I love this path that starts at Shinjuku Dori, near the department stores, cuts between Kabukicho and Golden Gai, and ends up at the start of the male host zone in eastern Shinjuku. I wish all my city walking could be done on this narrow green path with mature trees.
Ome Kaido is a large boulevard in my neighborhood that dates to Edo times when this area was largely fields. I like how the ginko trees provide a unifying element to a heterogenous streetscape of abandoned post-war buildings mixed with newer commercial, residential and even light industrial buildings from every decade since.
Directly across the street from this corner is a ten story office building. I noticed the roof-top sports facility years before I recognized the logo at the entrance that marks it as the headquarters of one of Japan’s leading adult content companies.
Spurred by the energy crisis post-Fukushima, there’s been a notable increase in the number of mid-rise office and retail buildings with green walls. In an over-built city, vertical surfaces are the largest potential area for gardening, farming, and habitat creation.
Tokyo has far more vertical surfaces than roof areas, and we are only at the very beginning of creating an urban forest.
I have been following this topic for a while, and have watched this idea spread from notable public spaces like Suginami’s ward office (world’s largest green curtain) to apartment balconies, flower shops, and now commercial and retail spaces. This wide distribution across Tokyo and across building types is very exciting to see.
Some questions I have include:
- What types of plants can be grown vertically and for what functions: aesthetics, habitat, scent, seasonal change, food?
- How can green walls enhance innovative architecture and place-making?
- How can vertical and roof gardens connect buildings, neighbors, and wildlife?
- What is the impact on heat island effect, global competitiveness, and quality of life?
The answers will come from experimentation and diffusion. The photos, from top to bottom, are four green walls I’ve recently seen:
1. Hasegawa Green Building in Shiba Koen
2. Office mid-rise in Shinjuku Gyoen-mae (2 photos). The company that created and maintains this green wall is called Ishikatsu Exterior (石勝イクステリア).
3. Oimachi retail building near station.
4. Daimon office building.
It’s funny how plants connect you even more with people than nature. Thank you Twitter’s @mygardeninjapan for this apple mint. From balcony to balcony!
I recently met up with Twitter’s @mygardeninjapan after exchanging many online comments and thoroughly enjoying his detailed documentation of his balcony garden in Yokohama. Along with @a_small_lab and Tokyo DIY Gardening‘s Chris, we had a bento lunch in a temple garden and then a fascinating walk around the Omotesando danchi.
It was very kind of @mygardeninjapan to give us these small wooden pots with mint plants from his garden and hand-made signs with illustrated care instructions. His ladybug logo reminds me of his blog story about his efforts to attract ladybugs to his balcony garden. I am looking forward to growing and eating this mint in my balcony.
Please have a look at my recent TEDxSeeds presentation about making Japan a world leader in living cities.
This TEDxSeeds presentation, with English and Japanese captions, looks at how Japan can become a world leader in living cities. Despite Tokyo being the world’s largest city with a history of poor design, there are many opportunities for creating plant life and wildlife habitat. My goal for next year is to work with city governments, corporations, community groups, railway companies, and others to plan and implement creative public spaces that connect urban life with nature.
Is dead corridor the opposite of green corridor? What are the effects of urban highways?
Many landscape architects and urban biodiversity planners talk about the value of green corridors: places that provide wildlife shelter, that connect neighborhoods, integrate city and country, and mitigate the heat island effect. What should we call the multi-level roadways that are in many ways the opposite, that divide neighborhoods and reduce life? Dead corridors?
I took this photo on Linus Yng’s architecture bike tour; I think it’s near Sasazuka. It’s very close to the lovely remnant of the Tamagawa josui (玉川上水). I think the image makes an interesting contrast with the serenity of the train photos from yesterday’s post.
I have been thinking about the urban corridors and the distributed real estate that connect city people literally and experientially. Everything from rail lines that take us where we are going to convenience stores that make us feel that we are in the same place no matter where we are. Rail companies and retail chains own or operate so much real estate to make them second only to governments in terms of land ownership and possibilities for remaking our environment.
I love the chaotic, multi-directional rail lines in Yoyogi- two sets of elevated lines and street-grade lines taking traffic from Shinjuku to other parts of Tokyo, towns and resorts to the west, and across Japan. As a pedestrian, the rail crossings slow down your walk and make you aware of the millions of people circulating in Tokyo.
I’ve blogged before about the cool wildflowers with some unplanned cultivation on the sides of the tracks. The rail companies must be concerned about safety, including keeping neighbors safe and also minimizing garbage on the tracks. Yet it’s great that this land exists in a semi-wild state, and cool that it’s so accessible in Yoyogi. I wonder what further uses the lands beside rail tracks and stations could have in cities, suburbs, and countryside. Wildlife habitat, small farms, recreation, bee hives, or other uses.
The Huffington Post published the English version of my recent Newsweek Japan article. Entitled “Gardening for Strangers in Tokyo,” it argues that the smallest gardens connect city people with nature, culture and history. Written in a personal voice to show a foreigner’s view to a largely Japanese audience, the article emphasizes how “Tokyo’s distinctive streetscape encourages proximity with many small gardens and their gardeners,” creating human as well as environmental benefit.
Gardening for Strangers in Tokyo
(This article originally appeared in Newsweek Japan on January 12, 2009 in Japanese)
Spending several weeks in Tokyo on a business trip in 2008, I was startled and enchanted to discover its human scale and its streets alive with people and plants. Like many foreigners, I assumed Tokyo would be all cold high-rises, crowded Shibuya scrambles, and flashing neon advertising. In short, I imagined the world’s largest metropolis entirely removed from the natural world.
I brought to Tokyo a lifelong interest in gardening. What surprises me still are Tokyo residents’ ingenuity and passion for cultivating plants and community in a crowded, over-built city. On leaving a beginner’s ceramics class in a humble Tokyo neighborhood one day, I came across four perfect pansies growing in the crack of a narrow sidewalk.
This image of Tokyo as a gardeners’ city motivated me to relocate from San Francisco to research and write about Tokyo Green Space. Placing my research in the context of design anthropology and urban ecology, I was extremely fortunate to receive generous support in 2009 from Hitachi, which is committed to a Japanese approach to environmental protection and to cultural diplomacy.
The sidewalk pansies show that Tokyo is organized differently than United States and European cities, and that many of these differences are nearly invisible to Japanese people. I formulated several guiding questions. Why do Tokyo residents care so deeply about their surroundings? What role can nature play in dense urban environments? What can other cities learn from Tokyo’s urban gardening culture?
I began collecting images of gardens visible from streets and sidewalks. Surprises included a valuable bonsai collection growing on a private residence’s cinder block wall; rice maturing in styrofoam containers; a single, exquisite mini-watermelon supported by a wooden stand in a Ginza backstreet. Sadly, in San Francisco and most developed world cities, these potted plants would be quickly stolen or vandalized. Meanwhile few Tokyo residents connect the respect shown to public plants with their unequaled personal safety in streets and transit.
Rushing into a men’s room in the Tokyo Metro, I glimpsed ivy growing in a two-liter plastic bottle lying on its side. In the twenty-first century, United States cities permanently closed their subway restrooms for “public safety.” Here in Tokyo I could calmly imagine the anonymous person who beautified an underground utility with a living organism and minimal resources. Did he return regularly to change the water? What inspired his passion for plants and his kindness to strangers?
Across the four seasons, I observed Tokyo residents celebrating nature together in public places. For hanami (cherry blossom viewing), it is common to see people sleeping overnight in parks and along rivers to reserve spaces for blue sheets and the next day’s outdoor party for family, co-workers, or friends. The pink cherry blossoms transform the entire city as boisterous crowds share drinks and food. In fall, many thousands view ginko trees turning bright yellow in Aoyama, and special evening “light up” displays of red maple trees in traditional Japanese public gardens.