Things to Do | Visit Chiba | Latest update:2022/05/13
If you have ever visited an urban center in Japan, you may have come to appreciate the creative ways in which the limited amount of densely packed city space is utilized. Chiba City—which is located on the outer extents of the Greater Tokyo area—is one place where you can see this ingenuity at its best.
On a recent trip to downtown Chiba, we visited two facilities which produce living, breathing spaces that serve the local community in innovative fashions: Tsubakimori Komuna and THE CABINETS CAFE. These award-winning spaces are managed by the developer Takusho Kaihatsu, and both are conveniently located adjacent to Chiba Park, within a ten-minute walk from JR Chiba Station.
The scene that greets you at the entrance to Tsubakimori Komuna more closely resembles something crafted in an illustrator’s imagination than it does a space drawn up by city planners. Within a residential neighborhood next to Chiba Park, a maze of wooden decks and staircases occupies a hillside, inviting you to turn off the concrete and explore the hilltop above. As you reach the top of the stairs, the features of this komuna (an Esperanto word meaning ‘common’ or ‘communal’) space reveal themselves. First, you’ll step into a woodchip-covered square, a sort of public outdoor café, replete with a kitchen car and dining areas. Look above and you’ll see a handmade suspension bridge strung between two massive trees. As your gaze goes even higher, you’ll notice ladders leading to two treehouses nestled in the treetops above the bridge.
In fact, it was these trees that were the original inspiration for Tsubakimori Komuna. Originally, the developers were planning to replace the factory which once occupied this lot with residential buildings. However, upon discovering the two towering trees when surveying the property, the developers decided that the real value of the land was the natural gifts bestowed to it. From there, the concept of Tsubakimori Komuna was born. With this basis in nature and in the spirit of sustainability, some of the wooden materials from the original property continue to be re-used and re-purposed today.
Although the layout of Tsubakimori Komuna has changed over the years, the original goals of the developers remain the same: creating and maintaining a space that suits the needs of the community and its environment. As long any planned renovation suits these needs, there are no conceptual boundaries for how the komuna space will continue to evolve. These efforts have not gone unnoticed either, as the facility won the 2016 Good Design Award, an award sponsored by the Japan Institute of Design Promotion, and a 2019 Chiba City Culture Award.
On the other side of Chiba Park, about a three-minute walk from Tsubakimori Komuna, is another Takusho Kaihatsu production, THE CABINETS CAFE. The café occupies the first two floors of a building that goes by the same name, THE CABINETS. Following in the footsteps of their success with Tsubakimori Komuna, THE CABINETS earned Takusho Kaihatsu another Good Design Award, and two Chiba City Culture Awards, this time in 2021. Upon first glance, the origin of the structure’s namesake becomes apparent, as each floor appears as though it could slide out of the building like a cabinet drawer.
THE CABINETS is about more than just sleek appearances though, it was also designed to integrate within the surrounding neighborhood. A kitchen car remains parked in the first floor, serving café-style drinks and snacks, and handcrafted bento boxes featuring healthy ingredients, many of which are sourced locally. Customers are free to take their purchase next door to neighboring Chiba Park, or find a spot upstairs on the second floor. If you decide to enjoy your order upstairs, feel free to make yourself comfortable while you enjoy a chat with a friend or get some work done on your laptop, as the stocked bookshelves along the walls give this space the feel of a cozy reading nook.
As our cities continue to evolve in order to function better in a changing world, we must all consider how our shared spaces can serve the greater good. Both Tsubakimori Komuna and THE CABINETS CAFE serve as examples of this ideal being brought to life, and how communities like downtown Chiba can benefit from the efforts of forward-thinking designers.
1-21-23, Tsubakimori, Chuo Ward, Chiba City
(A ten-minute walk from JR Chiba Station, or a five-minute walk from Chibakoen Station on the Chiba Urban Monorail)
1F 3-2-14 Benten, Chuo Ward, Chiba City
(An eight-minute walk from JR Chiba Station.)