Layers of auto traffic rush towards Shibuya station. Has any global city maintained its aging urban auto infrastructure as thoroughly as Tokyo? Planning wise, Tokyo today can feel like it’s reliving the 1960s, as if nothing has changed in terms of mobility, urban design, and creating maximum value in dense cities.
Below the overpasses, bicycle parking, the rear end of office buildings, signs for Slot Club and other shops, runs what remains of the Shibuya river. Rivers and ports traditionally animate cities, allowing for trade, transportation, and food. In Shibuya, it’s easy to think there is no river at all. What a wasted opportunity.
Because of this parking lot, the result of another building torn down, you can see into the back garden of a Showa house in Shibuya, not far from NHK’s headquarters. The two story house is the last remnant of the older neighborhood that was replaced starting in the 1970s with taller, mixed use buildings. I’m glad this early blooming cherry tree has survived until now. It was a pleasant surprise after a Barbados lunch with @a_small_lab and @jessmantell.
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.
Recently I have been drinking coffee at Bear Pond on the street that connects Miyashita Park and Aoyama. On these hot days, it’s great to look up and see a vertical forest on this 10 story mid-rise that combines retail, gallery, and office space. It’s easy to miss this from Meiji Dori, but you can see it easily from the Bear Pond coffee shop. it must be great to work surrounded by thick trees and natural light. It also looks like you can walk between the top three levels.
A furin is a glass wind chime whose sound Japanese find cooling in summer; something about glass and metal striking. I was amazed to see this domestic symbol, along with a white chandelier (below), decorating two homes in this long row of wood and blue tarp cubes sheltering the homeless. (The furin is just to the right of the rolled up bamboo used to screen door).
I am struck by how incredibly orderly these living structures are, and how on a warm day when you gaze inside, the homes seem orderly and common place: tidy kitchens, matt floors, shelves and storage, on a scale just slightly smaller than what most Tokyo-ites live in.
This long alley of make-shift homes is just below Miyashita Park that paces the Yamanote line for a fe blocks. It’s just past Nonbei Yokocho and near the center of Shibuya. There was controversy over gentrification and corporate funding for city resources when the city accepted Nike sponsorship to renovate the park with design by Atelier Bow Wow. It seems the homeless merely migrated to the area just below the fenced-in skate park and fusball court.
Now it is a typically Tokyo close juxtaposition of semi-public and vacant space, design and non-design, and living, sports, drinking, and parking spaces.
Many parts of Tokyo seem perversely devoid of tree canopy. That’s why I was thrilled to see this very public sign on a chestnut tree (shiinoki or シイノキ) in Shibuya ward. The tree sits at the back of the Naganuma School for Japanese study, in an area where large office buildings and residences are still being constructed. In almost every urban construction site, the prior landscape is scraped.
I am not sure how much protection this sign offers the tree, but it’s good to know that the city is aware of the value of mature trees, and that passers-by will see the sign and wonder where the other trees went.
Rainy season propels city weeds, and signals the start of our jungle-like summer.
Dandelion and dokudami, Shibuya. Related: see previous post about dokudami weed, and reader comments about edible versions in Vietnam.
Between the new Miyashita park and Shibuya station, I came across this lovely alley called Nonbei Yokocho, full of tiny bars. Maybe because it’s next to the train tracks, a marginal urban space, this collection of old houses built before or just after the war have survived. I love the weeping willows, the lanterns, and the reminder of Shibuya’s earlier incarnations.
I bike to school on Yamate Dori, one of Tokyo’s modern ring roads. It’s currently under construction and rather ugly: a freeway underground, a 6 lane road on the surface, sidewalks torn up, new and mostly undistinguishable apartment buildings. On this ride from Nakano to Shibuya, one of the highlights is glimpsing the stairs leading up to this tree-filled shrine. I stopped and found out that it is Yoyogi-Hachiman shrine. I haven’t made it up the stairs yet, but it beckons as an inviting escape from the more functional, profane city racing by it.
I have seen some lovely roses walking in Tokyo recently. The red one above is from the border between Sakuragaoka 桜丘町 and Uguisudani 鶯谷町, a leafy upscale neighborhood ten minutes from the world famous Shibuya pedestrian crossing (called scramble, スクランブル in Japanese). I like how this red rose has escaped a private garden and is now attaching itself to the street mirror meant to prevent collisions.
The yellow rose is from a house in Nakano, near a pedestrian walkway built on an old creek. I wish all roses had fragrance, but whenever you see roses, it is hard not to feel cheerful.
Since I have been taking an intensive Japanese language course in Shibuya, I have gotten to explore some of the back areas of Shibuya. Away from the massive crossing that is world famous (called a “scramble” in Japanese), and away from the crazy teen fashion, Shibuya is full of offices and even quiet residential neighborhoods.
I often pass the front of this bland and typical office tower. Recently, I was walking in the back alley, and realized that the entire rear facade is planted. I’ll have to go back some more to see if the wall of green grows thicker. It seems like a simple yet impressive structure for transforming the dead vertical space, and providing a beautiful garden for the office workers and neighbors. Well done!