cellphone

Bare pocket parks have more gravel than plants

On my Meguro walk, I noticed two pocket parks, one newer and one older. Both have a similar plan: wide open space with gravel, and minimal plants, play areas, and seating. I know that one reason Tokyo parks are created this way is to provide a gathering space for emergencies. Yet if emergencies are an every 10, 20 or even 50 year experience, wouldn’t it make more sense to get better use out of the parks in the meantime? In an emergency the plants could be justifiably trampled, but at least they would provide more active natural environments for daily life.

During my weekday visit, I noticed two office guys taking a smoking break (separately), a senior taking a rest, and some high school kids on their cellphones. It would be great if there was also room for vegetable growing, butterfly gardens, bird watchers, and wildlife habitat.

Roppongi West Park is a quiet oasis on back street

Roppongi is a very foreign neighborhood for me since I rarely visit its offices, nightclubs and museums. However, with the recent conference, I took a friend along a back street between mega developments Mid Town and Roppongi Hills. We stumbled a very charming, small park named Roppongi West Park (六本木西公園). It was a welcome escape from the elevated freeways and concrete overload.

The park provides a great amount of shade and the loud murmur of cicadas. My fellow Maryland state friend and I wondered how come mid-Atlantic cicadas only appear every seven years, while Japanese ones go through similar seven year cycles but appear annually. The park had benches with businessmen smoking, chatting, using their cellphones, and escaping their offices. There were also sand box, playground, and a public bathroom.

Seeing this small gem made me think about the up-until-now unrealized possibilities for the mega developers to connect with their neighborhoods through landscapes. Mori Building talks about how its vertical gardens lower summer time temperature in its neighborhoods. And Mitsubishi Estate is concerned with making Marunouchi more attractive through livable streets.

Creating gardens and habitats that extend to nearby  pocket parks, as well as neighboring residential and commercial gardens, could brand these new places with historical memory, a signature fruit tree, butterfly or bird habitat, outdoor recreation, and innovative public place making. While the developers goal is to maximize rental income, attention to the neighborhood, its existing assets and people, could be a low-cost and high impact way to brand, differentiate, and attract visitors and tenants.

District landscaping is one of the most economical and transformative improvements. By extending beyond the limits of a single property or the holdings of one developer, district landscaping is vital to place-making, memory, habitat, and human affection.

Cherry madness starts early in Shinjuku Gyoen

Today was a gloriously sunny day with a warm breeze, and I found myself in Shinjuku Gyoen. Plenty of young families sprawled out on the lawn, with small kids playing ball. There’s a glorious magnolia pair near the entrance, but already the senior citizen, photo hobbyists brought out the big equipment to take photos of the early cherry trees.

Did you know that Shinjuku Gyoen has twelve species of cherry? And that they bloom from late February into mid April? There’s a very educational chart. I believe the one above is Prunus x kanzakura (カンザクラ、寒桜). If so, it’s about one to two weeks behind the schedule.

Not sure if I will be brave enough to return to Shinjuku Gyoen during peak cherry season when literally millions of people fill the park. Here’s my favorite photo from last year’s cherry season: a salaryman perched precariously on the Imperial Palace moat’s rail to snap a photo with his cellphone.

What’s your favorite place for cherry blossom viewing? Famous spots or neighborhood spots? What’s the most unlikely place you’ve seen cherry madness?

Flower power

Salary man taking keitai sakura photo at Imperial Palace

Spring in Tokyo reminds you of the power that flowers have to capture human imagination. Cherry blossom viewing, which has its own name in Japanese, hanami (花見), draws people to socialize outdoors, drinking and eating on blue tarps with family, friends, co-workers and neighbors.

The power of cherry blossoms (or sakura, 桜) even inspires acts of seeming recklessness. In the photo above, an older salary man is perched precariously above the Imperial Palace moat in his quest to take a close-up photo with his cellphone (or ketai).

As an anthropologist and foreigner in Japan, it is also striking to me how specific flower devotion in Japan is. On a hanami stroll, I noticed this beautiful yellow flowering bush called yamabuki, literally “mountain spray.” I have never seen it on either coast in the United States; an internet search gives its English name “kerria.” Despite the crowds in the Tokyo park, I felt that I alone was giving this flower some attention.

Yamabuki in Narita Higashi, Tokyo

At the end of this month, Good Day Books in Ebisu, will be hosting an author’s reading with Enbutsu Sumiko. Her Flower Lover’s Guide to Tokyo offers 40 walks in Tokyo focusing on seasonal flowers in various parks and gardens.

Enbutsu Sumiko, Flower Lover's Guide to Tokyo