(now and again)

Tokyo DIY Gardening Hands-on gardening for a crowded city

[CITY FORM] Draft Photo/Text Collage Excerpt

[CITY FORM] This excerpt notes the nature-inclusive, scattered, dense, area-not-street-focused characteristics of Tokyo city form – one vantage point from which to begin to understand the antecedents and present foundations of Tokyo’s non-intentional landscape.


“..layer by layer, the modern and present-day cities of Tokyo were built…..urban development took place around many scattered nuclei.”1

The urban framework of Tokyo was nurtured by a dependence on nature, a sensitive interaction which recognized the possibility of urban beauty sans heavy-handed human intervention. Trace the historical views of the city and you will rarely encounter (unlike European cities) the suggestion that urban beauty should exclude nature and consist solely of artificial objects2.
In a city form rooted in and intensified from a soil dismembered3 by multiple generations of land division, addition and transfer into a tapestry of scattered, unconnected plots under the same ownership4 ordinary citizens of the present make their neighborhoods greener with their micro-gardens5; their frugal constructions of art6. This collective memory of a patchwork of hidden patterns of ownership7, developed under high economic and demographic pressures, absent legal mechanisms, and resistance of local community to central planning8 now exists as ‘egg and shell’ neighbourhoods (high-rise on the perimeter, low rise on the interior) with ‘virtually no open space’9 where gardeners, bird watchers, beekeepers, and neighborhood volunteers improve urban life through their knowledge and passion10. And because Japanese notions of AREA trump the Western adulation of the street11“Streets seem to have little significance in the Japanese urban scheme of things to warrant the prestige that names confer”12 – they are not subject to the scrutiny that houses and plots face13. Flexible and proactive use of alleys, thoroughfares, walkways and roads for everyday life14 becomes possible and permissible, the ‘organic, unrestricted’15 results of which cause us to ask “What is the line between ornament and sustenance, today’s structures and centuries of agriculture?”16

1. Jinnai, 1995:5,15
2. Jinnai, 1995:134-5
3. Bruno Taut, 1937:219 in Shelton, 1999:45
4. Shelton, 1999:44-47
5. Braiterman, 2010a
6. Brandenburg, 2005: 14
7. Shelton, 1999:44
8. Srivastava and Echanove, 2008
9. Echanove, 2007; Jonas, 2007:21
10. Braiterman, 2010a
11. Shelton, 1999
12. Popham, 1985:48 in Shelton, 1999:66
13. Echanove, 2008:2
14. Jinnai, 1995:124
15. Echanove, 2008:2
16. Braiterman, 2010b

Braiterman, J. 2010a. Replacing dead urban spaces with living habitat. Huffington Post. [LINK] (Full Article)
Braiterman, J. 2010b. Plants and buildings in Tokyo: a photographic essay looking at flowers and trees in a dense city. Tokyo-DIY-Gardening.org [LINK] (Full Article)
Brandenburg, C. 2005. Experience of Japanese landscape – some selected observations considering the usage of various materials in the Japanese landscape. In Experiences of Japanese Landscapes: A summary of the impressions of foreign researchers who stayed at NIES until 2004 regarding the landscape planning of Japan, pp14-16. [LINK, PDF] (Full Article)
Echanove. M.S. 2007. The Tokyo model of urban development. Memo concerning the Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP) to the attention of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA). [LINK, PDF] (Full Article)
Echanove. M.S. 2008. Master cities and defiant neighborhoods: Tokyo to Mumbai. [LINK, PDF] (Full Article)
Echanove. M.S. & Srivastava. R. 2008. Urban natures: of fields and forests. [LINK] (Full Article)
Jinnai, H. 1995. Tokyo; A Spatial Anthropology. trans. Kimiko Nishimura. University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, California. [LINK] (Amazon Product Page)
Jonas, M. 2007. Private use of public open space in Tokyo. A study of the hybrid landscape of Tokyo’s informal gardens. Journal of Landscape Architecture. Autumn, 2007. [LINK] (Abstract)
Popham, P. 1985. Tokyo: The City at the End of the World. Tokyo: Kodansha International. [LINK] (Amazon Product Page)
Shelton, B. 1999. Learning from the Japanese City. Routledge, New York. [LINK] (Amazon Product Page)
Taut, B. 1937. Houses and People of Japan. The Sanseido Co. Ltd., Tokyo. [LINK] (Overview)

Figure 01: Schematic of scattered land ownership over time in a typical Japanese village
Figure 01: Schematic of scattered land ownership over time in a typical Japanese village
(Source: Constructed from discussion in referenced works)
The gradual scattering (over years, generations) of a plot of land by way of marriage, debt repayment, inheritance, taxes, nationalization etc…. Over time the land owned by a single family in a village disintegrates to a scattering of plots throughout the village, creating pockets of attachment, responsibility and familiarity over the terrain.

Figure 02: Changes in daimyo residences after Meiji
Figure 02: Changes in daimyo residences after Meiji
(Source: Source: Jinnai, 1995:34, Figure 8 )
Depicts the scattering of space/building function that has occurred in Tokyo since the Meiji era. Palatial warrior residences become cultural institutions, houses for regular citizens, foreign embassies, private facilities, government agencies, military establishments and residences for aristocrats etc…… Here we see flexibility of space/built environment in use and meaning

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