江戸

Ginkos connect an old street with decades of layers

青梅街道は江戸時代からある道で、昔ここに農園がありました。今はイチョウの木がたくさんの種類の建物をつないでいます。廃墟化した戦後の建物や商業用の建物や住宅やさらには軽工業のビルがあります。

Ome Kaido is a large boulevard in my neighborhood that dates to Edo times when this area was largely fields. I like how the ginko trees provide a unifying element to a heterogenous streetscape of  abandoned post-war buildings mixed with newer commercial, residential and even light industrial buildings from every decade since.

Directly across the street from this corner is a ten story office building. I noticed the roof-top sports facility years before I recognized the logo at the entrance that marks it as the headquarters of one of Japan’s leading adult content companies.

Giant electric pole dwarfs persimmon & street

東京の中には、たくさんのあまりきれいでないものがあります。とても高い電線は江戸時代の五日市街道の上を渡ります。ごみ焼却炉の煙突や高架道路やマンションの終わらない蛍光灯の列も都市生活に奇妙なリズムをつくります。このとても高い電線の下に柿の実が見えます。

There are many urban sights in Tokyo that are jarring to newcomers, perhaps none more so than the giant electricity poles. Well, there’s also garbage incinerators with tall chimneys in every neighborhood, elevated freeways, endless rows of fluorescent lights stacked high on exposed residential hallways, and the zeal for paving over almost all surfaces.

This photo was taken near Shin Koenji where the elevated main power line crosses Itsukaichi Kaido, a road that dates back to Edo and maybe earlier. You can just make out a silhouetted ripe persimmon fruit. Sometimes these unattractive elements create their own rhythm and patterns in urban life.

Dutch embassy opens its doors for Culture Day

文化の日にオランダ大使館が一般公開されました。大使公邸と庭を訪ねるためにたくさんの人が来ました。東京の中で、たくさんの庭と自然が通常は住民に開かれていません。オランダ大使館の庭は和風と洋風の特徴が混ざっています。よく手に入れされた庭にも、自然に生えたシュロというヤシもあります。シュロというヤシは、江戸時代に多くの用途がありました。オランダ大使館を散歩しながら、長い貿易と鎖国の時代を想像しました。

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.

Edo morning glory has white border and stripes

江戸朝顔のほうが小さくて、色がたくさんあります。沖縄朝顔とは違って、江戸朝顔は白い縁どりと白い縞があります。歴史と花の大きさを考えると、東京にぴたっりです。

I am a big fan of Okinawa morning glory and Edo morning glory. The Edo ones typically have a white border and stripes, and come in many colors. They’re very showy, a good size for domestic spaces, and they evoke Tokyo history. The Okinawa morning glory is a deep blue perennial, and quickly spreads and covers much more space. Both share a distinctive leaf shape.

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.