There are so many small fruits taking shape on my six “Tokyo strawberry” plants. I hope we get them before the birds do.
I love sensing spring’s arrival on my Tokyo balcony. First butterfly of this year, more birds, blueberry bush flowering, strawberries taking shape.
In a quiet neighborhood north of Nishi Ogikubo, the Zenpukuji ponds are a great place for a stroll and for bird watching. These two ponds are at the source of the Zenpukuji river, and I like how one is very open, while the other is almost entirely filled with reeds and places for birds to nest and forage. These photos are from a walk last month with my urbanist inspiration Chris Berthelsen and his family.
Native to Persia (what is now Iran), pomegranates remind me of the Mediterranean. I was surprised to see a neighbor’s pomegranate tree full of fruit. I guess the neighbor is not eating them, since they are bursting open. The birds are probably happy to eat the delicious seeds, and then distribute them as they travel.
Last year I also took photos of neighborhood fruit trees, including a miniature pomegranate. There are special varieties used in bonsai making.
In vast Tokyo, it’s easy to spend weeks and months without ever seeing the bay or any trace of the many rivers that once supplied the capital. I’ve been exploring new bike routes in western Tokyo that cut across the many train lines that all originate in Shinjuku. I always try to cross the Zenpukuji River, a beautiful green corridor through Suginami ward with cherry trees, playing fields, running paths, and a large shrine. I love looking at the sky and streetlights reflected in the water, and listening for birds.
This morning glory green curtain covers the entire balcony in a 1970s apartment building. I am envious of how vigorous and full this vertical garden became. It seems that all the apartments have nets, perhaps to deter birds, yet few are so well used.
Tokyo palm trees with ginko leaves are not most foreigners’ image of the typical Japanese fall landscape.
I love this juxtaposition of Tokyo’s most common, self-seeding palm tree named Shuro (シュロ, or Trachycarpus fortunei) and fallen yellow ginko leaves. Most people think of fall as defined by maple leaves turning red, or winter as pine trees. This unexpected combination of ginko and palm is an alternative juxtaposition of deciduous and evergreen.
This photo is from “Shuro hill” at Tokyo’s oldest Japanese garden, Koishikawa Korakuen (小石川小楽園), created in the early Edo period by the second Tokugawa ruler. This area is also called “Kiso yama,”with the mountain, path, and stream designed to evoke the Kyoto highway. This is but one of many garden scenes that miniaturize famous places in Japan and China. My appreciation of this garden is indebted to the passion and knowledge shared by my professor Suzuki Makoto who gives the most extraordinary tour.
This last image shows the juxtaposition between this nearly 400 year old garden and modern Tokyo. In the background are Tokyo Dome (right) and the Bunkyo ward office (left). Many of the garden structures were destroyed during the 1945 fire-bombing of Tokyo, and the garden reduced in size by post-war development.
Despite its abbreviated size, the garden is large enough that only later did I realize I forgot to see the rice paddy on the north side. The loud bird cries indicate that this garden is a critical nature sanctuary in a crowded city.
I already forgot where I saw this scarecrow last week. I find the image haunting and overwhelming.
There’s something very Japanese about this scarecrow and its placement in an ad campaign. The farmer’s clothes evoke the past, the expression is at once cute and creepy, and a figure created to deter birds from the field draws attention to a graphic overload of ads highlighting ready-made foods from the countryside and the “Christmas fair.”
This excess of visual symbols in a small space is a kaleidoscope of opposites: 2D and 3D, paper and cloth, old and new, city and country, national and imported, food and commerce, artisanal and industrial. The patterns, colors, fonts, photos, graphics, and references are dizzying.
On a drizzly day last week, I met an English landscape architect and her architect husband at Canal Cafe on the Soto-bori moat (外濠) at Iidabashi station. I often pass this moat riding the Chuo and Sobu JR trains, but it was lovely to have a meeting alongside the water. The birds seemed happy in the light rain. (UPDATE: The birds are cormorants, or in Japanese u (鵜). They are fish-eaters).
We had a long conversation about conservation agriculture and energy efficient, low-income housing. After enjoying the moat, we took a walk through Kagurazaka and explored its many alleys. I love this neighborhood, and it’s fun to see this historic entertainment district during the day. I love how inward focused the bars and restaurants are, with straw blinds and plants preserving privacy for their customers.
This past weekend was the International Federation of Landscape Architects World Congress in Suzhou, China. My co-author Matthew Puntigam traveled there with professors and graduate students of the Tokyo University of Agriculture, and he presented our paper co-written with Professor Suzuki Makoto.
The Kanda River connects many residential, commercial, and downtown neighborhoods before emptying into the Sumida River. We looked at the past, present and possible future of what is the longest river that originates within Tokyo. The biodiversity potential is significant: in one small section of Tokyo’s Kanda river, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s 2001 survey documented 260 plant species, 42 riverbed species, 9 types of fish, 291 types of insects, 30 bird species, 2 reptiles species, and 3 mammal species.
You can download a PDF of our paper, Biodiversity and New Urbanism in Tokyo: The Role of the Kanda River (6 MB). Your comments and questions are most welcome.
This comes from a beautiful collection of 50 Japanese town logos that incorporate stylized kanji with images of Mt Fuji, pine needles, birds, and flowers. Awesome!
(Note: above is the logo for Fujiyoshida in Yamanashi; it combines Mt Fuji and the kanji 吉 for yoshi)
Cool San Francisco project to turn an empty downtown development site into a temporary California wildflower meadow and pollinator garden that will attract butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and other pollinators. The two organizers are Rebar, a public space arts group, and Pollinator Partnership, which aims to make city and farm ecosystems hospitable to pollinating species.
On Saturday I went to a symposium at Tokyo University on Biodiversity and Sustainability: Rebuilding Society in Harmony with Nature, an educational forum that precedes this year’s COP 10 biodiversity conference in Nagoya. Many knowledgeable speakers spoke, including scientists, academics, government and corporate leaders. I especially liked Todai’s IR3S director Takeuchi Kazuhiko’s succinct formulation of the satoyama human-nature balance relying on traditional knowledge, modern science, and a “new commons” or vision of shared space that transcends government, private property, and national borders.
There were, of course, many discouraging facts. I was startled to learn that a single bottle of beer consumes 300 bottles of water in production. One speaker showed a graphic of how fishmeal from all over the world is transported to Thailand’s shrimp farms, making both the production and distribution of seafood a globalized product. I also learned that the 2002 United Nations goals on preserving biodiversity had not been met by a single country as of 2010. And lastly, I heard that the 20% level of knowledge and concern about biodiversity in Japan was one of the world’s highest levels of national awareness.
Given the challenges to preserving biodiversity, I was extremely disappointed by the top-down views and assumptions of the speakers. With no audience interaction, questions, or comments, the event seemed to invite trust in the capacity of elite academics, government leaders and United Nations bureaucrats working together. When Professor Takeuchi asked at the very end what can be done to avert a catastrophic tipping point, the Coalition on Biodiversity’s Executive Secretary talked about UNESCO’s role in cultural production. A top academic then spoke about the need to involve “the media” and celebrities to raise awareness.
I was surprised that such intelligent leaders believe in the viability of a top-down approach for reshaping the global economy and land use. In this formal auditorium at Japan’s most prestigious school, it was a missed opportunity not to provide action ideas for the hundreds of attendees. And to think of the “media” as the broadcast media is to overlook the tremendous power and potential of social media and popular participation.
One speaker briefly mentioned a lake biodiversity monitoring project that included local residents, government workers, and scientists. I would like to have heard more about how urban residents can connect with nature and become advocates for protecting and expanding habitat. Tokyo Green Space has documented the passion and energy of ordinary city residents, and I believe there is much more that can be done by engaging with bird-watchers, school children, seniors, and gardeners.
This plant in the foreground arrived on its own to my balcony container garden, and now it is flowering. The flowers look like peas, and the plant is growing vigorously with a nice cascading shape. Does anyone know the name of this plant?
In gardening, the unplanned is often the most intriguing. I wonder if the seed came in the wind, in the soil of another purchased plant, or by bird droppings. Even a small artificial ecosystem can take on a life of its own.