日本橋

Costumed superhero cleans up debased Nihonbashi, once the center of all Japan

mangetsuman_portrait_giving_me_candy

満月マンというスーパーヒーローの仕事道具は、ほうきとちり取りです。暑い日でも、支持者と一緒にほうきとちり取りを持ってきます。昔は、日本橋は日本国道路元標でしたが、オリンピックの開発後は、とても品格がなくなってしまいました。満月マンのおかげできれいになりそうです。どうもありがとう。m(_ _)m @mangetsu_man

This superhero’s tools are a broom and a dustpan. Mangetsuman even works on the hottest summer days. He explains his vision came to him in a dream, and he inspires others to also assemble here with broom and dustpan.

Most of his fans get his superhero business card. He gave me a micro-box of lemon drops. Special!

mangetsuman_nihonbashi_in_action_clean

Blame the last Olympics for the freeway running on top of Nihonbashi bridge. Mangetsuman, a costumed cleaning superhero, armed with broom and dustpan, had a dream one night and decided to take on the mission of cleaning up the bridge.

Small green spots in Nihonbashi

Small green spaces in Nihonbashi include the Kabuto shrine and anonymous wall gardens.

日本橋の小さな緑。兜神社と名前の知らない庭です。とてもいいですよ。

In addition to a few historic corporate and government landscapes, Nihonbashi also has small shrines and anonymous micro-gardens. Canada’s Discovery History program filmed me talking about these locations. By accident, I stumbled upon a small Shinto shrine called Kabuto. It stands between a building covered in scaffolding and multiple elevated freeways just east of Edobashi bridge. It’s also across the street from the Bubble-era Tokyo Stock Exchange. Just behind it is the river.

Kabuto means samurai helmet. The shrine lends its name to the surrounding area. At the entrance are simple wood doors with the kanji for “kabuto” etched. The shrine seems very well maintained, and I wonder if those responsible for the shrine are the current business neighbors or descendants of generations of shrine keepers. I wonder, too, if the shrine used to be larger and better connected to the river. Now it seems almost swallowed up by the man-made environment on three side and from above.

It’s interesting that while the Tokyo Station area is full of new towers and multinational corporations, there are also still some small alleys and low buildings that provide a glimpse of the past. I found this curious sidewalk garden outside a five-story building that houses a reflexology clinic, a ramen shop, accountants, and probably a residence on top.

Here’s the list of tenants and the old entrance door. The garden is simple, well-cared for, and a cheerful sight in a densely packed area.

Nihonbashi trees preserved by government & corporations

In Nihonbashi, you can still see a few old trees preserved alongside rare, pre-war government and corporate buildings.

日本橋には、昔から生き残っている木がまだ少しある。そのわきに、戦前に建てられた政府や企業のビルがある。

Recently I spoke with Canada’s Discovery History channel filmmakers about urban planning in Tokyo, and they requested that we film at Nihonbashi. What was once the center of Edo Japan is now buried beneath an elevated freeway. I used this opportunity to explore Nihonbashi’s surroundings, and came across some interesting government and corporate trees. These sites were not included in the filming, but I found them interesting.

The giant pines outside the old Bank of Japan building are very impressive. While the structure is partly covered in blue tarp and seems unused, the elegant landscaping with more than a dozen, perfectly pruned trees looks magnificent.

I was also impressed to see Mitsubishi’s river-side warehouse at the Edobashi crossing. This building, too, seems to have survived the great Kanto earthquake and the United State firebombing during World War II. In Tokyo, buildings are constantly raised and rebuilt, which almost always means destroying the old landscapes. It’s interesting to spot a few examples of building preservation that also protect older trees and landscapes.

Pasona’s vertical garden fills out near Nihonbashi

高層オフィスビルの垂直な庭はオフィス街を活気のある場所にする。

One office tower’s vertical garden brings new life to Tokyo’s business district.

Pasona’s headquarter’s vertical garden is filling out and bringing new life to the crowded office streetscape between Nishonbashi and Tokyo Station. The lushly planted wall includes many traditional Japanese garden plants and imports such as blueberry bushes. I like how it contrasts with the surrounding office towers, from the 1980s to recent years, and demonstrates that the potential for office wall gardens to benefit everyone inside and outside the building.

It’s amazing how much the garden has grown since I last visited Pasona in May. I am very excited to see this corporate garden become a landmark in the Yaesu district. It would be great for Mori or Mitsubishi to follow this example and experiment with vertical gardens and wildlife habitats on much taller Tokyo buildings. I also hope that Pasona continues to innovate with its urban landscape. Sidewalk gardens? More fruit trees? Butterfly hatcheries? Honeybees? Falcon’s nests?

Below are some details photos, including leaves that have turned red this fall, and some late-in-the-year pink roses.

A historic landmark buried under freeway in Tokyo

Approaching by foot or by car, you would not know that up ahead is one of Tokyo’s most famous historic landmarks, Nihonbashi (日本橋, or literally Japan Bridge). During Edo, it was an important wooden bridge in the center of the capital. Today, Japan’s highway network uses the bridge as the zero mile marker.

Despite its landmark status, the 1911 stone bridge is obscured by the elevated freeway. When I visited, I saw a pair of elderly Japanese tourists taking photos of themselves with the bridge. The many pedestrians and the speeding cars on street and freeway level showed no signs of recognition that this space was special.

Like many of Tokyo’s rivers, what could be natural habitat and urban attraction has become dead space. Apart from one outdoor hotel cafe, the neighboring buildings face away from the river, freeway, pillars, and exhaust.