This is urban archeology, with past and current technologies made visible. A large building in Shinjuku is torn down, exposing the back side of the neighboring buildings. It’s amazing how haphazard and tenuous the building systems are. There are many wires that seem left-over from earlier times. Also amazing is how the air conditioner below has been squeezed into the crawl space!
The balcony summer hotspot is the air conditioner, almost always on and blowing hot air. This summer, I’m enjoying succulents which seem fine on top, but probably not in front, of the a/c. They have fun colors, shapes, and even textures. The ceramics were made at Kuge Crafts.
This red and green leafed bush, called kanamemochi (カナメモチ), is one of the most common hedges in Tokyo. I have a single plant, which used to be in front of the air conditioner. Now that we’re using the AC and blasting hot air into the balcony, I’ve had to move all the plants that used to be in front of it. I just potted it up, so hopefully it will become a thicker and better screen.
To walk through Tokyo is to see air conditioners strapped onto buildings and littering the sidewalk. I like how someone used a simple grid of stickers to transform these two units into something special. This is a rare Tokyo Green Space post with zero plants or living organisms.
The balcony garden in late summer is chaotic. A variety of perennials and annuals, flowers and vegetables, seasonal and year-round plants form a green curtain that provides some shade and cooling for the apartment. The long and narrow space also includes the air conditioner, washing machine, and clothes line.
So many city dwellers think they have no space to grow anything. Recently I posted photos of a persimmon tree near my apartment that is three stories tall and full of fruit. I went back to take a shot of its trunk. Actually, it turns out that there are two trees growing in a space no bigger than the depth of an air conditioning unit. This small space provides sufficient soil to produce hundreds of fruit each year. There’s even room for ten potted plants spilling onto the street, a broom, and some ladders. The ability to create massive greenery and even food in such limited space always amazes me.
Update: A reader asked me to provide more context images for these persimmons growing in such a small spot. You can see below that they are growing in a tiny lane the width of one car, and that they reach out from their narrow bases to provide a tall canopy between the buildings. And there’s a third tree of the same size extending through the neighbor’s front cinderblock wall.
This photo comes from Amsterdam-based illustrator and graphic designer Hiyoko Imai. I am super-lucky that she has offered to work on two small projects together- more about that soon!
I love this photo because it is so evocative of Tokyo. Some foreigners imagine Japan to be an expression of serenity, while others marvel at elegant modern architecture. Much of the daily fabric of urban life, instead, feels like this photo: a bunch of stuff bolted on to other stuff. Pipes, air-conditioners, even a flower pot on top of the sidewalk. The exuberance of the flowering creeper (lantana) adds one more natural layer on top of the built environment.
Vending machines are everywhere in Tokyo: providing convenience, wasting energy, and masquerading as animate robots. I wonder if it was the property owner or a neighbor who decided to grow twenty plants in front of these four vending machines, including this pretty yellow flower in a recycled container.
I like how recycled materials are used to create multiple levels in this potted garden. It’s amazing how this concrete pad now includes the machines a path to access them, and a three level deep garden.
Equally amazing are all the balcony gardens. Even those without sidewalk access make space above the air conditioners and below their laundry lines for a variety of plants. Some are in ceramics, others in the rubber pots from the nursery.