A strange feeling to be leaving the Emperor’s home after his birthday address, with a view of the Marunouchi and Tokyo Station district from inside the imperial gates. The public is invited inside only twice a year.
When people ask me about positive government action for urban nature, I always point to the Suginami ward’s giant green curtain. This massive screen of vines rises each summer on their eight story ward office next to the Minami Asagaya station on the Marunouchi subway line. It has inspired local residents to create their own balcony green curtains, inserted a huge green space that occupies very little square footage on the ground, and demonstrated that their old office building can be energy saving, attractive, and full of life.
As a gardener, I am a maximalist with my own small space. Approaching the Imperial Palace from the Marunouchi business district, I am struck by the grandeur of using few elements at an enormous scale. Pine, water, and stone.
This gorgeous blueberry plant, full of perfect fruits, is being sold at Marunouchi flower shop. I love how it’s getting more common to use edibles as decorative landscape.
One of my favorite times in Tokyo are the September festivals, with portable shrine carrying and yukata-clad dancing happening in small groups up and down the main roads that pre-date the west-bound Marunouchi subway and Chuo train line. These photos are from Ome Kaido and Itsukaiichi Kaido.
The fall festivals connect city life with agrarian traditions, and by bringing the shrines into the road they literally bring the local spirits into view. I like the music, the costumes, chanting and dancing. But also the festival food stalls, lanterns, and crowds of seniors and high schoolers.
The Japan Times published an interesting story about the lack of benches on Tokyo’s streets. From the official government and planning perspective, streets are for moving traffic and pedestrians. The idea of city streets as a community space is not a factor.
I am always struck by how retrograde city planning is in Tokyo. As an architect professor friend told me, Tokyo’s many narrow, single-grade small streets-which are now considered the “new” thing in the US and Europe for promoting walking and biking-are undoubtedly considered shameful relics by the city’s traffic planners, whose mission is to move auto traffic as rapidly as possible.
The most innovative ideas for using streets as community life seem to come from residents (see my previous posts about residents supplying their own bus stop seating), and from real estate corporations that own enough Tokyo land to motivate them to create unique and livable streets. I thought of the latter last week seeing the many public benches in the Marunouchi district’s wide, tree-lined streets. The district is largely owned by Mitsubishi Real Estate.
In an earlier post, I talked a little about 5bai Midori‘s street beautification products and the creative force behind this small green business Tase Michio. This post uses photos from their website to explore their idea of restoring the countryside, or satoyama(里山), and bringing it into the city.
The photos above illustrate the concept of carving a piece of rural nature into a modular square. 5bai Midori plants these bio-diversity trays on modular metal cubes with up to five sides for plants and special light-weight soil. Applications include residential entrances, sidewalks and balconies, apartment and office buildings, green walls, rooftops, neighborhood planters, boulevard and highway guard rails, interiors, benches, and special events. They have targeted individuals, governments (including amazing, yet unrealized plans for greening Kabukicho and Marunouchi), developers and construction companies.
These are some images of how plant trays are cultivated to include a multitude of species in a small area.
Mitsubishi Estates, one of Japan’s largest real estate companies, has created a comprehensive plan for the downtown business district of Otemachi-Marunouchi-Yurakucho, where it owns one third of the land.
Mitsubishi Estates’ size and ecological principles lead the company to think beyond the scale of individual buildings. District heating, cooling and hot water systems provide energy efficiency for 65 buildings. Rooftop greening lowered summer temperatures 25 degrees celsius compared with concrete slab roofs, mitigating the heat island effect. Other efforts to lower the summer temperatures include sidewalk sprinklers, street trees, vertical gardens, and permeable sidewalks and roadways.
I am impressed that Mitsubishi Estates is not only improving the environment and efficiency of its own buildings, but taking a leading role in improving the city’s environment. Working on the district level, Mitsubishi Estates relates their greening efforts to a larger goal of using their district to connect cooler breezes from Tokyo Bay across the office towers and into the Imperial Palace grounds and other parts of central Tokyo.