Yamada Yuriyuki (山田順之) , a biodiversity specialist at Kajima, one of Japan’s largest construction companies, appears in a video on Japanese TV about Kajima’s beekeeping and biodiversity education work. Kajima has started a hive in one of their buildings, and is studying how and where bees travel.
Yamada-san makes the important point that “greening” is not just about aesthetics but about eco-systems. Bees play an important role because they pollinate fruit trees that in turn attract birds. Bees also scare away crows. And it is because of the decline of bees in the wild that farmers need to manually pollinate fruits and vegetables. The video also shows how Kajima has educated school kids about the value of bees.
I am curious how far bee-keeping can take off in Tokyo, and the connections its advocates can make with native plants, urban wildlife, and city agriculture.
Recently a director and landscape designer from 5bai Midori took me on a tour of three projects in Meguro, two residences across from each other and an apartment building. The two houses in Kami Meguro are across from eachother, with one residence garden inspiring its neighbor. Above you can see how the plants have thrived after seven years, with vines reaching the third floor roof garden, and an interesting mix of small plants, shrubs and trees framing the entrance. With the plants reaching maturity, you hardly see the boxes that are the foundation of the garden system. Because the plants are all local natives, maintenance is just twice per year.
The “Moegi” apartment building in Kakinokizaka below was designed by an architect who wanted to maximize greenery with 5bai Midori. Plants are placed along the sidewalk, in the main entrance, private courtyard, and side bicycle storage area. Above the street level, there is a ledge running the entire width of the building that is completely covered in 5bai Midori boxes.
The first of the Kami Meguro houses has a wild exterior that contrasts with the typical cinder block wall of the neighboring property.
Its side entrance consists of gently sloping pebble steps also based on 5bai Midori’s box system. The feeling is organic, private and charming.
You can see my previous posts about 5bai Midori and its founder Tase Michio. Below the jump are some additional photos of these three projects.
Dwell magazine has a great article about San Franciscans’ digging up their sidewalks and planting gardens. Much of the credit is due to Jane Martin and her organization Plant*SF, which has helped neighbors and corporations turn concrete into habitat for plants, wildlife and community.
Martin estimates that 15,000 square feet of pavement have been replaced by public sidewalk gardens that absorb rainwater and require no irrigation. I like how Martin describes her test for native plants: “I’m an Iowa girl, so I learned about natives by planting stuff and leaving town. Whatever was alive when I returned passed the test.”
Compared to San Francisco, Tokyo’s climate, with almost year-round rain, offers an even greater potential for plant life in public spaces with minimal care. With so many avid gardeners growing such a variety of plants in small pots, I can only imagine how much more impact they would have if they received government or nonprofit help to dig up the concrete and plant directly in the earth.
I recently returned to Tokyo from a trip to the US that included a formal meeting with my fellowship sponsor and visits to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and New York.
In the US, urban ecology initiatives seem particularly strong at the municipal government and individual levels. In the photo above, I spotted an amazing formal garden extending on one side of second floor apartment. Perhaps the plants are kept small to preserve light and views from inside.
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.
This week I had the amazing opportunity to meet one of my landscape design heroes, Tase Michio (田瀬理夫) of Plamtago. He has created urban architecture and a green business that bring native plants and habitats to urban areas. His most famous work is the 1995 Acros Fukuoka building, a 15 story lush hillside on top of a downtown office building. More recently, he provided the creative direction for 5bai Midori, a Tokyo company that brings “satoyama” (里山) or a slice of rural Japan into urban areas through a modular 5-sided system.
With a shock of grey hair, Tase sensei is patient with visitors, provocative and without pretense. Born 60 years ago in Ichigaya, Tokyo, not far from his current Plamtago home office, Tase says he has been monitoring the natural environment of Tokyo since his childhood. His view is that urban land use is worse today than in the 1970s. And despite the success of Acros Fukuoka, which looks fuller and more wild after 14 years of growth, Tase is disappointed that there have been no other high rises incorporating bio-diversity into their architecture.
Tase describes his work as “Passive Architecture & Active Landscape with Nature.” For cities, he aims to increase the number of plant species, slow rainfall and filter it before it reaches rivers and bays, create healthy wildlife habitats, and improve the soil. I was struck that he sees as urban eco-system indicators tiny ticks, which reflect good soil and perhaps small animals, and also hawks. Ticks and at least one hawk reside in the forest of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace.
Care for cultivated plants ranges from professional pruning to amateur attention. This pine tree is from the entrance to Koishikawa Korakuen, one of Japan’s five most treasured historical gardens.
From formal gardens to native plants, different urban plants and settings require different levels of care. The pruning of a formal garden sets the highest standard. However, I am also impressed how Tokyo municipal trees are pruned by groups of trained arborists. This is in contrast to the US, where it seems that municipal governments offer the briefest training and chain saws to low-salaried workers.
The standards set by highly refined garden pruning, plus professional public tree pruning, have an impact on ordinary gardens. Perhaps it is a combination of expert technique, aesthetic style, and also on-going care for plant life, form and beauty.
As a gesture for improving a huge street in Shibuya, I admire the shop owner who contributed these small planters with pansies. It certainly makes the wide sidewalk, busy street and subway construction zone a bit more beautiful.
As a contrast for visionary ideas to improve major streets, I am showing below an image from a native plant company 5bai Midori (literally five-sided greenery) that uses a modular system for residential exteriors and interiors, small businesses and neighborhood improvements.