This is the view from one end of our narrow balcony to the other, facing east towards Shinjuku. The twin towers are the Tokyo Metropolitan Government buildings, and to the right is the Park Hyatt hotel from the movie Lost in Translation. In the foreground is the fig tree, a new addition this summer.
This year the plantings on the balcony seem extra thick. The twin towers in the distance are the offices of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
I like this night view of the Salvia Maru (さるびあ丸) ship that goes from Tokyo to the distant islands administered by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, including Oshima off the Izu peninsula and Ogaswara, which is a 25 hour trip by boat with no airplane service. This boat looks kind of small for traveling in the Pacific Ocean, doesn’t it? At the Hamamatsucho pier.
Recently I am taking a lot of film photos, and recently I bought a macro lens which allows me to focus on specific elements of the jungle that my balcony is becoming. This is Okinawa morning glory, the mainstay of our green curtain.
In the background you can see the twin towers of Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the Hyatt hotel from Lost in Translation, and the Opera City building. The last building always makes me laugh because the Japanese pronunciation is “opera shitty.”
Commonly called Japanese bayberry, this fruit tree near Tokyo Metropolitan Government was full of yamamomo fruits. This tree is apparently often planted along roads and in parks. I love how the fruit is at once edible and very ornamental.
This giant origami mural celebrates Shinjuku station’s 125th anniversary. Tokyo boasts many mega-stations, including Tokyo Station, Shibuya, Shinagawa, and Ikebukuro. Yet Shinjuku station is the most used station in the world, with an estimated 3.4 million daily riders on train lines operated by five different rail companies.
I love how the anniversary is commemorated with this origami art work composed of thousands of cranes. The images chosen are iconic for Tokyo: Mount Fuji, a cherry tree, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s twin high-rise from the 1980s, and a rainbow. The only thing missing is the station itself; however, with no main entrance, the station is less a destination than a passageway to other places.
Recently in San Francisco, my friend told me about his rapid transit station’s 40,000 riders, which is a significant number. That figure is just over 1% of Shinjuku’s traffic. It is impossible to overstate the role of trains in making Tokyo function as an efficient and low carbon city.
This past weekend was the International Federation of Landscape Architects World Congress in Suzhou, China. My co-author Matthew Puntigam traveled there with professors and graduate students of the Tokyo University of Agriculture, and he presented our paper co-written with Professor Suzuki Makoto.
The Kanda River connects many residential, commercial, and downtown neighborhoods before emptying into the Sumida River. We looked at the past, present and possible future of what is the longest river that originates within Tokyo. The biodiversity potential is significant: in one small section of Tokyo’s Kanda river, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s 2001 survey documented 260 plant species, 42 riverbed species, 9 types of fish, 291 types of insects, 30 bird species, 2 reptiles species, and 3 mammal species.
You can download a PDF of our paper, Biodiversity and New Urbanism in Tokyo: The Role of the Kanda River (6 MB). Your comments and questions are most welcome.
Green cities, where the urban forest replaces concrete slabs, are receiving new support from city governments and corporations. The Tokyo Municipal Government announced many exciting green city initiatives starting in 2006 in a ten year plan for transforming the city in its bid for the 2016 Olympics. Other motivations include climate change, heat island effect, energy efficiency, and tourism.
Japanese governments and corporations are begining to promote their leadership in green cities for a global audience. It is a pleasure to see Hitachi, a sponsor of Tokyo Green Space, promoting environmental diplomacy in China. Under Hitachi’s China Energy Conservation and Environment Commercialization Promotion, Hitachi activities include sharing water treatment technologies with Sichuan University and hosting an “eco-cities” conference with Chinese government organizations and corporations.
Hitachi CEO Kawamura Takashi is backing an unprecedented 2025 Environmental Vision in which Hitachi products will reduce global CO2 emissions by 100 million tons. This ambitious vision seeks a 50% reduction from 2000 levels. And to provide a concrete idea of the size of this committment, Hitachi explains that eliminating 100 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions would require a new cedar forest of 130,000 square kilometers, or one third the size of all of Japan.
Hitachi’s bold plans suggest that reversing climate change is not a charitable gesture but essential to its business success in a global marketplace. Rather than seeing trade-offs, Hitachi envisions “harmonious coexistence of environmental preservation and economic growth.”
Efforts to reduce carbon dioxide and promote the environment must of necessity focus on cities. According to the United Nations Population Fund, in 2008 more than half the world’s population, 3.3 billion, were living in cities. If the 20th century saw urban global populations rise from 220 million to 2.8 billion, the rate is now only increasing. By 2030, almost 5 billion people will be living in urban areas, with the largest growth rates in Africa and Asia. The UNPF estimates that in 2030, more than 80% of urban residents will be in the developing world.
If designed well, the city of the future promises to be most sustainable environment for the world’s population. It is exciting to see how Japan, with its 30+ years in energy efficiency and bold new ideas, is becoming a global leader in smart growth, technology and the environment.
What if an urban forest is being built in Tokyo and no one knows?
In the past weeks, I have met with a Tokyo Metropolitan planner, the Mori Building press department, a foreign real estate developer, a University of Tokyo environmental scientist, a clean energy entrepreneur, and a visiting artist-in-residence working on urban farming. In the next days, I’ll also be meeting with a Tokyo architect and a senior Hitachi representative.
At this early stage in my project, one thing that has become clear is how little known some of Tokyo’s most innovative projects are among real estate professionals, cultural leaders and ordinary citizens. I have been surprised how few people in Tokyo know about Ando Tadao’s plan to create a forest in the sea, called Umi no mori, with half a million trees built over 88 hectares of landfill in the Tokyo bay.
Initiated in 2007 as part of the ten year plan to re-make the city in part to compete for the 2016 Olympics, this Sea Forest project aims to clean the city’s air, reduce the heat island effect, involve elementary school children, and provide cool breezes throughout the city in summer.
The land is built on top of 12.3 million tons of municipal waste buried from 1973 to 1987, topped with alternating layers of refuse and cover soil, originating at no cost from water purification plants, sewage sludge, city park and street tree compost.
There are also ambitious plans to involve elementary school children with growing seedlings and planting them in the new forest.
And here’s Tado Ando’s inspiring message about this project’s importance for Tokyo and the world’s connection with the environment:
Umi-no-Mori ( Sea Forest) will become a symbol of our recycling-oriented society through which Japan, a country that has a tradition of living hand-in-hand with nature, can make an appeal to the world about the importance of living in harmony with the environment. In view of the fact that landfills exist in all corners of the world, I perceive this island as a forest that belongs not just to Tokyo, but to the world, and through this project, wish to communicate the message of “living in harmony with nature.”
Perhaps the Tokyo government does not want to spend too much money on publicizing their activities, with the idea that it’s better to act than talk. However, this enormous public work project seems like a great opportunity to educate Tokyo residents and the world about the positive activities city governments are taking on behalf of people and the environment.