These gentlemen look like they’ve participated in the Asakusa sanja matsuri many times before. They seem very much at home in Tokyo’s shitamachi, known for its traditional, Edo-influenced culture.
I love Tokyo when festivals bring neighbors into the street carrying portable shrines; eating, drinking and dancing on streets closed to traffic; and wearing traditional outfits. In May I went to Sanja matsuri in Asakusa as well as a festival at Hanazono shrine in Shinjuku.
Here is the new year’s decoration (shimekazari) I created at Shiho studio for our front door. Although there’s a common look to commercial ones, including these at Muji, there’s a lot of variety in terms of shape and materials.
Below is Kuge sensei’s lovely arrangement at the entrance to her studio. The tiny black ball with three colorful petals is a traditional toy played with a badminton-like shuttlecock. Longtime Shiho studio student Hagiwara-san led the workshop and provided these amazing materials, including red berries, pine, paper, and seed pods.
This rice stalk skirt is a beautiful and seasonal Japanese garden craft. The intent is to naturally attract and remove harmful insects, although now it seems that some famous gardens no longer use it because it traps both harmful and beneficial insects.
Recently I brought 28 participants of the Dutch-Tokyo Still City workshop on “post-growth” urban life to Hamarikyu garden. This photo captures the simultaneity of activities inside and outside the garden: Edo-style pruning of pine trees, city dwellers enjoying traditional tea, port and luxury housing structures, even an incinerator chimney.
I like how unlike the “forest” house and its bare stucco neighbor are. Across the street are a few traditional Japanese gardens. At the end of the road is the new, supposedly sold-out, twin tower high rise near Nakano JR station. I like the contrast in shapes and styles, and also in the intensity of human effort versus bio-organic growth.
On Japan’s Culture Day, the Dutch Embassy in Tokyo opened the doors to its magnificent ambassador’s residence and garden. Hundreds of locals took advantage of this rare inside look. It reminded me that many of Tokyo’s greatest green spaces are in private hands or inaccessible to the public like the Imperial Palace.
It’s fantastic that the Netherlands embassy opens their diplomatic outpost to the public twice a year. The house was initially designed in the 1880s and rebuilt after the 1923 earthquake. Although some say the style is “colonial,” the building reminds me of upper class residences in the United State’s northeast. From some angles, I could imagine Gatsby throwing a large garden party.
The garden is a fantastic mix of towering pines and other trees, a pleasantly irregular lawn, and a mix of traditional Japanese garden plants with plenty of imports like roses. Within this well maintained garden, I was pleased to see Tokyo’s native palm tree, the shuro, which easily self-sows and carries a history of being used for centuries in domestic life, as brooms, roofing, and sandals.
The visit also reminded me of the centuries of Dutch-Japanese history. This year I visited Dejima in Nagasaki, the sole foreign trading post during the centuries when Japan remained otherwise closed to the world. The visit conjured scenes of trading ships, cultural emissaries, and globalization in its earlier stages.
Minimal and superb Omotesando Koffee is a modular cube inside an old Omotesando house. It’s supposed to last one year, after which the building may be “reformed” as the Japanese call it.
In addition to delicious coffee in a nearly hidden spot, Omotesando Koffee has the most perfect Japanese garden with two benches for seating. I love the stone path, old light fixtures, and the very Tokyo odd mix of wood, bamboo, and the ubiquitous cinder block.
It’s a very small garden, with many traditional and resilient Japanese plants, including hollyhock, maple, and hydrangea. Worth finding if you’re in the area. Hollyhock is becoming my favorite late summer flower.
For those far away, I have included an image of the sign outside (it looks like a black frame), and the clever way they turn standard paper bags into a lovely and minimal branded object.
With @luismendo visiting from Amsterdam, my Tokyo DIY Gardening pal Chris and I took him on a tour of Harajuku backstreets looking at gardens, eating tonkatsu, and stopping for some excellent cold coffee.
Harajuku is fun because the residential area has houses and gardens from all or almost all the past eight decades. The Harajuku gardens that appeal to me are similar to ones elsewhere in Tokyo for their simplicity and easy adaptation to urban life. Some results are clearly unintentional.
My photos include a three story garden of ivy and bamboo that covers one house and provides a buffer with its neighbor, a sleek concrete building’s balcony green curtains that are just starting to fill out on two floors, a blue flowering vine that somehow became a giant bush, a tiny entrance garden outside a pre-war house that has been converted into the very elegant Omotesando Coffee.
We also explored the enormous Danchi that between 246 road and Harajuku. This sprawling bauhaus-like public housing project has a wonderfully chaotic and varied set of gardens created by generations of residents. In July, we spotted lots of tomatoes, vertical bitter melon, and these purple gloves on top of an ad hoc garden support.
Visiting Chris and Eiko one recent Sunday, I had the chance to visit Kiyosumi garden in Fukagawa, and see the irises in bloom. Kiyosumi (清澄庭園) dates back to early Edo, and was then owned by the Mitsubishi founder in the Meiji period. It’s a lovely strolling garden with a pond. I had forgotten that June is the month to see irises, and I love how they are used in traditional Japanese gardens with running water and pine trees.
I was surprised also to see so many stone lanterns disassembled. Perhaps they fell down during the East Japan earthquake, and it’s prudent to leave them down in case of after shocks.
Miniature pine forest outside Japan Supreme Court. In 1970s, traditional garden joined Brutalist architecture. Would love to see traditional garden with urban forest today.
Walking in Chiyoda-ku opposite the Imperial Palace, I saw this forest of beautiful stunted pine trees above a stone wall. At eye level, there appear to be hundreds of carefully twisted pines whose canopy is less than one meter from the ground. Behind this gorgeous sea of needles is the Supreme Court of Japan (最高裁判所), a 1974 Brutalist concrete building that won awards for its architect Shinichi Okada.
I love the stone wall and the pine forest. In my dream, the once avant-guarde building could regain its ぷprominence by using the concrete structure to support a dense urban forest on its walls and roof. The wildness of the forest hill would contrast nicely with the austere pine forest serving as a formal moat to this newly enlivened public building. The contrast would be magnificent.
While I love the chaos of DIY gardens and the lushness of urban forests, there is also room for traditional Japanese gardens and techniques in the urban landscape, particularly around important public buildings. The contrast between heavily manipulated and more natural landscapes is a new concept at which Tokyo can excel.
Tsuwabuki is a traditional Japanese garden flower in fall. Easy to cultivate and very pretty.
I love this Japanese garden flower, called “leopard plant” (farfugium japonicum) in English, or ツワブキ. It has bright yellow flowers in October and November, shiny green leaves, grows and spreads easily in shade, and is a traditional Japanese garden flower. This photo was taken at my friend Takada-san’s stunning garden.
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.
Recently I had the great fortune to meet Handa Mariko, President of the Parks and Recreation Foundation, at her office near Tokyo Tower. She explained the work she does managing fourteen national parks run by the Construction Ministry, and her role as designer of the enormous Showa Kinen park in western Tokyo, on the site of a former US military base.
Then, Handa-san took me and a senior executive of Hitachi, who kindly introduced us, to Shiba koen at the foot of Tokyo Tower. Shiba koen is a traditional Japanese garden surrounding an old sake building that houses a famous tofu restaurant called Ukai. The juxtaposition of tradition and post-war modernism, the protected pine tree and the aging metal tower is magical.
Old Tokyo neighborhoods like Zoushigaya are full of plant lovers who manage to create gardens where there is almost no space. This type of passion for gardening cannot be replicated by large scale developers. What is amazing is the ingenuity and sheer variety of plants grown by residents.
Above there are five or more plants growing vertically along a narrow path that would otherwise be a grim cinder block and metal siding wall between properties. The gardener seems to have used large blue laundry clips to espalier these hardy plants.
To the left you can see how a corner garden softens the edge of the street and marks the change of seasons. Just as the house reveals that the structure has been added to over time, you can see a mix of mature plants, including raphis palms, with recently bought annuals. Again, all sorts of readily at hand materials are recycled into the garden, including astroturf, cinder blocks, and the red folding chair.
While I like the chaos of this garden, the one below shows how you can have a no flower, more traditional looking Japanese garden growing in the intermediate space between residence and street. The trees look mature and regularly trimmed.
The last images show the beauty of a single plant that has found its way through one of a series of regularly placed holes in a cement wall. I think it’s very pleasing to see a hardy plant bringing life to a hard surface. I wonder if this effect of private public space blurring was intentional or accidental?