On Nakano Dori, just above Sasazuka, I marveled at this ingenious wall garden. I love that this gardener has created three horizontal layers of pots: on the sidewalk, on the suspended shelves, and on top of the cinderblock wall. There are also several levels of trees popping up from the micro space between the home and the wall. Along with the notice board and the bike parking, the garden shows how to maximize a limited space.
After watching my neighbor’s home and then garden get scarped to dirt last week, it’s great to see a cafe like this one at Waseda’s Okubo campus where the new building adapts itself to the existing mature trees. With very limited space, much longer than deep, the campus was able to add a narrow cafe that is mostly counter space with views of the sidewalk and street. I like how modern and adaptive this architecture is.
People often complain that there space is too limited to have a garden. This amazing single family residence in Sendaji has a tiny front yard between the house and wall that separates it from the street. Yet they have managed to create an amazing mini-forest garden of nicely pruned trees. Some are in the ground floor soil, and others in pots on the three levels of balconies and roof. There are dozens of trees, including evergreen and deciduous. On our visit, the pines and azaleas were especially beautiful.
I imagine this garden has been growing for at least ten or twenty years to reach this amazing fullness. So many people think that all they can plant are simple flower boxes, when vertical solutions can be so much more lush and interesting. This residential garden, discovered while visiting the famous restored Yasuda house across the street, is very inspiring.
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.
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.