Food delivery in crowded Shinjuku.
I missed all the shrine carrying, but what I really enjoy is the mix of the old and new, all taking place on streets full of people and closed to traffic. I like how this guy is casually wearing his happi jacket and no pants while talking on the phone and balancing on the prototypical Tokyo bike with kids seat and basket.
I like how this flower and plant shop occupies this empty lot on a Shibaura side street. It’s also nice to see that others use their bikes for plant shopping.
Below the overpasses, bicycle parking, the rear end of office buildings, signs for Slot Club and other shops, runs what remains of the Shibuya river. Rivers and ports traditionally animate cities, allowing for trade, transportation, and food. In Shibuya, it’s easy to think there is no river at all. What a wasted opportunity.
Casual, unplanned, resilient. The city has a life of its own: season, history, transportation, housing, color, and mood.
There’s something utilitarian and magnificent about this row of hundreds of commuter bikes lined up outside JR Tokyo’s Ryogoku station on a hot summer afternoon. The sun bakes in this concrete canyon, and even the salary men are wearing short sleeves.
Who can resist urban mushrooms?
My architect friend James Lambiasi sent me this photo of Nakameguro mushrooms on a second floor balcony. Do these mushrooms apply to landscape, he wondered? Of course, nature is no less splendid when touched by humans. This lovely, jumbled cityscape- of power lines, bicycles, laundry, exhaust pipe, paper lantern, and fall foliage- is a perfect frame for a double mushroom table and chair set. Thanks, James!
It’s awesome that someone has parked their bike illegally in Nakano’s Sun Mall after the shops have closed. Did the bicycle owner leave the potted plant in the basket, or did a stranger deposit it there? The city has a million stories, and this one combines two of my favorite city companions.
I love this giant hedge framing a modern house in Nakano. It’s even more beautiful at night, which is when we discovered it on a walk through the neighborhood.
The house is mostly concrete with wood on the second floor balconies and some bamboo as a screen for the ground floor. I love how the hedge opens up to provide an entrance to the house (and a permeable parking space). The outer hedge is then echoed by a shorter inner hedge close to the ground floor windows. On the right side, there’s a small gap and room to park a few bicycles. It’s a great combination of privacy and opening, concrete structure and plant life.
I like how the gardener has used bamboo poles to train the hedge into an arch over the entrance. It’s a simple and elegant support.
Viewed from the side, the house disappears behind the thick greenery. Usually I am a fan of much greater plant variety, but this residential garden shows how much can be achieved with a single species.
One of the best parts of publishing this blog is hearing from people around the world who share their love of gardening and public spaces. I hear frequently from architecture graduate students (US and UK mostly), environmentalists, and gardeners.
Recently Hester van Dijk of Overtreders W contacted me and shared her photos of urban and rural gardening in Japan. Oversteders W is a Dutch spatial design studio. The photos in this post are hers, republished with permission, and you can see her complete photo set online. She is a much better photographer than I am.
I think of Dutch public spaces as so well designed, so I was impressed by her appreciation of Japanese gardening. Here’s what she wrote me:
Last autumn I traveled in Japan by bicycle, and I was fascinated by the subject of city gardening in Japan too. I collected a series of photos that I think might be interesting to see for you, not just from Tokyo but also from Kyoto, Kanazawa, Hida Takayama, Osaka, Naoshima and the countryside. The Japanese way of sidewalk gardening is so creative, much more interesting than here in Holland. The subject has been very inspiring for me as a public space designer.
For urban gardeners, one key question is how to get plants, soil and pot from store to house. I buy many of my plants from small shops that are on my way from the train station to my apartment. Sometimes I bike to a DIY big box store called Shimatchu, and use a combination of large backpack and balancing plants in plastic bags across my handle bars.
Recently I discovered coconut husk as a soil. It’s sold at a wonderful Kichijoji indoor growing shop called Essence. Made entirely of husk, it recycles what would otherwise be waste, and it seems to be a high quality organic soil. Even better, it is sold dehydrated, so it is very light weight for transportation from shop to home.
I have bought three blocks (also called tampons) that make 11 liters when hydrated. Nakata-san of Essence recommended blending it 3-1-1 with perlite and vermiculite, which are also very light weight and low cost. When blended it makes about two regular sized buckets of soil.
I also used coco husk soil in small disks that expand with water to form seedling starters wrapped in a simple rope pouch.
You can see that my morning glory seeds were the first to sprout.
I also bought this funny Gro-Pot, a thick plastic bag with coco husk that you hydrate and plant directly into, as if it were a flower pot. I’ve put a sunflower in my Gro-Pot (bought for 500 yen, just over $5 from a local flower shop). Both the Gro-Pot and the coconut husk block are from U-Gro.
For the coco husk mix, I used another light weight new idea: Smartpots, a soft-side fabric container that claims to be better than plastic and clay containers, is super easy to carry and store. The makers claim that these polypropylene containers aerate and air prune the roots. When you buy the smartpots, they come folded up, which is very convenient.
The Sugiyama Koen near Shin Nakano station has just been renovated, with a shiny new playground and some new landscaping. I am glad they kept the old school clock.
They also put in underground bicycle parking. It’s cool but a bit daunting that the system has no staff. What if your bike doesn’t come out? I need to learn to read the instructions before I dare put my bike in there!
It is interesting how Tokyo provides no accommodation on streets for bicycles: no bike lanes and few bike-only paths. Bicyclists range from the elderly to young mothers with children to hipsters on fixed gear bikes, and they generally compete with pedestrians on the sidewalk. A few brave ones take the road. Still, there is a huge bicycle parking infrastructure, which shows perhaps that the government is mostly concerned about storage, especially near the stations which are critical transit and shopping nodes.
I love this tiny lane in Nakano Fujimichou that extends two blocks between a larger building and a series of small residences. The proportion of pavement seems just right: soil, pavement, soil in almost equal thirds. The lane serves as access to residences, bicycle storage, laundry drying, garden, and public passageway.
I wonder if the land is officially part of the ward or the residences. In any case, I imagine that it is the residents who maintain it and set informal rules about usage. The charm of this type of small semi-public semi-private space seems impossible to create by government planners or real estate developers.