Plants growing everywhere, people building shacks and hanging out on rooftops, narrow alleys.
I like how the misters on these giant green columns benefit the plants and overheated people below. There’s also a lovely effect of plants and mist against early 20th century brick, preserved as part of the Marunouchi Brick Square development by Mitsubishi.
I was fortunate to attend a photography workshop last week with the theme of Cities and Xerox. The event gathered about twenty Japanese creatives– including a sound engineer, high school art teacher, students, guidebook writer, book editor, lawyer, and salaryman– and together we created giant photographs layered together.
The workshop process was simple yet very fun. We were asked to take photographs on our way to the workshop. Then we each chose our best photographs for three topics: breakfast, landscapes, and people. The photographs were sent to FedEx Kinko to be blown up into various sizes. And then we worked together to layer them and staple them to a wood board, which would allow art center visitors to browse the images. While we waited for the photographs to be printed and biked back to the workshop, we also silkscreened t-shirts with the word “XEROXed.”
It’s great to see other people’s photographs and see how they view Tokyo. I was particularly struck by the breakfast images: everything from a traditional Japanese breakfast (many courses, including fish, rice, miso soup, pickles, etc) to a Denny’s, coffee, and those odd, squeezable jelly drinks in foil that are popular in Japan yet seem more suited to outer space. I was the only foreigner, but felt very welcomed by the organizers and participants.
The workshop was led by accomplished photographer Hirano Taro, who became famous for taking photographs of empty pools in California used by skateboarders. The workshop took place at Vacant art space in Harajuku as part of a series of Romantic Geography events created by Too Much Magazine’s Tsujimura Yoshi.
You can see our photographs through May 22 at Vacant. There are also coffee and beeswax events coming up. I had a fantastic time, and was very impressed with how accessible, fun and collaborative this event was.
It’s funny how plants connect you even more with people than nature. Thank you Twitter’s @mygardeninjapan for this apple mint. From balcony to balcony!
I recently met up with Twitter’s @mygardeninjapan after exchanging many online comments and thoroughly enjoying his detailed documentation of his balcony garden in Yokohama. Along with @a_small_lab and Tokyo DIY Gardening‘s Chris, we had a bento lunch in a temple garden and then a fascinating walk around the Omotesando danchi.
It was very kind of @mygardeninjapan to give us these small wooden pots with mint plants from his garden and hand-made signs with illustrated care instructions. His ladybug logo reminds me of his blog story about his efforts to attract ladybugs to his balcony garden. I am looking forward to growing and eating this mint in my balcony.
The theme of Tokyo Green Space is how people bring nature into the city. Naturally, I focus mostly on plants and wildlife that bridge city and country. Recently, I have been struck by the amazing photos of nature used to enliven small commercial spaces. Like the Mount Fuji photo mural at the 1960s New Shimbashi Building, this alpine scene has decorated the detergent dispenser at my local laundromat. Oddly, the laundromat looks much newer than this machine, which has been preserved with duct tape and much obvious care. The winter scene evokes Europe rather than Japan, I think.
By Tokyo’s standards, this residential yard is large. I love simplicity of the garden, viewed from the street: a long hedge, a bamboo fence, an orange tree in the background, and another heavily pruned tree that is dormant in the winter (maybe a cherry tree).
The star of the public face of the garden is the elaborate pine tree pruned into four rings.
I wonder if every few years, the gardener adds an additional ring. The design is at once simple and the result of regular care over years of growth. Like the finest traditional Japanese garden, this single tree combines nature and artifice, and conveys a relationship between people and other life forms. I like the generosity of the owner who shares this tree equally with passers-by and the residence’s inhabitants and guests.
The tree is, I think, called ゴヨウマツ or Japanese white pine in English (Pinus parviflora), a common bonsai and garden tree.
The Huffington Post published my article entitled “Biodiversity Remakes Tokyo.” I will become a regular blogger, so if you like the article please leave a comment on the Huffington Post, post it to your Facebook account, or Tweet it to your friends. Thank you!
Here’s the first four paragraphs:
The Copenhagen UN Climate Change Conference addresses unparalleled environmental crisis and the need to transform our relationship with nature. Many people assume that nature has no place in the city. On the contrary, cities are central sites for a sustainable, post-industrial era that supports population growth and a high quality of life. Biodiversity and urban forests can thrive with concrete and people.
Ordinary gardeners and environmental visionaries in Tokyo, the world’s largest metropolis, are improving urban life for human and environmental benefit. While mainstream environmentalists work to save distant forests, urban innovators are creating new shared places that connect city residents to the environment and each other. Successful strategies include maximizing limited resources, engaging urban dwellers, and sharing daily life with plants and wildlife.
Tokyo’s size, density, lack of open space, and past policy failures paradoxically make it a model for rebuilding mature cities and designing hundreds of new cities. Along with climate change, the world faces unprecedented urbanization, reaching 60% of the world population or 5 billion people by 2030. African and Asian urban populations will double between 2000 and 2030.
To make cities sustainable and attractive, limited resources must be used for maximum benefit. Tokyo already offers vibrant and safe street life with relatively small private spaces. Because of usage fees and public investment, more daily trips are made by transit, walking and bicycling than automobile. And large numbers of often elderly residents tend gardens spilling out from homes into streets. With minimal horizontal area between homes, Tokyo residents are experts in blurring public and private spaces, and growing vertical gardens in even the narrowest openings.
Click to read the full story on the Huffington Post.
The Japan Times published my op-ed article “Tokyo’s urban design role.” My argument is that Tokyo’s past urban design failures paradoxically make it a model for rebuilding existing cities and designing hundreds of emerging cities. In the context of climate change and global warming, livable cities can create a new balance between people and nature.
I talk about fireflies, Ginza rice and honeybees, modern bonsai, satoyama in the city, businesses and biodiversity, and how Japan can promote innovations in urban life, alongside achievements in popular culture and high technology.