gravel

Bare pocket parks have more gravel than plants

On my Meguro walk, I noticed two pocket parks, one newer and one older. Both have a similar plan: wide open space with gravel, and minimal plants, play areas, and seating. I know that one reason Tokyo parks are created this way is to provide a gathering space for emergencies. Yet if emergencies are an every 10, 20 or even 50 year experience, wouldn’t it make more sense to get better use out of the parks in the meantime? In an emergency the plants could be justifiably trampled, but at least they would provide more active natural environments for daily life.

During my weekday visit, I noticed two office guys taking a smoking break (separately), a senior taking a rest, and some high school kids on their cellphones. It would be great if there was also room for vegetable growing, butterfly gardens, bird watchers, and wildlife habitat.

Making bonsai at Sinajina with Kobayashi Kenji sensei

Recently I had the pleasure of attending my second bonsai-making class with Kobayashi Kenji sensei at Sinajina. While last fall’s class focused on black pine, this time we made a miniature landscape with three gangly deciduous shrubs (Nanking nanakama) and a small flowering astilbe (tannachidakesashi). At the base, we added moss and gravel.

I like how this small combination includes different heights and forms, flowers, and leaves that turn color and drop in the fall. It should be fun to take care of it in different seasons. In addition to TEDxSeeds organizers, the class also included three sisters from Tochigi who come to five classes every year. They clearly were more advanced than us beginners!

I highly encourage anyone to take a class at Sinajina. They are offered several times per month. For basically the cost of the plant (about US $70 or 6,500 yen), you not only leave with a bonsai you have made yourself, but you also learn from Kobayashi sensei about the plants, how to arrange them, and his passion about how people and plants can live together. For now, classes are in Japanese, but recently Kobayashi sensei hired a bilingual American and may soon offer classes in English.

Rose and mountain hydrangea bonsai at Sinajina

I have had the pleasure of visiting Sinajina three times in the past three weeks: to talk with Kobayashi sensei about a project with the Portland Japanese Garden, to take a class with TEDxSeeds organizers, and to visit with my Newsweek Japan editor. In every visit, the store is set up differently, and the most seasonal bonsai are most prominently displayed.

Last weekend, the rose and mountain hydrangea perfectly capture the turning of the season from late spring to early summer. These bonsai are perfect in shape, buds just opening, and contrast with pot, gravel, and moss.

I also like the contrast between these plants and the hollyhocks I featured yesterday. All of them are seasonal flowers, yet they differ in scale and degree of human care. I like to think that urban nature extends from the wild and unruly to the groomed and domesticated.