This image sums up my love of Tokyo green spaces. In the background is the iconic Docomo Tower in Shinjuku. In the foreground is a typical Tokyo sight: a lot where the old structure has been raised is now used for hourly parking. In the middle is an older residence whose wild garden is thriving through neglect and the absence of redevelopment. Tokyo is a dense place full of the iconic and prosaic, living nature and concrete structures, traces of the past and constant change.
Since I have been taking an intensive Japanese language course in Shibuya, I have gotten to explore some of the back areas of Shibuya. Away from the massive crossing that is world famous (called a “scramble” in Japanese), and away from the crazy teen fashion, Shibuya is full of offices and even quiet residential neighborhoods.
I often pass the front of this bland and typical office tower. Recently, I was walking in the back alley, and realized that the entire rear facade is planted. I’ll have to go back some more to see if the wall of green grows thicker. It seems like a simple yet impressive structure for transforming the dead vertical space, and providing a beautiful garden for the office workers and neighbors. Well done!
Another garden I saw from my bike in central Tokyo is this huge balcony garden on top of what looks like a semi-abandonded ten story building. The windows below the garden are either covered up, dirty, or reveal stacks of boxes. I wonder if the building is mixed use, and how such a large and well established garden ended up there. The Jingumae neighborhood is one of central Tokyo’s most expensive areas.
I often notice that the most intriguing and wild green spaces grow next to older buildings. It’s interesting to see the same phenomenon on an aging high-rise.
I have found this wonderful short-cut between Yoyogi and Omotesando on bike. It passes a lot of houses with gardens. On my way to a meeting, I had a nice long chat with a small office owner who was tending a beautiful clematis vine. And then I saw this house with irises outside. If you ignore that you are in the center of Tokyo, it seems like a simple country house, no?
This small oak tree in my satoyama box is pushing out new leaves and flowers. I am a big fan of 5bai midori’s modular boxes full of native trees, bushes, and small plants. This box measures only 20 by 20 by 20 centimeters, yet it is full of plants and surprises. Some of them are evergreen, and it’s fun to watch the rest of the box revive in spring.
Update: I found the tag, and the tree is called konara in Japanese (コナラ). It’s an oak, with the Latin name (Quercus serrata). It’s a very typical Japanese forest tree, and its ample sap attracts good beetles like kabutomushi (カブトムシ). I wonder if we’ll get acorns out of this tree.
I love this multi-petal and super-pink cherry tree growing outside my apartment building. At night, it is magical against the clouds and electric power lines. I like that the tree has been trimmed into a lollipop shape. The sight of the petals pooling up in the gutter is also strangely captivating: so pink and so transient.
Fortunately, once cherry trees have finished blooming, there is a burst of spring flowers: azalea, dogwood, lilac, iris, jasmine, and soon roses.