We spent a few days in Tokyo recently, it was our first visit back to the Japanese capital since the COVID pandemic. We were delighted to find the city largely unchanged and seemingly free from the visible challenges facing many American downtowns in the post-COVID era. As the world’s most populous city, Tokyo always impresses in terms of sheer size and the abundance of choices.
With an estimated population upwards of 37 million, you’d imagine the place would be crowded, noisy and chaotic, yet none of this is true. Outside of a few locations like the famous Shibuya Crossing intersection that is recognizable from countless media images, Tokyo is orderly, clean, and green, with lots of quiet corners to explore.
The city has its share of large urban parks like Yoyogi Park and the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, but also impressive are the tiny gardens one can find shoehorned into the smallest of small spaces along busy streets and in otherwise unremarkable alleyways. Spaces that would almost certainly be overlooked in urban North America are lushly planted with a variety of plant forms and textures. If there is truly no soil to be had--no matter--the answer is potted plants, and apparently no space is too humble to deserve consideration. It's not uncommon to see something like a carefully pruned and potted dwarf yuzu tree, dripping with fruit, in someone's garbage collection area.
The overall effect is something quite unique when executed city wide. One can chalk it up to the traditional Japanese reverence for nature (rooted in Shinto beliefs), an aesthetic and social culture that considers and manipulates space differently than in the West, or simply the desire for a bit of soothing greenery in one of the world’s most mega of megacities. In any case, we find these pocket-sized gardens to be one of the many little details that make Tokyo so civilized and appealing.