My spouse found this shuro family crest, which is displayed at a shrine near Mount Fuji. The shuro palm is native to Japan and grows wild in Tokyo. I’ve been delighted to find it in parking lots and formal gardens. This year we are planting seeds to see if we can grow it on the balcony.
I love this winter scene of rampant white camellia and tall native palms, with plenty of dead fronds still attached to the crown. The wild landscape makes the house cozy and bright in the cold weather.
このかわいいピンクと黄色のチューリップは もともとトルコとイランから来た 原種だそうです。ヒヨコさん、アムステルダムから球根を持ってきてくれてありがとうございます。たぶん昔のトルコとイランのチューリップはこんな風に小さくてきれいだったのでしょう。
I love these species tulips that Hiyoko brought from Amsterdam last fall. They are small and simple, with a great combination of pink and yellow. This type of tulip is closer to its wild origins in Turkey and, before that, Iran. Thanks, Hiyoko, for bringing these bulbs to Tokyo!
This image sums up my love of Tokyo green spaces. In the background is the iconic Docomo Tower in Shinjuku. In the foreground is a typical Tokyo sight: a lot where the old structure has been raised is now used for hourly parking. In the middle is an older residence whose wild garden is thriving through neglect and the absence of redevelopment. Tokyo is a dense place full of the iconic and prosaic, living nature and concrete structures, traces of the past and constant change.
Another garden I saw from my bike in central Tokyo is this huge balcony garden on top of what looks like a semi-abandonded ten story building. The windows below the garden are either covered up, dirty, or reveal stacks of boxes. I wonder if the building is mixed use, and how such a large and well established garden ended up there. The Jingumae neighborhood is one of central Tokyo’s most expensive areas.
I often notice that the most intriguing and wild green spaces grow next to older buildings. It’s interesting to see the same phenomenon on an aging high-rise.
In Yotsuya, the Marunouchi subway pops out of ground in central Tokyo. From the platform, there is this amazing view that includes a still functioning, although rarely used service road, an abandoned bus stop and plaza gradually returning to the wild, and a border of exuberant independent plants. There is something beautiful to glimpse this inefficient use of space and so much lush greenery in the midst of a dense city.
The Nezu Museum and its gorgeous Japanese garden are a just short walk from the Nishi Azabu Juban wildness, the Kakuremino bar, and lush sidewalk garden. Many people come to the newly rebuilt Nezu Museum for its exquisite collection of pre-modern art, or the new building designed by Kuma Kengo. I am a huge fan of its garden that combines tea houses and paths in a setting that seems ancient, slightly overgrown, bigger than its footprint, and entirely removed from city life.
When I visited recently, just before closing time towards the end of a long, hot summer, I was enchanted by how the light struck this worn boat, the plants growing in its bow, and the illusion of minimal human habitation in an endless jungle. I was also surprised to see Japanese maple leaves already turning red, despite the temperature being above 32 celcius (90 fahrenheit) for many weeks.
Taken together, these four posts about Nishi Azabu Juban speak to the wide range of nature in the city: professional and amateur gardens, single plants and total environments, built and wild, public and gated, destinations and everyday experiences. Plants grow wild even in the densest cities, but how we choose to nurture them provides endlessly varied results. I am inspired by the full range of possibilities.
I noticed this interesting semi-wild, semi-cultivated space alongside a busy Yoyogi road and in between two train tracks, an elevated overpass, and a convenience store. It shows you what minimal effort and Tokyo’s abundant rain can do to create a space that is lush and full of summer flowers. I like the mix of wildness and anonymous stewardship. The results are such a contrast with poorly organized city efforts like this Shibuya Greening Project, documented by Chris on Tokyo DIY Gardening, which seem doomed to rapid failure.
Walking on a small street in Hiroo, in central Tokyo, we heard a strange noise and saw some people staring at a persimmon tree. On closer examination, we saw that there was a flock of wild green parrots gathered in this tree. The green on orange colors perched on a leaf-less tree is sublime.
I have seen wild parrots throughout San Francisco, and there was even a movie about them. I didn’t realize that Tokyo was warm enough for them to survive outdoors. I wonder how many there are.
Speaking with a woman recently about urban ecology, she told me that she enjoys city bird-watching. It made me realize that bird-watchers, particularly those who enjoy their hobbies in the city, can be an important voice for improving urban landscapes and habitats. Maybe urban bird-watchers are analogous to surfers who have been active in the clean ocean movement.
In urban settings, shrines and the entrances to cemeteries are open all day and night. Especially at night, they provide equal doses of nature and mystery that is both within and separate from normal urban life. These long exposure photos capture some of the magical beauty of nighttime trees, plants, shadows and stones.
This experience in a nighttime cemetery reminds me of a term I recently learned from a Tokyo University professor who works at Hakuhodo: harappa (原っぱ). Harappa is an in-between urban and wild place that traditionally allowed children a space to play and explore. It could be a meadow, a grove of trees, or an abandoned building. With ever increasing construction and denser urban lives, these liminal spaces are harder to find. Shrines function as one of the most solid barriers against total urbanization.
A small tip: I recently learned how to take crisp nighttime photos with an inexpensive digital camera. To avoid shaking and blurring from long exposures, use the timer and set the camera on a hard surface.
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.
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 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.