I love this ever-changing sidewalk garden in the heart of Shinjuku Ni-chome, Tokyo’s gay neighborhood. The gardener seems to be a long time resident who used to run a shop from the first floor of his home. I love how the plants are all labeled, even simple ones likes roses. And that this dense garden exists despite the lack of space and the many people passing by at all times of night.
Walking in Omotesando, you can see the contrast between houses built before and after the 1980s. Unfortunately, most of the new houses occupy the entire lot, with no room for the sizable gardens in their pre-Bubble predecessors.
Although hosta is an Asian plant, it’s more popular in America. For Americans, hostal is a very elegant import and expensive feeling. I associate it with upper class neighborhoods in New York City and elsewhere in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. You hardly see it in Tokyo. It’s easy to grow and very attractive I think.
Recently I have been spending more time on this Shimokitazawa shoutengai, or commercial strip full of very small businesses. This one is northwest of the station, and somewhat hard to find. What’s great is its combination of shops run by old timers alongside imported hipster clothes, one of Tokyo’s best coffee shops called Bear Pond that roasts their own beans, a hookah bar, and at least ten hair salons.
There are thousands of these shopping streets in Tokyo, near transit stations and along routes that connect homes, workplaces, schools, and leisure areas. It’s strange that Tokyo Metropolitan Government is still so focused on cars and their movement across the city at the expense of walking and biking and other forms of common space usage. There is little government recognition or support for the idea that these relics of past decades are in fact some of Tokyo’s most forward-looking urban public spaces.
Lively pedestrian zones are common in Europe, and becoming more so in many cities in the United States. By not segregating cars, pedestrians, and bicycles, the street pace slows down to pedestrian speed while still allowing passage for delivery trucks and cars. The way the street is painted makes it appear even more narrow, providing further social cues about speed and usage.
Many of Tokyo’s shoutengai are suffering as consumers shift towards shopping at big box stores and driving as a primary form of transportation. The city government is truly looking backwards when it promotes automobile usage and fails to recognize the value of these vernacular public spaces that support human interaction and the environment.