Traditional gardens are an art form in Japan. With roots in philosophy and spirituality, they are meticulously cultivated and nurtured into spaces for contemplation and meditation. Not surprisingly, time-honored Japanese tools and accessories are often crafted on a higher level, lauded by horticulturalists for their design, quality and versatility.
Overseas, the hori-hori (also known as a leisure knife or soil knife), a slim trowel with a serrated edge for digging and cutting through roots, has an almost cult following, while other popular classic tools include the nekaki (a three or more pronged mini-rake to break up soil) and the uekibasami, wide-handled, ultrasharp pruning scissors.
Tools aside, here are a few other ideas to help you make the most of plants in and around the home.
Waste not, want not
According to the composting initiative Local Food Cycling (LFC), households in Japan produce around 10 million tons of food waste a year, much of which could be recycled into nutrients for plants. For anyone cultivating plants indoors or on small terraces, though, the long and stinky process of composting isn’t an attractive option.
To encourage more composting at home, LFC has developed LFC Compost, a compact zip-topped tote bag, which is used with a specially formulated base soil mix that not only accelerates decomposition but also reduces the odor it emits. Users can add up to 300 grams of food waste daily to the bag for one and a half to two months. Once it’s full, just zip the top closed and a few weeks later the compost will be ready to use.
Disguising a compost bin as a tote bag is not just a neat way to make a pile of rotting waste less intrusive in the home. The bag’s handles allow it to be moved around easily, and the water-resistant zipper keeps out bugs while trapping unwelcome odors. It’s also made from recycled PET bottles and waste plastic, and its inner paper bag, which helps the compost maintain the right moisture, is biodegradable.
The LFC Compost kit, which includes the tote bag, inner paper bag and base mix, goes for ¥3,278. To re-use the tote bag there’s a handy subscription service for ¥1,958 per replacement paper bag and base mix. There’s also a ¥3,828 LFC Gardening Set, which includes a taller, zipless tote bag that can be rolled down to turn the whole thing into a ready-filled planter.
lfc-compost.jp/productlist (Japanese only)
Although Sanpu Sanyo’s Sanpu Maekake aprons are not specifically for gardening, their unusual design makes them ideal for bending down to pot plants or other groundwork.
A contemporary take on the maekake work apron — simple rectangular aprons often worn by shopkeepers and craftspeople — Sanpu Sanyo’s maekake have added cotton side panels for extra coverage, multiple pockets and, for both long and short versions, split fronts for easier leg movement.
Traditional maekake hark back to the 15th century, when fishermen recycled old sailcloth into heavy-duty aprons, and Sanpu Sanyo also uses stiff sailcloth for its aprons’ front panels. Another nod to the inspiration are the striped double-wrap apron strings.
It’s the additional cotton side panels, though, that make the Sanpu Maekake special. Cut from chūsen stencil-dyed tenugui (light cotton hand towel) textiles, they make the apron easier to move in, give the wearer somewhere to wipe hands dry and add a little colorful flair.
Gardeners may find the long and short front-split Sanpu Maekake (¥6,050 and ¥4,950) the most useful.
www.shop-sanpu-sanyo.jp (Japanese only)
A single blossoming vision
For anyone who feels it’s a shame to cut a full bouquet from their lovingly nurtured plants, the One Flowerware series of spherical bud vases are a striking way to showcase single blooms.
The project also supports local crafts. Product designer Keita Suzuki, who was concerned about artisans who rely on markets and fairs for business, founded One Flowerware just as the COVID-19 crisis began affecting industries across Japan. Suzuki aims to provide an alternative platform to help support eight artisanal studios — Sugahara Glassworks Inc., Nabeshima Kosengama ceramics, Iwata Co. woodworkers and the Karatsu potters Sugitanigama Ichuan, Kishidakegama Sankian, Shiinominegama, Osugisarayagama and Kyozangama.
Although all the One Flowerware vases are essentially round, they differ in materials and production techniques, and sometimes even subtly in form. Iwata’s black wooden versions, for example, appear to be flawlessly smooth spheres, while some of the ceramic pieces are charmingly imperfect in shape. Variety also lies in the details, whether it’s Sugahara Glass’ smooth fluting or the tiny indented flower patterns of Sugitanigama Ichuan pottery.
Prices are as varied as the range — from ¥4,840 for a small Sugahara vase to ¥26,400 for a large Iwata wooden version — so it’s best to visit the website to check out the entire One Flowerware series.
oneflowerware.jp (Japanese only)