Uniformity and order can be even more stylized in Tokyo human environments than gardens. How is it that every passenger in this frame is a man in a black suit? Can that small screen transport us somewhere more magical and more vivid than our surroundings?
I took both of these photos on 86th Street near Lexington. This sidewalk fruit stand, an elderly customer and her home health aide, seems very iconic of New York City in the summer.
Below on the subway platform, I like how well put together the ladies in early summer, before the heat and humidity take their toll. The contrast between their careful appearances and the decades of subway grime is also very New York City.
Leap Day in Tokyo saw a surprising amount of snow, falling in large gobs from the sky and from roofs. Someone tipped me off that the trains are less impacted than the underground subway, and that snow slows the city less than rain. I took photos of a routine trip from my home.
The snow helped me see Tokyo again from a fresh perspective.
It’s hard for people outside Tokyo to imagine what using Tokyo transit is like. The busiest station, Shinjuku station, handles over 2.5 million users per day, more than any other station in the world. And, yes, early morning rush hour and the last trains around midnight are not comfortable. This photo is from 10:23 am on a Saturday morning in the Marunouchi line, and you can see that the train is quite full.
What does it feel like to be surrounded by so many people on your way to work, school, errands, or fun? Office workers, school children, families, construction workers, teens, dogs in bags, babies, elderly people. I find it exhilarating, intimate, and educational. Mostly people pretend they are in their own space and do not look directly at others. Courtesies include taking children’s shoes off before letting them stand on the cushioned seats, and drying umbrellas to keep the train clean.
Many people hide behind earphones, portable game players, comics and books. Others are sleeping. Yet there is no mistaking that you are in a shared space, one person among masses going about their lives. If you keep your eyes open, you can sense that others are also quietly observing. Taking the train is a good way to get out of your own head space, and sense other people’s moods, fashions, and presence.
I was delighted to see these nanohana (菜の花, or rapeseed) flowers in a subway display promoting rail trips to Izu, a subtropical peninsula a few hours from Tokyo. Rapeseed can be eaten like brocoli, used to make canola oil, or planted as a winter cover crop to improve soil quality. It is clever to promote rail trips to the countryside by bringing a bit of nature into the subterranean tunnels of heavily trafficked Shibuya station.
Why is the entrance to Roppongi Hills so ugly and uninviting?
Every time I walk from the subway into Roppongi Hills I am shocked at the extremely ugly first view of this mega-complex. In addition to the elevated freeway, pedestrians are greeted by this horrendous, wide, astroturf-covered dead space in front of Roppongi Hills North Tower.
How could this make people want to enter Banana Republic? And what does this say about Mori Building’s vision for integrating their properties into their neighborhoods and communities? I feel that this forgotten and dirty space implies that the real landscape only begins at the podium level and that the North Tower is not of equal status to the rest of the complex, despite being in the front. It’s as if they imagine that their important customers enter the complex only by car.
This lack of respect for pedestrians, neighbors, and context is completely unnecessary. The smallest gesture would improve this space and make it more inviting and alive. If Mori Building reads this post, I hope they will consider improving this entryway to their otherwise well landscaped property. If anything, improving the entrance might also provide an opportunity to consider how to extend their landscape ideas further out into the neighborhood, creating connections with other shops and residents, and building a larger and healthier eco-system that would benefit Mori and their neighborhood.
Last night I attended the last Pecha Kucha Tokyo of the zeros decade, one block west of Roppongi Hills, and remembered that I had taken this photo weeks ago. Each time I am shocked as if for the first time. Outside of the expensive office towers and glittering malls, I wonder how such an ugly neighborhood can be attractive to multinational companies and foreign ex-pats.
Recently I was going into the Tokyo Metro station not far from my house, and I noticed a young woman spraying these blooming sunflowers. She explained she was killing bugs, and that she worked at the hair salon on the other side of this very random looking planting bed.
I was very charmed that this young woman had claimed ownership of this informal planting bed. Based on the strange mix of plants, it is clear that it is the repository of many people’s different efforts over the years. The hardiest plants seem to have survived.
I am sure the hair stylist enjoys getting out of the shop, and the effect of her care is a piece of natural street beauty at the intersection of a dense residential neighborhood and the transit system that animates the city.
Several months ago Marui opened up another department store in Shinjuku san chome, along with at least three other existing ones and retail competition that includes Isetan’s flagship across the street. It is interesting that one of its defining design themes is green space. If you arrive by Tokyo Metro, you can see strips of living plant walls in the underground passageway.
At the street level, Marui created large gardens more than a meter wide along the sidewalk with trees, bushes and grasses. This provides an unexpected burst of plant life in an area otherwise paved and overflowing with signage and people.
Marui even uses low light plants in indoor merchandising. It feels like a coherent and unique brand identity extending from outside to inside the retail space. Unfortunately some of the indoor “plants” are plastic, including faux vines above the first floor selling area, but not everyone notices.
In the photo above you can see how the subway level green wall is a modular system, allowing easy replacement of plants. It’s great to see a retail company standing out by providing plants and gardens to passer-bys as well as shoppers.