I love this short variegated bamboo. Today was a sunny and cold winter day. While crossing Shinjuku Gyoen, this vivid pattern stole my attention.
Recently I was helping my friend Matt making bonsais in his Roka-koen apartment in Setagaya when I saw this incredible sunset. This is his view looking west from his fifth floor apartment. It’s amazing how dense Tokyo is, and how far the city spreads out from the center.
A small Shinto shrine is the reason that these two giant trees are still there. Dating back perhaps to just after the war, these trees seem to be an important stepping stone for neighborhood and regional birds. With the clear winter skies and the leaves gone, you can see Mount Fuji through the trees.
Why aren’t mature trees recognized as a vital urban resource? How can these small islands of nature be connected with larger parks and other micro-green spaces? What is the role of Shinto as a religion and as thousands of property owners in supporting urban wildlife?
Recently, Mukunoki Ayumi gave me a tour of Kuboco, the construction and roof garden company where she works in Shitamachi. She graduated from Nodai, where I am a research fellow. The meeting took place thanks to Edgy Japan‘s Yanigasawa Hiroki. I immediately recognized the building when I spotted the incredible wisteria that is trellised across one building and climbs to the top of the adjoining 8 story building, where it provides rooftop shade on a trellis structure. Mukunoki-san told me that the vine is just eight years old and very vigorous!
Kuboco designs roof gardens and vertical gardens for commercial and retail buildings as well as residences. Since they are a construction company, they are able to combine garden design and maintenance with structural engineering, water-proofing, and retrofitting trellises for vines and vertical gardens onto older buildings.
Mukunoki-san reports seeing a shift from roof lawns to vegetables in Tokyo. She attributes this to customers wanting less maintenance and greater value from their outdoor spaces. Kabuco has roof gardens on both of its buildings, one a more social space and the other full of experiments with soil depth and new vegetables. Kuboco is very hands-on in providing advice about how to build roof gardens and what to grow. Mukunoki-san explained that last summer she grew tumeric because one of her clients wanted to grow it. On my visit, I saw blueberries, carrots, onions, parsley and other food on their demonstration gardens, and admired how they are testing out what can grow in 5, 10, 20, and 25 cm deep soil boxes. And for a while Kuboco’s roof garden provides fresh vegetables to a local onigiri restaurant.
She also introduced me to the Japanese term for “local food”: 地産地消 (chisanchishou, locally produced and locally consumed, with the first and third kanji being the word soil).
The 8 year old wisteria looks like it’s been on this building for much longer. It blooms best when trained horizontally.
I would love to try blueberries, too. It would be so satisfying to eat fresh blueberries, rather than the supermarket ones that have travelled from as far as Chile.
Tokyo residents and small businesses welcome the gods in temporary homes built of bamboo, pine, and plum blossoms.
I love how the best ones are hand-crafted from pine, bamboo, and plum blossoms. They are intended to be temporary homes for the Shinto gods (kami, 神様). I like the idea that you can create a temporary house for the gods to visit at new year. The three heights of the kamomastu represent heaven, humanity, and earth- in descending order. The shimekazari are smaller, with Shinto rope holding charms such as oranges, folded paper, rice straw, and ferns.
Shimekazari (標飾り) and Kadomatsu (門松) are traditional New Year’s ornaments placed on walls and on the sidewalks outside shops and homes. The city simultaneously empties of people and fills with physical connections to mountains and spirits. This year I took photos of the widest variety I could find in the areas I visit on typical days: on a car bumper, outside a sento, next to a wall of cigarette advertisements, on a busy boulevard, outside a barbershop, pachinko parlor, 24 hour convenience store, and a department store.
After the holiday, these decorations should be burned at a shrine. By mid-January, they are already a faded memory.
See more photos after the jump.
Pink Tentacle has assembled a collection of historic new year’s cards (年賀状, nengajou) from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Seeing all these different rabbits featured in vibrant designs with national and cultural messages is a delight and inspiration. The one above is from
1927 1915 (via Twitter’s @hizaga). I wonder whether we’ll be seeing more rabbits this year in Tokyo: as food, companions, or wildlife?
It’s actually Shinjuku Gyoen on a sunny winter day.
With skilled pruning, Japanese gardens have stunning pine trees, often at their most beautiful in January. The needles are straight, and the branches are pruned over many years to wiggle. Tthe canopy is at both airy and precisely defined. You can find a beautiful pine tree at almost every traditional Japanese garden and also paired with modern architecture and as bonsai. This tree is by the pond at the Okidomon Gate at Shinjuku Gyoen (大木戸門）
This beautiful, new year bonsai made by a friend matches an evergreen tree with a pot re-made from shards.
I received this gorgeous new year bonsai gift from Matthew Puntigam, a friend and research fellow colleague at the Tokyo University of Agriculture’s Landscape Architecture Science department (農大). It’s a perfect new year gift: the woody bark tree retains its leaves in winter, the beautiful bowl re-created to show its cracks, lush moss and stones from a recent trip to Mie.
The tree is called アセビ (Asebi in Japanese, and Pieris japonica in Latin). My childhood home in the mid-Atlantic United States had a pair of these flowering broad-leaf evergreens by the front door. This specimen is simultaneously showing new growth and flower buds.
The method of putting broken ceramics back together is called 金継ぎ (kintsugi). This pot is one of Matt’s first, which he learned at the Suginami ceramic studio Shiho (史火) where I also make flowerpots and vases. Often gold is used, but I think silver goes very well with the black ceramic and winter bonsai.
My friends John and Ruth McCreery sent me these wonderful photos of their guerrilla garden in Yokohama. The McCreery’s adopted a neglected patch of land between the road and the parking lot of their large residential complex. I like how they captured the odd feeling at New Year’s in the Tokyo region when you see plants typical of all four seasons all thriving. Plants that I recognize include large leafed taro, red maple leaves, and blooming daffodils.
Maybe nothing is more typically winter in Japan than the presence of all the other seasons!
Update: Later I received an email from Ruth explaining how the taro plant arrive in the garden unexpectedly:
Thank you, readers, for your interest in Tokyo Green Space. I am always interested to know what you think about specific posts or the general direction of the blog. Here’s WordPress’ summary for 2010.
The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.
The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 110,000 times in 2010. If it were an exhibit at The Louvre Museum, it would take 5 days for that many people to see it.
In 2010, there were 320 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 582 posts. There were 675 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 39mb. That’s about 2 pictures per day.
The busiest day of the year was January 13th with 762 views. The most popular post that day was Vancouver’s Olympic vegetable gardens.
Where did they come from?
The top referring sites in 2010 were newsweekjapan.jp, twitter.com, stumbleupon.com, facebook.com, and tinyhousedesign.com.
Some visitors came searching, mostly for tokyo green space, 2010, bonsai, pygmy goats, and olympics 2010.
Attractions in 2010
These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.
Vancouver’s Olympic vegetable gardens August 2009
About Tokyo Green Space May 2009
Bonsai Museum and Shibamata with Nodai July 2009
Inspiration August 2008
Links August 2008
It’s the second day of the new year. I am enjoying the blue sky and the realization that there is so much winter gardening that you can do on a Tokyo balcony. This lavender continues to bloom under the clothes rack. I can enjoy the beautiful color from my kitchen desk, and my clothes can brush up against the scented leaves as they dry.
Tokyo has a special feeling during the first days of the year, when many residents are still celebrating the holiday with their families outside the mega-city. In this quiet time, I wonder about covering a Tokyo building with lavender plants, or creating small lavender city farms on a scale large enough to allow Tokyoites and international visitors to bring lavender gifts home to their families.
What will you dream about tonight?
A very cultured friend told me recently that Japanese celebrate 初夢 (hatsuyume) in addition to 初詣 (hatsumoude). At the very start of the new year, many Japanese visit local or famous shrines and temples to welcome the new year, a practice known as hatsumoude. Hatsuyume refers to the first dream of the new year, and many people wake up on January 2 trying to remember their dreams, which will reflect their fortune for the coming year.
The three luckiest dreams are Mount Fuji, hawk, and eggplant. This tradition dates to early Edo times. Have you ever dreamed of any of these? Will you be paying attention to your dream on the night of January 1, the first full night of the new year?