In the shadow of Roppongi Hills, one of Tokyo’s most expensive neighborhoods, there are still old factory buildings, Showa-era two story houses, and even empty lots alive with weeds. This mix of scale, land usage, and non-design is delightful.
I love that this fox shrine has survived the construction of a 6 lane road decades ago, and the demolition of its neighboring buildings. Now it’s surrounded by coin parking and a weedy lot, a stone’s throw from Shinjuku station.
Most unused land in Tokyo quickly becomes automated coin parking for automobiles. I like this empty lot with a mature tree, art work, and amazing collection of weeds.
Lotus Editorial kindly sent me a copy of Lotus 149, titled Lotus in the Field, which explores the relations with the countryside. Lotus is a beautifully designed, Italian-English bilingual architecture quarterly from Milan.
Lotus 149 includes two of my urban agriculture photographs: one of Pasona’s corporate lobby rice field, the other an outdoor, temporary rice field in Ginza that took advantage of an empty lot between demolition and new construction.
I was happy to see that my Pasona photograph extends into a second page, and I like how the image shows a more ambivalent side of the project than the text and photos provided by the architects and corporation. Especially with the post-3.11 energy shortages after the nuke plants have been suspended, creating a show garden with grow lights looks less than utopian.
You can see the original 2009 and 2010 posts on Tokyo Green Space that inspired Lotus 149: about Pasona, and about Ginza Farm.
It’s rare to see an empty lot full of weeds. In Suginami ward, this is a very pretty place.
I like how this flower and plant shop occupies this empty lot on a Shibaura side street. It’s also nice to see that others use their bikes for plant shopping.
This small post-war house has survived Tokyo’s constant re-development. I wonder how long the large empty lot in the foreground has stood empty.
These tall trees in the background provide a burst of life in a bleak cityscape of apartments, vending machines, and surface parking lots.
This parking lot palm tree has so few leaves yet so many flowers. No wonder the shuro palm tree spreads so easily in Tokyo.
This image sums up my love of Tokyo green spaces. In the background is the iconic Docomo Tower in Shinjuku. In the foreground is a typical Tokyo sight: a lot where the old structure has been raised is now used for hourly parking. In the middle is an older residence whose wild garden is thriving through neglect and the absence of redevelopment. Tokyo is a dense place full of the iconic and prosaic, living nature and concrete structures, traces of the past and constant change.
My friends John and Ruth McCreery sent me these wonderful photos of their guerrilla garden in Yokohama. The McCreery’s adopted a neglected patch of land between the road and the parking lot of their large residential complex. I like how they captured the odd feeling at New Year’s in the Tokyo region when you see plants typical of all four seasons all thriving. Plants that I recognize include large leafed taro, red maple leaves, and blooming daffodils.
Maybe nothing is more typically winter in Japan than the presence of all the other seasons!
Update: Later I received an email from Ruth explaining how the taro plant arrive in the garden unexpectedly:
To me, the taro plant is hysterical.
People dump unwanted plants (and other things) in our guerrilla garden. The taro is one. It landed near the compost heap, and thrived. Soon it was crowding out the Japanese iris, but it was so vigorous that we hated to axe it. Transplanting a fairly large plant can be tricky, so we waited until last February, when it was seriously cold, dug a big hole, filled it with the compost it loved, and moved it over there. We then watched anxiously, wondering if it would accept the move, if the wind in the new spot might discourage it–or blow it over–or if it would continue to grow.
It’s about doubled since then!
I like how someone has hung this simple plant, commonly called “wandering Jew” in the United States, on the fence in front of this empty lot. The lot has been empty for at least two years, a long time between demolition and reconstruction. The fence occasionally changes, but it was especially nice to see some plant decoration.
In the context shot below, you can also see that someone planted a simple hedge on the right side. My guess is that both of these plant interventions– one in the ground, the other secured by a simple S-hook– were created by neighbors who are getting tired of seeing the empty lot and its weeds. I admire this anonymous, small contribution to the neighborhood.
Tokyo is full of empty lots that mark the time between demolition and building. Sometimes they stay empty for more than a year. Most are turned into automated parking lots, some so small they only provide space for a single car. Some in busier neighborhoods get covered in gravel and host crepe shops in a trailer.
The empty lot above, just off Omotesando in Aoyama has three uses: tapioca drinks for sale, vending machines, and ashtrays for smokers. Considering the proximity to so much high-end shopping and so many people, it seems like a vastly under-utilized urban space.
It would be cool to see something more useful in these temporary spaces: energy generators, plants for shade and habitat, edible gardens, nurseries to grow and sell plants, attractive places for relaxation, socializing, and pets. Their design would need to be portable, modular, and generate some minimal income for the owner. Creating a prototype space for these liminal spaces would be a great project for a local government, corporation, or non-traditional marketing company.
The San Francisco Chronice published an interesting article about how San Francisco is offering developer incentives to turn empty lots into temporary green spaces: potted trees, thirteen foot tall miscanthus grasses that capture carbon, artists’ spaces, and a garden tended by homeless. Could this be a green solution to the Great Recession’s impact on real estate development, replacing blight with food, habitat, and public spaces?