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