Attending a guest lecture by permaculture designer Cecilia Macaulay gave me a great chance to see one campus of the famous Tamabi art school. This was taken in November so perhaps the lawn and trees no longer so lush.
In Hamamatsucho, an office worker finds a quiet spot to meditate. The lawn is closed, and on either side are freeways and massive rail lines. Finding solitude here is impressive.
This grass seeds itself alongside the guardrail leading up to Shinjuku Station’s JR South entrance. Exactly the same time last year, I was also captivated by this linear lawn at night.
On the East Side of the Imperial Palace, there are hundreds of black pine trees in a vast field of lawn. Although the surrounding streets are full of cars, there’s an eery silence and emptiness in the park. Maybe it’s also the perfect quality of the lawn that also strikes me as life-less and full of harmful chemicals.
I love how these traditional Japanese pines in Shinjuku Gyoen are so meticulously pruned. On this clear winter day, I love how you can see the pine needles accumulating against the brown lawn. Three ladders, red traffic safety cones, helmets, and no doubt some great pruning shears.
A reminder that tomorrow night is the Tokyo DIY Gardening Workshop at 3331 Arts Chiyoda, a great new arts space in a converted junior high school. I took these photos last week when I went there for a planning meeting with my workshop co-organizer Chris Berthelsen of Fixes. It’s great that in addition to all the art exhibit, gallery and office spaces inside, the front of the 3331 Arts Chiyoda is a very welcoming park with a lawn and shade trees (plus a very popular smoking area next to a public bathroom).
For non-Japanese and non-parents, it’s a great experience to see the inside and even the roof of what seems like a typical city school: old wood shoe lockers, simple yet sturdy furniture, and rooms that seem very Bauhaus in their streamlined functionality. The roof is also interesting because for city schools that is probably where most if not all recreation takes place. For some reason the art space created this small lawn area, and of course I followed Chris’ lead in taking off my sandals and walking bare-foot on the grass.
3331 Arts Chiyoda has also set up dozens of rental plots for people who want to grow vegetables. If anyone is nearby, there seem to be plenty of vacant spaces, and it would be a cool place to grow vegetables and to get to know the arts groups and activities in the building.
The chain link fence on the sides and top, the institutional clock, even the caged loudspeakers evoke an ordinary childhood scene that is unfamiliar to me. It’s cool to experience these spaces, and imagine that many of the people I know in Tokyo attended schools like this.
The New York Times recently reported that Chicago residents are increasingly keeping pygmy goats in their back yards, joining chicken coops and beehives as elements of new urban farm life. Pygmy goats grow to two feet in height and 50 to 100 lbs.
They provide milk and cheese (for some reason, it is illegal to sell these in Chicago) and they can also mow the lawn and provide fertilizer. There was also an article over two years ago about pygmy goats being legal in Seattle. Clearly, they are also adorably cute!
Frankly, arriving at New Greenpia (ニュー・グリーンピア) was a landscape and cultural shock after Obuse. Compared to the 600 year history of Obuse and multi-layered reinventions from the 1990s to the present, New Greenpia’s buildings and gardens reflect Japan’s famous Bubble from the 1980s. Amazingly, many of the Nodai students were born at the very end of the 1980s.
If I understood it correctly, it was a semi-public resort created to provide a place for working class urban people to experience nature. Sometime in the past five years, financial ruin led it to be sold to private owners, at a scandalously low price.
Next to a giant building that serves as conference center, hotel and event space, there are huge lawns leading to tennis courts and golfing. Between the building and the recreation area is a narrow river-themed landscape created by a Nodai professor over 20 years ago. The original design has water coming out of concrete cones, which is no longer functioning.
I realize that the built environment was created with good intentions. Still, the scale of the building and the large empty lawns do not take advantage of the natural surrounds. The garden river, too, seems a poor imitation of the surrounding abundance of natural streams and irrigated fields. And the lack of maintenance is a glaring testimony of the financial troubles Japan has encountered in the past 20 years. If anything, New Greenpia served as an educational transition between the seeming success of Obuse and the haunting abandonment we witnessed in Echigo, Niigata, the site of the Niigata Art Triennial, the subject of my next post.
Perhaps New Greenpia sees more activity during ski season. We saw a few go-carts racing down the snow-less slope. I will end this post with an unsettling image near the entrance to the building promoting weddings in sunflower fields (of which we saw no evidence). Maybe the giant photo ad is meant to suggest the contemporary relevance of nature for young yankii couples, possibly city residents. I wonder why all the guests are dressed in black.