Blue salvia, wood house, and bicycle


Casual, unplanned, resilient. The city has a life of its own: season, history, transportation, housing, color, and mood.

Wildness in Nishi Azabu Juban

When my friend Stokes told me about the wildness in Nishi Azabu Juban, I was somewhat incredulous. He was staying briefly at a childhood friend’s house there, and quickly discovered narrow lanes and uncultivated yards and odd spaces that he insisted on showing me. The neighborhood is in central Tokyo, and includes both very expensive homes alongside more modest, old timers’ residences.

In what must be a planner’s nightmare, late summer weeds are pushing out of cracked concrete steps, barely paved lanes lead to houses, and the urban forest seems ready to reclaim the land. There is something comforting to feel wildness in the center of the city, the impermanence of the built environment, and the power of the unplanned.

Flowering volunteer

This plant in the foreground arrived on its own to my balcony container garden, and now it is flowering. The flowers look like peas, and the plant is growing vigorously with a nice cascading shape. Does anyone know the name of this plant?

In gardening, the unplanned is often the most intriguing. I wonder if the seed came in the wind, in the soil of another purchased plant, or by bird droppings. Even a small artificial ecosystem can take on a life of its own.

Tokyobessesion: drawings by Pierre Alex

Tokyobessesion: drawings by Pierre Alex

On Monday I visited my new friend Pierre Alex’s “tokyobsession” art opening of drawings, whose subject is Tokyoites. A French product designer, Pierre is a talented illustrator, and this collection of drawings captures many of the themes that animate Tokyo Green Space and my fascination for this city.

Tokyobsession turned out to be over 50 line drawings on photograph paper, each folded in half. In form, they correspond to the sketch books he uses to capture scenes of Tokyo: parks, freeways, alleys, sidewalks, commercial areas, cafes, and the people who animate the city. Using photo paper highlights the quick and “snapshot” quality of his talented drawings, and suggest the perspective of an outsider looking in.

Pierre told me that he enjoys how Tokyo is the “anti-Haussmann” city: unplanned, chaotic, grassroots rather than top-down, improvisational, and anarchistic. The city’s built environment, including buildings and parks, is in many ways not beautiful, but it is how people create urban spaces and live their lives in a blurring of public and private spaces that make the city so charming, captivating, and livable.

Pierre’s view of Tokyo, in words and even more so in drawings, also echo a recent blog commenter’s email to me. This writer told me about her appreciation of the unusual resident-authority relation in Japanese cities that spurs ordinary urban residents to create greenery and community in even the most unlikely places.

I marveled at Pierre’s talent for not just seeing the city but for capturing it in drawings that reveal everyday scenes and the city’s spirit.

Update: After this post, I realized two things. The images at the cafe spelled out the show’s title (see photo below). And many of the images are in Pierre’s blog called “tokyobsession” (in French and illustrated).

Pierre Alex's "tokyobsession" show at dish organic cafe