common

Up-sized bush is getting bushier

夏にこのカナメモチの木をもっと大きな植木鉢に入れました。今新しい赤色の葉がたくさん出てきています。

This summer I up-sized the pot for this wonderful kanamemochi bush, so common in Tokyo. In spring the new leaves are red, and it’s very easy to prune the bush into a hedge or any shape you want. I want to use it as a screen for the washing machine or air conditioner.

Adding holes to the ceramic studio challenge of making something with a spout

今年の史火陶芸教室のテーマは注ぎ口のついたものです。私の作品には、いっぱい穴があります。注ぎ口を使わないから、ちょっと矛盾しています。生徒の展覧会のために、エアプラントを中に置くつもりです。

This year, the Shiho ceramic studio‘s student show in November will feature everyone making a spout. Every student has their own style, but for the annual show we are all making at least one thing in common. This year’s theme is spouts. I decided to make a few with lots and lots of holes. Since spouts are about pouring liquids, I like the contradiction. I’ll pair them with air plants for the show.

Using a bush to hide the balcony washing machine

カナメモチという植物を知っていますか。きれいな赤色と緑の葉の木で、ブラインドの代わりになります。東京でよく使われます。今、ベランダの洗濯機を隠したいです。

This red and green leafed bush, called kanamemochi (カナメモチ), is one of the most common hedges in Tokyo. I have a single plant, which used to be in front of the air conditioner. Now that we’re using the AC and blasting hot air into the balcony, I’ve had to move all the plants that used to be in front of it. I just potted it up, so hopefully it will become a thicker and better screen.

Palms are unexpected feature of Tokyo gardens

自然に生えているシュロというヤシが大好きです。東京の中で、ヤシはちょっと意外で、すてきだと思います。

I love the semi-wild shuro palm, and how it pops up unexpectedly in Tokyo gardens. This is at the “forest house” in Nakano, looking up towards the sky. Utility lines are also a common Tokyo landscape element.

Potted camellia brightens concrete patio dead space

普通だけれどもたくましい椿は、コンクリートのテラスに命を与えます。だれがそこに置いて、剪定しているのでしょうか。

I like how this very common and hardy camellia brings some life to a concrete patio in a Nakano back street. I wonder who placed it there and keeps it well pruned.

I can easily  imagine a jungle growing between these older commercial buildings, a living food alley with scent and maybe a small creek bed. As it is now, this space between buildings functions as a giant chute for capturing rainwater, which then travels many kilometers and must be processed, alongside sewage, before being released into Tokyo Bay.

At least someone working or living there is decorating and enjoying the space.

Mini apples in flower arrangement

あなたの近所の花屋はミニりんごを売っていますか。楽しいと思っています。東京でよく見ます。この壁の花瓶を史火陶芸教室で作りました。

Does your local florist include mini-apples in their arrangements? It’s very common now in Tokyo, and I think it adds a fun element. This wall vase I made at Shiho ceramic studio.

Tokyo metabolizing creates vision for Tokyo as new urban form

「東京は人間のための都市(まち)に向けて変容していけるのでしょうか。」週末に、『家の外の都市の中の家』という展示会を見ました。新しい社会条件に、東京の建築家が創造的なアプローチをします。人間が都市で一番な要素であれば、その都市はどんな風に見えるでしょうか。他人を認識することが良いことならば、住宅はどのように変わるでしょうか。建物と建物の隙間が、建築物と同じくらい大事ならば、都市生活はどう感じるだろうか。時間があれば、10月2日まで展示会をご覧ください。

“Tokyo seems to be changing into a city that is meant for people,” concludes the introduction to the Tokyo Metabolizing exhibit at the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery. The exhibit combines models and ideas from three architecture firms, Atelier Bow-Wow, Nishizawa Ryue, and Kitayama Koh, and formed part of the 2010 Venice Biennale.

Tokyo Metabolizing provides context for the rapid development of the world’s largest mega-city, and suggests new ways of living well in the city. I like how the architects respond with new dwelling types, including a blending of home and office, residences that share common spaces, and apartments where connectedness with others is valued more than privacy.

The architects are responding to new  realities of who we live with and how we want to live. In Tokyo the average household is less than 2 people, and these smaller households seek new connections with neighbors, colleagues, and friends. I think the most radical suggestion is that an awareness of other people living around you might be considered a positive feature rather than something to be concealed or suppressed.

The metabolizing title harks back to a radical modernism from 1960s Tokyo, and foregrounds the city as a living organism: with a life, history, and progression. Carolyn Steel, in her book Hungry City, uses the concept of the city as an organism  to focus attention on urban food delivery, prep and consumption. The urban built environment is also reflection of social life– from tax policy to demographics– and human aspirations.

I liked that Atelier Bow-Wow focuses on the untapped value of Tokyo’s void spaces: in-between, often wasted space between structures, which have potential for re-use and for gardens, community, and nature in the city.

The exhibit has great scale models, and is at Opera City until October 2. Also worth seeing is a special exhibit of recent works by young artist Ishii Toru (石井). Ishii creates psychedelic contemporary fantasies– full of convenience stores and fast food logos– using a traditional yuzen method of dyeing fabric.

Sunset over Shimokitazawa commercial street

最近、よくこの下北沢の商店街に行きます。日暮れはとてもきれいです。自転車で行けて、おいしいコーヒーのお店があります。東京の商店街には、いろいろ小さな店があります。商店街のデザインは散歩したり、ぶらぶらしたりすることがしやすいようになっています。古いけれど、商店街のストリートデザインはヨーロッパとアメリカで人気が出てきています。どうして都庁は車を支持して、商店街を支持しないのでしょう?

Recently I have been spending more time on this Shimokitazawa shoutengai, or commercial strip full of very small businesses. This one is northwest of the station, and somewhat hard to find. What’s great is its combination of shops run by old timers alongside imported hipster clothes, one of Tokyo’s best coffee shops called Bear Pond that roasts their own beans, a hookah bar, and at least ten hair salons.

There are thousands of these shopping streets in Tokyo, near transit stations and along routes that connect homes, workplaces, schools, and leisure areas. It’s strange that Tokyo Metropolitan Government is still so focused on cars and their movement across the city at the expense of walking and biking and other forms of common space usage. There is little government recognition or support for the idea that these relics of past decades are in fact some of Tokyo’s most forward-looking urban public spaces.

Lively pedestrian zones are common in Europe, and becoming more so in many cities in the United States. By not segregating cars, pedestrians, and bicycles, the street pace slows down to pedestrian speed while still allowing passage for delivery trucks and cars. The way the street is painted makes it appear even more narrow, providing further social cues about speed and usage.

Many of Tokyo’s shoutengai are suffering as consumers shift towards shopping at big box stores and driving as a primary form of transportation. The city government is truly looking backwards when it promotes automobile usage and fails to recognize the value of these vernacular public spaces that support human interaction and the environment.

Intoxicating night scent of Angel’s Trumpet

Leaving an inspiring talk in Nishi Azabu-Juban yesterday evening, the intoxicating scent of Angel’s Trumpet made me pause. And take a photo.

Brugmansia is also very common in San Francisco (and many continents including New Zealand), although it comes originally from South America. It produces an incredible scent, but only at night. In Tokyo, the summer heat seems to overwhelm the plant. By fall, this hardy large shrub/small tree grows to three or four meters in height, and flowers continuously until winter frost makes them die back. By May they begin to shoot up from the ground.

Angel’s Trumpet, sometimes also called Devil’s Trumpet, is a strangely familiar plant: hardy and decorative, with a shamanistic function in its native Amazon habitat.

Edo gardening in wood block prints

Edo gardening in wood block prints

Encouraged by my host Suzuki Makoto sensei at Tokyo University of Agriculture, I recently visited the Edo Gardening Flowers exhibit being held at the Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art until November 26,2009. The exhibit has spectacular colorful wood block prints showing flowers and plants in a variety of urban settings including kimonos, at festivals, commercials nurseries, educational materials, Kabuki actors, and Noh dramas.

The exhibit theme is that the Edo period experienced a “gardening culture” in which a passion for gardens and flowers permeated all social classes, including court nobles, shoguns, feudal lords and the common people. According to the catalogue, “the Japanese people’s passion to flowers surprised the American botanist Robert Fortune as seen in his diary upon his visit to Japan in the late Edo period.”

An interesting comparison is also made between between the widespread practice of Edo gardening and also the interest of common people in wood block prints. It is wonderful to see the use of flowers and plants in both high culture realms and in depictions of everyday life during the Edo period.

Two of my favorite prints are collections of plants used by children to learn the names of flowers. The one below, from the back cover of the exhibit catalog, has the names in hiragana. The exhibit also includes Edo era ceramic plant pots.

Edo gardening in wood block prints

Some more images after the jump, and also a list of plants seen in the wood block prints.

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