Month: June 2011

Why are there so few old trees in Tokyo?


Many parts of Tokyo seem perversely devoid of tree canopy. That’s why I was thrilled to see this very public sign on a chestnut tree (shiinoki or シイノキ) in Shibuya ward. The tree sits at the back of the Naganuma School for Japanese study, in an area where large office buildings and residences are still being constructed. In almost every urban construction site, the prior landscape is scraped.

I am not sure how much protection this sign offers the tree, but it’s good to know that the city is aware of the value of mature trees, and that passers-by will see the sign and wonder where the other trees went.

Temple entrance beckons at twilight


Visiting a nearby gallery, I wanted to show my friend the Gokokuji temple, just past the station. It was more magical and quiet than I had remembered. I love the long climb up the hill, and how the landscape frames the entrance gate, which in turn further frames the landscape.

“It was always a lie,” an anti-nuclear protest song by Kazuyoshi Saito

斉藤和義 (@kazuyoshi_saitoの『ずっとウソだった』という歌は反原発への感情を表しています。

Kazuyoshi Saito (斉藤和義) turned his commercial song for Shiseido cosmetics, a love ballad “I always liked you,”  into an anti-nuclear song, “It was always a lie” (ずっとウソだった). I like the simplicity of the web video mixed with his scathing protest message.

Decades of propaganda convinced many Japanese that nuclear power was safe. There were even special programs aimed at persuading young mothers that it was OK to live near a nuclear plant. Recent street protests in Tokyo and online media challenge a decades-old consensus between corporations, governments, and university researchers.

I am moved by the mix of outrage and rebellion.


















I found the lyrics translated into English online, but I’ll try to improve the translation later:

“You have been telling a lie”

When we walk around this country,
we can find 54 Nuke power plants

My text book and CM always told me,
“It’s SAFE”

You have been telling a lie,
then your excuse is just “UNEXPECTED”
I remember the clear sky,
but now, it turns black rain

You’ve been telling a lie,
it was exposed after all, I know
Yeah, it was a lie, “Nuke is completely safe”
You’ve been telling a lie,
I just wanna eat such a delicious spinach once again.

Yeah, it was a lie,
You should have noticed this ball game

We can’t stop the contaminated wind anymore
Do you accept if you find it about how many people would be exposed by the radiation?
How do you think? I’m asking you, Jap Gov.

When you leave this town,
Coudl you find delicious water?
Tell me, whatever, there’s no way to hide

They are all suck, Tepco, Hepco, Chuden and Kanden
We never dream a dream anymore
But they are all suck
They still keep going
They are truely suck
I wanna take action, how could I handle this feeling?

They are telling a lie….
We are all suck….

Bright yellow bush is favorite in Tokyo rainy season


Biyou yanagi (ビョウヤナギ) is the perfect Tokyo rainy season bush. The flowers radiate with color when the sky is often overcast. Each flower produces dozens of delicate stamen that catch the smallest breeze, and the bush overall seems very hardy for urban life, with very attractive leaves. I think its Latin name is Hypericum monogynum. This one’s growing in the section of my apartment building garden that an elderly couple takes care of.

Does this bush grow in your city?

Two plants cover home in central Tokyo

I am so impressed with the utter simplicity of this residential garden. Using practically no space, this vertical garden consists mostly of one well trimmed magnolia tree and a vine that screen the home. I don’t know whether credit should go to the rain-soaked climate or a smart home-owner. This house shows what’s possible in terms of ample plant growth in the most minimal of urban spaces. With more of these gardens, Tokyo would see lower summer temperatures, more wildlife, and a great quality of urban life.

Ficus vine crosses the line between outdoor and domestic space


A huge advantage of our small apartment is that both the kitchen and the living face the balcony garden. I love how this ficus vine has crossed the line between outdoor and domestic space.

Simple materials make an inviting restaurant garden facing the sidewalk


It’s lovely to see these flowers outside a small neighborhood restaurant. The set-up could not be simpler: easily re-blooming perennials. a liquor crate, recycled wood. A simple gesture communicates to the street and offers a chance for interaction with pedestrians.

Readers, I know the orange flower is clivia. What is the smaller salmon colored flower? I have grown both in San Francisco.

Update: Thanks to Jason Dewees, the salmon colored flower has been identified as Freesia (Lapeirousia) laxa.

Small biodiversity garden for construction workers


I saw this beautiful biodiversity mini-garden at a construction site for the  combination surface and underground urban freeways along Yamate Dori not far from Yoyogi Park. Although I bike this route every weekday, it took me a while to realize that this garden was inside the construction site, and visible mostly to the construction workers. What a great idea that workers’ jobs can be improved with on-site gardens. It looks very modular and portable.

This project is, I think, by Shimizu Corporation, one of Japan’s big builders. It’s funny that they get more attention for their grandiose city on the ocean Green Float concept than some of the small and inexpensive projects that they are already carrying out.

Elementary school children give pansies to Metro station

小学生はパンジーを東京メトロの駅に寄付しました。 きれいです。
Even though I will be surprised if these pansies can live more than one week in the fluorescent flooded station, it’s lovely to see the flowers with their label identifying the local elementary school. How cool that the students are offering the station something alive.

Shin Koenji garden explodes in mega-growth


Recently, my mother-in-law surprised me by telling me that she attributes her garden’s explosive growth this spring to the Tohoku earthquake on March 11.

I was surprised, too, by its mega-growth: the hydrangea are enormous, once small variegated vines are sprawling, the self-sown shuro palm is pushing lots of new leaves. The growth is all the more suprising since the garden is very shaded, particularly after the plum and persimmon trees leaf out in April. I inquired about fertilizer use, but m-i-l insists that she adds nothing more than frequent watering when there’s no rain.

I love how her recent attachment to gardening have transformed a rarely used place into a great addition to her home and pottery studio.

This small garden includes the fruit trees that pre-date the studio, volunteer plants like the palm tree, and more recent garden plants. The sour plum tree produce thousands of tiny fruits that m-i-l makes into a home-made jam.

From Shiho blog.

Weeds shooting up


Rainy season propels city weeds, and signals the start of our jungle-like summer.

Dandelion and dokudami, Shibuya. Related: see previous post about dokudami weed, and reader comments about edible versions in Vietnam.

Revisiting Kaza Hana


Set off from the main street in Aoyama (246), Kaza Hana is one of my favorite Tokyo flower and garden design stores. I love how they have transformed the exterior of the shop into an incredibly dense and complex vertical garden. It’s a great place for lunch or coffee, or to pick up a gift. Or just admire the amazing wall gardens and displays.

When I was there, I bought a bouquet of moss-like carnations called テマリソウ (temarisou) as an office gift for Tokyo Art Beat. I hadn’t seen this bloom sold before, and it seems to have recently been introduced to European florists by Dutch plant breeder Hilverda Green Trick Carnation as Dianthus barbatus “Green Trick.”

Related: see photos and story from last year’s visit.

My first Tokyo balcony blueberry


This is my first balcony blueberry. Since last year, I have noticed more blueberry plants for sale in Tokyo, from home centers to neighborhood flower and plant shops. I am eager to see how easy it is to grow them in Tokyo, especially in my balcony container garden.

Honeybee pollinates beautiful snowbell tree in central Tokyo


If you look in the center of the photograph, you can see a bee pollinating this Japanese snowbell tree (styrax japonicus, or エゴノキ). It is planted in the very narrow gap between a house and a small street in Nishi Azabu Juban. I learned online that the wood of this tree is used to make a string instrument called a “kokyuu,” which is similar to a shamisen.