I am very pleased to announce a new website that provides scholarly and general public information about the hundreds of Japanese gardens outside Japan. This project puts online the database of Tokyo University of Agriculture’s Professor Makoto SUZUKI, the world’s expert on this unique Japanese cultural export. There are Japanese gardens in six continents, in conditions ranging from arid Australia to urban Brazil. I hope that my blog readers may have the opportunity to visit one of these living art works near where they live or travel.
A special thanks to the incomparably talented Ian Lynam, who created the visual design and the logo for the new Center for International Japanese Garden Studies.
This road beneath a canopy of street trees leads to the Nodai campus from Chitose Funabashi. When I commute there by bike, it makes a lovely end to my ride.
Thanks to Professor Suzuki Makoto at Nodai, I went on a bus tour of Adachi ward’s cherry trees. They are celebrating the ward’s role in the 100th anniversary of Japan’s gift of cherry trees to Washington DC, where they are now a landmark landscape along the Potomac.
It was fun to see how many local people turned out for the tour and ward office symposium. Adachi-ku continues to cultivate many types of cherry trees, including this winter blooming one. Unfortunately, many of the open spaces for tree-planting are marginal spaces: below the high voltage power lines, and along the Arakawa River, where they are drowned out by multiple levels of elevated freeway.
Like most of Tokyo, it all depends in which direction you’re looking. Adachi-ku is proud also that it retains many views of Mount Fuji. Many of these views include the river and also smokestacks and factories.
Recently, Mukunoki Ayumi gave me a tour of Kuboco, the construction and roof garden company where she works in Shitamachi. She graduated from Nodai, where I am a research fellow. The meeting took place thanks to Edgy Japan‘s Yanigasawa Hiroki. I immediately recognized the building when I spotted the incredible wisteria that is trellised across one building and climbs to the top of the adjoining 8 story building, where it provides rooftop shade on a trellis structure. Mukunoki-san told me that the vine is just eight years old and very vigorous!
Kuboco designs roof gardens and vertical gardens for commercial and retail buildings as well as residences. Since they are a construction company, they are able to combine garden design and maintenance with structural engineering, water-proofing, and retrofitting trellises for vines and vertical gardens onto older buildings.
Mukunoki-san reports seeing a shift from roof lawns to vegetables in Tokyo. She attributes this to customers wanting less maintenance and greater value from their outdoor spaces. Kabuco has roof gardens on both of its buildings, one a more social space and the other full of experiments with soil depth and new vegetables. Kuboco is very hands-on in providing advice about how to build roof gardens and what to grow. Mukunoki-san explained that last summer she grew tumeric because one of her clients wanted to grow it. On my visit, I saw blueberries, carrots, onions, parsley and other food on their demonstration gardens, and admired how they are testing out what can grow in 5, 10, 20, and 25 cm deep soil boxes. And for a while Kuboco’s roof garden provides fresh vegetables to a local onigiri restaurant.
She also introduced me to the Japanese term for “local food”: 地産地消 (chisanchishou, locally produced and locally consumed, with the first and third kanji being the word soil).
The 8 year old wisteria looks like it’s been on this building for much longer. It blooms best when trained horizontally.
I would love to try blueberries, too. It would be so satisfying to eat fresh blueberries, rather than the supermarket ones that have travelled from as far as Chile.
Watching students study rice in a field lab reminded me that, yes, I am really affiliated with an agricultural university in Japan. Nodai is the Tokyo University of Agriculture. The students were counting the number of rice stalks and the number of grains in each specimen. I wonder if the variables involved the plant, the growing medium or environment. The students looked very serious.
Last weekend I had the great fortune to go with Professor Hattori of Nodia’s Garden Lab and about twelve students to visit Kobayashi Kunio sensei’s Bonsai Museum in Edogawa-ku. Kobayashi-sensei has won numerous Japanese and international awards for his mastery of Japanese bonsai. By chance I had met him, his foreign apprentice Valentin, and other students a few weeks ago at the Iriya Asa Gao (morning glory) festival.
The Bonsai Museum, open six days a week in Shitamachi, far exceeded my imagination. Our large group was met at the gate by one of the Japanese apprentices. Initially we were left to admire the astounding bonsais set on simple wood stands in the courtyard. I noticed Valentin and another apprentice lifting and carry several plants, and later realized that they placing the trees in the very traditionally designed rooms of the ten year old Museum.
On first view, the dozens of trees are overwhelming: each a miniature world combining meticulously crafted tree, moss, in ceramics or on stone bases. Some of the trees are 600 and even 1,000 years old, and all display a refined beauty that is a mix of taking natural elements to extreme conditions. In a photo book describing his career, Kobayashi sensei says that early on he often tried too hard and in retrospect apologizes to those trees that he killed.
The Museum structure is a series of five interconnected formal tatami rooms, including one set up for tea ceremony with a small door entrance and area for coals and a kettle. Each room has one bonsai tree arranged with a scroll, small figurine, and short table in the ceremonial, slightly elevated section. Kobayashi-sensei worked closely with architects and designers to create an ideal environment for the contemplation of his master works. It is hard to believe the building is only 10 years old; it was so well designed that on a hot summer day, you could feel cool breezes.
More photos of Bonsai Museum, a master lesson from Kobayashi sensei, and lunch in Shibamata after the jump.
Nodai’s Environmental Science department designed a small park and green walls around a public toilet just outside of campus. It’s a mix of moss and euphorbia. Apparently, this common North American plant has been recently introduced to Japan. I like the variety of colors. It’s too bad the moss has turned yellow.
Below is a sign explaining the project.
Nodai’s Garden Design Lab, part of the Landscape Architecture Science Department, invited me to their student workshop and welcome party last week. To help everyone get to know each other, students organized a workshop on the differences between country and city (田舎と都市, inaka and toshi).
It was fun to participate. The structure was very open-ended and interesting. In tables of about 8 people each, we brainstormed, using post-it notes, and then grouping them into categories. Actually, this framework reminded me of corporate workshops I have attended and organized.
Our group finished by allowing students to situate themselves on a country-city continuum. The nerdy guy who lives in Akihabara and I were the super-city participants, and I was struck that even our small group had a wide range of self-identification including super-country.
Students come from a variety of places, and more than a few seem to be children of garden business families. There were several graduate students over 40, three from China, one from Brazil, and an associate who also comes from Maryland by way of Brown University and Barcelona.
The workshop was followed by eating and drinking, first in the Lab, and then at an izakaya across the street. Suzuki sensei gallantly paid the large tab. I felt very welcomed and very fortunate to participate in this dynamic environment.
I am thrilled to receive an affiliation with Tokyo University of Agriculture for my Council on Foreign Relations Hitachi fellowship. Also known as Nodai,Tokyo University of Agriculture is one of Japan’s most respected schools, with strengths in agriculture, the environment and landscape design. I will be hosted by the Department of Landscape Architecture Science.