You are being watched. Surveillance paired with flowers keep streets attractive and safe. Still, I am not sure I like being watched.
I noticed these lovely hanging begonias on the utility poles leading out from the southeast exit of Shinjuku’s JR station. I was admiring the unexpected late fall color they provide, when I realized that each flower pot is paired with a banner explaining that “security cameras in use.” Sure enough, above the banner and below the spikes to keep birds off, is a surveillance camera.
The banner is ominous, from the spooky greyscale graphic of two human figures in shadow to the logo with a man and his briefcase crossing the threshold of the kanji for exit in the six kanji that state “Southeast Exit Association.” Isn’t shinwakai (association) normally a volunteer group? The more I think about the Tounanguchi Shinwakai (東南口親和会), the less clear it is who is doing the watching.
Often I fool myself into thinking that Tokyo’s super-respectful public behavior is cultural and comes from positive socialization. I forgot how pride is also reinforced by peer shaming and legal enforcement. Tokyo has minimal public litter and no municipal garbage cans. It can also boast minimal street crime and an enormous number of police on the street.
This Shinjuku ni-chome sidewalk garden is exceptional in its size, care, and labeling. The gardener lives in a former shop in an old building on what is now a busy entertainment district. From the sidewalk, you can see what appears to be merchandise, t-shirts and a few dress shirts, in the front room open to the street.
The gardener and his wife are often visible in the inner room which is partly visible. This type of retail/residential architecture is very Tokyo mid-century, and there are examples in many neighborhoods of former shop owners living in these spaces, some with remnants of their former businesses.
What I love about this sidewalk garden is the gardener’s obvious care and attention to creating a display of many plants. Nearly all of the pots rests on stools or low tables, with the highest ones closest to the road and the lower ones facing pedestrians on the sidewalk.
I am also amazed that the plants are all labeled, even the most obvious ones such as “rose” (バラ). I asked the older man why he labeled them, and he said that people often ask him and he doesn’t always remember the plant name.
The other amazing thing about the garden is just how big it is. There is easily more than one hundred plants. In addition to cover five meters or more in front of his building and his neighbors, he also expanded to an equally large area across the street. He is often outside watering and taking care of the plants.
I admire this gardener’s love for plants, his colonizing public space, and adding beauty in a crowded neighborhood.