This pedestrian overpass, which dips below the freeway in Shiodome, is a hot mess. I often wonder why city planners value pedestrians and bicyclists so much less than private vehicles and trucks. This is not how I’d like to walk to work from the station.
Just making it to Nakano station seemed like a great adventure in the heavy snow.
Leaving the Tatsumi Metro station, I cross over one highway on a pedestrian bridge, while passing below several elevated highways intersecting with flyovers.
This Onward sign on top of a warehouse feels like a personal extortion to move through this jumble of smog and burning fuels. Onward also seems to capture this part of Tokyo’s role as a place of distribution by ship and tractor trailer. In this frenzy of “logistics,” I always wonder what’s being transported and to whom.
Fortunately, the trees planted decades ago muffle the noise somewhat, and part of this marginal land is used as a park, community vegetable garden, and Olympic level swimming pool.
In Tokyo I am getting re-adjusted to four seasons. In California there’s a wet and dry season. Oddly, in San Francisco, many dry winter days are warmer than the fog-bound summer. Tokyo’s four seasons are like the Atlantic Coast of the US. I have childhood memories of this area.
It’s been so cold in Tokyo recently that I am hibernating. Each year I look forward to seeing this plum blossom in February. You can find this tree along a pedestrian path leading to Nakano station.
I love how the purple berries pop against the light green foliage. This hardy shrub is a classic fall marker, and a reference to the female novelist of the thousand year old Tale of Genji. Unlike my balcony specimen, which dropped its berries while still green, this one outside Shiho ceramic studio looks fantastic. It’s growing in a 5bai midori, the modular urban satoyama box.
I bought the first box two years ago, and the second last year. They really thrive on this north-facing sidewalk and draw attention to the studio and store. If you click on Shiho’s website, you can see on the home page how small the first one was. It just needs lots of water, and very occasional pruning. There are so many local species that each season has something special and evocative of the Japanese landscape.
I love these bright red spider lilies, called higanbana in Japanese. They bloom in September with tall stalks, bright flowers, and no leaves. They come back each year along this pedestrian path, and the flower lasts only a week or so. Last year, too, I saw them everywhere in Tokyo. I like how they mark the turn of season.
It’s lovely to see these flowers outside a small neighborhood restaurant. The set-up could not be simpler: easily re-blooming perennials. a liquor crate, recycled wood. A simple gesture communicates to the street and offers a chance for interaction with pedestrians.
Readers, I know the orange flower is clivia. What is the smaller salmon colored flower? I have grown both in San Francisco.
Update: Thanks to Jason Dewees, the salmon colored flower has been identified as Freesia (Lapeirousia) laxa.
I have seen some lovely roses walking in Tokyo recently. The red one above is from the border between Sakuragaoka 桜丘町 and Uguisudani 鶯谷町, a leafy upscale neighborhood ten minutes from the world famous Shibuya pedestrian crossing (called scramble, スクランブル in Japanese). I like how this red rose has escaped a private garden and is now attaching itself to the street mirror meant to prevent collisions.
The yellow rose is from a house in Nakano, near a pedestrian walkway built on an old creek. I wish all roses had fragrance, but whenever you see roses, it is hard not to feel cheerful.
Tokyo’s great transit system allows you to go many places without a car. You can enjoy the scenery and meeting many people.
The days are getting shorter, and with clearer skies the sunsets are remarkable. Recently I have been enjoying the views from elevated trains and stations. Trains in Japan are always punctual, clean and efficient. And apart from peak commute times, you can relax and enjoy the peacefulness of leaving the driving to others. Tokyo’s superior urban transportation system allows for a city where private cars are not the main form of mobility. It is still surprising to me how much walking, biking, conversation, playing, and reading dominates Tokyo’s many small streets, with the occasional car slowing down to pedestrians’ pace.
Why is the entrance to Roppongi Hills so ugly and uninviting?
Every time I walk from the subway into Roppongi Hills I am shocked at the extremely ugly first view of this mega-complex. In addition to the elevated freeway, pedestrians are greeted by this horrendous, wide, astroturf-covered dead space in front of Roppongi Hills North Tower.
How could this make people want to enter Banana Republic? And what does this say about Mori Building’s vision for integrating their properties into their neighborhoods and communities? I feel that this forgotten and dirty space implies that the real landscape only begins at the podium level and that the North Tower is not of equal status to the rest of the complex, despite being in the front. It’s as if they imagine that their important customers enter the complex only by car.
This lack of respect for pedestrians, neighbors, and context is completely unnecessary. The smallest gesture would improve this space and make it more inviting and alive. If Mori Building reads this post, I hope they will consider improving this entryway to their otherwise well landscaped property. If anything, improving the entrance might also provide an opportunity to consider how to extend their landscape ideas further out into the neighborhood, creating connections with other shops and residents, and building a larger and healthier eco-system that would benefit Mori and their neighborhood.
Last night I attended the last Pecha Kucha Tokyo of the zeros decade, one block west of Roppongi Hills, and remembered that I had taken this photo weeks ago. Each time I am shocked as if for the first time. Outside of the expensive office towers and glittering malls, I wonder how such an ugly neighborhood can be attractive to multinational companies and foreign ex-pats.
There’s a beautiful, recently constructed walkway by the Chidorigafuchi moat, near the Indian Embassy, that is famous for its cherry trees. The trees are gnarly and old, and they bend across and down towards the water. It’s lovely how the walkway places a priority for the trees over the pedestrians, who are warned to watch their heads by this bright and padded yellow-and-black warning.
Outside of cherry blossom viewing in April, the walkway, the moat, and the rental boats are rarely used. It’s a great place to absorb nature in the city.
I love this fall perennial border despite the lack of ground soil and space. Fifteen to twenty pots contain flowering ornamentals on the narrow curb between an Asagaya residence and the small street. The garden is very complete and very public. I admire the gardener’s generosity to passing pedestrians and bicyclists.
The Japan Times published an interesting story about the lack of benches on Tokyo’s streets. From the official government and planning perspective, streets are for moving traffic and pedestrians. The idea of city streets as a community space is not a factor.
I am always struck by how retrograde city planning is in Tokyo. As an architect professor friend told me, Tokyo’s many narrow, single-grade small streets-which are now considered the “new” thing in the US and Europe for promoting walking and biking-are undoubtedly considered shameful relics by the city’s traffic planners, whose mission is to move auto traffic as rapidly as possible.
The most innovative ideas for using streets as community life seem to come from residents (see my previous posts about residents supplying their own bus stop seating), and from real estate corporations that own enough Tokyo land to motivate them to create unique and livable streets. I thought of the latter last week seeing the many public benches in the Marunouchi district’s wide, tree-lined streets. The district is largely owned by Mitsubishi Real Estate.
Tokyo Green Space focuses largely on how green space and plants make the city livable. Recent walks through Shibuya, Meguro, and Sasazuka made me realize anew the tremendous obstacles created by elevated freeways that cut through Tokyo.
Above is the Shuto 4 expressway in Sasazuka, known as Koshu Kaido (甲州街道). There is a high speed expressway on top of an eight lane surface road. Crossing this mass of asphalt, traffic and emissions requires climbing a pedestrian overpass that goes between the levels.
Below is the 246 expressway going west from Shibuya into Meguro. If I am not mistaken, there is an elevated freeway, a surface road, and a below grade highway as well.
These massive structures are the opposite of the small lanes that make Tokyo feel so village-like and livable. There is some potential to “add” greenery to these structures. But I wonder why there isn’t more discussion in Tokyo, as there is in other world cities, about the potential for reclaiming these structures for non-automobile uses, through demolition or reuse as sky parks.