Recently I conducted a kids art workshop at Shibaura’s public elementary school. The free event was organized by Mitsui Fudosan, Recruit, and Neighbors Meeting, which printed this cool map of Shibaura. We asked kids to draw an animal or plant and add it to the map.
There were several surprises. Many of the kids who participated were two to four years old. They loved the coloring book of land and sea creatures created by Shu Kuge. On the Shibaura map, the kids were drawn to the water, both Tokyo Bay and the canals, as well as to the existing parks. One kid made his own Tokyo Tower and folded it so that it would stand vertically.
The other surprise is that kids still enjoy coloring and drawing. The event was billed as a celebration of future city, and our workshop competed for attention with a very cool pedal powered, ride-on-top shinkansen, a 3D printer, solar-powered remote control cars, and iPad games.
In August, I began working with Mitsui Real Estate, Recruit, and a small NGO to introduce a new luxury high-rise residential tower in Shibaura, a less known waterfront area between Shinagawa and Hamamatsucho. It’s near where the base of Rainbow Bridge is located.
In this online interview (in Japanese) and in real estate brochures distributed around Tokyo, I relate my experience working in the neighborhood at Shibaura House, where I led gardening and fieldwork workshops for locals and international visitors, adults and small children.
The new tower, which is just now breaking ground, contributes to the restoration of Edo-era canals by creating a public waterfront park. This park contributes to the developer’s goal of creating a resilient community that includes new and existing residents. Providing greater access to the waterfront also restores a vital part of Tokyo’s history that was neglected in the 20th century.
The Bauhaus-like architectural simplicity and the decorative ceramic tiles mark this commercial building as product of postwar industry and trade, long before the excess of the Bubble. It’s lovely to see maritime companies that have done business for decades still exist along Tokyo’s waterfront.
A few people did a double take when they spotted tanuki taking a nap in the small wild space in front of Shibaura House. Tanuki shows how his 4 meter scrotal shade can quickly be turned into a blanket for anytime napping.
Below he approaches a glass office tower, but there’s no response. Nearby office workers avoided eye contact, but delivery men and laborers were happy to accept an umaibo salty snack and chat with tanuki.
More photos coming from the film developer soon. Many thanks to A Small Lab‘s Chris and everyone at Shibaura House.
On a hot day, tanuki offered shade to office workers, shared salty snacks with laborers, and interacted with children. Tanuki brought surprise and wonder. Many people, including elementary school students, kept a safe distance from this foreign element. Photo above from Shibaura House’s Facebook.
At Shibaura. In the background, between the freeway sandwich, you can see a small illuminated detail of Rainbow Bridge.
By day, Tokyo’s waterfront is often underwhelming visually: a mix of port shipping, older buildings that routinely turned their backs to what used to be polluted water, and new luxury high rises. By night, the water sparkles, and the city is far more seductive.
I love how this flood gate on the Shibaura canal has a giant cartoon fish. When the gate is lowered, the painted fish descends to join the real fish in the canal. I wonder why his heading is facing up. Maybe he doesn’t want to leave the city’s bright lights just yet.
I like how this flower and plant shop occupies this empty lot on a Shibaura side street. It’s also nice to see that others use their bikes for plant shopping.
On my third trip to Shibaura, I discovered that there is one canal that provides wonderful, up-close access to water. It’s the first canal when entering from the JR Yamanote station. There’s even paths below the bridges and just above the water. On a drizzly afternoon, it was magical to be below the roadway.
Most of Tokyo’s rivers are buried, and the few remaining ones, including much of the Kanda and Zenpukuji rivers, are channeled 10 meters below street level to manage flooding. Sometimes I hear ducks echoing in these canyons, but the distance between people and water is a missed opportunity.
At the Shibaura canal, I found a tiny canal opening that seems to do pre-date the more recent developments. I like the old stones at the entrance. All that’s missing from this canal is space to get your feet wet, or even go in for a swim.
Called the Kyodo Kaikan, and built in 1936, this wood story house that once was a geisha meeting house is now closed, possibly because of damage from last year’s earthquake. It still looks elegant.
I love how this mature garden is growing in soup pots on the sidewalk in Shibaura.
I have no idea why this huge pipe crosses the canal and enters the small two story house. How this house survived all the redevelopment, what is being piped in or through the house, and is the foundation as make-shift as it appears? I wonder if it has anything to do with all the nearby sewage and storm water treatment plants.
Just under the enormous circular ramp leading to Rainbow Bridge and Odaiba is a gigantic tower of cement. I guess there are enough construction projects to justify a waterfront cement operation.
These two photos show the different scales of homes and enterprises in Shibaura. They make me curious to explore more.
We snuck behind some buildings to gain furtive access to the canal. It’s too bad that Shibaura’s many canals cannot be easily accessed. Once by the water, we saw decayed structures and ample garbage.
Last month Australia’s smlwrld‘s Bianca and Lucas invited me to go with them on a walking adventure in Shibaura. They took some great photos and wrote up a post calling Shibaura “an infrastructure theme park.”
I’d only been once before, drawn to see the new cultural space Shibaura House. This second time, in addition to stopping back at Shibaura House, we explored the neighborhood and were stunned by the mix of uses being made of these small man-made islands criss-crossed with canals.
There are many water works facilities, a giant incinerator, docks for shipping and at least one re-purposed warehouse named Tabloid, offices from the 70s and 80s, newer apartment towers, industrial buildings, a cement factory, elevated monorail, and the base of the Rainbow Bridge. The top photo shows party boats and a fishing boat, alongside offices and residences.
The water works facilities include sludge, sewage, treatment, and pumping. It seems like most of Tokyo’s plumbing ends up being processed and then released into Tokyo Bay in Shibaura. It’s something to think of when using a sink or toilet, or imagining what happens to the sewers during a heavy rainstorm. Below is a map showing five water work facilities.
I like how on this very official map, someone has written “これ？” (here?) with an arrow pointing to the giant round entrance ramp to Rainbow Bridge. I’ll post more photos in the coming days from this walk.