With @luismendo visiting from Amsterdam, my Tokyo DIY Gardening pal Chris and I took him on a tour of Harajuku backstreets looking at gardens, eating tonkatsu, and stopping for some excellent cold coffee.
Harajuku is fun because the residential area has houses and gardens from all or almost all the past eight decades. The Harajuku gardens that appeal to me are similar to ones elsewhere in Tokyo for their simplicity and easy adaptation to urban life. Some results are clearly unintentional.
My photos include a three story garden of ivy and bamboo that covers one house and provides a buffer with its neighbor, a sleek concrete building’s balcony green curtains that are just starting to fill out on two floors, a blue flowering vine that somehow became a giant bush, a tiny entrance garden outside a pre-war house that has been converted into the very elegant Omotesando Coffee.
We also explored the enormous Danchi that between 246 road and Harajuku. This sprawling bauhaus-like public housing project has a wonderfully chaotic and varied set of gardens created by generations of residents. In July, we spotted lots of tomatoes, vertical bitter melon, and these purple gloves on top of an ad hoc garden support.
The Medical Herbman Cafe Project was one of the most inspiring landscape interventions we saw at the Niigata Art Triennial. Placed next to the school that had been closed less than 20 years after opening, the Medical Herbman Cafe Project consists of two elements: a mobile cafe that folds up into a container that fits on the back of a truck, and a herb garden planted in the shape of a person. The whole project is meant to be portable and sustainable.
The garden is organized so that the plants are grown along the body part that are most helped by each herb. The cafe serves over 20 varieties of herbal teas and cookies. I tried oubako tea and azami (thistle) cookie. The aesthetics of the cafe is recycled wood and rustic chic, with one room serving food and another providing seating and event space. Small plants were growing in white gardening gloves.
The Medical Herbman Cafe Project is powerful because it goes beyond a momentary appreciation of nature for city tourists, and promotes a healing connection between plants and people, countryside and city. I had mixed feelings that the Niigata Art Triennial benefits from the over-abundance of abandoned property in the countryside, and provides tourists and locals with a brief experience of rural experience and tourist commerce.
If the Obuse building restoration shows the relevance of old buildings and agricultural traditions from chestnuts to sake, the Medical Herbman Cafe Project suggest that rural knowledge of herbs has a place in the daily life of our urbanized world. It would be cool to see Medical Herbman Cafe Project set up in a city, perhaps using a school yard, land temporarily empty during development, or a public park like Shinjuku Goen or Yoyogi.
The menu below and the photo of the cafe above come from the Medical Herbman Cafe Project website. Although the site text is mostly in Japanese, the design and images will appeal to non-Japanese readers, too.