Sinajina

Gave my bonsai a minor haircut

品品のクラスで、ぼくが作ったカエデの盆栽を剪定しました。元気そうです。そして、苔の花が咲いています。秋の準備ができています。

I gave a minor trim to the kaede maple bonsai I made at Sinajina. It looks healthy. And the moss is even blooming. It’s now ready for fall.

Small flowerpots at Shiho student ceramic show

私の作った小さい植木鉢が史火陶芸教室の生徒展に出されます。砂の「化粧」をしてます。見に来てください。

Come see my small flowerpots at Shiho ceramic studio’s student exhibition. They are wearing makeup!

This is my third Shiho ceramic studio student art exhibit. This year I created four small flowerpots with saucers, and my friend Matthew Puntigam helped me with planting them. We used mostly succulents, an ornamental cabbage, and pansies to complement the design and signal the season. Matthew did an excellent job with plant composition, placement, and ornamental sand and rocks. He told me that Sinajina‘s Kobyashi sensei refers to the decorative sand and rocks as plant “makeup” (化粧).

The student exhibit is from today through Wednesday (Nov 20 to Nov 24) in Nishi Ogikubo. Please see the last image for a map. It’s three minutes walk south from the train station. If you’re planning on attending, please email or call me since I can’t be there during all the opening hours.

Balcony garden update

I took this photo a month ago, and our balcony garden is now even more lush. It’s amazing how much incredible heat and daily watering can increase bio-mass!

It’s amazing what you can fit in a sunny narrow space. I have six mini-watermelons ripening on the railing and green net, three Saipan lemons, two types of morning glory, the 5bai midori satoyama boxes bushing out, cucumbers still flowering and creating fast food, and some random flowers including mini-sunflowers, abutilon, and Suntory hybrids ミリオンベル (million bell) and アズーロコンパクト. Plus there’s basil, parsley, and thyme, all of which I put into my bolognese pasta lunch today.

The floor area is full with just enough room to walk through for watering. The vertical space is about half full with the net and some additional twine. I like how the old washing machine is nearly hidden by plants.

Some failures included corn, with tiny ears that formed and then turned brown. The rose which was so outrageously pumped up when purchased has hardly bloomed since. The incredible heat this month killed my first bonsai, a Japanese maple (もみじ) in a tiny pot.

Some surprises included the late growing bitter melon (ゴーヤー) now shooting up. I planted last year’s seed in April, and it hardly grew until about three weeks ago. Now it’s two meters tall, and perhaps will produce a few vegetables before typhoon season. Bitter melon tastes great with ground pork!

My friend Matthew, who now works at Sinajina, pruned my pine bonsai. Apparently now is the time to start thinking about shaping it and preparing it to look its most beautiful for the new year. I wonder how to keep my tiny garden green during winter.

Gorgeous giant moss at tree base in Sinajina

Sinajina, the modern bonsai shop in Jiyugaoka, always has beautiful small bonsai inside with a focus on seasonal plants and flowers. Outside the shop, there are always rows and rows of plants that can be used for bonsais or landscaping. There are also some larger plants, like the tree above that is growing out of a giant mound of moss.

Sinajina always has amazing moss, and Kobayashi Kenji sensei and his staff are very skilled at combining the moss to look like a single piece. The moss is always gorgeous in the small bonsai, but this large one is spectacular.

Below is a shot of some of the unstaged inventory, including a pine with a miniature rope sculpture like the ones used in winter to prevent damage from snow that are typical in traditional Japanese gardens.

Making bonsai at Sinajina with Kobayashi Kenji sensei

Recently I had the pleasure of attending my second bonsai-making class with Kobayashi Kenji sensei at Sinajina. While last fall’s class focused on black pine, this time we made a miniature landscape with three gangly deciduous shrubs (Nanking nanakama) and a small flowering astilbe (tannachidakesashi). At the base, we added moss and gravel.

I like how this small combination includes different heights and forms, flowers, and leaves that turn color and drop in the fall. It should be fun to take care of it in different seasons. In addition to TEDxSeeds organizers, the class also included three sisters from Tochigi who come to five classes every year. They clearly were more advanced than us beginners!

I highly encourage anyone to take a class at Sinajina. They are offered several times per month. For basically the cost of the plant (about US $70 or 6,500 yen), you not only leave with a bonsai you have made yourself, but you also learn from Kobayashi sensei about the plants, how to arrange them, and his passion about how people and plants can live together. For now, classes are in Japanese, but recently Kobayashi sensei hired a bilingual American and may soon offer classes in English.

Rose and mountain hydrangea bonsai at Sinajina

I have had the pleasure of visiting Sinajina three times in the past three weeks: to talk with Kobayashi sensei about a project with the Portland Japanese Garden, to take a class with TEDxSeeds organizers, and to visit with my Newsweek Japan editor. In every visit, the store is set up differently, and the most seasonal bonsai are most prominently displayed.

Last weekend, the rose and mountain hydrangea perfectly capture the turning of the season from late spring to early summer. These bonsai are perfect in shape, buds just opening, and contrast with pot, gravel, and moss.

I also like the contrast between these plants and the hollyhocks I featured yesterday. All of them are seasonal flowers, yet they differ in scale and degree of human care. I like to think that urban nature extends from the wild and unruly to the groomed and domesticated.

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.

Bonsai shadow

Taking care of bonsai trees makes you pay more attention to details. I love how this tiny Japanese maple’s shadow accentuates its twisty, thin trunk. I am thinking about how best to prune it once the leaves get bigger. I don’t want it to get too tall or too full around the length of the trunk. This is my first bonsai, purchased last summer at Sinajina. There’s an older post of its fall foliage.

Train bento: A Japanese treat, with organic rice

Last weekend I went to Suwa in Nagano with Kobayashi sensei of Sinajina for the famous, once every six years onbashira festival.

Over two months, the residents of Suwa select enormous trees growing on top of the mountain ridge, cut them and transport them down the hills by dragging them with rope, race down a hill sitting on the logs, and eventually lift them up at several important shrines (while people stand on top of them, I guess, to make it more difficult, heavy and dangerous).

Onbashira is a very pleasant mix of animism, forestry and virility. More on the ceremony later.

But, first, the first joy of taking any trip in Japan is buying a bento at the station. There is an incredible variety, priced from about 500 yen to 1,500 yen. Each comes beautifully wrapped in a box, with fantastic graphic design. You can see some cool typography, artistic mountains and trains, a space shuttle, a pokemon, and cherry blossoms.

I chose the spring special, decorated with sakura petals. Inside I was delighted to find over twenty different foods, including takenoko (bamboo shoots).

Even more remarkable, my box came with a photo and description of the organic rice farmers.

And lastly here’s the purple-striped beauty that got us to the Suwa lake in just two hours from Shinjuku.

Fall foliage in bonsai

Suddenly the ten or so leaves on our maple bonsai have turned red. The leaves are a rust shade, and the stems cherry red. Soon the little tree, bought at Sinajina during the summer, will be bare for the winter. Just a week ago, the tree was just starting to turn red, in the stems and in flecks on the leaves.

Sodateck brings indoor growing to Japan

My friend Endo Masahiro’s Sodateck has developed a combination LED and fluorescent grow light system for Japan. By combining the two light sources, Sodateck offers an optimal spectrum for plants. I like how his product catalog, in print and web, shows indoor gardening in a very contemporary setting: edibles and decorative plants in a chic wood and stone house with bicycles and other signifiers of modern style and living.

Based in Tokushima, Shikoku, he recently exhibited his indoor gardening system at the Gardex (International Garden Expo Tokyo). It was great to see the full range of what he is creating.

The systems are very elegant: brushed steel with two buttons, one for each light source type. Endo-san also brought some of his indoor plant creations, including modern bonsais like this moss on black stone tray. It seems clear that Endo-san is influenced by his friendship with modern bonsai master Kobayashi Kenji (小林健二) of Sinajina (品品).

Click the link below to see some more photos of his products, including hydroponic systems with his business partner Yakumo Trading.

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Inujima: Reclaiming the Past to Envision the Future

Inujima: Reclaiming the Past to Envision the Future

In spring the sustainability director of ARUP showed me the incredible designs for Inujima Art Project, and I had known immediately that I wanted to visit and see it for myself. In an earlier post, I discussed its zero energy use through a creative natural cooling, heating and lighting system, and its wastewater recycling program.

Also listed was the the architecture by Sambuichi Hiroshi, art by Yanagi Yukinori using elements from Mishima Yukio’s house and writings, and the benefactor Fukutake Soichiro, Benesse‘s owner and the creator of nearby Naoshima, another island in the Seto Inland Sea.

Inujima: Ruins and Forest

Visiting Inujima on a beautiful fall day in October and spending the night in a school house closed many years ago and converted into a hostel was an incredible experience combining nature, recent history, art, and questions about Japan’s industrial past and its 21st century future.

Inujima: Reclaiming the Past to Envision the Future

Inujima in the early 20th century was a small island with over 3,000 inhabitants in the early 20th century. In a brief period of ten years, Inujima was the site of a massive seirenshou, or copper refinery, placed in the Seto Inland Sea to keep the intense pollution away from Japan’s population centers. With the collapse of copper prices after only ten years, the refinery closed and the island entered a long period of decline.

Inujima: Reclaiming the Past to Envision the Future

Today there are approximately 50 residents, with an average age of 70 or more. The chimney built just before the refinery closed now serves as an integral part of the zero emissions temperature system in the new museum structure. Earlier chimneys had less structural integrity, and large parts of the refinery, including its original power station, are now being reclaimed by thick forest.

After the jump, a discussion of the art work and the island today.

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Balcony garden in early November

Balcony garden view of Mt Fuji

With cooler nights, fall is definitely upon us. I took these photos in the first week of November to document the passing of the seasons on our balcony garden. Above a dramatic sunset over Mt Fuji illuminates the very end of the morning glory green curtain. As you can see in the photo below, there are still many flowers, including cosmos, murasaki shikibu, cyclamen, geranium, fujibakama, a creamy daisy, and a few other annuals.

Balcony garden in early November

One of the satoyama unit‘s plant is flowering now, while some of the deciduous plants are dropping their leaves.

Blossom on satoyama unit from 5bai midori

The black pine bonsai I assembled at Kobayashi Kenji Sensei’s class at Sinajina is doing well.

black pine bonsai from Kobayashi Kenji Sensei's class at Sinajina

And we put the ojizō-sama made at the ceramic studio into one of the satoyama units.

Ojizō-sama in satoyama unit

More photos of fall plants, including lemon tree, ceramics, and more images of the satoyama units after the jump.

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Two young Nodai alumni

Suzuki Hokuto Nodai alum makes traditional gardeners' clothes

During the Tokyo University of Agriculture’s fall festival, the Garden Design Lab of the Landscape Architect Sciences department hosted a reunion for alumni under 35. I met two fascinating alumni who had studied at Nodai in the late 1990s. Alumnus Suzuki Hokuto (鈴木北斗), has a shop called Kyouen Store that sells traditional Japanese gardeners’ clothes and supplies, made of denim and using a special dye that repels mosquitos. There are even cool explanations of the different components, including tabi, kyahan, jyouba, harakake, momohiki, koikuchi, and tekkou. The site is in Japanese but the photos give you a good idea of what the clothes look like. The photo above is jyouba and below tekkou, which I have seen Kobayashi Kenji Sensei of Sinajina use. His landscape design firm is Kyouen.

Suzuki Hokuto's tekkou at Kyouen Store

I also met  Satou Koutarou (佐藤光太朗), who has a landscape business Iloha 1128 and also creates art from unbaked soil. It seems related to ceramics but somehow is not fired. He has a cool blog, and a gallery of his art work.

Satou Koutarou art gallery

Preparing plants for New Year’s celebration

Sinajina class: Preparing plants for New Year's celebration

Recently I had the pleasure of taking Kobayashi Kenji’s modern bonsai class at Sinajina. In addition to making my own miniature landscape with a black pine, rock and moss, I learned that gardening in October is focused on making plants beautiful for New Year’s celebrations and guests.

The class used eight year old black pine trees. First we removed all the old, longer pine needles by hand and with tweezers. We removed nearly all the old soil to replace it with a fresh mix that includes volcanic rock and to expose some of the oldest roots at the base of the trunk. Then, we examined the tree to identify its “face” and position the tree in its new pot. Finally we added moss– in my case a taller hill that passes underneath one of the roots and a lower meadow– and small rocks.

Pruned red pine in residential garden, preparing for New Year

Careful attention to form and style is clearly something that extends from miniature landscapes to residential garden landscapes. I am sure that many home-owners and gardeners are pruning their trees now to make sure that they are spectacular at New Year.

I also learned how to distinguish between black pine and red pine. Black pine needles are hard, unbending and sharp, while red pine needles are much softer to touch. Only when fully mature do red pine trees exhibit the bright red trunk that also distinguishes them. Black pine trees are mostly found near the sea, whereas red pine trees grow in the mountains.

Kobayashi Kenji at Sinajina class

Kobayashi sensei continues to be an inspiring guide to plants in urban life. In his anthropomorphism, plants become more human, and humans more embedded in nature. Plants are like people, he explains, in that they require most care during their first year, including more water. Once domesticated, plants cannot be returned to the wild since they have lost their survival skills and require continued human care.