It’s spring, and vegetables are growing spontaneously on Tokyo’s sidewalks.
How do you have room to grow food on a small balcony? I particularly love edibles that are also super ornamental. This lettuce looks and tastes great! It’s from the United Nations University farmers market stall that specializes in heirloom vegetables. It’s been easy to grow during winter.
This gorgeous blueberry plant, full of perfect fruits, is being sold at Marunouchi flower shop. I love how it’s getting more common to use edibles as decorative landscape.
Commonly called Japanese bayberry, this fruit tree near Tokyo Metropolitan Government was full of yamamomo fruits. This tree is apparently often planted along roads and in parks. I love how the fruit is at once edible and very ornamental.
There’s no contradiction between edible and decorative garden plants, especially on a small balcony. I love these purple and yellow eggplant flowers. Also in the frame are strawberries, cucumber, blueberries, rosemary, and parsley. This year I’m also growing okra, which I don’t like to eat. It’s a beautiful plant, and my husband will eat them.
I am growing two types of red lettuce. I like how it’s both edible and also decorative.
Blueberries are blooming on my Tokyo balcony garden. I love how this bush is both decorative and edible. But mostly these flowers make me think of summer fruit.
I am surprised more people aren’t growing snap peas on Tokyo balconies. Because they’re climbers, they take up very little room. I planted them in winter, and now they are ready to eat!
I love this elegant cherry tree in bloom at a highway rest stop. In the background, you can see a row of cherry trees lining the highway. I am rarely a car passenger in Japan, but I was my in-laws on a day trip last weekend.
In the United States, highway rest stops have a bad reputation: dirty, few food options, insufficient toilets, and an atmosphere of decrepitude and crime. In Japan, they are immaculate, constantly renovated, over-supplied with clean toilets, food options that rival a large mall, and endless rows of souvenir edible gifts for people you will visit or for friends and family back home.
I love the deep blood red of this quince bud. Quince is called カリン (karin) in Japanese. In the background, you can see two chartreuse fruit fallen on the ground. Tokyo quince is not just decorative.
Freezing temperatures and icy streets are keeping me indoors. But I am always amazed at how much still grows in Tokyo’s winter months. The most spectacular and surprising is this large citrus called “hassaku.”
For years I believed general comments about how the fruit is too sour to eat. Then I participated last year in Edoble’s hassaku marmalade-making. This tree can be seen everywhere in Tokyo, so it must be well suited. I like how it’s both decorative and edible!
These fruit, too, also quickly appeared and then they were gone. The short tree is extremely thorny, and the fruit look like apples. I wonder if they are edible.
I first saw these vines a month ago on a nearby sidewalk. They are growing in plastic buckets with an elaborate plastic twine trellis supported by a tree branch. Initially I misidentified them as morning glory. Recently, I saw how tall and thick the vines had become, and that they are in fact bitter melon, with vegetables ready to eat. The shop owner saw me taking these photos, and seemed very proud of his summer edible garden on a busy street.
Tokyo is full of empty lots that mark the time between demolition and building. Sometimes they stay empty for more than a year. Most are turned into automated parking lots, some so small they only provide space for a single car. Some in busier neighborhoods get covered in gravel and host crepe shops in a trailer.
The empty lot above, just off Omotesando in Aoyama has three uses: tapioca drinks for sale, vending machines, and ashtrays for smokers. Considering the proximity to so much high-end shopping and so many people, it seems like a vastly under-utilized urban space.
It would be cool to see something more useful in these temporary spaces: energy generators, plants for shade and habitat, edible gardens, nurseries to grow and sell plants, attractive places for relaxation, socializing, and pets. Their design would need to be portable, modular, and generate some minimal income for the owner. Creating a prototype space for these liminal spaces would be a great project for a local government, corporation, or non-traditional marketing company.
Great New York Times story about benefits of corporate gardens, including Pepsi-Co and Aveda. Improves worker morale, eating, health, and informal conversation across departments. Why doesn’t every company create a small edible garden? By adding native plants to storefronts and walls, and giving small plants to customers, corporations can brand themselves and create distributed habitat, too.