杉並

“Have you seen my rice field?”

rice_bucket_tatami_shop

「私たちの田んぼを見ましたか」と聞かれました。畳屋のオーナーは歩道に置いたバケツで稲を育てています。Shibaura HouseのKanto Tour Guideの途中で偶然に会いました。家の畳を変えようかと考えています。

On Shibaura House’s Kanto Tour Guide in Suginami, we saw an open door and a man making tatami mats above the garage. The friendly proprietor of Haketa Tatami shop in Shin Koenji told us that his family has had this business in Suginami for decades, starting with his father. In addition to showing us his craftsmanship, he asked us whether we had seen his “rice field.” It’s in the white bucket, to the left of the shop sign.

I also learned that tatami mats should be changed every 3 or 4 years. Ours are coming up on 6 years, so maybe it’s time to order a new set?

tatami_shop_making

Giant magnolia towers over home, and shows off wavy branches in winter

giant_magnolia_winter_suginami

家より、このモクレンは背が高いです。杉並で。

This magnolia is huge, and you can see the branch structure clearly in winter.

Suginami ward’s giant green curtain shows positive activity by local government

今年の杉並区役所のグリーンカーテンはすてきです。

When people ask me about positive government action for urban nature, I always point to the Suginami ward’s giant green curtain. This massive screen of vines rises each summer on their eight story ward office next to the Minami Asagaya station on the Marunouchi subway line. It has inspired local residents to create their own balcony green curtains, inserted a huge green space that occupies very little square footage on the ground, and demonstrated that their old office building can be energy saving, attractive, and full of life.

Wood house recalls an earlier time in Suginami

背の高い木がある木材の家に住んでみたいです。杉並区にあるこの家のデザインは、明治時代か大正時代の建物みたいです。

I love walking by this wood house in Suginami. It’s a relic of an earlier time: a large wooden house, mixing Western and Japanese architectural elements, and a large garden. Seeing a remnant from the past makes it easier to imagine what this area once looked and felt like. I’d like to sleep under these huge, old trees.

Fantastic garden entrance for Suginami residence

この自宅の入口はすばらしいですね。庭は背が高くて濃いです。

It is amazing that this house and tall garden still exist in Tokyo. I love how thick the garden is, and how open the entrance is to the street.

Tokyo micro-farm has two long rows of snap peas

世田谷区の住宅の間にある小さい畑に、長くて素敵なスナックエンドウの棚があります。花も野菜も格子のアーチもすばらしいと思います。家で一年中食べられるように、今私は収穫を終わったスナックエンドウを抜いて、そこにキュウリを植えました。

I stopped to admire these two rows of snap peas growing in a micro-farm between the houses. I love the trellis work, and the combination of white flowers and green vegetable.

I was on my bike riding to Nodai (Tokyo University of Agriculture), and cutting across Suginami and Setagaya on this unusually straight, narrow road. I believe there’s a sewer line underneath which makes this long street especially useful above and below ground.

On my balcony, I am going to do a final snap pea harvest this week. The leaves are turning moldy so I think now’s the finish line for this winter crop. I already started some cucumber plants to take over in the summer. I train them on the railing, and then, above that, a net.

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.

Gorgeous winter bonsai gift in kintsugi bowl

友達が新年のきれいな盆栽を作ってくれました。金継ぎをした植木鉢に常緑樹のアセビが植えてあります。

This beautiful, new year bonsai made by a friend matches an evergreen tree with a pot re-made from shards.

I received this gorgeous new year bonsai gift from Matthew Puntigam, a friend and research fellow colleague at the Tokyo University of Agriculture’s Landscape Architecture Science department (農大). It’s a perfect new year gift: the woody bark tree retains its leaves in winter, the beautiful bowl re-created to show its cracks, lush moss and stones from a recent trip to Mie.

The tree is called アセビ (Asebi in Japanese, and Pieris japonica in Latin). My childhood home in the mid-Atlantic United States had a pair of these flowering broad-leaf evergreens by the front door. This specimen is simultaneously showing new growth and flower buds.

The method of putting broken ceramics back together is called 金継ぎ (kintsugi). This pot is one of Matt’s first, which he learned at the Suginami ceramic studio Shiho (史火) where I also make flowerpots and vases. Often gold is used, but I think silver goes very well with the black ceramic and winter bonsai.