On my way to the station, I first notice a large truck parked in front of an old house. A minute further down the small street, this orange-haired youth greets me, and points at his shoes, saying “these are Japanese tabi.” Tabi are the mitten-like shoes worn by Japanese construction workers and farmers. He very willingly posed for his portrait, with the demolition site in the background.
This is the start of a series on the demolition of two adjacent Nakano houses. One was, at one time, an elegant and understated Showa-era home, with clean lines and a few blue ceramic roof tiles as decoration. It’s neighbor is a more international-style home from perhaps the 1970s. The demolition took place during the heat of summer in August.
Home demolitions give you a rare peak inside the homes of strangers, allowing you to see interior courtyards, old kitchens, and other “private spaces.” The demolition requires weeks of dismantling and trash sorting. There’s some machinery for the heavy lifting, but much of the energy for these small projects comes from youth.
家の近くに、「ダブルフィイス」というビルが建てられています。看板のまんなかに、モデルさんがいて、背景の半分は建物で、もう半分には森があります。実際には、木は１つも植えないみたいです。ところで “double-faced” は英語で「偽善」という意味もあります。
I assume Double Face has no specific meaning in Japanese. It’s hard to imagine the phrase being used in marketing when confidence and reputation are at stake.
Near my house is another new construction, Double Face in katakana or just Face Face in English. The concept is city and nature. But from what I see the building itself will contribute almost zero natural benefits to the sidewalk or community. Not even a single tree outside the mid-rise building. Again, I can sort of understand the concept, but the execution as a billboard and as a property leave much to be desired.
At this point in construction, what they’re offering the public is a vending machine, one of many drink machines along this boulevard.
Like all of Tokyo, the Nodai campus seems to be in a state of constant demolition and reconstruction. I like how they have preserved this old grove of tall trees that remind you that this Agricultural school has a one hundred plus year history as a center of innovation and learning.
The scaffolding has come down from the gorgeous red brick Tokyo Station after years of renovation. Still to come are the re-done entries and front plaza.
I have no idea why this huge pipe crosses the canal and enters the small two story house. How this house survived all the redevelopment, what is being piped in or through the house, and is the foundation as make-shift as it appears? I wonder if it has anything to do with all the nearby sewage and storm water treatment plants.
Just under the enormous circular ramp leading to Rainbow Bridge and Odaiba is a gigantic tower of cement. I guess there are enough construction projects to justify a waterfront cement operation.
These two photos show the different scales of homes and enterprises in Shibaura. They make me curious to explore more.
I was surprised to see these sunflowers blooming in late October. Dutch visitors @tanemaki2011 reminded me that in Europe it’s already early winter, with temperatures already reaching 0 degrees. For an Amsterdam resident, Tokyo fall is like summer yet better.
There’s currently a lot of construction around the Nakano JR station, with new bus areas, exits, and plazas to support an enormous high-rise office building and tall residential towers. I hope they will radically rethink the public space around the station. It’s the center of communal life, yet now mostly revolves around autos, asphalt, and concrete. It would be great to see a livelier meeting place.
A mini-forest would be inviting. In the meantime, this small field of sunflowers is a welcome distraction.
It’s wonderful to see how the University of Tokyo is carefully removing two mature ginko trees as it breaks ground for a new law school library. The Hongo campus is gorgeous, both for its brick buildings that are vaguely ivy league and art deco, but also for its stunning trees and Sanshiro pond.
The frantic pace of construction and reconstruction has left Tokyo with an inadequate tree canopy. It’s great that these two trees will survive the new building, and that the University of Tokyo demonstrates that it values its natural environment.
Many parts of Tokyo seem perversely devoid of tree canopy. That’s why I was thrilled to see this very public sign on a chestnut tree (shiinoki or シイノキ) in Shibuya ward. The tree sits at the back of the Naganuma School for Japanese study, in an area where large office buildings and residences are still being constructed. In almost every urban construction site, the prior landscape is scraped.
I am not sure how much protection this sign offers the tree, but it’s good to know that the city is aware of the value of mature trees, and that passers-by will see the sign and wonder where the other trees went.
I saw this beautiful biodiversity mini-garden at a construction site for the combination surface and underground urban freeways along Yamate Dori not far from Yoyogi Park. Although I bike this route every weekday, it took me a while to realize that this garden was inside the construction site, and visible mostly to the construction workers. What a great idea that workers’ jobs can be improved with on-site gardens. It looks very modular and portable.
This project is, I think, by Shimizu Corporation, one of Japan’s big builders. It’s funny that they get more attention for their grandiose city on the ocean Green Float concept than some of the small and inexpensive projects that they are already carrying out.
I bike to school on Yamate Dori, one of Tokyo’s modern ring roads. It’s currently under construction and rather ugly: a freeway underground, a 6 lane road on the surface, sidewalks torn up, new and mostly undistinguishable apartment buildings. On this ride from Nakano to Shibuya, one of the highlights is glimpsing the stairs leading up to this tree-filled shrine. I stopped and found out that it is Yoyogi-Hachiman shrine. I haven’t made it up the stairs yet, but it beckons as an inviting escape from the more functional, profane city racing by it.
Recently, Mukunoki Ayumi gave me a tour of Kuboco, the construction and roof garden company where she works in Shitamachi. She graduated from Nodai, where I am a research fellow. The meeting took place thanks to Edgy Japan‘s Yanigasawa Hiroki. I immediately recognized the building when I spotted the incredible wisteria that is trellised across one building and climbs to the top of the adjoining 8 story building, where it provides rooftop shade on a trellis structure. Mukunoki-san told me that the vine is just eight years old and very vigorous!
Kuboco designs roof gardens and vertical gardens for commercial and retail buildings as well as residences. Since they are a construction company, they are able to combine garden design and maintenance with structural engineering, water-proofing, and retrofitting trellises for vines and vertical gardens onto older buildings.
Mukunoki-san reports seeing a shift from roof lawns to vegetables in Tokyo. She attributes this to customers wanting less maintenance and greater value from their outdoor spaces. Kabuco has roof gardens on both of its buildings, one a more social space and the other full of experiments with soil depth and new vegetables. Kuboco is very hands-on in providing advice about how to build roof gardens and what to grow. Mukunoki-san explained that last summer she grew tumeric because one of her clients wanted to grow it. On my visit, I saw blueberries, carrots, onions, parsley and other food on their demonstration gardens, and admired how they are testing out what can grow in 5, 10, 20, and 25 cm deep soil boxes. And for a while Kuboco’s roof garden provides fresh vegetables to a local onigiri restaurant.
She also introduced me to the Japanese term for “local food”: 地産地消 (chisanchishou, locally produced and locally consumed, with the first and third kanji being the word soil).
The 8 year old wisteria looks like it’s been on this building for much longer. It blooms best when trained horizontally.
I would love to try blueberries, too. It would be so satisfying to eat fresh blueberries, rather than the supermarket ones that have travelled from as far as Chile.