artful in a small space.

Balcony overflows with bougainvillea and other plants

On a walk with Chris Berthelsen of Fixes, one of my favorite Tokyo blogs, we noticed this balcony overflowing with bougainvillea and other plants. Although many Tokyo balconies lack plants, it’s great to see one that is bursting with flowers and life. This corner balcony must have 40 or even 100 plants. I wonder what it looks like from inside the apartment.

I notice how they are using a small space tactic to maximize plants: vertical shaped pots which provide more soil for growing while occupying less horizontal space. This year I have started using similar shaped pots on my very full balcony.

Elementary school teaches kids to grow morning glory

Last week’s election provided me the perfect pretext to check out the elementary school I always pass on the way to the train station. There was some minor confusion about why the foreigner was getting close to the polling station, but I was there just to observe.

Growing morning glories is a common elementary school project. I like how this semi-circle of trained vines is so organized and decorative. The flowers vary in color, and each plant is marked with the classroom that is providing care. I heard that the students track the progress in notebooks. Looks like fun.

Summer vegetables growing on the sidewalk

Walking down a large boulevard in Higashi Koenji, I was surprised to see these potted vegetables on the sidewalk. In addition to ginko trees, this street has many azaleas between the vehicle lanes and the pedestrian sidewalk. In this spot, there’s a semi-permanent row of pots. But these eggplants and tomatoes are an extra row that someone temporarily set up.

I love how seasonal and impromptu this vegetable gardening is. And, after almost two years in Japan, I am still startled that people can place plants they love on the street, and no one eats the vegetables, vandalizes, or steals the plants. A city that’s safe for vegetables and plants is one that also welcomes people.