Month: December 2011

Setting sun as big as Mount Fuji

たまに家の事務所からすばらしい景色が見えることに気がつきます。富士山の夕焼けはいい年末の写真だと思います。良い年をお迎えください。

Sometimes I am aware that my home office has a sublime view.

Dramatic clouds and Mount Fuji

空と都市の対照がきれいです。この雲は本当か偽物のどちらでしょうか。

Fall brings clear skies and dramatic clouds. How come the top looks like a natural wonder and the city below is littered with antennas, utility poles, and a giant incinerator?

Mount Fuji at end of road at sunset

よくこの道を自転車で行きます。突然に道の終わりに富士山が見えて、驚いた。もっと注意深く観察しなければなりません。

I bike down this road so often, and suddenly I am surprised to see Mount Fuji at the very end. How come I am seeing it here for the first time? Maybe it’s the red of the sky against the traffic and brake lights.

Itsukaichi Kaido is one of the main Edo roads connecting Tokyo with western Japan. Near the city, it connects Koenji with Kichijoji while veering across and away from the Chuo train line. It also crosses the Zenpukuji river, which is a lovely greenway far from the train stations and mostly enjoyed by the neighbors.

Looking at the balcony garden from the living room

マンションは小さいので、ベランダの庭がいつも見えます。寒いときには、多くの時間をなかで過ごします。

One advantage of a very small apartment is that two of our three small rooms face the balcony with a wall of windows. You don’t need to make a special trip to observe what’s going on in the garden. It’s always there. As it gets cold, I spend more time inside.

Bus stop chairs are gifted, unmatched, and spontaneous

この歩道と道にあまり植物がありません。けれどもこの停留所の席はとても東京っぽくて、東京グリーンスペースと関連しています。政府はインフラを作ってくれませんから、住民は独自に家の物をリサイクルして、再利用しています。そんな住民のおかげで、公共スペースを分かち合えて、楽しいです。
こんな結果をどのデザイナーも作れません。色も布地も形もみんな違います。この解決法はとてもきれいで適切とはいえませんが、優しい気持ちが伝わります。

この停留所は東京グリーンスペースの比喩です。昔、公共スペースは計画されたことがありません。今は都市の指導者と官僚が車中心社会とメガ開発を支えすぎます。3.11の前、政府が悪くても、東京はいい都市だと思いました。3.11の後、無能な指導者は危ないと思います。

年末が近づくにしたがって、もっと生きている都市をどう作れるかと考えています。

This sidewalk and street have nearly no visible plants. Yet anonymously gifted bus stop chairs are very Tokyo and very much in the spirit of Tokyo green space. Reacting to a lack of infrastructure– no shelter and no seating– neighbors simply recycle and re-use stuff from their homes and share it with neighbors in a public space.

Few designers could have coordinated this unlikely mix of colors, fabrics, and shapes. Its aesthetic arises from its spontaneous appearances. Is this the most beautiful, practical, or ideal solution to the lack of infrastructure? Probably not, although it reflects generosity and concern for others in shared spaces.

I have been writing about Tokyo green space for a while, ever since moving here three years ago. Tokyo is surprisingly green and livable despite the complete absence of planning for public open space, from its rise as Japan’s Edo capitol in the 1600s through the 20th century’s natural and man-made calamities that twice obliterated the city.

Tokyo has such forward-looking urban features like walkable small streets dominated by pedestrians and bicyclists. But these vital paths exist not because of  contemporary Tokyo’s good planning, but because the bureaucracy still in the thrall of automobile infrastructure and mega-developments hasn’t had the chance to alter them.

Documenting Tokyo green space has been a way for me to understand the life of this city. The grass-roots reclaiming of public space certainly increases the city’s appeal. But, post 3.11, I also now wonder if the residents haven’t demanded enough of the city leaders. We now know more clearly the dangers of leaving vital decisions to reckless and outdated politicians and bureaucrats.

As this difficult year ends, I wonder what all of us can do to create a more alive city.

The places between spaces enchant

建物の間の狭いところが私をひきつけます。密集した都市のこんなスペ—スは、とても楽しいと思います。狭いのに、十五メートルの高さの竹と冬に葉を落としている木とシュロというヤシが元気そうです。

I was captivated by this narrow green space between residences in Omotesando. The places between spaces have a tremendous appeal in dense Tokyo. This tiny space supports 15 meter tall bamboo, a tree shedding its leaves for winter, and the ubiquitous shuro palm tree that self-seeds throughout Tokyo.

50 plus cactuses kept by local real estate office

小さな不動産屋さんには、大きなサボテンの庭があります。最近は雨が降ると、オフィスの人が中にサボテンを入れるのだそうです。プラスチックで覆われた外にずっとおいてあるサボテンもあります。
オフィスの人は寒い夜に外から事務所の中にみんなサボテンを入れると言いました。五十個以上の種類があります。重くて危ないし、とげがあるので、大変ですね。園芸家としての情熱と苦労に感心します。

Near the gallery where the Shiho ceramic show is held each year, there’s a small real estate office with an amazing collection of at least 50 cactuses. This year, I noticed that when it rains the realtor brings most of them inside, and covers a few outside with plastic.

The office definitely has more cactuses than customers. I am delighted by this plant lover’s dedication. When it’s cold, he brings many in for the night. Given how heavy and thorny the plants are, he’s obviously very dedicated to his passion.

Ceramic flowerpots at Shiho student show

この写真は史火陶芸教室の展示会です。盆栽植木鉢と普通の植木鉢と壁用の花瓶を発表しました。黒粘土と赤粘土の上にかけた白い釉薬が好きです。自然で中間色だからです。来年、もっとエアプラントを入れた小さな植木鉢を作りたいです。

These photos are from the Shiho ceramic show last month. I exhibited bonsai pots, regular pots, and wall vases. I like white glaze on black and red clay because it seems earthy and neutral. Next year I want to make more bonsai pots, and use them with air plants.

Mini apples in flower arrangement

あなたの近所の花屋はミニりんごを売っていますか。楽しいと思っています。東京でよく見ます。この壁の花瓶を史火陶芸教室で作りました。

Does your local florist include mini-apples in their arrangements? It’s very common now in Tokyo, and I think it adds a fun element. This wall vase I made at Shiho ceramic studio.

Like a brief tropical holiday at very low cost

寒いときには、温室に来るのが熱帯林への安い休暇みたいです。夢の島熱帯植物館を訪れました。戦後、たくさんのごみで作られた島です。外でパパイアの並木を見ました。この果物を東京で育てることができますか。

The same week I participated in the Umi no Mori tree planting, I had the opportunity to re-visit Yume no Shima, Tokyo’s most famous artificial island made of waste. This urban development started in the 1950s. Now it’s a vast area with a sports club, botanic garden, playing fields, semi-wild palm landscape, a marina, and a still functioning incinerator. It’s showing its age with deferred maintenance and sparse usage.

I love how it’s named “Dream Island.” This time I visited the botanic garden. On the outside is a row of papaya trees, which I thought too tropical to grow outdoors in Tokyo. There’s also a row of ceramic frog planters leading to the front door. A green house is a great place to go on a cold day, like a brief tropical holiday at very low cost.

Planting trees at Umi no Mori

先月友だちと海の森でボランティア植林に参加しました。二時間以内で、二十人が五百の木を植えました。この新しい都市の森はすばらしいと思います。五十万木はごみの上で育ちます。たくさんの都民はこの大掛かりなプロジェクトをまだ知りませんでした。

Last month some friends and I participated in a volunteer tree-planting at Umi no Mori, a forest being created on a landfill island on the bay. I’ve written before how few Tokyo residents know about this ambitious project promoted during Tokyo’s failed second Olympic bid in 2007. Umi no Mori is meant to carry cool ocean breezes into Tokyo’s crowded urban core.

The tree planting was fun. We were in a group of twenty or so volunteers planting 500 trees in a 25 square meter section. There were about 25 varieties of trees, and we planted them very close together. I learned from one of the volunteer leaders that this dense planting encourages the trees to compete and grow faster than normal. One of the volunteers explained to me that this is part of Miyawaki Akira’s method for restoring forests on post-industrial greenfields.

Creating new waterfront parks and planting 500,000 trees is certainly a great thing for Tokyo. Still, I wonder if this project were less top-down and more open to the citizens what greater impacts this project could have:

1. By encouraging more people to participate in the creation of the park, it would be a great chance to explain to Tokyo citizens about native trees and habitats. It would be awesome to link planting new trees in the Tokyo Bay with also adding greenery in every Tokyo neighborhood, with active participation by city residents.

2. By opening even a small section now, more people can begin to experience the park and perhaps learn more about urban garbage. What precisely is being put into this landfill? How do the layers of garbage reflect our contemporary lifestyles? What can be done to reduce the amount of garbage that must be buried?

I think this park will eventually be fantastic. However, it’s a missed opportunity not to make its creation more participatory, more transparent, more public, more connected to the rest of the city, more educational, and a catalyst for public and collective rethinking of the urban environment and waste production.

Ambassador Cedeno of Costa Rica and his wife Tauli, and Edoble’s Jess Mantell and her friend Miho participated with me.

Wildlife pets on parade near Odaiba beach

お台場で一番意外だったことは珍しい動物を見たことです。ペットをどうして飼いたいのかわかりませんでしたが、オーナーたちの愛情と公共の光景が楽しかったです。イチオピアの亀とプレーリードッグと一緒にいると、だれかが話しかけてきて、知らない人と会うことが簡単になります。

One of the unexpected pleasures of visiting Odaiba was exploring the close-knit community of exotic pet owners on the lawn just across from the artificial beach. We met an enormous Ethiopian turtle and two families of prairie dogs.

I confess that my joy for growing plants does not confer any insight into pet ownership. I personally prefer plants over animals when it comes to extra-species cohabitation. Still, I was amazed at the owners’ love for their pets and also the public spectacle they create. The pets are both extra-human companions and also intermediaries for meeting strangers of all ages.

A freeway runs through Odaiba

お台場の駅から浜に行く途中で、この大きな高速道路を渡らなければなりません。空いた所有地のほうが開発されたものより多いです。だから、出入り口のふたつが放棄されて、そこに植物が育っています。浜からの景色は楽しいです。港やスカイラインやレインボーブリッジや小型の自由の女神が見えます。この組み合わせはちょっと奇妙です。

Exiting the subway station in Odaiba, the way to the famed “beach” with city view includes walking past vast parking lots and then over this eight lane freeway.

What’s amazing about this view is that in addition to the enormous freeway, there are abandoned ramps on both sides, that are gradually being reclaimed by plants. Is land so value-less that this waste is considered appropriate?

There are still more empty than developed parcels on Odaiba, an urban development project with mixed results. The focus on freeways, parking lots, and chain restaurants and stores often makes it feel like a generic exurban landscape.

I hear that it is a popular place for dates. But I’ve been there only three times in as many years. Most recently I was there to get a ride to Umi no Mori for a volunteer tree planting day (more on that later). But a few extra hours gave me my first taste of Odaiba itself.

Once across the freeway and past the mall, there are some beautiful public spaces including an artificial beach. There are views of the port, the Tokyo skyline with the Rainbow Bridge, and some odd built decor that includes a mini Statue of Liberty on land.

Before and after views of pruned flower bed

花壇の剪定の前と後の写真。この庭はビルの管理人と退職した夫婦が世話をしています。上の写真は、10月で、葉と花が多いです。11月は、隣の壁が見えます。剪定の後で、もっと明るくなりました。冬も毎月、花が咲いています。

I like this before and after photo set. It shows an apartment building green space that sits between the ten story building and its two story neighbors, homes and a plumbing supply business. It borders a small street that is mostly pedestrian.

The garden has a mix of flowering vines, bushes, bulbs, and a row of pine trees that were probably planted 35 or 40 years ago. The utility pole support is borrowed infrastructure for training a vine upwards.

The photo above was taken October 24, 2011, and the one below November 23, 2011. Above you can see all the fullness of summer: lush foliage, pink and red flowers at every height level, a blurring of the boundary with the neighbor’s garden.

A month later, the 3 story tree has been heavily pruned, which lets light in during the cold months. All the plants have been cut back, and you can see the wall separating the properties.

The maintenance is a mix of semi-professional gardeners hired by the apartment building and a retired couple living in the garden apartment. Although far more restrained in winter, the garden continues to bloom in every month, no doubt because of their efforts.

Giant electric pole dwarfs persimmon & street

東京の中には、たくさんのあまりきれいでないものがあります。とても高い電線は江戸時代の五日市街道の上を渡ります。ごみ焼却炉の煙突や高架道路やマンションの終わらない蛍光灯の列も都市生活に奇妙なリズムをつくります。このとても高い電線の下に柿の実が見えます。

There are many urban sights in Tokyo that are jarring to newcomers, perhaps none more so than the giant electricity poles. Well, there’s also garbage incinerators with tall chimneys in every neighborhood, elevated freeways, endless rows of fluorescent lights stacked high on exposed residential hallways, and the zeal for paving over almost all surfaces.

This photo was taken near Shin Koenji where the elevated main power line crosses Itsukaichi Kaido, a road that dates back to Edo and maybe earlier. You can just make out a silhouetted ripe persimmon fruit. Sometimes these unattractive elements create their own rhythm and patterns in urban life.