In Tokyo, even the apocalypse has a cute mascot



At first, I feared that in event of major disaster, whales might appear on this large boulevard in my neighborhood. No, it’s a catfish. Apparently, catfish sense impending disaster. Of course, the catfish’s tongue is heart shaped.

Zelkova are leafing out on Omotesando


Zelkova, called keyaki in Japanese (ケヤキ), are a gorgeous Tokyo street tree. The best boulevards of mature zelkova are in Asagaya and Omotesando. Here you can see the branches are just leafing out. In the back of the detail image is Itoh Toyo’s sculptural building for Tods that appears to be built of zelkova branches rather than steel.

I have been working most of March and early April in Nishi Azabu Juban, and I often bike to the office. Biking in Tokyo is fun for discovering back streets, but its also fun to speed along a straight boulevard, especially one with such a magnificent canopy. These photos were taken near my new favorite retro van turned into mobile espresso shop, Motoya Express.

Red and yellow punctuate residential alley


Fall trees add temporal beauty to residential Tokyo.

An otherwise drab residential street is lit up with red and yellow fall foliage. The red tree in the foreground grows in the very narrow space between a house and the low wall separating it from the street. The yellow leaves in the background are from a ginko tree, which is part a line of ginkos on both sides of a major boulevard. Like most Tokyo residential streets, traffic moves so rarely and slowly that it’s comfortable to walk or bike in the center of the roadway.

One gorgeous tree and 15 lanes of roadway


Do trees make the human environment more attractive, or do human environments make trees more attractive?

On an elevated pedestrian bridge just outside Iidabashi station, on the way to Koishikawa Korakuen, this gorgeous street tree and its fiery leaves caught my attention. It stands in front of two intersecting wide boulevards, two elevated freeways, and two shadowed canals. Not only does the tree soften the urban blight of devoting so much space to cars and their air pollution. I think the mundane and gruesome human environment also elevate the tree’s beauty beyond what it might attain in more pristine wildness.

Yellow fall foliage on street tree and at park

Fall foliage in Tokyo is spectacular. I took these two images on a Sunday walk: the one above in Shinjuku Gyoen, the one below on the boulevard near Sendagaya JR station. I wish Tokyo had more mature trees.

Fall omatsuri in my neighborhood

The lanterns announce that the omatsuri festival will be happening Using simple plumbers’ fixtures and scaffolding, flexible and removable frames for lighted paper lanterns are erected all over the city.

I find omatsuri incredibly charming: a public street festival evoking rice farming and harvests, organized in Tokyo around tiny local shrines, work organizations, and local associations. A friend told me that in his town, the whole town celebrates together. But in the large megalopolis of Tokyo, the intensely local nature of each celebration is very personal and social.

Members of my apartment building are some of the main leaders of our local shrine’s festivities, which includes children’s and adults’ parading through the streets with portable shrines, flute, drum and bell music, (Japanese) lion dancing, traditional clothes including hapi (cotton jackets), and lots of public drinking.

At the shrine, one of my neighbors offered me a free shaved ice. I hesitated to accept other offers of food or drink because I did not want to be carrying the portable shrine; I know from experience that this is best left to younger and drunker participants.

Just in the other direction, on the same weekend, a small park gets transformed into a space for dozens to do “bon” dancing around a raised platform. Mostly seniors, they dance to various traditional and regional songs, while wearing yukatas. Children and even dogs come wearing this summer kimono. Unlike the local shrine, this small park has an area for more commercial “omatsuri” games and foods, including delicious mini-cakes, the ever present chocolate banana on a stick, yakisoba, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and more shaved ice.

I experimented this time with black-and-white photos that seem to make the event more timeless and nostalgic. It’s funny to see something very contemporary, like a child taking a cellphone photo of her chocolate banana, using this backward-seeming technology and juxtaposed with dances and music that may be centuries old. There’s something timeless about cast iron pans used over a gas grill to make the small cakes sold 12 or 40 to a bag.

I feel a certain surge of excitement when the portable shrines enter the large boulevard or fill the small streets radiating out from it. The shrine is very heavy, and there’s a definite camaraderie formed by sharing this load.

I’ll end the post with a short video of the dancing. The drumming and bells are live, and the other music and voice from an old CD player and simple amplifier sound system.

Hollyhocks are sign that summer is close

I love these hollyhocks growing on the side of a busy boulevard in Nakano. They are obviously self-sowed and extremely hardy. I marveled at them last year. I am certain that no one takes care of them, and yet they have spread up and down this boulevard.

Very rapidly, they grow over two meters tall. Along with hydrangea and azaleas, they are a sign that summer is close. I like how in this photo the flowers echo the verticality of the narrow high-rises and the Jeans Mate banner, and offer a contrast with the fast-moving, fossil-fuel dependent traffic.

Ginkos in Sendagaya

I go to Sendagaya often to swim in the Olympic pool. The boulevard in front of the Tokyo Gymnasium has beautiful, mature ginko trees. It’s amazing how fast they go from bare poles to lush leafy mass. Once leafed out, the ginkos also hide the elevated freeway and elevated train lines between the gym and Shinjuku Park.

Ginkos are leafing out

From one week to the next, ginko trees go from bare to green. This incredible transformation is another sign of spring.

I kept expecting these trees to leaf out earlier, but they wait until mid-April. Ginkos and zelkova are common trees on Tokyo’s large boulevards. Their repetition adds a certain grandeur to the streetscape.

North Vancouver and Edible Boulevards

Edible Boulevard in North Vancouver

The City of North Vancouver is considering an innovative plan proposed by the Green Skins Lab of the University of British Columbia to create edible boulevards. The idea is to combine commercial vegetable farms with social spaces within the city. Some features include biointensive farming, on-site energy generation and rainwater harvesting.

Like many cities, North Vancouver zoning currently prohibits commercial farming within city limits. However, the city government is reconsidering this industrial age policy as part of its 100 year sustainability plan. It is an interesting mix of food production, small business and job creation, community space, and aesthetic improvement.

edible boulevard edible boulevard city government meeting

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

Continue reading