In August, I began working with Mitsui Real Estate, Recruit, and a small NGO to introduce a new luxury high-rise residential tower in Shibaura, a less known waterfront area between Shinagawa and Hamamatsucho. It’s near where the base of Rainbow Bridge is located.
In this online interview (in Japanese) and in real estate brochures distributed around Tokyo, I relate my experience working in the neighborhood at Shibaura House, where I led gardening and fieldwork workshops for locals and international visitors, adults and small children.
The new tower, which is just now breaking ground, contributes to the restoration of Edo-era canals by creating a public waterfront park. This park contributes to the developer’s goal of creating a resilient community that includes new and existing residents. Providing greater access to the waterfront also restores a vital part of Tokyo’s history that was neglected in the 20th century.
My friend Sho, whom I met in Nakano, created this promotional video for a Japanese fashion brand called ID Daily Wear. You can see that I am wearing their super high-quality and made in Japan pocket t-shirt. But it’s cool that the video also introduces my high-rise garden, the field of design anthropology, and why my neighbors inspire me to document Tokyo Green Space. The photography and especially the editing tell a a big story in a few minutes. The Japanese translation is also superb. Thanks, Sho!
From this perspective, the balcony garden path looks longer than its four meters. I’m pleased with how much I have packed in.
I like how unlike the “forest” house and its bare stucco neighbor are. Across the street are a few traditional Japanese gardens. At the end of the road is the new, supposedly sold-out, twin tower high rise near Nakano JR station. I like the contrast in shapes and styles, and also in the intensity of human effort versus bio-organic growth.
I was surprised to see these sunflowers blooming in late October. Dutch visitors @tanemaki2011 reminded me that in Europe it’s already early winter, with temperatures already reaching 0 degrees. For an Amsterdam resident, Tokyo fall is like summer yet better.
There’s currently a lot of construction around the Nakano JR station, with new bus areas, exits, and plazas to support an enormous high-rise office building and tall residential towers. I hope they will radically rethink the public space around the station. It’s the center of communal life, yet now mostly revolves around autos, asphalt, and concrete. It would be great to see a livelier meeting place.
A mini-forest would be inviting. In the meantime, this small field of sunflowers is a welcome distraction.
Another garden I saw from my bike in central Tokyo is this huge balcony garden on top of what looks like a semi-abandonded ten story building. The windows below the garden are either covered up, dirty, or reveal stacks of boxes. I wonder if the building is mixed use, and how such a large and well established garden ended up there. The Jingumae neighborhood is one of central Tokyo’s most expensive areas.
I often notice that the most intriguing and wild green spaces grow next to older buildings. It’s interesting to see the same phenomenon on an aging high-rise.
Last week I made a quick curry rice lunch using Muji curry plus a store-bought tomato and home-grown snow peas. Snow peas are now my favorite Tokyo winter plant: decorative, edible, fast-growing, and vertical.
I got inspired by seeing a neighbor’s garden in November, buying starter plants, and watching them grow, and finally eating them. There’s at least a few more lunches ripening just outside my high-rise kitchen.
Update: Digging in the canvas pot that holds one of the peas, I came across the nursery tag. Apparently the two varieties are called キヌサヤエンドウ and ゆうさや。
The fall sky is incredibly clear, and we often see Mount Fuji from our balcony at sunrise and sunset in these months. Still there are times I go out into our narrow high-rise garden, look out, and feel startled and humbled by the overwhelming beauty of this celebrated natural and spiritual landmark.
The world’s most famous natural landmarks are in some ways like our global cities’the most famous built landmarks. Mount Fuji, like the Eiffel Tower, has a form and mythology that all of us know before setting eyes on it.
Mount Fuji has been represented over many centuries and in many forms, from fine art, most notably Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji, to countless sento mosaics. Until the Meiji era, women were prohibited from its summit. Yet despite our investing so many cultural meanings on this mountain, its presence exceeds human memory and most likely our specie’s future.
Mount Fuji’s sublime appearance on the horizon lifts our vision from a prosaic cityscape, packed with non-descript, high-rise and low-rise residences, television, cellphone and lightening antennas, giant power lines, and a garbage incinerator. As a dormant volcano it, too, has a temporal form, yet its scale and longevity makes our human presence feel very transitory.
Construction sites in Japan, unlike in the United States, are almost always concealed behind shiny white walls. Recently, I have noticed more and more of these temporary walls being decorated with plants.
Above, three simple flower pots seem like a small an and informal gesture. Below, ivy is built into the wall itself. Somehow, given the humbleness of the plant material and scale, the less designed plants seem more generous and heart-felt. What do you think?
The first photo is from a development called Nakano Twin Mark Towers. A short while after taking the photo, I noticed a hand-made sign on the back alley complaining about its massive scale: a residential tower that will be 29 stories high, at least twice as high as any neighboring building on the south side of the station. I am surprised by its height, and also wonder whether the developers will succeed in finding such a luxurious clientele in this rather humble residential area. Below is a developer’s image from the website.
In San Francisco, my garden is shaded and the cold summer makes growing vegetables very difficult. It’s been fun this summer to grow a variety of vegetables in our sunny high-rise balcony in Tokyo. This weekend I harvested and ate my first home-grown watermelon.
It looks big in the photo above, no? Actually, the two fruit that formed were not much bigger than oranges. I kept hoping that they would get a bit bigger, but finally I decided to harvest them.
Here’s what it looked like cut open. It was very sweet and just right for one person.
To get a sense of the scale, you can see the two watermelons paired with a single cucumber below. The cucumber seems to go from tiny baby to full-size in just one week. It’s been a great summer vegetable, probably the most successful plant in the balcony farm. (There’s also eggplant, some very stunted corn, and 4 lemons).
In May I spent a lot of time on my balcony garden: planting seeds, putting in starter vegetables (corn, watermelon, eggplant, cucumbers, and kiwi), planting herbs (basil, thyme, in addition to last year’s parsley), and adding new flowers and new types of fabric pots and coconut husk soil.
One aspect of my tiny garden I am enjoying are the flowerpots I made at Shiho ceramic studio last year. My theme for the ceramics was geometric shapes in terms of the pots and the glazing. I chose neutral colors so that the flowerpots would not distract from the plants.
Because the apartment is so small, the garden becomes part of everyday life. I see it from the kitchen table, where I often write on my laptop, and from the living room. With sliding walls, the garden is visible from the bedroom, too. Going outside is always just a few steps away.
Although I am a very amateur ceramicist, it is fun to have something you made yourself playing a big role in a small garden. There is something about the clay that provides an earthy feeling when you are in a high-rise with limited soil. I also like the contrast between the flowerpots and the cityscape beyond.
In the fall, views of Mount Fuji reappear in Tokyo. Summer is too hazy to see long distances clearly. Even in fall, the times you see Mount Fuji are unexpected, surprising and sublime. The view above and below is from our apartment balcony at sunset.
There was a recent newspaper article about a Nippori, Tokyo neighborhood association‘s effort to save their view of Mount Fuji from a hillside named Fujimizaka, “the slope for seeing Mount Fuji.” The Nippori Fujimizaka is the last of sixteen hills named Fujimizaka in central Tokyo where the view has not yet been fully blocked by high rise construction. The Arakawa ward, where Nippori is located, would like to protect the views, but the Bunkyo ward, where the construction is occurring, would like the tax revenue from new construction.
Although unsuccessful in preventing a 14 story building from blocking one third of the view in 2000, the Society to Protect Nippori’s Fujimizaka is organizing to protect the remaining two thirds view. The Mount Fuji view from Nippori was included in Hiroshige Utagawa’s famous woodblock prints of urban Edo life. The preservation leader is an 83 year old man named Kaneko Makoto.
From Inhabitat (click for more images), I read about a design concept for high-rise suburban living called Skyburb. It’s designed by Sydney architects Tzannes Associates to provide flexible, modular, and park-like vertical spaces in densely built areas. I am a bit skeptical about the idea of “introducing qualities of the suburbs into denser urban environments” because it is hard to imagine suburban living without privatized open space, automobile dependency, and nuclear family anomie. I think revitalized cities can and must do better than that. Still, the open steel structure and heavily green renderings are certainly appealing.
Next to Tsukishima is Tsukudajima, a tiny island that escaped the earthquake, war and high rise redevelopment. While not all of the houses have been preserved, the scale and and small alleys have been. Walking there today, you can see residents still fishing, visit a beautiful old shrine Sumiyoshi Jinja, buy tsukudani (fish boiled in miso sauce) from Edo-era stores, and attend annual obon and omatsuri festivals.
This August there will be a special omatsuri festival that happens only once every 50 years. See the government website for more information: http://tsukuda.chuo.tokyo.jp/
More photos after the jump.