miniature

Miniature four season garden extends into the street

駅に行く途中で、石井さんの庭をいつも見ます。小さな場所なのに、伝統的な四季の植物がたくさんあります。路地に植木鉢をおいて、車がゆっくりすぎるようにしているそうです。
This miniature four seasons garden I also included in the Plant Journal article. I pass it almost every day on my walk to the station, and I am enchanted that such a small space can accomodate almost all of the classic Japanese garden plants, including bushes and trees. Ishii-san also explained that he places the flower pots in the street to slow automobile traffic. A few weeks ago, I posted a photo of Daisuke Hamada taking a photo of Ishii-san.

Balcony green pepper. It’s miniature perfection.

きれいなピーマンがゆっくりと育っています。たぶん、そのまま、小さいのを食べたほうがいいかもしれません。

This green pepper is growing slowly. Maybe I should just eat it now as a miniature vegetable?

A freeway runs through Odaiba

お台場の駅から浜に行く途中で、この大きな高速道路を渡らなければなりません。空いた所有地のほうが開発されたものより多いです。だから、出入り口のふたつが放棄されて、そこに植物が育っています。浜からの景色は楽しいです。港やスカイラインやレインボーブリッジや小型の自由の女神が見えます。この組み合わせはちょっと奇妙です。

Exiting the subway station in Odaiba, the way to the famed “beach” with city view includes walking past vast parking lots and then over this eight lane freeway.

What’s amazing about this view is that in addition to the enormous freeway, there are abandoned ramps on both sides, that are gradually being reclaimed by plants. Is land so value-less that this waste is considered appropriate?

There are still more empty than developed parcels on Odaiba, an urban development project with mixed results. The focus on freeways, parking lots, and chain restaurants and stores often makes it feel like a generic exurban landscape.

I hear that it is a popular place for dates. But I’ve been there only three times in as many years. Most recently I was there to get a ride to Umi no Mori for a volunteer tree planting day (more on that later). But a few extra hours gave me my first taste of Odaiba itself.

Once across the freeway and past the mall, there are some beautiful public spaces including an artificial beach. There are views of the port, the Tokyo skyline with the Rainbow Bridge, and some odd built decor that includes a mini Statue of Liberty on land.

Pomegranate also grows well in Tokyo

ザクロも東京で育つことができます。もともと中央アジアのペルシアから来て、地中海地方で人気です。酸っぱくて柔らかいの種が美味しいです。東京では、だれもこの木の果物を食べないから、鳥はうれしいだろう。たまに小さなザクロを盆栽に使っています。

Native to Persia (what is now Iran), pomegranates remind me of the Mediterranean. I was surprised to see a neighbor’s pomegranate tree full of fruit. I guess the neighbor is not eating them, since they are bursting open. The birds are probably happy to eat the delicious seeds, and then distribute them as they travel.

Last year I also took photos of neighborhood fruit trees, including a miniature pomegranate. There are special varieties used in bonsai making.

Mini pine forest outside Japan Supreme Court

Miniature pine forest outside Japan Supreme Court. In 1970s, traditional garden joined Brutalist architecture. Would love to see traditional garden with urban forest today.

最高裁判所の外にすてきな松の小さな森がある。70年代に日本庭園とブルータリスム建築は一緒になった。将来は日本庭園と都市の森は一緒になれるかな。

Walking in Chiyoda-ku opposite the Imperial Palace, I saw this forest of beautiful stunted pine trees above a stone wall. At eye level, there appear to be hundreds of carefully twisted pines whose canopy is less than one meter from the ground. Behind this gorgeous sea of needles is the Supreme Court of Japan (最高裁判所), a 1974 Brutalist concrete building that won awards for its architect Shinichi Okada.

I love the stone wall and the pine forest. In my dream, the once avant-guarde building could regain its ぷprominence by using the concrete structure to support a dense urban forest on its walls and roof. The wildness of the forest hill would contrast nicely with the austere pine forest serving as a formal moat to this newly enlivened public building. The contrast would be magnificent.

While I love the chaos of DIY gardens and the lushness of urban forests, there is also room for traditional Japanese gardens and techniques in the urban landscape, particularly around important public buildings. The contrast between heavily manipulated and more natural landscapes is a new concept at which Tokyo can excel.

 

Fantasy landscape with fountain, palm, and odd characters

A miniature fantasy landscape freely shared on a Tokyo curbside.

ミニチュアのファンタジー風景が舗道 の縁石を占領している。

This tiny curbside garden is a fantasy landscape in miniature in what was probably dead space previously between the house and the road. There’s moving water, a palm tree, plants, and several odd characters. I found it just across the road from the giant tree on that former country lane that is now barely visible in Suginami, not far from Opera City.

The contents are fun in their whimsical incongruity. Even in this tiny space, there are several overlapping vignettes. A tiny palm tree joined by a sliver bunny and a character that appears to be a cross between European Romanticism and anime; several Sago palms (Cycas revoluta) beneath some mid-height bushes; and the fountain with water plants and a character trio with a helmeted princess, a red Cobra super-hero whose left arm is a semi-automatic weapon, and an over-sized yellow dog. The fountain features plants, a tiny cliff-side, and bathtub ducks.

The garden structure is very DIY: low-cost, anonymously designed, and highly imaginative. I love that the gardener is sharing this creation with the neighbors and passers-by. The garden’s minimal foundation is constructed mostly of  low-lying brick with some wood fencing. I particularly like the tag that shows the flowers that will bloom later.

Thanks again to @ArchitourTokyo for the great bike tour where we discovered this sculpture garden.

Rice in buckets outside Waseda campus gate

Seeing rice grown in buckets and styrofoam boxes always amazes me: focusing the national obsession with the main staple into a city scale. No one will get full from miniature rice farms, but I am sure that tending rice in the city makes residents appreciate eating rice even more. These buckets were lined up outside a gate at Waseda’s main campus.

Office landscape in front of Kajima headquarters

Office landscape in front of Kajima headquarters

Recently I visited construction company Kajima’s headquarters in Akasaka to learn more about their extraordinary biodiversity program, and was charmed by the miniature Japanese garden in front of the modernist building. One could criticize the excess of hardscape, but it does make the small traditional garden pop in a dramatic way.

Office landscape in front of Kajima headquarters

The perfectly pruned pines and arrangement around a “river” of pebbles and rock “mountains” makes a wonderful composition. Even the tallest trees are under 1 meter in this miniature dream landscape. While the environmental benefit is minimal, such stylized and well cared for nature creates a beauty that is unquantifiable and a momentary escape from urban life.

The contrast not only with the building but the surrounding neighborhood is extreme.

Office landscape in front of Kajima headquarters

Aqua Forest

Aqua Forest

Led by my moss-loving friend Britton Watkins, I visited Aqua Forest, an aquarium store focused more on plants than fish. They have an amazing selection of aquatic plants, and aquariums with wonderful miniature gardens using dozens of plants, stone and wood.

Aqua forest in Shinjuku

The magic of the underwater gardens is only magnified by the strange underground mall location, Sabunado 3chome (サブナード丁目).