This pedestrian overpass, which dips below the freeway in Shiodome, is a hot mess. I often wonder why city planners value pedestrians and bicyclists so much less than private vehicles and trucks. This is not how I’d like to walk to work from the station.
Hamarikyu is an elaborate garden between the office towers of Shiodome and the harbor full of warehouses, garbage incinerators, and the massive immigration office with no cellphone coverage. Inside the garden, you can learn how the Emperor created a special landscape to facilitate duck hunting that used decoy ducks, falcons, and nets. But on the edges of the garden, you can see the messy metropolis with its relentless accumulation of transportation, commerce, and recently new luxury residential development. I like how on the city side, the stone-lined canal has been preserved, and on the harbor side, an older looking flood gate still regulates the garden’s pond.
Layers of auto traffic rush towards Shibuya station. Has any global city maintained its aging urban auto infrastructure as thoroughly as Tokyo? Planning wise, Tokyo today can feel like it’s reliving the 1960s, as if nothing has changed in terms of mobility, urban design, and creating maximum value in dense cities.
This shrine offering seems the essence of fall. I’m probably off from the official symbolism, but the potato makes me think of warm soup and the tall blue rindou flower (scrabra in Latin) signals the start of fall.
This shrine, near Akebanabashi station, is wedged between a wide road and the Shuto elevated freeway.
I often show images of the long cherry tree path that leads from Tatsumi’s subway to the municipal swimming pool. The 10 minute walk mixes all that’s both beautiful and dirty about 1960s infrastructure projects. There’s the amazing public sports facility, a now mature park with tall trees bordering the elevated freeway, and an odd mix of new construction, prior buildings, and informal green spaces that benefit from a lack of attention.
Exiting the subway station in Odaiba, the way to the famed “beach” with city view includes walking past vast parking lots and then over this eight lane freeway.
What’s amazing about this view is that in addition to the enormous freeway, there are abandoned ramps on both sides, that are gradually being reclaimed by plants. Is land so value-less that this waste is considered appropriate?
There are still more empty than developed parcels on Odaiba, an urban development project with mixed results. The focus on freeways, parking lots, and chain restaurants and stores often makes it feel like a generic exurban landscape.
I hear that it is a popular place for dates. But I’ve been there only three times in as many years. Most recently I was there to get a ride to Umi no Mori for a volunteer tree planting day (more on that later). But a few extra hours gave me my first taste of Odaiba itself.
Once across the freeway and past the mall, there are some beautiful public spaces including an artificial beach. There are views of the port, the Tokyo skyline with the Rainbow Bridge, and some odd built decor that includes a mini Statue of Liberty on land.
There are many urban sights in Tokyo that are jarring to newcomers, perhaps none more so than the giant electricity poles. Well, there’s also garbage incinerators with tall chimneys in every neighborhood, elevated freeways, endless rows of fluorescent lights stacked high on exposed residential hallways, and the zeal for paving over almost all surfaces.
This photo was taken near Shin Koenji where the elevated main power line crosses Itsukaichi Kaido, a road that dates back to Edo and maybe earlier. You can just make out a silhouetted ripe persimmon fruit. Sometimes these unattractive elements create their own rhythm and patterns in urban life.
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.
Small green spaces in Nihonbashi include the Kabuto shrine and anonymous wall gardens.
In addition to a few historic corporate and government landscapes, Nihonbashi also has small shrines and anonymous micro-gardens. Canada’s Discovery History program filmed me talking about these locations. By accident, I stumbled upon a small Shinto shrine called Kabuto. It stands between a building covered in scaffolding and multiple elevated freeways just east of Edobashi bridge. It’s also across the street from the Bubble-era Tokyo Stock Exchange. Just behind it is the river.
Kabuto means samurai helmet. The shrine lends its name to the surrounding area. At the entrance are simple wood doors with the kanji for “kabuto” etched. The shrine seems very well maintained, and I wonder if those responsible for the shrine are the current business neighbors or descendants of generations of shrine keepers. I wonder, too, if the shrine used to be larger and better connected to the river. Now it seems almost swallowed up by the man-made environment on three side and from above.
It’s interesting that while the Tokyo Station area is full of new towers and multinational corporations, there are also still some small alleys and low buildings that provide a glimpse of the past. I found this curious sidewalk garden outside a five-story building that houses a reflexology clinic, a ramen shop, accountants, and probably a residence on top.
Here’s the list of tenants and the old entrance door. The garden is simple, well-cared for, and a cheerful sight in a densely packed area.