There’s something very unknown and exciting in seeing working vessels in a modern harbor. Returning to Tokyo, in the foreground is the Ogasawara Maru’s light fixture. In the center of the frame a tugboat pulls a barge with a giant crane. The vista is wide open, and the sea moving at its own pace.
Viewed from Asakusa, not only is Sky Tree bigger, but you can see more details of the lighting scheme. From Nakano, you hardly notice the blue light, and the more subtle red trim. I also like how the willow references Tokyo’s Edo past, and Sky Tree, although newly built, appears to be a 1960s’ vision of the future.
Sunset on my balcony garden is often spectacular. As the sun drops behind Mount Fuji, the garden glows with golden light. I couldn’t decide which of two photos to use, so here is both the waist high and from the ground views.
Today I am potting up plants and getting my flowerpots ready for the Shiho student ceramic show. Above are the last two larger flower pots. When I go to the studio today, I’ll see how they look after being glazed and baked.
The one with the holes can be used with a candle, or you can place a plant inside that you’ve bought at the nursery in its original plastic pot. I like that it’s lighter weight, transparent, and easy to swap plants in and out.
I am also showing small pots and smaller bonsai pots. I have an idea for untraditional bonsai plantings, including air plants that can be removed so you can see the whole ceramic pot. For the larger pots, I’ll try to mix seasonal flowers, purple leafed cabbage, and some of the plants Matthew left in the back garden.
The show starts this Saturday and runs for five days. I’ll be at the gallery on Saturday from 3ish to 7, on Sunday from 5 to 7, and sometime next week depending on my work schedule.
I love how the purple berries pop against the light green foliage. This hardy shrub is a classic fall marker, and a reference to the female novelist of the thousand year old Tale of Genji. Unlike my balcony specimen, which dropped its berries while still green, this one outside Shiho ceramic studio looks fantastic. It’s growing in a 5bai midori, the modular urban satoyama box.
I bought the first box two years ago, and the second last year. They really thrive on this north-facing sidewalk and draw attention to the studio and store. If you click on Shiho’s website, you can see on the home page how small the first one was. It just needs lots of water, and very occasional pruning. There are so many local species that each season has something special and evocative of the Japanese landscape.
Minimal and superb Omotesando Koffee is a modular cube inside an old Omotesando house. It’s supposed to last one year, after which the building may be “reformed” as the Japanese call it.
In addition to delicious coffee in a nearly hidden spot, Omotesando Koffee has the most perfect Japanese garden with two benches for seating. I love the stone path, old light fixtures, and the very Tokyo odd mix of wood, bamboo, and the ubiquitous cinder block.
It’s a very small garden, with many traditional and resilient Japanese plants, including hollyhock, maple, and hydrangea. Worth finding if you’re in the area. Hollyhock is becoming my favorite late summer flower.
For those far away, I have included an image of the sign outside (it looks like a black frame), and the clever way they turn standard paper bags into a lovely and minimal branded object.
It’s very impressive how quickly 7-Eleven can install new lighting. LEDs are a huge shift in lighting, and this very prominent example will influence millions of consumers.
Many companies have agreed to large energy reductions, up to 20 and 25 percent. I noticed this van outside my local 7-Eleven yesterday. They changed the store’s lighting to LEDs without closing the business. Another store I passed yesterday in western Tokyo was also updated. I wonder how soon all the 7-Elevens will be using these very low energy lights.
I think the new strips of small lights produce a more pleasant light than the old fluorescent tubes. What do you think?
This is the view from my apartment building lobby on a rainy spring day. Because of energy conservation, many lights are turned off. This increases the contrast between indoors and outdoors.
I walk through this lobby every day, and rarely think about it or consider taking a photo. Recently, I participated in the Xerox and City photo workshop at Vacant, led by Hirano Taro and organzized by Too Much magazine as part of their Romantic Geographies series. We were asked to take photos of our breakfast and then our trip to the workshop in Harajuku. It made me think more about spaces that become automatic or ignored.
Tokyo residents are more aware of energy use and lighting now. Many parts of the city are less brighly lit: from billboards to train stations to residences. By lowering our lighting, we are more attuned to natural cycles, and more sensitive to the boundaries between private and public, indoor and outdoor, personal and shared resources.
The Nezu Museum and its gorgeous Japanese garden are a just short walk from the Nishi Azabu Juban wildness, the Kakuremino bar, and lush sidewalk garden. Many people come to the newly rebuilt Nezu Museum for its exquisite collection of pre-modern art, or the new building designed by Kuma Kengo. I am a huge fan of its garden that combines tea houses and paths in a setting that seems ancient, slightly overgrown, bigger than its footprint, and entirely removed from city life.
When I visited recently, just before closing time towards the end of a long, hot summer, I was enchanted by how the light struck this worn boat, the plants growing in its bow, and the illusion of minimal human habitation in an endless jungle. I was also surprised to see Japanese maple leaves already turning red, despite the temperature being above 32 celcius (90 fahrenheit) for many weeks.
Taken together, these four posts about Nishi Azabu Juban speak to the wide range of nature in the city: professional and amateur gardens, single plants and total environments, built and wild, public and gated, destinations and everyday experiences. Plants grow wild even in the densest cities, but how we choose to nurture them provides endlessly varied results. I am inspired by the full range of possibilities.
I managed to visit the Hanazono festival in May twice, once during the day and once at night. In the nighttime, the lights, food, and atmosphere are magical. I particularly like the mix of the spiritual with eating and drinking. A large public space that normally serves as a quiet place with a few people stopping briefly for prayer becomes full of people and celebration.
Hanazono is particularly interesting because of its Shinjuku location in the heart of commerce, commuters, and night life. In all the festivals, the stalls sell the same types of food: yakisoba, okonomiyaki, hot dogs on a stick, fruit encased in clear candy, chocolate bananas, and newer imports like shwarma (called “kebob” in Japan). It seems that the stall operators travel from festival to festival, and I have heard that this business is controlled by the yakuza.
I like how everything that is separate in Western culture gets mixed together in Japan: prayer and eating, spirituality and fun, the sacred and the ordinary. Rows of lanterns hung high signal the special event and add an extra sense of festivity.
Within minutes of taking this photo, a monsoon-like rainstorm chased everyone off the street unexpectedly. I was struck by this reflection of the Docomo Tower behind Shinjuku Goen in the semi-transparent windows of this office building.
The Docomo Tower is meant to look like a modern version of the Chrysler Building, but without windows or ornamentation it is stark. Something about the combination of the rows of fluorescent lights, office workers in starched white shirts, enclosed network communications, and the lush urban forest appeals to me.
For urban gardeners, one key question is how to get plants, soil and pot from store to house. I buy many of my plants from small shops that are on my way from the train station to my apartment. Sometimes I bike to a DIY big box store called Shimatchu, and use a combination of large backpack and balancing plants in plastic bags across my handle bars.
Recently I discovered coconut husk as a soil. It’s sold at a wonderful Kichijoji indoor growing shop called Essence. Made entirely of husk, it recycles what would otherwise be waste, and it seems to be a high quality organic soil. Even better, it is sold dehydrated, so it is very light weight for transportation from shop to home.
I have bought three blocks (also called tampons) that make 11 liters when hydrated. Nakata-san of Essence recommended blending it 3-1-1 with perlite and vermiculite, which are also very light weight and low cost. When blended it makes about two regular sized buckets of soil.
I also used coco husk soil in small disks that expand with water to form seedling starters wrapped in a simple rope pouch.
You can see that my morning glory seeds were the first to sprout.
I also bought this funny Gro-Pot, a thick plastic bag with coco husk that you hydrate and plant directly into, as if it were a flower pot. I’ve put a sunflower in my Gro-Pot (bought for 500 yen, just over $5 from a local flower shop). Both the Gro-Pot and the coconut husk block are from U-Gro.
For the coco husk mix, I used another light weight new idea: Smartpots, a soft-side fabric container that claims to be better than plastic and clay containers, is super easy to carry and store. The makers claim that these polypropylene containers aerate and air prune the roots. When you buy the smartpots, they come folded up, which is very convenient.
On Thursday, the Imperial Palace hosted a formal New Year Poetry Reading, with this year’s theme being “light” (hikari). On this very formal occasion, the Emperor and Empresses read poems about walking in the gardens of their palace, the Crown Princess about walking in her garden in Akasaka, and the Crown Prince on seeing the sunlight from the top of Mount Fuji.
I was impressed by this very ritualized event celebrating the beauty of nature, the love of gardening, and the feelings evoked by the seasons. Although this blog most often celebrates ordinary peoples’ gardening efforts, this event reminds me that gardening in Japan permeates high society, artists and regular citizens, and is expressed in ritualized events and daily life.
Called waka, they are short poems of 31 syllables in a 5-7-5-7-7 pattern. The poems capture natural beauty that is both refined and open to anyone, regardless of palace ownership. Images include sunlight, trees, ponds, paths, grass, with feelings evoked by seasons and the time of day.
After the jump, I have included this year’s poems in English translation and Japanese (romanji).
My friend Endo Masahiro’s Sodateck has developed a combination LED and fluorescent grow light system for Japan. By combining the two light sources, Sodateck offers an optimal spectrum for plants. I like how his product catalog, in print and web, shows indoor gardening in a very contemporary setting: edibles and decorative plants in a chic wood and stone house with bicycles and other signifiers of modern style and living.
Based in Tokushima, Shikoku, he recently exhibited his indoor gardening system at the Gardex (International Garden Expo Tokyo). It was great to see the full range of what he is creating.
The systems are very elegant: brushed steel with two buttons, one for each light source type. Endo-san also brought some of his indoor plant creations, including modern bonsais like this moss on black stone tray. It seems clear that Endo-san is influenced by his friendship with modern bonsai master Kobayashi Kenji (小林健二) of Sinajina (品品).
Click the link below to see some more photos of his products, including hydroponic systems with his business partner Yakumo Trading.
Last month I visited Okayama to see Korakuen garden on a trip that also included Inujima in the Seto Inland Sea, Kurashiki, Awaji-shima and Kobe. Okayama is a modern city with wide boulevards and tons of automobile traffic. Still, I was struck by two improbable plant and fountain installations.
Above is a double pygmy date palm growing under lights in an underground passageway. This barren space is at a major intersection and is the only way to get from the tram to the sidewalk (en route to Korakuen garden). Grow lights are environmentally questionable, but adding exotic plant life in a dramatic and futuristic setting certainly brightens this subterranean space.
Maybe it is because of my unfamiliarity with 1970s Japan, but I was struck by this flower-shaped fountain outside of Okayama’s main rail and Shinkansen station. Friends told me that it is a common civic adornment. Still, I like the theatrical and exaggerated floral shape.