Pedestrian overpass also passes under freeway in Shiodome

pedestrian_overpass_underpass_shiodome

汐留の歩道橋です。高速道路のせいで、階段を登って、階段を下って、階段を登って、階段を下りなければなりません。なぜそんな道があるでしょうか。

This pedestrian overpass, which dips below the freeway in Shiodome, is a hot mess. I often wonder why city planners value pedestrians and bicyclists so much less than private vehicles and trucks. This is not how I’d like to walk to work from the station.

Old business district full of narrow roads with an excess of pedestrians, shops, signs, and goods pouring into the street

新橋の細い道に看板や品物や料理が舗装にあふれます。車があまりないので、にぎやかです。

Compared to the last photos, this narrow street in Shimbashi, an older business district that’s no longer Tier A real estate, allows pedestrians to take full use of the street and offers an amazing variety of products, signs and even foods spilling out of the shops.

Narrow garden path on balcony has many levels and lots of ceramics

庭の道は狭いのに、ベランダにはたくさんのレベルがあります。さらに、自作の陶芸の植木鉢もたくさんあります。

Illusion of long garden path in narrow high-rise balcony

ベランダは狭くて短いです。けれども、この角度からは、庭の道がちょっと長く見えます。

From this perspective, the balcony garden path looks longer than its four meters. I’m pleased with how much I have packed in.

Honeysuckle vines remind me of childhood path, the scent of summer

スイカズラは子供ときに歩いた道を思い出します。生まれ育った街の夏の香りです。

Honeysuckle is such a sweet, if sometimes rampant vine. It’s not so common in Tokyo. When I smelled this one, I stopped my bike for a few minutes along the Kanda river.

“Flower blizzard” marks the end of cherry blossom season. With a tinge of regret, it is one of hanami’s most beautiful sights.

最近「花吹雪」という表現をおぼえました。花見の季節が終わるころ、道はピンクの絨毯になります。悲しいのに、ハラハラ落ちている桜の花びらもとても素敵です。辰巳で。

I recently learned the word hanafubuki (花吹雪), which means flower blizzard. At the end of cherry blossom season, city pavement becomes a pink carpet. Along with watching the petals fall from the tree, this carpet is one of the best parts of hanami.

This photo is from a small park in Tatsumi, between Tokyo Bay and the southern edge of Shitamachi. It also borders Yumenoshima. Now that I discovered an Olympic pool in Tatsumi, I will be spending more time in this strange zone caught between nature, industry, trucking and warehouses, new and old housing, and stacked freeways.

Streets are icy. Please don’t slip!

東京にはあまり雪が降りません。いつもすぐに溶けてしまいますが、最近は超寒くなったので、東京の道に氷が多いです。チャリに乗っているときや歩いているときに、ご注意ください。

In Tokyo, it rarely snows, and when it does, it’s usually gone within minutes or at most a day. It’s been super cold recently, and there’s been ice on the roads for some time now. Please be careful on bike or on foot.

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.

Mount Fuji at end of road at sunset

よくこの道を自転車で行きます。突然に道の終わりに富士山が見えて、驚いた。もっと注意深く観察しなければなりません。

I bike down this road so often, and suddenly I am surprised to see Mount Fuji at the very end. How come I am seeing it here for the first time? Maybe it’s the red of the sky against the traffic and brake lights.

Itsukaichi Kaido is one of the main Edo roads connecting Tokyo with western Japan. Near the city, it connects Koenji with Kichijoji while veering across and away from the Chuo train line. It also crosses the Zenpukuji river, which is a lovely greenway far from the train stations and mostly enjoyed by the neighbors.

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.