This small oak tree in my satoyama box is pushing out new leaves and flowers. I am a big fan of 5bai midori’s modular boxes full of native trees, bushes, and small plants. This box measures only 20 by 20 by 20 centimeters, yet it is full of plants and surprises. Some of them are evergreen, and it’s fun to watch the rest of the box revive in spring.
Update: I found the tag, and the tree is called konara in Japanese (コナラ). It’s an oak, with the Latin name (Quercus serrata). It’s a very typical Japanese forest tree, and its ample sap attracts good beetles like kabutomushi (カブトムシ). I wonder if we’ll get acorns out of this tree.
There’s a small satoyama in my balcony garden. The color changes every day.
The leaves on tis small tree in my balcony’s modular satoyama box are turning dark crimson. I love how this small box from 5bai Midori is full of Japanese native plants. I have kept this satoyama box for just over a year now, and always enjoy watching the change in seasons. It’s just 15 cm by 50 cm!
Satoyama (里山), a term I first heard from 5bai Midori, describes a Japanese eco-system that supports biodiversity and is paradoxically the result of human transformation of forests over 2,000 years of rice farming. A fascinating Japan Times article explains what satoyama is, and how it is threatened on the one hand by large-scale agribusiness and pesticides that are sterilizing the land, and on the other hand by the encroachment of forests on villages that farmers are abandoning in rural Japan.
Satoyama are heavily managed forests and fields that replaced Japan’s densely shaded wilderness with a system of concentric rings of sato (village), satoyama (managed woodland), and okuyama (wild forest). In proximity to dwellings, cutting wood for fire provided openings in the forests that encouraged sun-tolerant trees and created habitat for wildflowers, butterflies, birds and other species that do not exist in wild forest. Cultivating rice paddies, and building the irrigation systems of reservoirs and canals that supply them, created aquatic and semi-aquatic habitat for amphibians, insects, water plants, crustaceans and fish. The system depends on the close proximity of all three rings, spread out over a large portion of Japan’s mountainous island habitat.
According to Japan’s Environment Ministry, more than half of Japan’s threatened plant and animal species live in satoyama areas. The Environment Ministry has created at least three editions of a national biodiversity strategy and launched a Satoyama Initiative that has included knowledge sharing with Asian regional conferences. And Japan will next year host the 10th Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP10) in Nagoya.
Resources in English include Takeuchi Kazuhiko et al’s book Satoyama: The Traditional Rural Landscape of Japan (Springer, 2002). And there’s a Japanese Environment Ministry video on satoyama on YouTube (no embedding unforuntately).
In an earlier post, I talked a little about 5bai Midori‘s street beautification products and the creative force behind this small green business Tase Michio. This post uses photos from their website to explore their idea of restoring the countryside, or satoyama(里山), and bringing it into the city.
The photos above illustrate the concept of carving a piece of rural nature into a modular square. 5bai Midori plants these bio-diversity trays on modular metal cubes with up to five sides for plants and special light-weight soil. Applications include residential entrances, sidewalks and balconies, apartment and office buildings, green walls, rooftops, neighborhood planters, boulevard and highway guard rails, interiors, benches, and special events. They have targeted individuals, governments (including amazing, yet unrealized plans for greening Kabukicho and Marunouchi), developers and construction companies.
These are some images of how plant trays are cultivated to include a multitude of species in a small area.
This week I had the amazing opportunity to meet one of my landscape design heroes, Tase Michio (田瀬理夫) of Plamtago. He has created urban architecture and a green business that bring native plants and habitats to urban areas. His most famous work is the 1995 Acros Fukuoka building, a 15 story lush hillside on top of a downtown office building. More recently, he provided the creative direction for 5bai Midori, a Tokyo company that brings “satoyama” (里山) or a slice of rural Japan into urban areas through a modular 5-sided system.
With a shock of grey hair, Tase sensei is patient with visitors, provocative and without pretense. Born 60 years ago in Ichigaya, Tokyo, not far from his current Plamtago home office, Tase says he has been monitoring the natural environment of Tokyo since his childhood. His view is that urban land use is worse today than in the 1970s. And despite the success of Acros Fukuoka, which looks fuller and more wild after 14 years of growth, Tase is disappointed that there have been no other high rises incorporating bio-diversity into their architecture.
Tase describes his work as “Passive Architecture & Active Landscape with Nature.” For cities, he aims to increase the number of plant species, slow rainfall and filter it before it reaches rivers and bays, create healthy wildlife habitats, and improve the soil. I was struck that he sees as urban eco-system indicators tiny ticks, which reflect good soil and perhaps small animals, and also hawks. Ticks and at least one hawk reside in the forest of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace.