In August, I began working with Mitsui Real Estate, Recruit, and a small NGO to introduce a new luxury high-rise residential tower in Shibaura, a less known waterfront area between Shinagawa and Hamamatsucho. It’s near where the base of Rainbow Bridge is located.
In this online interview (in Japanese) and in real estate brochures distributed around Tokyo, I relate my experience working in the neighborhood at Shibaura House, where I led gardening and fieldwork workshops for locals and international visitors, adults and small children.
The new tower, which is just now breaking ground, contributes to the restoration of Edo-era canals by creating a public waterfront park. This park contributes to the developer’s goal of creating a resilient community that includes new and existing residents. Providing greater access to the waterfront also restores a vital part of Tokyo’s history that was neglected in the 20th century.
In this real estate ad, the building looks more like a corporate office than a place anyone wants to live. But the phrase “Masters Garden” in English seems particularly inappropriate, as if they are advertising to former slaves the opportunity to move into the Big House. Or maybe it’s meant to appeal to the S/M buyers of luxury apartments.
Tokyo is always under construction. Yet it is uncanny to see the building cranes echoing the hundreds of grave stones and wooden memorials below. The site is the former Harajuku Danchi public housing, which is being replaced by luxury apartments, directly above from Myoenji temple and graveyard. The temple has some very lovely, old trees. I wonder what type of landscape the new building will offer its neighbors.
Walking in the back streets in Jingumae, I came across this fantastic abandoned housing project. Soon the lot will no doubt be scraped and redeveloped into luxury residences with minimal landscaping. Until then, it’s an island of nature, full of persimmons, fall foliage, and wildlife.
I’ve noticed recently more and more real estate advertising at construction sites and at recently completed buildings that show images of forests or famous urban landscapes that are nowhere near the location. A new luxury development rising at Jingumae 3 chome #37, the site of the former Harajuku Danchi, shows a photo of the ginko trees turning yellow on Icho Namaiki (いちょう並木).
Above is Nishi Shinjuku, which has several new office towers and new apartments on Ome Kaido, towards Nakano Sakaue. Following regulations, these buildings have planted street trees. But it is comical to see the image of a path meandering through a forest that’s half way up the new apartment building.
On the one hand, it’s good to see city people still dream of forests. On the other hand, these wealthy developers and the City of Tokyo regulators could increase the value of their properties by actually turning this marketing image into a reality.
What could an urban forest look like at this intersection?
Construction sites in Japan, unlike in the United States, are almost always concealed behind shiny white walls. Recently, I have noticed more and more of these temporary walls being decorated with plants.
Above, three simple flower pots seem like a small an and informal gesture. Below, ivy is built into the wall itself. Somehow, given the humbleness of the plant material and scale, the less designed plants seem more generous and heart-felt. What do you think?
The first photo is from a development called Nakano Twin Mark Towers. A short while after taking the photo, I noticed a hand-made sign on the back alley complaining about its massive scale: a residential tower that will be 29 stories high, at least twice as high as any neighboring building on the south side of the station. I am surprised by its height, and also wonder whether the developers will succeed in finding such a luxurious clientele in this rather humble residential area. Below is a developer’s image from the website.
Omotesando is Tokyo’s most exclusive shopping street, a zelkovia-lined street of international brands for sale in buildings designed by world-renowned architects (Dior, Ralph Lauren, Channel, Louis Vuitton, etc). Surpassing Ginza for shopping, Omotesando also has spiritual significance as the entrance to Meiji Jingu shrine.
Rushing to an appointment, I was stunned to see this mobile bonsai shop outside a construction site. It’s typical in Tokyo that cycles of renewal involve demolition, scraping, and rebuilding. More surprising is to see how this plant sales person has staked out valuable real estate for a shop that can be unloaded from the three-wheeled scooter’s back trunk.
The trunk itself is used as a display case, and the front of the scooter covered in a banner announcing that its owner is selling bonsai plants.
Both in terms of retail structure and goods, the incongruity could not be greater: mobile and monument, formal and informal, luxury and sidewalk, imported and indigenous, fashion and plants.