The Non-Intentional Landscape of Tokyo


“…there are always little gaps, holes, places that can be transformed into small oases.”[1]

“It is important to understand the unintended user’s contributions to urban order because this is a potentially revolutionary aspect of the city’s structure. The general organization of urban life must develop more sensitivity to the arbitrariness of human use for the city as an object, or that arbitrariness will coalesce into revolt. These lifestyles must be given breathing space” (Glean Chase discussing urban cavemanship in Wilsher and Righter, 1975:98-99).


Like all organic systems, cities fare better without central planning[2]. Additive, centrifugal, Tokyo starts with individual parts and expands. Proliferates. Undefined. Unclear centers. Looser and ambiguous, freedom is valued over regularity of form and clarity of outline[3].

Tokyo, a complex of:

(1) Center-less-ness,

(2) A heritage of scattered ownership (see Shelton, 1999),

(3) Pie-and-crust (high-rise buildings on the perimeter of a block sheltering the interior low-rise buildings – creating a protected, low-key ‘urban village’) neighbourhoods patchworked by

(4) Successive inheritance-tax induced subdivisions[4]

(5) Focus on the plot, use of the street (Kurokawa, 1991)


(5) The Shinto-Buddhist spirit


(6) The uchi-soto conception of relation & space

This city form is the constant logic of the unselfconscious process of continuous adaptation and piecemeal building by bricoleur gardeners who make do[5] with their heterogeneous repertoire[6] of resources to explore connections and new uses through action[7].

ONE: Scattered Oases of Uchi


“In Japan, ‘public’ is more of a mental construct than a physical presence”[8] and the concept of ‘privacy’ has never taken hold[9]. The closest native Japanese approximation of private-public may be uchi (family, clan, group)-soto (that which is not uchi) where uchi extends the Western ‘private’ to ‘other private’ plus ‘public’ [10]. A history and present of close quarters, paper-thin walls and sliding doors that open onto the street evoke the permeation of daily life into public space[11]. Memory and current practice/conception regard whole neighbourhoods as ‘home’ [12], with parks as multifunctional common yards[13] [14].


The Japanese city can be characterised by use – (1) the perceived strength of the individual plot, (2) utilitarian public spaces, and (3) public space as a domain for temporary invasion and annexation[15]. Following, ‘modern life’ in Tokyo can be said to be ‘city affirming’ – exhibiting commitment and positive interest in personal level ‘feathering the urban nest’ [16] and so much like how the urban development of Edo/Tokyo took place around many scattered nuclei[17] so too the scattered nuclei of Tokyo’s informal gardens provide foundation for everyday humane life – the multilayered units of urban space growing more refined and human as they grow closer to the daily lives of the people of the city[18]. Tokyo uchi can thus be understood as a ‘place-by-place’ [19] plot-by-plot discontinuous and autonomous series of oases[20].

Scattered Oases of Uchi

Walls, curbs, balconies and roofs. Sidewalks, corners, overhangs, carparks and train stations. The park, inherited property, reappropriated fishing spots, public toilets and green sleeping spots. Here, the city of crumbs[21] is experienced as a city of fine-grained humanity built in the gaps of the city[22]. This is a physical manifestation of the fragments of individual human knowledge of the city; residences, parks and free space, extended family, and areas connected to their professional, social and other roles[23].


As people move and traverse, build and break (structures and relationships), are born and pass away the personal impacts of gardening extend over axes of time (immediate/long-term) and function (practical/emotional): Social Norms “Everyone has a garden around here; It’s what we do”; Tradition – “My grandparents and parents cared for this garden”; Memory – “I got this plant on a trip to Kamakura, and this one was given to me by my daughter”; Community – A starting point for discussions and friendship; Being out on the street tending the plants fosters daily interaction and communication; Affordability – “It’s a cheap and fun hobby”; Practicality – Privacy, Shade, Food; Beauty – Visual qualities; Mutual Independence – Like a pet, or child; Pleasure – Scent, Taste, Fun etc…

(based on interviews and informal chats with Tokyo gardeners, and discussion in Jonas, 2007:26-7. Prepared by Chris Berthelsen and Jared Braiterman for Tokyo-DIY-Gardening city mapping workshop, August, 2010)

Tokyo gardening is not the manipulation of nature as consolation[24] but experience thorough which humans know and construct their reality, from direct microperception[25] (immediate, emotional) – senses of smell, taste and touch to active visual perception, and modes of symbolization (long term) that are context informed (macroperception[26]). Here emotion and thought are the two ends of an experiential continuum which forms a way of knowing, and recognizes that feeling and sensory impact is not discrete but a shifting stream of experience woven and substantiated by memory and anticipation[27].

(from Tuan, 1977:8)

TWO: Non-Intentional Landscape

A Shinto-Buddhist Gardening….

Shinto because a cyclical, ad hoc, non-hierarchical, decentralized, fragmented, HARMONY of the earth[28].

Buddhist because impermanent, dynamic, growing decaying; All things arising and passing away in the constant coexistence of opposite states (concrete/dirt, life/death, control/freedom, fast/slow, business/gifts)[29], designed to be viewed close up[30].

Gardening that finds strength in submission, beauty in irregularity – touching lightly on the land, admitting the elements and succumbing to time – and (much like the city itself) possesses an inherent flexibility for multidirectional and infinite growth[31] that is imbued with personality of place[32]. The city can be created, perceived and understood as an additive texture in which preference is given to the parts in a network of ‘independent’ places[33] where multifarious urban and agricultural phenomena sit, stand on and burrow over and into their particular patches with remarkable visual and functional autonomy[34] and built objects blur and often disappear[35] while retaining vivid presence.

Non-Intentional Landscape

The individual defines the large scale[36]. A city of parts[37]. And depending on your viewpoint each entity has the characteristics of a “whole” as well as a “part”[38]. One does not live beside, but within the Tokyo landscape of gardens, a place of growth, of maximized spontaneity[39]. The individual action of gardening is personal and deliberate – a form of use-related behaviour which addresses human(e) needs through an act of creation which is not deliberately designed (‘professional’) landscape architecture/art[40] [41].

Paralleling the no-center development of Edo, everyday Tokyo takes shape as an accumulation of the activities of individuals or groups making the most of the individuality of distinct place [42] but with a horizontal solidarity that (unlike the all encompassing city visions of Europe) forms (in amorphous aggregate) Tokyo’s non-intentional landscape of not only flowers, green and edibles but memories and meanings, traditions and social norms, relationships and support (this idea is a social psychological extension of the notion of city making as landscaping present in the Edo period[43]). The living urban fabric is maintained by an enormous number of daily small-scale interventions that are an essential part of the process of organic repair[44].

Once thus comprehended, Tokyo’s non-intentional landscape has the appearance of purposefulness in a system which is not purposefully constructed simply because purposeless is in its very nature transitory[45]. Like the form of the ancient city the coherent non-intentional landscape of modern Tokyo comprises multiple levels of unintended order arising from markedly distinct lifestyles[46] – dense, multilayered units whose scale grows more refined and human as it moves closer to the daily lives of the people of the city[47]. These deviations from the geodetic city plan are not failures or irrational expressions but rather represent emergent patterns of order that are the result of many different traits operating in the system at once[48]. Here diverse structural types operate locally within the same structure while maintaining systemic coherence and originating self repair throughout[49] – reinvigorating the diversity of ways of life for the various city districts[50]. In this view Tokyo displays the fullness of the city as a field of ubiquitous difference – an organic totality, but one that does not lose the individuality so essential to diversity and creativity[51]. In this way the city is redeemed by regular interaction with the country[52], but from deep within.


Tokyo place accretes through gardening; A conjunctive[53] patchwork of “locales whose form, function, and meaning are self-contained within permeable and porous[54] boundaries of physical contiguity” [55] – An eclectic mix which serves as a check on the depersonalization of life and culture[56], invoking the variety and possibility that belong to the very structure of human existence[57]. And, while not necessarily a community something that contributes to community-building[58] – nurturing of a constituency or culture[59] – and the preservation of the common environment[60] through the confirmation of feelings, lifestyles and pleasures in the everyday[61] humanly scaled and personally comprehensible environment[62].

“Pick one spot in the city and begin to think of it as yours. It doesn’t matter where, and it doesn’t matter what.”[63]

This text is a condensed extract of text to appear on a small labClick here for referenced texts.

More on Tokyo landscapes:

[1] McKay, 2011:187
[2] Salingaros, et al. 2010:61; and e.g. the work of Geoff West.
[3] Ashihara, 1989: 54-7, 68-95
[4] Tuskamoto, 2010
[5] Make do, makeshift only in the most pedantic sense. It is rather that a form of raw material has been found in the right place. It has been put to a use that might otherwise be unborn (Jacobs, 1993:254).
[6] E.g. Levi-Stauss Cited in Lefaivre (2004:2)
[7] Wakkary and Maestri (2008: 12) see also Bamyeh (2009) re: action and Di Francia, (1982:234-5) re: free development of creativity and use of materials.
[8] Hidaka and Tanaka, 2001 page ref
[9] Kitayama, 2010e:131
[10] Shelton, 1999:167-8; Jonas, 2007:24 mentions this in relation to flowerpot gardens
[11] Kitayama, 2010e:131
[12] Hidaka and Tanaka, 2001
[13] Jinnai, 1995:198-206
[14] Hidaka and Tanaka, 2001
[15] Shelton, 1999:167-8
[16] Smith, 1978:70
[17] Jinnai, 1995:15
[18] Jinnai, 1995:122
[19] Thakera, 1989:66?in shelton
[20] Shelton, 1999:63
[21] Lefebvre, quoted in Kitayama, 2010b:19
[22] e.g. Kitayama, 2010b:23
[23] Rofe, 1995:119, see also Milgram XX psychological maps of the city
[24] Di Francia, 1982:233
[25] Ihde. See Verbeek, 2005: pt4
[26] Informed by cultural context. Note that the two are intertwined. There is no microperception without its location within a field of macroperception and no macroperception without its microperception. Ihde, as above.
[27] Tuan, 1977:8-10
[28] fromShelton, 1999:153,155; Smith, 1978:48
[29] fromShelton, 1999:157; Smith, 1978:48; also Lin 2007:117, Ashihara, 1989:18, 24
[30] Ashihara, 1989:90 discussing Buddhist architecture
[31] Shelton, 1999:159, 164
[32] Jinnai, 1995: 18
[33] Bognar, 1985:67 in Shelton, 1999:46
[34]Shelton, 1999:46
[35] Ashihara, 1989:57
[36] Feireiss, (2000:5)
[37] Ashihara (1989)
[38] Ashihara (1989:94)
[39] Carse, 1986:118
[40] see discussion of NID in Brandes, Stich, Wender (2009 esp 180)
[41] after Brandes, Stich, Wender, 2009:184
[42] Jinnai, 1995:21
[43] Jinnai, 1995:137
[44] Salingaros et al., 2010:94, Ashihara, 1989:58; writings of Tsukamoto
[45] Wiener (1954:38) referring to Ashby’s machine; see also Mandelbrot Fractal Geometry of Nature and the idea that the seeming chaos of nature embraces a flexible, orderly structure (discussed in Ashihara, 1989:19).
[46] Born of Edo period partitioning (Jinnai, 1995:122).
[47] Jinnai, 1995: 122
[48] Reiser and Umemoto, 2006:140 discussing essentialized systems vs. systems with singularlities
[49] Reiser and Umemoto (2006:157) discussing systems becoming other systems; see also Salingaros (2010b); Salingaros et al. (2010); Wiener (1954); Ashihara (1989 e.g.58, 64)
[50] Jinnai, 1995:122
[51] Bookchin, 1974:123
[52] Yokoi Tokiyoshi discussed in Smith, 1978:58
[53] e.g. Berardi, 2009a:130
[54] see Jinnai
[55] from Castells, 2010:453-5
[56] Jinnai, 1995:21
[57] Wiener, 1954:52
[58] (from Castells, 2010:453-5, also note McKay, 2011:180; Ward, 1975:219).
[59] McKay (2011:187).
[60] Jinnai, 1995:126
[61] Lefebvre, 1961
[62] Bookchin (1974:77), discussing medieval communes.
[63] Auster, 2003

  • Moorerobinjerome

    no coment