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Uniquely Tokyo Archive

Japanese stationery now sprouts herbs in your garden with the Blooming Pencil

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Recently published in Rocket News24, is a writeup on the next generation in Japanese omiyage — a pencil that can be planted to create a small plant. Here is the article: the Blooming Pencil. An excerpt is reprinted below.

3Once its life as a pencil is over, this innovative piece of stationery will colour your garden by blooming into a variety of edible plants. From Minecraft erasers to iced tea-scented pens and pretty bow-trimmed rubber bands, Japanese stationery has always fascinated us with its unusual, innovative designs. Now it has a creative solution to the problem of pencil ends, which are usually discarded once they become too short to hold and use. Instead of letting them go to waste, there’s now a way to have them breathe life into something that’s both beautiful and edible at the same time.

8While the Blooming Pencil functions as an ordinary pencil, the coloured lead ends at the banded section, with the small remaining portion embedded with plant seeds. Each pencil comes with the name of the plant written on the pencil itself, along with the recommended months for planting. The red-coloured pencil blooms into lotus flower, or Chinese milk vetch, a perennial herb from the pea family that’s often used in Chinese medicine to boost the immune system. This pencil stub is recommended for planting in September or October.

In addition to the Chinese milk vetch plant, there are four other types of blooms available: mini tomato,  aalvia farinacea (mealy sage), white clover; and basil. Eating something grown from your pencil might be a strange concept, but it reflects an idea that’s close to home for the products’ distributors, who also run the Bunbougu Cafe in Tokyo’s trendy Omotesando district.

The cafe brings the joys of stationery to the world of dining, with paper tablecloths for customers to draw and scribble on, so the addition of pencil-grown herbs to the menu seems an organic next step. The pencils can be purchased from their online store for 340 yen (US$3.10) each.

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Lessons from the Bees: The Rooftop Hives of Central Tokyo

Today, we share an translated article published in the English page of Nippon.com (originally written in Japanese by Sakurai Shin and published on May 12, 2016. Photos © Nagasaka Yoshiki). Back in 2006, the Ginza Honey Bee Project set up hives on the top of a multistory building in central Tokyo. A decade on, the project is a regular supplier of honey to local businesses and continues to provide food for thought on the relationship between the urban and natural environments.

Here is the article: Lessons from the Bees: The Rooftop Hives of Central Tokyo

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Uniquely Tokyo: The 1.8-Meter Width House

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We share an article recently published in DeZeen Magazine that fits into our “Uniquely Tokyo” series that showcases out-of-the-box design in architecture. Dezeen is a leading architecture and design magazine that brings an edited selection of the best architecture, design and interiors projects from around the world. This particular article shows a Runway-Style detached city home, aptly named the 1.8 Meter Width House. Click here for the full article: http://www.dezeen.com/2015/08/18/yuua-architects-tokyo-house-japan-skinny-rooms-less-than-two-metres-wide/.

Published by DeZeen Magazine: Japanese studio YUUA Architects & Associates has slotted a house into a 2.5-metre-wide space between two existing buildings in Tokyo. The rooms of the four-storey-high residence have a width of just 1.8 metres, hence its name: 1.8m Width House. This forced Madoka Aihara and Toshiyuki Yamazaki – the two principals of YUUA Architects and Associates– to plan the interior very carefully.

catwalk-house41Their response was to use split-level floors to create natural partitions between different spaces. This reduced the need for walls inside the house, helping to make small rooms feel more generous.

“In this project, we have considered the house as an aggregation of small ‘places’ and designed a space where such ‘places’ expanded in various floor levels,” explained the pair. “Floating floors in long and narrow space generate the spatial expanse.”

The house accommodates a single resident and a cat in Toshima Ward, the densest municipality in central Tokyo. Like the central areas of many Japanese cities, the lack of space has resulted in an increase in narrow houses – referred to as eel’s beds or nests.

The biggest issue with these kinds of properties is ensuring plenty of light penetrates the interior, which is why architects often include double-height living spaces and high-level windows in their designs. Recent examples include a 3.4-metre-wide house in Osaka and a 2.7-metre-wide house in Shiga.catwalk-house51

“This small and narrow piece of land is a typical ‘eel’s bed’ site, where one can reach his or her arm from the left wall to the right wall, as buildings stand very tight and compact next to one another,” said the architects.

“We have tried to reserve as much space as possible as well as to provide psychological openness for the resident. Light and fresh air, which has been taken in from openings in the frontage and upper side of the building, flows into every corner of the house, utilising the floor difference.”

There are four main storeys inside the building, each divided into two floors. A staircase at the back connects the three uppermost levels, while small sets of stairs in the centre of the building create routes between the lower floors.

catwalk-house6Both staircases comprise steel treads without supporting risers, which allow light to filter through. Slender handrails run down alongside.

Instead of using a light colour scheme, the internal walls were painted dark to “give a sense of depth” to the space, while floors and ceilings were covered in scaffolding boards to offer texture.

This adds emphasis to the window wall that fronts the building – it becomes the focal point on every storey.

The occupant shares the house with a cat. The main living space is on the second floor, where a kitchen counter extends out to create a dining table. It also provides a platform for a ladder leading up to terraces on the level above and the roof.

A loft room, a washroom and a bathroom are also located above the living room. The bedroom and a study space can be found on the level below, and the lowest floor functions as a storage area.

The house has a steel frame, but there are few traces of this within the building.

“The structural design was developed by fully considering the singularity of the building shape,” said Aihara and Yamazaki. “Columns and beams were limited to maximise the interior space.”

Skinny houses have also become increasingly popular outside Japan, with recently completed projects including a three-metre-wide house in Germany and a 2.3 metre-wide house in London.

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Uniquely Tokyo: The Garden House

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Shared by Richenda Elledge

We showcase an article published by DeZeen Magazine, highlighting one of architect Ryue Nishizawa’s unique works. The Garden and House is already a few years old, but nevertheless an important reminder that we all need some green in our urban lives. It also highlights a creative way to make full use of any plot of land no matter the size or any other compromised attributes, such as being in a dark spot.

Here is an excerpt, click here for the complete article and more photos.

greenglass-home2The Garden House

This Tokyo five-storey townhouse by Japanese architect Ryue Nishizawa is fronted by a stack of gardens. Located in a dense commercial district, the building provides a combined home and workplace for two writers. The site was just four metres wide, so Nishizawa designed a building that has only glass walls to avoid narrowing the interior spaces even further.

Gardens are interspersed with rooms on each of the four floors of the building, creating a screen of plants that mask the facade from the eyes of passing strangers. Glazed walls beyond protect the interior from the elements.

greenglass-home3Nishizawa states that “the entirety is a wall-less transparent building designed to provide an environment with maximum sunlight despite the dark site conditions. Every room, whether it is the living room, private room or the bathroom, has a garden of its own so that the residents may go outside to feel the breeze, read a book or cool off in the evening and enjoy an open environment in their daily life.”

Staircases spiral up through the building, passing through circular openings in the thick concrete floor plates. A similar opening cuts through the roof, allowing taller plants to stretch through to the upper terrace. Bedrooms are located on the first and third floors and are separated from meeting and study areas with glass screens and curtains.greenglass-home-plan1

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