My spouse found this shuro family crest, which is displayed at a shrine near Mount Fuji. The shuro palm is native to Japan and grows wild in Tokyo. I’ve been delighted to find it in parking lots and formal gardens. This year we are planting seeds to see if we can grow it on the balcony.
I love this winter scene of rampant white camellia and tall native palms, with plenty of dead fronds still attached to the crown. The wild landscape makes the house cozy and bright in the cold weather.
I love the semi-wild shuro palm, and how it pops up unexpectedly in Tokyo gardens. This is at the “forest house” in Nakano, looking up towards the sky. Utility lines are also a common Tokyo landscape element.
Winter provides a glimpse into this small Showa-era garden. Close to the house is a plum tree in bloom. Bordering the new development are evergreen plants including bamboo and the shuro palm.
I love how this sad parking lot palm tree looks especially desolate in snow. Leap Day, 2012.
Japanese garden maintenance is precise and skilled, even in public facilities. Because of this, I was all the more surprised and delighted to see a self-sown shuro palm disrupting this heavily manicured and idealized landscape behind the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. The azaleas on the slope are pruned to suggest waves, and the trees pruned as if they were posh poodles.
Maybe because it’s a palm tree, this intruder is allowed to thrive.
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.
On Japan’s Culture Day, the Dutch Embassy in Tokyo opened the doors to its magnificent ambassador’s residence and garden. Hundreds of locals took advantage of this rare inside look. It reminded me that many of Tokyo’s greatest green spaces are in private hands or inaccessible to the public like the Imperial Palace.
It’s fantastic that the Netherlands embassy opens their diplomatic outpost to the public twice a year. The house was initially designed in the 1880s and rebuilt after the 1923 earthquake. Although some say the style is “colonial,” the building reminds me of upper class residences in the United State’s northeast. From some angles, I could imagine Gatsby throwing a large garden party.
The garden is a fantastic mix of towering pines and other trees, a pleasantly irregular lawn, and a mix of traditional Japanese garden plants with plenty of imports like roses. Within this well maintained garden, I was pleased to see Tokyo’s native palm tree, the shuro, which easily self-sows and carries a history of being used for centuries in domestic life, as brooms, roofing, and sandals.
The visit also reminded me of the centuries of Dutch-Japanese history. This year I visited Dejima in Nagasaki, the sole foreign trading post during the centuries when Japan remained otherwise closed to the world. The visit conjured scenes of trading ships, cultural emissaries, and globalization in its earlier stages.
This parking lot palm tree has so few leaves yet so many flowers. No wonder the shuro palm tree spreads so easily in Tokyo.
Maybe you don’t associate cherry trees and palm trees. They are an odd pair, with this type of palm tree being a self-sower in Tokyo, and the cherries being selected from nurseries and carefully tended for decades.
By now, the cherry blossoms are ending. The petals pool up in a pink carpet, and new leafs shoot out from the dark branches. Once there’s more green than pink, this cherry mini-season is officially over.
Here are some photos of cherry blossoms seen walking and taking the train in my neighborhood. A dusty elementary school soccer field is bordered by shuro palm trees and cherry trees in full bloom. Waiting for the JR train, the platforms face into a canopy of mature trees. On a small street, fallen blossoms attract a child’s attention.
Tokyo palm trees with ginko leaves are not most foreigners’ image of the typical Japanese fall landscape.
I love this juxtaposition of Tokyo’s most common, self-seeding palm tree named Shuro (シュロ, or Trachycarpus fortunei) and fallen yellow ginko leaves. Most people think of fall as defined by maple leaves turning red, or winter as pine trees. This unexpected combination of ginko and palm is an alternative juxtaposition of deciduous and evergreen.
This photo is from “Shuro hill” at Tokyo’s oldest Japanese garden, Koishikawa Korakuen (小石川小楽園), created in the early Edo period by the second Tokugawa ruler. This area is also called “Kiso yama,”with the mountain, path, and stream designed to evoke the Kyoto highway. This is but one of many garden scenes that miniaturize famous places in Japan and China. My appreciation of this garden is indebted to the passion and knowledge shared by my professor Suzuki Makoto who gives the most extraordinary tour.
This last image shows the juxtaposition between this nearly 400 year old garden and modern Tokyo. In the background are Tokyo Dome (right) and the Bunkyo ward office (left). Many of the garden structures were destroyed during the 1945 fire-bombing of Tokyo, and the garden reduced in size by post-war development.
Despite its abbreviated size, the garden is large enough that only later did I realize I forgot to see the rice paddy on the north side. The loud bird cries indicate that this garden is a critical nature sanctuary in a crowded city.
San Francisco palm expert Jason Dewees, of Flora Grubb Gardens, recently visited Tokyo, the Seto Inland Sea and Yakushima, and documented his horticultural findings on the International Palm Society’s travel forum. Together we created Palm Sundae several years ago in Northern California. Above is one of his photos.
Packed with photos, Jason’s post is an expert traveler’s guide to urban trees and plants with a palm focus, as well as Seto Inland Sea palms and exotic plants found on Yakushima, Japan’s wettest place whose high mountains feature ancient Cryptomeria trees (commonly called cedar in English and sugi in Japanese). In Tokyo, Jason identified two main types of palm trees: Trachycarpus fortunei, self-seeding in roadside plant beds, in small parks, as well as in the wooded areas of Meiji Jingu, and Tracheycarpus wagnerianus in residential gardens. Trachycarpus fortunei is known in Japanese as shuro (シュロ, 棕櫚), and has been used for many traditional crafts including paper making and brooms. Jason also discovered and photographed in Tokyo potted and in the ground Rhapis palms, both common and unusual.