Illusion of long garden path in narrow high-rise balcony


From this perspective, the balcony garden path looks longer than its four meters. I’m pleased with how much I have packed in.

Dogwoods turning red in early November

I have noticed this past week that dogwoods (ハナミズキ) are some of Tokyo’s earliest fall foliage. Today, this lane of dogwoods near the Higashi Koenji Metro station are fully red. Ginko and zelkovia will turn yellow and red weeks later. I love this colorful moment, and noticing how different trees turn colors and lose their leaves in sequence.

These photos were taken with an iPhone and filtered with the nostalgia-inducing effects of Instagram, which is suddenly all the rage with design and techies in Japan, the US, and Europe. Instagram is geared around public sharing, but what I like about this free app is that it improves the generally poor quality of iPhone photos by distressing the images and creating the illusions of analog imagery and the photos of our parents or grandparents.

Low res and low quality images suddenly look cool and meaningful. Instagram’s effects are particularly suited for documenting the temporality of fall foliage, while obscuring specific year, decade, and context of this annual spectacle.

Bento and Japanese Beauty

Japanese and German knives

Today’s New York Times has a great “Room for Debate” feature where four cultural experts discuss the beauty of the Japanese bento box. Although seemingly off-topic from Tokyo Green Space, the discussion expresses relevant cultural aesthetics and the importance of beauty, simplicity, and care.

John Maeda, the president of the Rhode Island School of Design, talks about simplicity and making due in an island nation with limited natural resources. I like his view that Japanese value “making less into more,” and traces bento creation to Kyoto food, a fanciful illusion that masks limited food resources.

Bento box

Kenya Hara, art director of Muji and professor of Musashino Art University, talks about shokunin kishitsu, or craftsman’s spirit. By cleaning carefully, working diligently, or preparing lunch boxes with creativity, airport cleaners, construction workers and home-makers make the mundane into something beautiful.

I also like how he claims Japanese have a special ability, “an incapacity to see ugliness,” that allows them to ignore urban chaos, ugly architecture and bad signage. In the drabbest office or construction environment, there is still a space to enjoy a perfect bento lunch.

It is easy to see how some of these ideas are expressed in the beautification of public spaces: ordinary people working within the constraints of an often poorly designed urban landscape, creating small vignettes of beauty with a mix of artistry and care, and sharing these creations with minimal self-importance.