Nishi Azabu Juban

Two plants cover home in central Tokyo

2つの植物が家を完全に覆ってしまいました。混雑した都市の中で、簡単な壁の庭がぼくたちを元気づけてくれます。
I am so impressed with the utter simplicity of this residential garden. Using practically no space, this vertical garden consists mostly of one well trimmed magnolia tree and a vine that screen the home. I don’t know whether credit should go to the rain-soaked climate or a smart home-owner. This house shows what’s possible in terms of ample plant growth in the most minimal of urban spaces. With more of these gardens, Tokyo would see lower summer temperatures, more wildlife, and a great quality of urban life.

Honeybee pollinates beautiful snowbell tree in central Tokyo

写真のまん中にミツバチが見えます。エゴノキという木から、胡弓という楽器が作られます。西麻布で家と路地の間に、このきれいな木が育っています。

If you look in the center of the photograph, you can see a bee pollinating this Japanese snowbell tree (styrax japonicus, or エゴノキ). It is planted in the very narrow gap between a house and a small street in Nishi Azabu Juban. I learned online that the wood of this tree is used to make a string instrument called a “kokyuu,” which is similar to a shamisen.

Intoxicating night scent of Angel’s Trumpet

Leaving an inspiring talk in Nishi Azabu-Juban yesterday evening, the intoxicating scent of Angel’s Trumpet made me pause. And take a photo.

Brugmansia is also very common in San Francisco (and many continents including New Zealand), although it comes originally from South America. It produces an incredible scent, but only at night. In Tokyo, the summer heat seems to overwhelm the plant. By fall, this hardy large shrub/small tree grows to three or four meters in height, and flowers continuously until winter frost makes them die back. By May they begin to shoot up from the ground.

Angel’s Trumpet, sometimes also called Devil’s Trumpet, is a strangely familiar plant: hardy and decorative, with a shamanistic function in its native Amazon habitat.

Elegant Nezu Museum garden

The Nezu Museum and its gorgeous Japanese garden are a just short walk from the Nishi Azabu Juban wildness, the Kakuremino bar, and lush sidewalk garden. Many people come to the newly rebuilt Nezu Museum for its exquisite collection of pre-modern art, or the new building designed by Kuma Kengo. I am a huge fan of its garden that combines tea houses and paths in a setting that seems ancient, slightly overgrown, bigger than its footprint, and entirely removed from city life.

When I visited recently, just before closing time towards the end of a long, hot summer, I was enchanted by how the light struck this worn boat, the plants growing in its bow, and the illusion of minimal human habitation in an endless jungle. I was also surprised to see Japanese maple leaves already turning red, despite the temperature being above 32 celcius (90 fahrenheit) for many weeks.

Taken together, these four posts about Nishi Azabu Juban speak to the wide range of nature in the city: professional and amateur gardens, single plants and total environments, built and wild, public and gated, destinations and everyday experiences. Plants grow wild even in the densest cities, but how we choose to nurture them provides endlessly varied results. I am inspired by the full range of possibilities.

Wildness in Nishi Azabu Juban

When my friend Stokes told me about the wildness in Nishi Azabu Juban, I was somewhat incredulous. He was staying briefly at a childhood friend’s house there, and quickly discovered narrow lanes and uncultivated yards and odd spaces that he insisted on showing me. The neighborhood is in central Tokyo, and includes both very expensive homes alongside more modest, old timers’ residences.

In what must be a planner’s nightmare, late summer weeds are pushing out of cracked concrete steps, barely paved lanes lead to houses, and the urban forest seems ready to reclaim the land. There is something comforting to feel wildness in the center of the city, the impermanence of the built environment, and the power of the unplanned.

Azabu Juban’s Kakuremino bar defined by street tree

I love how this narrow Nishi Azabu Juban bar is defined by the street tree out front. The bar and tree are named カクレミノ (kakuremino, or Dendropanax trifidus). The building front is largely glass and wood beam, with the tree providing some privacy and mystery. The tree has been espaliered so that it grows in barely two dimensions.

According to Wikipedia, this evergreen tree is native to lower Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu, and Okinawa.

Lush sidewalk garden in Nishi Azabu Juban

This incredibly narrow garden in Nishi Azabu Juban is overflowing with plants. I love it. Most people would think there’s no room for a garden, but someone was determined to live with greenery. Technically this narrow street does not even have a sidewalk, just a narrow space between road and home. I love the many layers, textures, and colors.