This August, I attended the reunion of landscape architecture course at Kyoto University. It was the first reunion since I graduated a quarter century ago. Time flies, indeed. All my friends, who were young nice boys, are in middle age with some gray hair or without hair now.

A garden of Entsuji temple, Kyoto

A garden of Entsuji temple, Kyoto

During my stay, I visited the garden at Entsuji temple, which is one of my favorite gardens. The temple is located in Kamigamo area, the northern area of Kyoto. The garden itself is a kind of humble Japanese dry garden. But it is famous for the borrowed landscape technique. Over pruned evergreen hedges, you will see Hiei mountain as if it is a part of the garden. (more…)

CTC&G and Suzu

CTC&G and Suzu

“A Window to the Serenity”, our award winning bathroom project, finally appeared in July/Ausgut issue of CTC&G Magazine. Please take a look at the article here: CTC&G Bath Penguin Environmental 070815



One of the things that I will never ever want to experience in Japan is to get on a train in rush hours in a rainy season. That is a torture and I feel very sorry for the people who cannot avoid it. Usually everybody does not complain anything. But I sensed that all of them were frustrated.

Rammed earth wall at George Nakashima's studio

Rammed earth wall at George Nakashima’s studio

Anyway, a humid day always reminds me of earth walls in Japan. An earth wall(土壁, tsuchikabe) is a good element to control humidity in a house. Earth walls absorb moisture in a humid season and discharge it in a dry one.  (more…)







Penguin Environmental Design is very happy to announce that we won second place of the 2015 Connecticut Cottages & Gardens (CTC&G) Innovation in Design Awards for the category of bath design.

The prize was awarded for our “A Window to the Serenity” project. Please visit our web site ( to see the detailed crafts of our design.

We would like to thank our clients and collaborators to trust us and work with us for this special project, and also to thank all our friends to always support us.

This project will be on the July/August issue of CTC&G Magazine.

Every time when I watch any Japanese traditional dance, I feel that Japanese traditional dances are quite different from any other type of dance including ballet, jazz dance, and revere dance, etc. First of all, Japanese traditional dancers hardly move aggressively. It seems unusual to me that they jump with arms flung wide or spin continuously like Baryshnikov. Overall, they dance quietly.

Tatami-mat room is called Washitsu(和室, Japanese room).

Tatami-mat room is called Washitsu(和室, Japanese room). Kanazawa, Japan

Not only the Japanese dancers but also many Japanese people move quietly, at least, in a house. In Japanese traditional manners, you should not slip-slop across tatami mat floors. Sliding doors should be opened gently and slowly. Probably, all Japanese parents have memories of scolding their children acting up on tatami-mats.

In Japanese traditional houses, floors are tatami-mats or boarded floors. Especially, tatami mats which are made of straws are much softer than earth floor. If you walk across tatami-mats like walking outdoor, the mats will be damaged. People do not walk but “shuffle” across tatami-mats.

Originally, tatami-mat is not a floor material but furniture. In Heian Era, 12th century, one or two tatami mats were set as a bed on boarded floor in an aristocrat’s house. Then the area of tatami-mats had been extended and covered an entire room by Muromachi Era, 16th century. Arata Isozaki, Japanese renowned architect, mentioned tatami as one of the factors defining  unique behavior of Japanese in his book, “Mitate no Shuhou (見立ての手法)”. This is a very interesting book, but it has not been translated yet.

By the way, there is no tatami-mat room in our house. I wish that we could have it. But I am afraid that our cats misunderstand tatami-mats as a big scratcher. (T)


Akari Light sculptures were designed by Isamu Noguchi, a prominent Japanese American artist. Those sculptures are light fixtures with a various shape of shades made of whitish washi papers. You can purchase them on the Noguchi museum online shop.

One of Akari Light Sculpture in Isamu Noguchi Museum

One of Akari Light Sculptures in the Noguchi Museum

Akari Light sculptures function as ambient light sources. Washi papers soften intensity of lights. And light and shadow blend each other at some points. I like the transition from light to shadow.

Generally, the terms dim, dusky, or dark sound negative. However, we know that some types of darkness make us feel relax. Brightness is too strong stimulus in some cases. Probably you do not want to make an entire bedroom bright. Usually all you need there is a small light on your side table.

Junichiro Tanizaki, a Japanese novelist, wrote an essay, “In Praise of Shadows“. He described different types of shadows to express Japanese aesthetics. According to him, Japanese people recognize subtle difference between various types and degrees of shadows. Depending on the distance from a light, its shadow is light, dark, or between the two.

His essay was published in 1933. At that time, he described that to recognize difference between shadows is one of Japanese unique aesthetics. However it seems that many people in the United States now understand this subtlety . I believe that this change owes, at least partially, to the English translation of Tanizaki’s essay and to Isamu Noguchi’s Akari Light sculptures. (T)

What is your image of bamboo? Probably answers to this question will be categorized into two directions – positive and negative. If your answer was negative, you probably associate invasive plants with bamboos. I do not blame you because some bamboos are very invasive. But please listen to my story.

This clumping bamboo is not invasive.

This clumping bamboo is not invasive.

It is true that some bamboos are invasive, but not all of them. There are two types of bamboos. One is a running bamboo which is invasive. Another one is a clumping bamboo which is NOT invasive.  I planted Green Panda clumping bamboo (Fargisia rufa Green Panda) in my backyard almost ten years ago. This bamboo has grown slowly.

Suppose that you want to have tall bamboos as some screen. Unfortunately, almost of all tall bamboos which grow fast are running bamboos. Yet, planting running bamboos could still be your choice, if you provide appropriate root barriers or a large plant box to control root expansion.

By the way, what the term bamboo brings to my mind is not a bamboo as plant but a bamboo shoot as food. Bamboo shoots are very popular food in Japan. I particularly like “takenoko gohan” (bamboo shoots cooked with rice).  It is now bamboo shoot season in Japan and I miss a variety of fresh bamboo meals.(T)

When I was a small child, our house in Japan did not have a bath. So I used to go to a public bath. One of my memories for the public bath was a big noren, a fabric divider hung in an entrance. In Spirited Away, Miyazaki’s Japanese animation movie, the heroin works at a big public bath. You can see a noren at the entrance of that public bath in the movie.

Making a noren in Kyoto

Making a noren in Kyoto for H.A. Cafe

I think that a noren is an excellent architectural element to control relationship between spaces. Doors and walls divide spaces and maintain perfect privacy within each. Yet, in some cases, we want to make all spaces open but with some privacy.

A noren between kitchen and dining room is a good example: When you cook meals, the kitchen is literally a working space with noises and smells with which you do not want to disturb your family and guests in the dining room. But if you shut a door to the dining, you will be separated from them. Your guest may want to talk to you while you are preparing their meals.

We designed these noren banners.

Custom-made noren banners in H.A. Cafe that is designed by PED.

In this case, a noren is a flexible divider to adjust psychological distance between people in different rooms.

You can buy a noren online, but I suggest you to buy authentic ones from Japan. Masumaru-Nishimuraya in Kyoto, Japan, is a great choice. We designed custom noren banners for H.A. Cafe in Storrs, Connecticut, and Masumaru-Nishimuraya fabricated them. They have interesting workshops. I want to try one when I go back to Japan. (T)

Many Japanese gardens have mosses. I like the contrast of white sand and green moss mound in Japanese dry gardens. It looks like that moss and pine are the signature of Japanese gardens.

We designed this path. Moss ground makes me feel calm.

We designed this path. Moss ground makes me feel calm.

You might know a beauty of moss especially in sunny morning after a rain shower. Green lush moss makes me feel serene. Unlike ordinary landscaping, I feel as if I contact nature deeply when I walk on moss ground.

Short-trimmed lawn area is so dominant that many people think that lawn ground is like the symbol of American suburban landscape. However, moss started to be recognized by people for ecological reasons. Since moss has a great ability to hold water, moss is said to need only one tenth of water that lawn needs.

I would like to share with you two articles of NY Times about moss, one is Moss Makes a Lush, No-Care Lawn in 2008, another is Gathering Moss in 2014. Also, I recommend visiting Sticks and Stones Farm. You will be amazed by moss-covered mountain slopes when you visit this farm in a good season. You can buy mosses online from their website.

Moss is a best plant for shady and quiet spaces. As a landscape architect, I recommend using moss if you want to have a quiet space like a small patio for relaxing with a cup of tea and your favorite book. So, when you find moss at your backyard, do not remove it. Please cherish it. (T)

Many people take trips to remote places in order to remove frustration and stress and to relax. In this case, retreat is a great keyword. Retreats for relaxation are becoming popular. The question is that, usually, many people do not have time for taking vacations so often. So, what if you do not have to take a trip to reach your retreat? That would be phenomenal! Ideally, it would be best if a retreat is in your house. It can be called “urban retreat”.

A tea house at Hashimoto Kansetsu museum in Kyoto. This rustic house is not in a mountain area but in a city area.

A tea house at Hashimoto Kansetsu museum in Kyoto. This rustic house is not in a mountain area but in a city.

In Japan, the idea of urban retreat is old. Sen no Rikyu, a Japanese famous tea master praised the idea of “Shichu Sankyo (市中山居, In a city, a house with mountain presence)” in 16th Centuries. He liked designing a tea house as if it was in a mountain.

For a Japanese tea house, the path from an entrance gate to the entrance of the room is very important. Landscape should be designed carefully to make guests feel as if they walk in a mountain. In this sense, a Japanese tea house is a perfect urban retreat. Guests feel that they are transferred momentarily from their daily life to nature.

Natural stepping stones in moss ground.

We designed these natural stepping stones surrounded by moss.

Staggered stepping stones surrounded by moss under shady trees – You can imagine a quiet mountain form this landscape. Sen no Rikyu mentioned that a pathway to a tea house should not be cleaned out at the opening of a tea ceremony, because the pathway without any fallen leaves does not look natural. He suggested that the cleaning should be done several hours prior to the opening of a ceremony if necessary.

Imagine that your backyard or part of your house becomes a retreat. I guarantee that this setting will remove your stress easily because you can be in your retreat at any time. (T)

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