I often tell people that Tokyo’s urban life is wonderful in spite of city planning. On the one hand, this view valorizes the activities of everyday people in making public spaces alive with plants, care, and community. On the other hand, it also expresses a resignation that city leaders cannot or will not improve city life.
Recently I attended TEDxSeeds at Yokohama’s restored port. In addition to wonderful historic buildings that are preserved and reused, the entire port area has a revitalized public park and waterfront promenade. One of the most spectacular public places is the undulating rooftop park above the International Ferry Terminal, designed by London’s Foreign Office Architects; in Japanese it’s called Osanbashi.
This is a bold example of creating a new open space that combines commerce (the business of loading and unloading passenger ships) with a place for residents and visitors to stroll and relax on the waterfront. I heard one Yokohama resident refer to the building as “the whale” building because of its curvy surface.
If Tokyo city leaders thought big, what kind of new public spaces could be created here? How could some of its past be made visible and accessible today? What natural resources could be reclaimed with great architecture and some vision? It seems in terms of city planning that Japan’s other cities are more dynamic and more forward-looking than its capital.
My friends John and Ruth McCreery sent me these wonderful photos of their guerrilla garden in Yokohama. The McCreery’s adopted a neglected patch of land between the road and the parking lot of their large residential complex. I like how they captured the odd feeling at New Year’s in the Tokyo region when you see plants typical of all four seasons all thriving. Plants that I recognize include large leafed taro, red maple leaves, and blooming daffodils.
Maybe nothing is more typically winter in Japan than the presence of all the other seasons!
Update: Later I received an email from Ruth explaining how the taro plant arrive in the garden unexpectedly:
To me, the taro plant is hysterical.
People dump unwanted plants (and other things) in our guerrilla garden. The taro is one. It landed near the compost heap, and thrived. Soon it was crowding out the Japanese iris, but it was so vigorous that we hated to axe it. Transplanting a fairly large plant can be tricky, so we waited until last February, when it was seriously cold, dug a big hole, filled it with the compost it loved, and moved it over there. We then watched anxiously, wondering if it would accept the move, if the wind in the new spot might discourage it–or blow it over–or if it would continue to grow.
It’s about doubled since then!
It’s funny how plants connect you even more with people than nature. Thank you Twitter’s @mygardeninjapan for this apple mint. From balcony to balcony!
I recently met up with Twitter’s @mygardeninjapan after exchanging many online comments and thoroughly enjoying his detailed documentation of his balcony garden in Yokohama. Along with @a_small_lab and Tokyo DIY Gardening‘s Chris, we had a bento lunch in a temple garden and then a fascinating walk around the Omotesando danchi.
It was very kind of @mygardeninjapan to give us these small wooden pots with mint plants from his garden and hand-made signs with illustrated care instructions. His ladybug logo reminds me of his blog story about his efforts to attract ladybugs to his balcony garden. I am looking forward to growing and eating this mint in my balcony.
A US teacher’s blog reminded me of the importance of gardens in Japanese public schools. Loco teaches in a Yokohama junior high school, and remarked at how different Japanese and New York school facilities are.
At his school, there are two ponds, turtles, fish, and carefully pruned trees. The gardens are largely maintained by the students and staff. In contrast US students generally have no responsibilities for cleaning their classrooms or maintaining the grounds.
Another feature of Japanese school gardens is the frequent presence of at least one large cherry tree. These trees’ blossoms mark the ending and beginning of the school year in March and April.
In the United States, there is now an Edible Schoolyard movement to bring vegetable gardens to schools as a way to educate kids about food and the environment. The Berkeley California middle school garden was founded in 1995 by noted cook and food activist Alice Waters, who is now advising the Obamas about the organic White House vegetable garden. It would be interesting to bring this school vegetable garden concept to Japan.
Beijing-based American artist Rania Ho hosted an open-house “live” event in Yokohama. During a two month artist-in-residency, sponsored by Far East Contemporaries, Rania created the Vegetable Liberation Project, a “re-farming” that asks questions about urban life, food culture, nature and artifice.
Rania describes the Vegetable Liberation Project as “a work that addresses the oppression of highly conforming supermarket produce by releasing the vegetables back into the wild public spaces around Yokohama and allowing them to naturally revert to their untamed primal state.”
During Earth Day, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess participated in a Yokohama greening event. In his remarks, the Crown Prince cited the benefits of greening for reducing global warming and improving urban life. The event was the 20th Midori no Aigo in the Yokohama Animal Forest Park.
The media quoted two statements from the Crown prince: “I hope everyone involved in various activities throughout the nation will deepen mutual exchanges and renew their feeling of protecting and nurturing greenery.”
And “In order to protect the precious greenery we have … it is crucial for people to understand its importance and participate extensively (in conservation).”
The Prince and Princess also planted memorial cherry trees.