Day and night you can see people fishing in these stocked ponds on the Outer Moat, across from Ichigaya station. The contrast between the busy transit corridor, the beautiful moat, and the leisurely city fishers is enchanting.
Hamarikyu is an elaborate garden between the office towers of Shiodome and the harbor full of warehouses, garbage incinerators, and the massive immigration office with no cellphone coverage. Inside the garden, you can learn how the Emperor created a special landscape to facilitate duck hunting that used decoy ducks, falcons, and nets. But on the edges of the garden, you can see the messy metropolis with its relentless accumulation of transportation, commerce, and recently new luxury residential development. I like how on the city side, the stone-lined canal has been preserved, and on the harbor side, an older looking flood gate still regulates the garden’s pond.
These swan boats at sunset on the Ueno pond are wonderfully retro and analog.
Even on the briskest cold days, it’s such a pleasure to cross Shinjuku Gyoen. The bare cherry tree in the foreground, reflections, and upside down landscape and sky are dazzling on a clear day.
In a quiet neighborhood north of Nishi Ogikubo, the Zenpukuji ponds are a great place for a stroll and for bird watching. These two ponds are at the source of the Zenpukuji river, and I like how one is very open, while the other is almost entirely filled with reeds and places for birds to nest and forage. These photos are from a walk last month with my urbanist inspiration Chris Berthelsen and his family.
With any excuse, I like to cut across Shinjuku Gyoen. There are so many different plants and landscapes to see there. I like the contrast of these photos. Above late summer maple trees are lush green, and reflected in a pond. Only the wooden edge suggests that it is a garden and not a natural wonder. Below is the Japanese garden, with a path through the pond and gardeners hard at work styling nature into a very specific shape. I love seeing both woody and stylized versions so close to each other.
It’s wonderful to see how the University of Tokyo is carefully removing two mature ginko trees as it breaks ground for a new law school library. The Hongo campus is gorgeous, both for its brick buildings that are vaguely ivy league and art deco, but also for its stunning trees and Sanshiro pond.
The frantic pace of construction and reconstruction has left Tokyo with an inadequate tree canopy. It’s great that these two trees will survive the new building, and that the University of Tokyo demonstrates that it values its natural environment.
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.
Vanessa Keith has a provocative article about urban reforestation. Rather than focus on new buildings, a small percentage of any city, Keith proposes rebuilding through a “clip-on” to existing urban structures and infrastructures. Keith considers roofs, walls, and highways as valuable surfaces that increase by factors of two (for in-fill structures) or six (for free standing structures) the total surface area of a city.
Her clip-on ideas include green roofs, roof ponds, vertical gardening, waterfalls for cooling and power generation, wind bands, and more urban trees. I like how she connects urban solutions with rural deforestation, and considers government incentives and the potential role of large developers and community groups in creating a demonstration block in New York City.
On a beautiful warm November day, I discovered Tokyo University’s Sanshiro-ike garden. I had a few moments before a meeting, and saw on the campus map that there was a central garden on the main campus. I had assumed it would be a formal garden.
I was very surprised to descend a small hillside and encounter this natural looking pond. Looking in all directions, one sees only trees, water and sky, despite the compact size of the garden. Even on a warm weekend day with early fall foliage, few visitors were there. I was enchanted by the incredibly natural and removed-from-the-city feeling in this garden inside central Tokyo and Japan’s most famous university.
It takes a lot of artifice to make a city garden look so natural. The waterfall is amazing.
Continue reading to see some more images from Tokyo University, aka Todai.
Diane Durston of the Portland Japanese Garden invited me last week to visit the Nezu Museum, which recently reopened. The art collection of scrolls and screens representing nature from the fourteenth century are stunning, as is the new building designed by Kuma Kengo is a wonderful example of “wafu modern” (和風モダン), a modernization of traditional Japanese design. But mostly I was drawn outside to the large garden.
The winding paths and unexpected size make you feel far from Aoyama. Although just outside the main exhibit hall, the garden is marred by the sight of the strangely tall and also squat Roppongi Hiills Tower, once inside the garden it is a fantasy of forest punctuated by old tea houses, streams and ponds. The garden has been revived yet retains a look of simplicity and wildness. Originally it formed part of the home of the museum founder Nezu Kaichiro, the Tobu Railway president and industrialist who was a collector of pre-modern Japanese and Asian art.
Perhaps even better than Kuma Kengo’s main exhibit hall is his modern take on the Japanese tea house. The new cafe is incredibly light and airy, opening out on to the garden and with an interesting ceiling light that looks like illuminated stone.
Since our visit last Friday, the weather has turned much cooler, especially at night. The next few weeks will have wonderful fall foliage in the garden.
Traditional Japanese garden Kyu Shiba Rikyu dates to 1678 when land reclaimed from Tokyo Bay became the residence of Okugawa Tadatamo, an official of Tokugawa Shogunate. Kyu Shiba Rikyu is one of Tokyo’s oldest gardens, along with Koishikawa Korakuen. Kyu Shiba Rikyu was destroyed by fire in the 1923 earthquake, rebuilt and gifted by the Emperor as a city park.
Today this stroll garden with a focal pond and two small islands sits steps from Hamamatsuchou station, and surrounded by office buildings, bullet trains, the JR Yamanote line, a monorail, elevated train, and two elevated highways. The pond reflects manicured black pines, office towers and billboards. There is also a very elegant archery range with grass lawn, tatami seating area, and targets inked by hand. (See photos after the jump below).
The pond and island were created over 400 years ago to recall China’s Seiko Lake (Xi Hu) and Reizan sacred mountain in Hangzhou (Zhejiang). Like at Koishikawa Korakuen, Kyu Shiba Rikyu was created at a time when garden design, philosophy, literature, and painting all borrowed heavily from China. Given our last century’s conflicts between Japan and China, is it too much to hope for artistic borrowings in this century?
A wonderful garden diplomacy would be a photographic exploration of these 400 year old Japanese gardens and the Chinese landscapes that inspired them. How have the natural and designed environments changed? What contemporary landscapes could inspire today’s art exchanges?