5bai Midori

Purple berries on murasaki shikibu pop on light green foliage

紫式部の果実は薄緑の葉に似合います。この特別な秋の植物は『5倍緑』という都市里山箱のなかで成長します。史火陶芸教室の前を、歩行者が注目しています。季節ごとに、小さい風景ができあがります。史火のホームペジで、この5倍緑箱が二年前にどんなだったかを見られます。

I love how the purple berries pop against the light green foliage. This hardy shrub is a classic fall marker, and a reference to the female novelist of the thousand year old Tale of Genji. Unlike my balcony specimen, which dropped its berries while still green, this one outside Shiho ceramic studio looks fantastic. It’s growing in a 5bai midori, the modular urban satoyama box.

I bought the first box two years ago, and the second last year. They really thrive on this north-facing sidewalk and draw attention to the studio and store. If you click on Shiho’s website, you can see on the home page how small the first one was. It just needs lots of water, and very occasional pruning. There are so many local species that each season has something special and evocative of the Japanese landscape.

Small oak is sprouting new leaves and flowers

里山の箱の中で、小さな柏が若葉をのばし、花を咲かせています。

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.

Modular satoyama box in full fall color

ベランダの庭には小さな里山がある。色が毎日変わって楽しみだ。

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!

Balcony garden update

I took this photo a month ago, and our balcony garden is now even more lush. It’s amazing how much incredible heat and daily watering can increase bio-mass!

It’s amazing what you can fit in a sunny narrow space. I have six mini-watermelons ripening on the railing and green net, three Saipan lemons, two types of morning glory, the 5bai midori satoyama boxes bushing out, cucumbers still flowering and creating fast food, and some random flowers including mini-sunflowers, abutilon, and Suntory hybrids ミリオンベル (million bell) and アズーロコンパクト. Plus there’s basil, parsley, and thyme, all of which I put into my bolognese pasta lunch today.

The floor area is full with just enough room to walk through for watering. The vertical space is about half full with the net and some additional twine. I like how the old washing machine is nearly hidden by plants.

Some failures included corn, with tiny ears that formed and then turned brown. The rose which was so outrageously pumped up when purchased has hardly bloomed since. The incredible heat this month killed my first bonsai, a Japanese maple (もみじ) in a tiny pot.

Some surprises included the late growing bitter melon (ゴーヤー) now shooting up. I planted last year’s seed in April, and it hardly grew until about three weeks ago. Now it’s two meters tall, and perhaps will produce a few vegetables before typhoon season. Bitter melon tastes great with ground pork!

My friend Matthew, who now works at Sinajina, pruned my pine bonsai. Apparently now is the time to start thinking about shaping it and preparing it to look its most beautiful for the new year. I wonder how to keep my tiny garden green during winter.

Satoyama box pushing out graphic and colorful leaves

The new leaves on the shrubs in my satoyama box have wonderful graphic and colorful early summer leaves. The two 5bai midori satoyama boxes have been beautiful last fall, over the winter, spring, and now early summer. Despite their compact sizes (20 cm square and 15 by 30 cm rectangle), they are able to support a lot of plant growth, density, and variety.

Ceramic studio spring garden

I take care of my relatives ceramic studio garden. Last year’s 5bai midori “satoyama unit,” installed during a fall typhoon, is coming back with lots of new growth. This photo shows off the yellow flowers “yamabuki”, a vigorous Japanese shrub. Sometimes you see white flowers, or multi-petalled yellow ones.

Shiho ceramic studio‘s back yard is a small l-shape raised beds. Much of it is shaded by persimmon and plum trees and the neighbors’ homes. The garden includes a volunteer shurro palm tree (しゅろ, 棕櫚) and a Japanese herb called sanshou (サンショウ) that traveled from the neighboring store’s bicycle parking lot.

A lot of what I planted at the end of last year has come back, including hydrangea, lilies of the valley, hostas, rosemary, jasmine, and a lantern flower vine that almost fully covers the chain link fence. And the giant cymbidium orchid has been blooming through April. It’s great to hear that the ceramic teachers and students are enjoying the garden.

I think the eight bags of compost helped a lot in improving the soil and make this shade garden thrive.

One plant that didn’t survive the Tokyo winter is a plant commonly called “purple princess” in San Francisco. To fill the gap left by the plant and my hope for it growing large fast and covering the cinder block wall. I brought over a kanamemochi shrub: a quick growing and very popular Tokyo shrub with distinctive red, new spring leaves. I also planted a yuzu lemon tree and a white single petal yamabuki.

Winter flowers in balcony garden

Reading about this weekend’s winter snowstorm in the US mid-Atlantic, I realize how mild and wonderful Tokyo winters are. December is the season for camellias, and the balcony garden also has pansies, fairy white daisies, cyclamen, geranium, decorative cabbage, one last morning glory flower, and a maple bonsai just turning red now.

Below you can see the 5bai Midori satoyama box that has a mix of countryside plants, including deciduous and evergreen small shrubs, grasses, vines, and weeds.

Balcony garden in early November

Balcony garden view of Mt Fuji

With cooler nights, fall is definitely upon us. I took these photos in the first week of November to document the passing of the seasons on our balcony garden. Above a dramatic sunset over Mt Fuji illuminates the very end of the morning glory green curtain. As you can see in the photo below, there are still many flowers, including cosmos, murasaki shikibu, cyclamen, geranium, fujibakama, a creamy daisy, and a few other annuals.

Balcony garden in early November

One of the satoyama unit‘s plant is flowering now, while some of the deciduous plants are dropping their leaves.

Blossom on satoyama unit from 5bai midori

The black pine bonsai I assembled at Kobayashi Kenji Sensei’s class at Sinajina is doing well.

black pine bonsai from Kobayashi Kenji Sensei's class at Sinajina

And we put the ojizō-sama made at the ceramic studio into one of the satoyama units.

Ojizō-sama in satoyama unit

More photos of fall plants, including lemon tree, ceramics, and more images of the satoyama units after the jump.

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5bai Midori plants arrive during typhoon

5bai Midori plants arrive during typhoon, Shiho pottery studio

Thursday 5bai Midori delivered the three “satoyama units” I ordered, two for my home and one for Shiho, the pottery studio I attend in Suginami. I was amazed that the delivery service was uninterrupted by Typhoon #18 (known as Melor outside Japan), the first typhoon to hit Japan’s mainland in two years.

5bai Midori in boxes at home

5bai Midori’s native plants were more than I expected. It takes 4 weeks from ordering to delivery, and they arrive in large cardboard boxes. When the teachers and students opened the box at Shiho, they found a lizard. I hope he adjusts to life in the big city.

5bai Midori box at Shiho

The “satoyama units” are amazing: a mix of small trees, bushes, grasses and vines. The Shiho unit is a 30 centimeter square. The home ones for the balcony are 20 cm square and a rectangle measuring 15 cm by 50 cm. Included is a detailed list of the plants, including name, family name, latin name, description and care instructions. There is even a description of the metal frame and the soil. Attached to many plants are small metal tags with the plant’s name.

5bai Midori plants arrive during typhoon

I will blog about the seasonal change and growth of these 5bai Midori satoyama units. The locations could not be more different: the home balcony is on a high floor balcony with full southern sun. The pottery studio faces north and is underneath an awning.

5bai Midori plants arrive during typhoon

The pottery teachers were somewhat concerned about police protests (apparently they previously complained about the air conditioning units that also sit on the small strip of pavement between studio and sidewalk), and the possibility of theft. Still, they are excited to have this live environment which will slow pedestrians down and introduce more people to their studio. If it works out, I’d like to add several more units.

Here are my previous posts about 5bai Midori:

Beautifying major streets (May 5)
Meeting Tase Michio (May 21)
5bai Midori, or 5 sided green (May 22)
3 Projects created by 5bai Midori (July 22)
Satoyama and biodiversity (August 26)

And here are the sketches they created when we first discussed the projects.

5bai midori sketch for Shiho garden 5bai midori sketch for balcony garden

The balcony plant list is: Reineckea carnea, Quercus acustissima, Quercus serrata, Camellia sasanqua, Quercus myrsinaefolia, Clematis terniflora, Carex siderosticta, Trachelospermum asiaticum, Trachelospermum jasminoides, Eurya japonica, Petasites japonicus, Ardisia japonica, Liriope muscari, Kerria japonica.

Metropolis article on Tokyo Green Space

Metropolis magazine article on Tokyo Green Space

Metropolis magazine in Japan published my article on Tokyo Green Space. It’s my first general interest article on some of the amazing green space innovators I have met during my research in Tokyo: including Ginza rice farmers and bee keepers, a modern bonsai Continue reading

Satoyama and biodiversity

Satoyama and biodiversity

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).

3 projects created by 5bai Midori

Kami Meguro residence B entrance

Recently a director and landscape designer from 5bai Midori took me on a tour of three projects in Meguro, two residences across from each other and an apartment building. The two houses in Kami Meguro are across from eachother, with one residence garden inspiring its neighbor. Above you can see how the plants have thrived after seven years, with vines reaching the third floor roof garden, and an interesting mix of small plants, shrubs and trees framing the entrance. With the plants reaching maturity, you hardly see the boxes that are the foundation of the garden system. Because the plants are all local natives, maintenance is just twice per year.

The “Moegi” apartment building in Kakinokizaka below was designed by an architect who wanted to maximize greenery with 5bai Midori. Plants are placed along the sidewalk, in the main entrance, private courtyard, and side bicycle storage area. Above the street level, there is a ledge running the entire width of the building that is completely covered in 5bai Midori boxes.

Kakinokizaka Moegi apartment building context

The first of the Kami Meguro houses has a wild exterior that contrasts with the typical cinder block wall of the neighboring property.

Kami Meguro residence A context

Its side entrance consists of gently sloping pebble steps also based on 5bai Midori’s box system. The feeling is organic, private and charming.

Kami Meguro residence A side entrance

You can see my previous posts about 5bai Midori and its founder Tase Michio. Below the jump are some additional photos of these three projects.

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5bai Midori, or 5 sided green

Gobai Midori, or 5x緑, ConceptIn 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.

Gobai Midori, plant cultivation

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Meeting Tase Michio 田瀬理夫

Tase Michio, Umeki, and me in front of Tase's Tokyo studio

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 Michio's Acros Fukuoka

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.

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Beautifying major streets

Pansies on Shibuya sidewalk

As a gesture for improving a huge street in Shibuya, I admire the shop owner who contributed these small planters with pansies. It certainly makes the wide sidewalk, busy street and subway construction zone a bit more beautiful.

As a contrast for visionary ideas to improve major streets, I am showing below an image from a native plant company 5bai Midori (literally five-sided greenery) that uses a modular system for residential exteriors and interiors, small businesses and neighborhood improvements.

Gobai Midori street median

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