The precision and care for tenants’ television needs are remarkable.
I love Tokyo when festivals bring neighbors into the street carrying portable shrines; eating, drinking and dancing on streets closed to traffic; and wearing traditional outfits. In May I went to Sanja matsuri in Asakusa as well as a festival at Hanazono shrine in Shinjuku.
Unlike real horticulturalists, I enjoy planting common plants that I’ve seen in my neighbors’ gardens. This year I am convinced that Kanamemochi (Photina) is Tokyo’s best hedge. In spring the new leaves are a beautiful deep red color. Whether in a pot or in the ground, this member of the rose family, related to apple trees, grows quickly, thickly, and can be shaped easily. I have one hiding my washing machine and providing evergreen privacy between my kitchen and the neighbors outside my window. I also planted one at Kuge Crafts in order to provide separation from a pesky neighbor. Very quickly, that single plant is growing wide and creating a living fence.
Around this time last year I worked with film photographer Daisuke Hamada on a long article about flower pot gardens in Tokyo for The Plant, a semi-annual magazine from Spain. The article combines a personal essay about the pleasure of urban gardening and includes two interviews with my Nakano neighbors who have created public beauty with very limited space and budgets. Some blog readers have asked for a copy, so I am attaching a PDF scan here (3 MB).
Shared Beauty: Tokyo’s Pot Gardens. The Plant, Issue #3. Fall, 2012.
Why fight over barren islands? Why dream of racial purity and long-gone patriarchy? Why resist the urge to get to know each other?
Another brilliant tanuki poster from Luis Mendo. In a time of rising conflict between Japan and its closest neighbors, tanuki offers his enormous balls as a physical bridge and shared space for international, inter-species, and multi-sexual dancing and frolicking.
It’s time for truth, reconciliation, and love!
I love the simple pine and bamboo strapped to the entry gate of my local shrine. This is where we start the new year a few minutes past midnight with the neighbors drinking amezake and enjoying a small fire. Even the graffiti is cute. This new year, I will try to improve my photography, and seek a greater capacity for identifying the path of least resistance.
Plant Journal Issue #3 includes my article about flower pot gardens in Tokyo. The article also includes interviews with two Nakano gardeners who use sidewalk and wall space to create extravagant seasonal gardens shared with neighbors. You can find stores that sell the magazine worldwide, or order it online.
Spurred by the energy crisis post-Fukushima, there’s been a notable increase in the number of mid-rise office and retail buildings with green walls. In an over-built city, vertical surfaces are the largest potential area for gardening, farming, and habitat creation.
Tokyo has far more vertical surfaces than roof areas, and we are only at the very beginning of creating an urban forest.
I have been following this topic for a while, and have watched this idea spread from notable public spaces like Suginami’s ward office (world’s largest green curtain) to apartment balconies, flower shops, and now commercial and retail spaces. This wide distribution across Tokyo and across building types is very exciting to see.
Some questions I have include:
- What types of plants can be grown vertically and for what functions: aesthetics, habitat, scent, seasonal change, food?
- How can green walls enhance innovative architecture and place-making?
- How can vertical and roof gardens connect buildings, neighbors, and wildlife?
- What is the impact on heat island effect, global competitiveness, and quality of life?
The answers will come from experimentation and diffusion. The photos, from top to bottom, are four green walls I’ve recently seen:
1. Hasegawa Green Building in Shiba Koen
2. Office mid-rise in Shinjuku Gyoen-mae (2 photos). The company that created and maintains this green wall is called Ishikatsu Exterior (石勝イクステリア).
3. Oimachi retail building near station.
4. Daimon office building.
Everywhere I walk in Tokyo, I see loquat trees (called biwa in Japanese 枇杷) on the sidewalks: planted between the sidewalk and roadway, next to a Royal Host, coming out of a shrine. Loquat seems well adapted to Tokyo, and it’s great to see such huge trees full of orange fruit and accessible from the street. I have to keep my eye out to see if the neighbors eat them.
A friend told me to check out this green “bus stop” between Kabukicho and Hanazono Shrine. This incredible vine providing shade for the sidewalk is no longer a bus stop, but is in front of Shinjuku’s ward office. As I’ve written before, the wards seem to be leading Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the national government in creating innovative green spaces on their properties.
What’s great about this sidewalk awning is that it requires minimal space and maintenance, yet impacts thousands of people coming to the ward office, or just passing by on this busy street. Two very kind city workers involved with green space took time out to talk with me about the sidewalk, facade, and roof greening.
The sidewalk awning is a combination of two hardy vines: nozenzakura (ノウゼンカズラ in Japanese or Campsis grandiflora in Latin) with orange flowers, which I have seen in my neighborhood blooming all summer.
The other vine is akebi (アケビ, also called Akebia in English), which flowers and fruits. Wikipedia says that it is frequently mentioned in Japanese literature and evokes images of pastoral landscapes; it’s also considered an invasive in New Zealand and parts of the United States. Here in the heart of Shinjuku, it’s a very attractive shade plant with the added bonus of having distinct seasons.
It was nice to see that parts of the facade have vertical plantings, although a simple full facade retrofit would modernize and make more attractive the 1960s building.
The city workers also showed off the roof garden, which has different areas including edibles, herbs, and water plants. It was sad that most of the usage seems to be a place for smokers to congregate. I wonder how they can make the space more attractive for non-smoking workers and neighbors.
It would be cool to see a complete redesign of the entire usable surface of the ward office to eliminate the dead space. Too much of the facade is monotonous concrete with minimal pattern, and too much of the plaza in front and along the side is hard surfaces. A redesign could capture the imagination of residents, retailers, and office owners.
A friend in San Francisco sent me this Reuters news story about a municipal government program in Suginami ward to plant flowers facing the street as a crime prevention measure. The article cites a city official saying, “The best way to prevent crime is to have more people on the lookout.” According to city officials, encouraging street flowers has lowered burglaries by 80% from 2002 to 2008. Read the full article.
Update: Suzuki-sensei at Nodai kindly provided me with the Yomiuri news story from June 6, 2009 which provides more detail. Apparently, before turning to flowers, the Suginami ward government tried security cameras, which worked but only for a short period. The local government than did a survey that found that only 2 of the 100 homes that experienced robbery had plants outside. Suginami achieved this remarkable crime reduction by spending 6,000,000 yen (about $65,000) per year on plants, and organizing 109 “Flower Blooming Troops” (花咲かせ隊) groups with 872 residents participating. The effectiveness is attributed to the plants bringing more people into small alleys and to neighbors interacting more with eachother.
Governments from Shizuoka, Okinawa, Fukuoka and seventeen other Japanese prefectures have visited Suginami to study this crime success. It is also interesting that this news story spread to the China Daily, Brunei Times, Australia’s ABC, Times of India, and the Iran Daily.
Spring in Tokyo reminds you of the power that flowers have to capture human imagination. Cherry blossom viewing, which has its own name in Japanese, hanami (花見), draws people to socialize outdoors, drinking and eating on blue tarps with family, friends, co-workers and neighbors.
The power of cherry blossoms (or sakura, 桜) even inspires acts of seeming recklessness. In the photo above, an older salary man is perched precariously above the Imperial Palace moat in his quest to take a close-up photo with his cellphone (or ketai).
As an anthropologist and foreigner in Japan, it is also striking to me how specific flower devotion in Japan is. On a hanami stroll, I noticed this beautiful yellow flowering bush called yamabuki, literally “mountain spray.” I have never seen it on either coast in the United States; an internet search gives its English name “kerria.” Despite the crowds in the Tokyo park, I felt that I alone was giving this flower some attention.
At the end of this month, Good Day Books in Ebisu, will be hosting an author’s reading with Enbutsu Sumiko. Her Flower Lover’s Guide to Tokyo offers 40 walks in Tokyo focusing on seasonal flowers in various parks and gardens.