Portland

Giving a talk at the Portland Japanese Garden

ポートランドの日本庭園で、「都市グリーン」というプログラムに参加します。5月26日、私は「東日本大地震後の東京グリーン・スペース」の発表をします。24日は、品品の小林先生が盆栽ワークショップを教えます。26日は、小林先生の盆栽の展覧会が催されます。

I am very excited to travel to the Portland Japanese Garden next week as part of their Urban Green program. My good friend Kobyashi Kenji, of Tokyo’s Sinajina, will be leading a bonsai-making workshop on May 24, and opening his bonsai exhibit on the 26th. As part of the opening, I will give a talk on Greening Tokyo after Tohoku.

It’s a great honor to participate in the excellent cultural programming at the Portland Japanese Garden, and to explore connections between two global cities whose residents are reinventing urban life for the 21st century. If you know anyone in Portland, please let them know about these events! Thank you.

Portland’s giant green wall

In addition to Portland’s green streets, this Oregon city now boasts of an amazing retrofit for a federal building, the General Services Agency, featuring green fins. The vertical gardens will shade a 200 foot high wall in spring and summer, using rooftop graywater. This reminds me of Suginami’s giant green curtain, but perhaps even more ambitious. According to the architects, Cutler Anderson, the building aims to be one of the most energy efficient buildings in the United States, if not the the world.

Portland’s Greenstreets add plants and reduce river pollution

Portland, Oregon is redesigning its streetscapes to create hundreds of new sidewalk plantings that capture stormwater runoff. As you can see in the photo from Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Strategy, these greenstreet projects not only relieve the burden on the sewer system from heavy rainfall, but also add plant life to public spaces, make streets more pedestrian and bicycle friendly, and provide habitat through native plant selection.

In addition to an excellent article on SF Streetsblog, the Portland city government does a great job of explaining the benefits of greenstreets:

When it rains, stormwater runoff that isn’t properly managed can flow over impervious surfaces picking up pollutants along the way and washing them into rivers and streams. Stormwater runoff can also cause flooding and erosion, destroy habitat and contribute to combined sewer overflows (CSOs).

Stormwater management systems that mimic nature by integrating stormwater into building and site development can reduce the damaging effects of urbanization on rivers and streams. Disconnecting the flow from storm sewers and directing runoff to natural systems like landscaped planters, swales and rain gardens or implementing an ecoroof reduces and filters stormwater runoff.

Meeting Kobayashi Kenji (小林健二) at Sinajina (品品)

Meeting Kobayashi Kenji (小林健二) at Sinajina (品品)

Yesterday I had the amazing fortune to meet Kobayashi Kenji (小林健二) at Sinajina (品品) in Jiyūgaoka, Setagaya-ku. Recognized as a leading Japanese green designer and bonsai innovator, Kobayashi-sensei has a vision for bring an appreciation of nature through caring for plants to a wide audience.

By making plants into attractive small objects, Kobayashi-sensei has succeeded in attracting many young people to his shop, studio and classroom housed in a beautiful modern building. Trays of plants line the front of the building, and a shelf has been built above the door to the entrance for additional storage. Inside is a gallery setting, where small plants are growing in elegant yet simple pots arranged with moss and stones.

Sinajina entrance

My friend Britton, who is fluent in Japanese and a moss expert, and I arrived at his shop with little notice and no expectation that Kobayashi-sensei would have time to speak with us. I was surprised by his incredible hospitality: offering us cool green tea on a hot day, and talking at length about his philosophy of plants, his background, and his craft. He was wearing a t-shirt of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl.

Having recently visited the far more traditional Bonsai Museum in Edogawa-ku, I immediately noticed the difference in approach. Whereas Kobayashi Kunio takes pride in caring for plants that are hundreds of years old, Kobayashi Kenji of Sinajina is excited to work with less expensive plant materials and to create modern imaginary worlds including miniature parks, decorative animals, and contemporary landscapes.

Kobayashi told me that his background was in landscape architecture, and that he worked on some large-scale projects including Tokyo Big Sight. In 1998, he went to Portland to study with Kawamoto Toshio-sensei of Japan Bonsai. Unlike landscape architecture where the drawings on paper represent large areas in small form, he enjoyed how designing miniatures means that the plan and the execution are at the same scale. And unlike traditional bonsai which focuses on a single old tree, Kobayashi’s style is closer to saikei, miniature landscapes that can contain multiple trees and younger plants. By studying outside Japan with Kawamoto-san, he learned traditional techniques but with great freedom to imagine his own style.

Kobayashi-sensei spoke and showed us two arrangements. The one in the photo at the top is a miniature park, with the small stones representing a path, the moss bushes, and the seedlings mature trees. Another was a tiny maple tree growing at an angle from a tiny round ceramic with a clump of moss and tiny stones. In neither case had he used traditional bonsai wires, and the plants were between six months and perhaps two years old.

Sinajina contemporary bonsai

Kobayashi-sensei says that traditional bonsai craft and ownership is the domain of old and powerful men. And that many urban gardeners are older women. As we talked, he was proud that his shop attracts many young people. A green entrepreneur friend had warned me that Kobayashi’s plants are “expensive,” but the $40 to $200 cost of plant and pot is nothing compared to traditional bonsai trees that far outlast human life spans. Yet, like traditional bonsais, they are both miniature environments and objects of tremendous beauty.

Kobayashi-sensei views caring for plants as a way for urban people to connect to the environment. He says it is not enough for urban people to visit the countryside for a day and appreciate the beauty of nature. In an age of “consumerist culture” where cut flowers and plants are considered disposable, he wants to seduce young people and children to see his plants not as accessories but as part of the family, like a pet, that requires care and attention.

By sending his magical plants into homes, and at prices that (at least some) kids can afford, he wants to inspire young people to appreciate plants at a very practical level. Care for them, or they will die. Close attention will allow city dwellers to learn about plant life cycles, witness seasonal change, see growth, and actively beautify them. Kobayashi-sensei compares plants to humans in that both need some grooming to look their best– people need to cut their hair and nails, while his plants need to to be up-potted every three years, pruned, and have their roots cut back. I was startled to hear him say that a potted plant has more chance to thrive than a wild one, because in the forest plants “fight each other” for light and nutrients.

Sinajina viewed from street