In the center of Shinjuku ni-chome, a man who seems to have lived in the same shop house for many decades has created a narrow garden in the 25 centimeters between sidewalk and street. It occupies his side of the street, and the opposite side of the street, with well over 100 pots all existing in public space that is frequented by patrons of the hundreds if not thousands of small gay bars. It has the largest number of gay bars of any gay neighborhood in any city in the world. I like how the gardener has labeled all his plants, some pots are secured with chains, and some propped up on beer crates.
Even though I will be surprised if these pansies can live more than one week in the fluorescent flooded station, it’s lovely to see the flowers with their label identifying the local elementary school. How cool that the students are offering the station something alive.
This Shinjuku ni-chome sidewalk garden is exceptional in its size, care, and labeling. The gardener lives in a former shop in an old building on what is now a busy entertainment district. From the sidewalk, you can see what appears to be merchandise, t-shirts and a few dress shirts, in the front room open to the street.
The gardener and his wife are often visible in the inner room which is partly visible. This type of retail/residential architecture is very Tokyo mid-century, and there are examples in many neighborhoods of former shop owners living in these spaces, some with remnants of their former businesses.
What I love about this sidewalk garden is the gardener’s obvious care and attention to creating a display of many plants. Nearly all of the pots rests on stools or low tables, with the highest ones closest to the road and the lower ones facing pedestrians on the sidewalk.
I am also amazed that the plants are all labeled, even the most obvious ones such as “rose” (バラ). I asked the older man why he labeled them, and he said that people often ask him and he doesn’t always remember the plant name.
The other amazing thing about the garden is just how big it is. There is easily more than one hundred plants. In addition to cover five meters or more in front of his building and his neighbors, he also expanded to an equally large area across the street. He is often outside watering and taking care of the plants.
I admire this gardener’s love for plants, his colonizing public space, and adding beauty in a crowded neighborhood.