Fukushima

Foreigners still confused that Tokyo-ites love wearing face masks

mask_ad_senior_sidewalk_shinjuku

四月は外国人がたくさん日本に旅行しにきます。「なぜ日本人はマスクを使いますか。放射能が怖いのですか」とみんな私に聞きます。他の国では、病院で働く人たちしか使いません。

April is a month that attracts many foreign visitors. Again, I am asked in hushed tones, are Japanese wearing masks because of Fukushima and fears of nuclear fallout? Anyone who lives here knows it’s allergy season, and many people wear them out of a combination self-treatment and courtesy to others. Masks, normal and even polite in Japan, are perhaps the most common form of exotic costume when seen by foreigners.

“We’re not doing energy savings,” a restaurant announces on sign board

高円寺のレストランの看板に「節電してませ〜ん」と書いてあります。政府とマスメディアを信じていないと、抗議しているのだと思います。@KoenjiLook

This Koenji restaurant on Look shotengai is bragging on their sign board that they are not doing energy savings, and that it’s cool inside. Thanks to Chris from A Small Lab for noticing this! Now that we’re in our second summer after Fukushima, many people dismiss government and mass media campaigns to save energy. There’s rebellion in the air.

Summer of green walls on mid-rise offices and retail buildings

節電のために、この夏は東京のどこでもグリーン・ウォール「垂直の庭」が作られています。混雑して、背が高い都市では、垂直の表面のほうが屋根より多いです。まず、杉並区役所とマンションのベランダでグリーン・カーテンが作られました。今、事務所や店の建物で、グリーン・ウォ―ルを作りはじめました。夏にグリーン・カーテンはヒートアイランド現象の緩和のために良くて、一年中、グーリン・ウォールは庭や農園や生息地を提供します。この写真を芝公園、新宿御苑前、大井町、大門で撮りました。

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.

Meeting Tase Michio 田瀬理夫

Tase Michio, Umeki, and me in front of Tase's Tokyo studio

This week I had the amazing opportunity to meet one of my landscape design heroes, Tase Michio (田瀬理夫) of Plamtago. He has created urban architecture and a green business that bring native plants and habitats to urban areas. His most famous work is the 1995 Acros Fukuoka building, a 15 story lush hillside on top of a downtown office building. More recently, he provided the creative direction for 5bai Midori, a Tokyo company that brings “satoyama” (里山) or a slice of rural Japan into urban areas through a modular 5-sided system.

With a shock of grey hair, Tase sensei is patient with visitors, provocative and without pretense. Born 60 years ago in Ichigaya, Tokyo, not far from his current Plamtago home office, Tase says he has been monitoring the natural environment of Tokyo since his childhood. His view is that urban land use is worse today than in the 1970s. And despite the success of Acros Fukuoka, which looks fuller and more wild after 14 years of growth, Tase is disappointed that there have been no other high rises incorporating bio-diversity into their architecture.

Tase Michio's Acros Fukuoka

Tase describes his work as “Passive Architecture & Active Landscape with Nature.” For cities, he aims to increase the number of plant species, slow rainfall and filter it before it reaches rivers and bays, create healthy wildlife habitats, and improve the soil. I was struck that he sees as urban eco-system indicators tiny ticks, which reflect good soil and perhaps small animals, and also hawks. Ticks and at least one hawk reside in the forest of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace.

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