residential

Ginkos connect an old street with decades of layers

青梅街道は江戸時代からある道で、昔ここに農園がありました。今はイチョウの木がたくさんの種類の建物をつないでいます。廃墟化した戦後の建物や商業用の建物や住宅やさらには軽工業のビルがあります。

Ome Kaido is a large boulevard in my neighborhood that dates to Edo times when this area was largely fields. I like how the ginko trees provide a unifying element to a heterogenous streetscape of  abandoned post-war buildings mixed with newer commercial, residential and even light industrial buildings from every decade since.

Directly across the street from this corner is a ten story office building. I noticed the roof-top sports facility years before I recognized the logo at the entrance that marks it as the headquarters of one of Japan’s leading adult content companies.

Sunflowers blooming in fall outside JR station

十月にヒマワリを見たから、驚いた。日本に来たオランダの友達によると、アムステルダムはもう冬みたいだそうです。駅周りに小さい森を作るといいと思います。今のところ、このヒマワリたちが素敵な気晴らしになっています。

I was surprised to see these sunflowers blooming in late October. Dutch visitors @tanemaki2011 reminded me that in Europe it’s already early winter, with temperatures already reaching 0 degrees. For an Amsterdam resident, Tokyo fall is like summer yet better.

There’s currently a lot of construction around the Nakano JR station, with new bus areas, exits, and plazas to support an enormous high-rise office building and tall residential towers. I hope they will radically rethink the public space around the station. It’s the center of communal life, yet now mostly revolves around autos, asphalt, and concrete. It would be great to see a livelier meeting place.

A mini-forest would be inviting. In the meantime, this small field of sunflowers is a welcome distraction.

Irises blooming in central Tokyo

東京の中心にあるのに、花菖蒲が前にある家は田舎にあるみたいですね。
I have found this wonderful short-cut between Yoyogi and Omotesando on bike. It passes a lot of houses with gardens. On my way to a meeting, I had a nice long chat with a small office owner who was tending a beautiful clematis vine. And then I saw this house with irises outside. If you ignore that you are in the center of Tokyo, it seems like a simple country house, no?

Red and yellow punctuate residential alley

つまらない住宅地でも、秋は美しくなる。

Fall trees add temporal beauty to residential Tokyo.

An otherwise drab residential street is lit up with red and yellow fall foliage. The red tree in the foreground grows in the very narrow space between a house and the low wall separating it from the street. The yellow leaves in the background are from a ginko tree, which is part a line of ginkos on both sides of a major boulevard. Like most Tokyo residential streets, traffic moves so rarely and slowly that it’s comfortable to walk or bike in the center of the roadway.

Decorating construction sites with plants

Construction sites in Japan, unlike in the United States, are almost always concealed behind shiny white walls. Recently, I have noticed more and more of these temporary walls being decorated with plants.

Above, three simple flower pots seem like a small an and informal gesture. Below, ivy is built into the wall itself. Somehow, given the humbleness of the plant material and scale, the less designed plants seem more generous and heart-felt. What do you think?

The first photo is from a development called Nakano Twin Mark Towers. A short while after taking the photo, I noticed a hand-made sign on the back alley complaining about its massive scale: a residential tower that will be 29 stories high, at least twice as high as any neighboring building on the south side of the station. I am surprised by its height, and also wonder whether the developers will succeed in finding such a luxurious clientele in this rather humble residential area. Below is a developer’s image from the website.

Elaborate sidewalk garden includes plant labels and stools

This Shinjuku ni-chome sidewalk garden is exceptional in its size, care, and labeling. The gardener lives in a former shop in an old building on what is now a busy entertainment district. From the sidewalk, you can see what appears to be merchandise, t-shirts and a few dress shirts, in the front room open to the street.

The gardener and his wife are often visible in the inner room which is partly visible. This type of retail/residential architecture is very Tokyo mid-century, and there are examples in many neighborhoods of former shop owners living in these spaces, some with remnants of their former businesses.

What I love about this sidewalk garden is the gardener’s obvious care and attention to creating a display of many plants. Nearly all of the pots rests on stools or low tables, with the highest ones closest to the road and the lower ones facing pedestrians on the sidewalk.

I am also amazed that the plants are all labeled, even the most obvious ones such as “rose” (バラ). I asked the older man why he labeled them, and he said that people often ask him and he doesn’t always remember the plant name.

The other amazing thing about the garden is just how big it is. There is easily more than one hundred plants. In addition to cover five meters or more in front of his building and his neighbors, he also expanded to an equally large area across the street. He is often outside watering and taking care of the plants.

I admire this gardener’s love for plants, his colonizing public space, and adding beauty in a crowded neighborhood.

Okusawa shrine in Jiyugaoka

Leaving Sinajina bonsai shop in Jiyugaoka, I stopped recently at Okusawa shrine. Jiyugaoka is a very pleasant residential neighborhood, with many free-standing houses and gardens.

This shrine is an incredibly peaceful and magical oasis: mature trees, a beautiful structure, and, apart from the two friends I was with, not a person was visible. It amazes me that beautiful green spaces in Tokyo can be open to the public without guards or attendants, and still remain pristine and inviting.

Why are neighborhood parks so sad?

Why are neighborhood parks so sad?

I am struck by how poorly maintained and under-used many of the residential neighborhood parks are. This one, close to where I live, is large, has many mature trees facing the street, and has almost no usage. To call it uninviting and unloved would be an understatement.

Why are neighborhood parks so sad?

The street side is almost promising. There is a long row of mature trees and a community bulletin board. Next to the bulletin board, and also on the far end of the park, are designated areas to leave your trash. Unfortunately, there is no receptacle for the bagged garbage, so crows and cats pick through the bags and the contents start to disperse.

Why are neighborhood parks so sad?

The entrance to the park reveals vast areas of gravel, unplanted beds, and few amenities or attractions. The size of the park only underscores the waste of so much public space going unused. Given how avidly neighbors tend to their tiny gardens and occupy small strips of public space, why are local governments unable to harness this human resource for beautifying and maintaining public space?

I can imagine many other uses for the park: community vegetable gardens, flower contests, rice field, bee hives, food stand, children’s play area, public art-making space. Given limits to local government budgets, maybe there would be a way to attract corporate sponsors and neighborhood volunteers. If more people were attracted to enter the park, I am sure it would be cleaner and more inviting.

After the jump is a photo inventory of the current park assets, mostly aging structures with a surprising amount of trash. During my visit I noticed a small garden crew and two people on a bench.

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