Month: August 2011

Mukuge blooms along the streets in August


August has more foliage than flowers, and it seems that few can bear the unrelenting heat. That’s what’s so wonderful about “Mukuge” (ムクゲ) a Japanese hibiscus that grows easily on Tokyo city sidewalks. I like the wild colors that make the city more spectacular, and Mukuge forms part of the Aoi (アオイ)family of flowers associated with the Edo shogunate.

Photo of Omeikaido Dori sidewalk, across from Sanshinomori Park in Higashi Koenji 蚕糸の森 公園、東高円寺。A small sign says that it was planted in March, 2010 with support from KDDI.

Elevated forest in Shibuya

渋谷のビルの上に、小さな森があります。宮下公園の斜め前にあって、このビルには店とギャラリーと事務所が入っています。こんなに木が見えて、自然光を使っている事務所は良さそうです。明治通りからは、この小さな空の森が見えませんが、渋谷のBear Pondコーヒーからはよく見えます。

Recently I have been drinking coffee at Bear Pond on the street that connects Miyashita Park and Aoyama. On these hot days, it’s great to look up and see a vertical forest on this 10 story mid-rise that combines retail, gallery, and office space. It’s easy to miss this from Meiji Dori, but you can see it easily from the Bear Pond coffee shop. it must be great to work surrounded by thick trees and natural light. It also looks like you can walk between the top three levels.

Lovely sidewalk garden at Kichijoji plant store


My favorite Kichijoji plant store is moving soon. I have long admired the owner’s meticulous sidewalk garden, full of surprises. Here are perfect grapes, two of which we have just eaten. The garden is a long narrow strip with some more plants in a light well and the stairway to the lower level entrance.

I like the mix of exotics like grapes, with traditional Japanese plants like pine and raphis palm, plus ferns, cactuses, and so many more plant types. The incredible variety of plants and the impeccable maintenance show off the gardener’s skills and wide interests.

More photos after the jump.

Continue reading

New book features global artists & cultural figures talking about favorite places in Japan

Travel Guide to Aid Japan」という本は3.11の後、外国人にもっと日本を訪れるように勧めます。この本の編集者が、僕の「のんべい横丁」の写真を使いたいと連絡してくれました。世界の芸術家や作家やファッションデザイナー41人が、日本で一番好きなところについて書いています。この本に参加できたのがうれしいです。

I just received my copy of Travel Guide to Aid Japan, a stylish book with 40 artists, writers, fashion designers, and other cultural figures recommending their favorite places to visit in Japan. The WAttention editor had asked me recently for permission to use my Nonbei Yokocho photo, and it’s amazing how fast the book went to print. The foreward is by Alex Kerr and participants include Tokyo’s Jean Snow. I was glad to participate in this book.

Giant cactus flower with night raindrops


August suddenly became wet and cool last week. I love seeing this giant cactus flowering outside a nearby restaurant. I like how incongruous cactuses are in this humid weather, and yet seemingly adaptable to being cared for in pots. The restaurant’s odd name Groin Groin may have discouraged me from eating there, but I admire the restaurant for activating the sidewalk with their unusual plants.

Landscape dead zone in posh Omotesando

なぜ表参道の交差点はこんなに醜いのですか? 表参道のケヤキ通りの近くなのに、一番大事な交差点に植物がありません。歩行者にもっとふさわしい環境を作れるはずです。

Why is this major intersection so ugly? Pedestrians deserve better.

Some people think that Omotesando is Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées. There is an incredible zelkovia tunnel and many posh global brands. However, at the main crossing, just above the Omotesando train station, the aggressively barren non-landscape is shocking. The small in-ground landscape triangle and the four above ground planters contain nothing but dry soil and some lonely weeds.

I wonder how long they will remain this way. In a city where most people commute by train and foot, the areas above stations should be amongst the greenest, with nature being used to make these frequently passed areas more pleasant and inviting.

Omotesando Koffee has perfect traditional Japanese garden

隠れたところにある『Omotesando Koffee』というカフェに、小さくて完璧な日本庭園があります。ムクゲやモミジやアジサイのような伝統的な植物はたくましくて、育てやすいです。歴史もあります。コーヒーはとても美味しいです。

Minimal and superb Omotesando Koffee is a modular cube inside an old Omotesando house. It’s supposed to last one year, after which the building may be “reformed” as the Japanese call it.

In addition to delicious coffee in a nearly hidden spot, Omotesando Koffee has the most perfect Japanese garden with two benches for seating. I love the stone path, old light fixtures, and the very Tokyo odd mix of wood, bamboo, and the ubiquitous cinder block.

It’s a very small garden, with many traditional and resilient Japanese plants, including hollyhock, maple, and hydrangea. Worth finding if you’re in the area. Hollyhock is becoming my favorite late summer flower.

For those far away, I have included an image of the sign outside (it looks like a black frame), and the clever way they turn standard paper bags into a lovely and minimal branded object.

Grass going to seed on a Shinjuku sidewalk


Tokyo summer has been incredibly hot, humid, and wet. I love seeing this grass growing on a sidewalk a few steps from Shinjuku station. The bright neon makes the grass glow in a hyper-reality. This perfect complement to its surroundings appears with no human planning. Looking at it going to seed I am sure it will multiply.

Impeccable bullet train conductor


Everyone knows that Japanese trains are efficient and reliable. But there’s another element of stylishness that takes it from being a functional service to a sometimes sublime experience. I love the white gloves with the impeccable uniform, the sense of precision and pride.

A day trip to Karuizawa with moss forest and bikes


In the heat of summer, Karuizawa remains cool and elegant. We found a moss forest, streams, and a small lake. It is just an hour from Tokyo by bullet train, and easy to rent a bike near the station. We passed many tennis courts, but did not meet any royalty. By accident, we met the charming proprietress of a coffee shop frequented by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1977.

Sky Tree is almost finished


Sky Tree, Tokyo’s tallest landmark, will be finished at the end of this year, and opening next spring. In Japanese it’s pronounced Sukai Tsurii. This is the view from Kinshichou station just south of the tower.

Furin & chandelier decorate homeless camp in Shibuya


A furin is a glass wind chime whose sound Japanese find cooling in summer; something about glass and metal striking. I was amazed to see this domestic symbol, along with a white chandelier (below), decorating two homes in this long row of wood and blue tarp cubes sheltering the homeless. (The furin is just to the right of the rolled up bamboo used to screen door).

I am struck by how incredibly orderly these living structures are, and how on a warm day when you gaze inside, the homes seem orderly and common place: tidy kitchens, matt floors, shelves and storage, on a scale just slightly smaller than what most Tokyo-ites live in.

This long alley of make-shift homes is just below Miyashita Park that paces the Yamanote line for a fe blocks. It’s just past Nonbei Yokocho and near the center of Shibuya. There was controversy over gentrification and corporate funding for city resources when the city accepted Nike sponsorship to renovate the park with design by Atelier Bow Wow. It seems the homeless merely migrated to the area just below the fenced-in skate park and fusball court.

Now it is a typically Tokyo close juxtaposition of semi-public and vacant space, design and non-design, and living, sports, drinking, and parking spaces.

Biking up the Tama river to sit in cool water


It was a great treat to get a bike tour of the Tama river from Akishima to Fussa with Chris from @a_small_lab. The wildness of this wide river in summer was refreshing, and I was surprised to see the rolling hills on the other side. We cooled off in this quiet stretch of water.

Chris showed me the origin of the Tamagawa josui, a historic canal that brought fresh water to Edo since the mid 1600s. It’s hard to believe this mix of wilderness, industrial decay, outdoor municipal swimming pools, river fishing, and residential life is also part of Tokyo.

I am lucky that Japanese sometimes think foreigners’ design is unique


I am making more flowerpots at Shiho ceramic studio. Usually I like to make monochromatic flowerpots that don’t distract from the plants. This time I tried a technique that other students have used where they combine several colors of clay. Once I used the rolling pin, what I thought was a thin design became fat. When something this accidental happens, I feel lucky that Japanese sometimes think foreigners have unique design sensibilities.