Mixing colors, shapes and origins on Tokyo balcony

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ベランダにあるこの四つの植物はそれぞれに別の色や形や起源があります。起源は、フランス、オーストラリア、フィリピン、東京です。

This balcony vignette includes contrasting colors and shapes with plants from France, Australia, Pilipinas, and Tokyo (lavender, formium, banana, and kanamemochi).

From Canary Islands to Tokyo apartment

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サンフランシスコでよく見かけるアエオニウムを東京のマンションで育てています。冬は、部屋の中の方がいいと思います。形や色が大好きです。カナリー諸島から来た植物です。

I see this aeonium succulent often in San Francisco, and decided to grow it in my Tokyo apartment. I love its shape and the its origins in the Canary Islands. I’ve kept mine indoors in the winter.

Even closer view of succulents reveal texture and vermillion edges

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クローズアップで、多肉植物の細部と様子が見えます。この二つは色と形が違いますが、端の濃い赤色は同じです。

Close-up you can see so many fun details about the balcony succulents. I like how these have different leaf forms, but both have vermillion edges. I have four succulents in three flowerpots, which makes a great small arrangement.

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Yes, you can spend more than US$ 200 for a watermelon in Tokyo

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外国人は、こんなに高いフルーツに驚きます。伊勢丹デパ地下で、21,000円のスイカが売っています。もちろん、珍しいひょうたんの形で、王様の椅子に座っています。

Foreigners who imagine Tokyo is expensive always mention over-the-top fruit. Even if it were in a gourd shape, as this one is, who in the US or Europe would spend over $200 for a watermelon? In Japan, few purchase these trophy fruit, but they are always available at places like Isetan’s food emporium.

Lone line of wild grass on sidewalk near Shinjuku station

この草は自然にまかれた種から育ちました。長い線の形を描いています。去年もこの新宿駅の近くにある景色が好きでした。

This grass seeds itself alongside the guardrail leading up to Shinjuku Station’s JR South entrance. Exactly the same time last year, I was also captivated by this linear lawn at night.

Morning glory in black and white

最近買った中古のフィルムカメラで、黒白フィルムを使いました。アサガオの濃い青色の花も緑の葉も強いですが、カラーのフィルムより詳しく形が見えます。蟻も見えます。

With my new film camera, a 10 year old model, I tried out a roll of black and white film. I like how the color is taken away from the deep blue flower and dark green leaves of this morning glory. Instead you can see the form more carefully. I like how you can even see some of the many ants that have inhabited the balcony garden and green curtain.

Ceramic vase with balcony’s first rose this year, plus rosemary

史火陶芸教室で作った花瓶に、ベランダの植物を入れました。このピンクバラはいい香りがします。形と香りのために、ローズマリーも一緒に入れてみました。

Using balcony plants, I created this small arrangement in a ceramic vase I made at Shiho. This pink rose has a good scent, and i added rosemary for additional scent and its mix of hard needles and curvy stems.

Kiwi leaves spreading out on last year’s vine

キウイの葉はきれいな形です。春に、若葉がとても新鮮に見えます。キウイのフルーツのように、男性と女性の木がいるでしょうか。うちのベランダには一つだけしかないですが、たぶんどこか隣に違う性のキウイがあればいいです。

I love the shape of this kiwi vine’s leaves. They look so fresh and new. I am not sure if you need a male and female kiwi to produce fruit. I hope one of our neighbors has the right sexed kiwi to activate ours!

Wild palm is allowed to grow in manicured landscape

日本庭園の剪定はカンペキです。東京体育館のような公共施設にもツツジが波の形にしてあって、木が高いプードルみたいです。ですから、そこで自然に生えたシュロを見て驚きました。ヤシは「外人」だから、大丈夫なのでしょうか。

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.

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.

Air plants in bonsai pots

エアプラントと盆栽の陶芸の組み合わせ はどうでしょう? 史火陶芸教室の展示会のために、いろいろ盆栽用の陶芸を準備しました。不思議な組み合わせですけど、エアプラントの形と遠い起源を考えると楽しいです。さらに取り出しやすいので、鉢をよく見ることができます。

Preparing for the Shiho student show last month, I wondered how to show off the bonsai pots I made this year. I tried one with only gravel, and another with a tiny succulent. My favorite is perhaps the oddest combination: air plants. I like their shapes and their distant origins in a different climate. And I like how you can easily take them out and examine the pot. What do you think about this combination?

Making coleus starter plants using coconut soil

赤い色のコリウスの形が変になったので、剪定したり、根を成長させたり、挿し木を植えたりしました。再植林のように、ネットに入ったココナッツからできた土を使いました。英語で、この小さいタイプの植物をスターター植物と言います。早く育ったら、来月の陶芸生徒展覧会に使います。

I have this red coleus plant that got leggy, so I cut it back and rooted the extra pieces. Now I am hoping to make a half dozen starter plants using the coconut soil that comes wrapped in string nets. I recycled two containers to hold the starter plants.

Making wall vases at Shiho ceramic studio

史火陶芸教室の生徒展示会のために、壁の花瓶と植木鉢を作っています。この写真は最初の形です。粘土と釉薬は同じだけど、後ろと前を反対にして、斜めと垂直の形を作りました。

In preparation for the November Shiho students’ ceramic show, I am expanding from flowerpots to wall vases. This is what they looked like after I connected the slabs together. Later comes trimming and carving, baking, glazing, and second baking. I am experimenting with reversing front and back, and how to angle the box that holds the water and flowers.