At the entrance to a public elementary school near our apartment is an enormous tree that I frequently pass by. On the other side of the entrance is a beautiful cherry tree. I didn’t pay any attention to the larger tree until the husband remarked that it sports a sign declaring it a “thousand year old zelkova” (in Japanese, it’s keyaki, けやき).
I went back, examined the tree more carefully, and took some photos. Does anyone know if this one thousand year designation is literal or figurative? It seems incredible, especially when compared with what I thought was an ancient ginko tree at Kishbojin Temple in Zoushigaya, reportedly 600 years old.
Looking carefully at this zelkova tree, I can see that there are huge fissures in the trunk and the tree has been pruned radically, including all the main branches and even the base close to the ground. I would like to think that this tree is a local treasure, and that someone is taking good care of it. Its age gives it character, and its canopy is still very impressive.
This old sign for a shoe shop, offering repair and shoe-making, adds to the neighborly feel of Zoushigaya and the sense of long-time residents and small businesses.
More uncanny was this strange pop-up park in an empty lot. It looks new, and includes two new benches, a shed, a fake well (there’s a faucet behind the facade), three fresh ikebana flower displays, wood and stone paths, and two water wheels. Who created this new park? I was amazed to peek behind the shed and see garden supplies and tools that had not been stolen or vandalized.
The enormous raphis palms growing outside the home below suggest decades of growth. I wonder if the person who planted it ever expected it to get so huge?
Vending machines are everywhere in Tokyo: providing convenience, wasting energy, and masquerading as animate robots. I wonder if it was the property owner or a neighbor who decided to grow twenty plants in front of these four vending machines, including this pretty yellow flower in a recycled container.
I like how recycled materials are used to create multiple levels in this potted garden. It’s amazing how this concrete pad now includes the machines a path to access them, and a three level deep garden.
Equally amazing are all the balcony gardens. Even those without sidewalk access make space above the air conditioners and below their laundry lines for a variety of plants. Some are in ceramics, others in the rubber pots from the nursery.
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?
On our walk through Zoushigaya, we came across this mature yuzu tree, growing in the small space between the street and a residence. Yuzu is a special, perhaps only in Japan citrus fruit.
It’s also another example of how a tree planted in a styrofoam container managed to send roots through the disintegrating styrofoam, down a sidewalk crack, and into the earth below. It is amazing what a great climate Tokyo provides for plants to go renegade.
We also saw this gorgeous orange tree full of fruit. The oranges, the old house, and the hill above make you feel that you are far from the big city.
My friend Eri, a pianist and music teacher, invited me to go for a walk near her college in Zoushigaya. I wasn’t sure what to expect since I had never been there and it’s close to Ikebukuro, an area that always seemed to me like a lesser Shinjuku. Eri’s tour from Gokokuji to the Kishibojin shrine was delightful: narrow streets, lots of sidewalk gardens, and a Shitamachi feeling. We ended the walk with a warm soba lunch.
My favorite image is this public train set in a rather barren raised garden on a small street across from a cemetery and the music school. The owner left a sign inviting passer-bys to enjoy his battery-operated train. And to please remember to turn it off when they leave. What a remarkably generous idea. I also thought only in Japan would people remember to save the battery; in my city, it would be quickly stolen and resold for spare coins.
I will post photos from this winter walk over the next few days. Below is an image of a small unpaved lane. I like how it has a rustic feel, and you can sense the vibrant life of residents, a carpentry shop, plants and bicycles.