Edo modern at Hamarikyu garden


Recently I brought 28 participants of the Dutch-Tokyo Still City workshop on “post-growth” urban life to Hamarikyu garden. This photo captures the simultaneity of activities inside and outside the garden: Edo-style pruning of pine trees, city dwellers enjoying traditional tea, port and luxury housing structures, even an incinerator chimney.

Giving this pine tree a little off the top. Skilled pruning creates a living shape.


I love how these traditional Japanese pines in Shinjuku Gyoen are so meticulously pruned. On this clear winter day, I love how you can see the pine needles accumulating against the brown lawn. Three ladders, red traffic safety cones, helmets, and no doubt some great pruning shears.

Four men pruning trees in Mitake park in Shibuya


In Shibuya’s Mitake park, four men are pruning the trees. They are using a tall ladder and also a cherry picker. I appreciate skilled labor.

Crow melon and Imperial Palace pruning


Walking around the Imperial Palace recently, I noticed what look like roma tomatoes growing on a wall. This vine is a famous weed called “crow melon” (カラス・ウリ). Apparently, it gets its name because it provides food for crows. The plants seems as resilient and citified as its avian namesake.

On the same walk, we noticed a boat in the Imperial Palace moat with guys using a small net to pick up leaves. Perhaps the trees above were pruned, and some fell into the moat. The meticulousness of the moat cleaning makes an interesting contrast for the untamed wildness of the crow melon vine and its avian companions.

Pruning and care

Pine at Koishikawa Korakuen

Care for cultivated plants ranges from professional pruning to amateur attention. This pine tree is from the entrance to Koishikawa Korakuen, one of Japan’s five most treasured historical  gardens. 

From formal gardens to native plants, different urban plants and settings require different levels of care. The pruning of a formal garden sets the highest standard. However, I am also impressed how Tokyo municipal trees are pruned by groups of trained arborists. This is in contrast to the US, where it seems that municipal governments offer the briefest training and chain saws to low-salaried workers.

The standards set by highly refined garden pruning, plus professional public tree pruning, have an impact on ordinary gardens. Perhaps it is a combination of expert technique, aesthetic style, and also on-going care for plant life, form and beauty.