Monday, May 17, 2010

Sidewalk as Eden: The Gardens of Yanaka















We decided to do a little urban hiking on Sunday, and struck out to an area of Tokyo called Yanaka. A ridge once marking the edge of Edo Period Tokyo, Yanaka now sits in the midst of the urban sprawl. Famous then as a place to come and watch snow fall or for viewing Fuji (still possible but just barely with continued high-rise development) Yanaka still offers glimpses and flavors of an older Tokyo. Narrow streets dotted with old wooden-sided houses, restaurants, shops, temples and shrines are all there for the wanderer to discover.

I'll describe the hike at more length in a later post, but I will share what I found to be one of the best parts of the hike: the gardens. Blooms and greenery spilled forth with abandon from flowerpots large and small, hanging and standing, plastic bags, old Styrofoam containers, and defunct miso pots. Vines clambered up buildings and burst through gaps in garden walls. Branches of ancient geraniums blushed pink with petals next to potted fruit trees and tiny bonsai trees. Lush green leaves of strawberries hid nearly ripe fruit while roses of all types and colors mixed their scent with the honeysuckle. Young eggplant, kaboucha, and cherry tomato plants showed a mildly practical side to this riot of color and scent, as did pots of shiso and sansho. Not to be outdone, here and there an early hydrangea lent a brilliant globe of blue, white, or cranberry pink to the scene.




Perhaps one of the most verdant areas of the city I've found yet, Yanaka residents seem to think it perfectly normal to surround themselves with so much greenery mostly in containers. One woman we spoke to while she was watering her immense sidewalk collection (she refused to call it a garden) said simply that she loved green. Gardens such as hers - filled with plants large and small, young and old, cactus and vegetable, annual and perennial - turned an already pleasant neighborhood into a magical maze that drew us in like bees to a flower. (Let's just say there was so much greenery that I managed to completely deplete the battery on the camera and did nearly the same to the cellphone.)

I'll be posting more about the gardens specifically at Everyday Gardens, and describing the hike in more detail here for those who want to make a trip.

6 comments:

Anjuli said...

I love all the greens. This reminds me so much of Singapore- with the concrete jungle, everyone has to come up with ways to surround themselves with greens- my mom always had potted plants lining the walls in front of her house- it felt like you were walking through the secret garden.

Joan Lambert Bailey said...

That's exactly how this felt, Anjuli! Utterly magical. I'm hoping to head back again this week, but I think regular visits just to see how the gardens change will be well worth it.

I think the residents harbor similar feelings to those in Singapore. It makes me wonder if cities like L.A. or San Francisco have street gardens like this, too.

BIKE LADY said...

I think you might find something more like this in San Francisco, but I can't think of an area like this in Los Angeles. I'd love to know if there is such a place. Lovely photos. I'm not surprised you ran out of batteries.

Joan Lambert Bailey said...

Thanks, Bike Lady! Indeed, yesterday we took another walk and I ran out of space on the memory card. Such is Tokyo. I've never seen anything like this either, but am now very curious to see what other cities in the world are similar.

Alexandra Grabbe said...

Would love to visit Yanaka. Thanks for sharing your walk. Even containers work at bringing nature into an urban environment ...

Joan Lambert Bailey said...

The containers are really impressive, Alexandra, and I find it hard to believe sometimes that so much greenery comes out of a pot. There are times when the roots have grown through into the ground before, but I've also been fooled by this. There's a home nearby where I thought the roots had simply gone through, but then one day I noticed the tree had been moved and the bed cleaned. Most impressive.