Kei Amano
Kei Amano


Kei Amano

Yard Works

The garden of K5
A space made with plants of the four seasons

Kei Amano is a gardener, creating spaces using only plants as his medium. He is well known for his originality and sense of style. "The Soil" in Yamanashi Prefecture, is his home base where he plots and plans projects all over Japan under the name “Yard Works”. When working on the layout for K5, he was particular about creating a space that would act as an extension of a person’s line of sight whilst simultaneously expressing the beauty of the four seasons. His strong, free-standing greenery stands out against the gray backdrop of stone-built Kabutocho.

●Where are you from?
I grew up in a place called Ishiwa Onsen in Yamanashi Prefecture, I still live there now. The hot spring is connected to the water supply, so when you turn the tap, out comes hot spring water!

●What did you do as a student?
I was studying chemistry at a university in Chiba, but I had no goals or objectives and spent my school days in a daze, wondering what I should do in the future. At the time, Harajuku was all the rage, so I often came to Tokyo to shop. But I didn’t like the crowds, and I didn’t really want to live in Tokyo. I liked fishing, and I wanted to be in a place with nature, so I went back to my hometown to get a job.

●What job did you end up doing?
I got a job at a semiconductor company. But the whole time I was working I kept looking at the time, wondering when I would be able to clock off. It made me think: would my life be okay like this? I worked there for two years, and then I moved on to a remodeling company, partly because I had a hobby building shelves and partly because of my love of space and spatial design. At that company, I learned simple approaches to exteriors, house exteriors, and exterior walls.

●How did you get into the business of plants?
One day, I was working on a drawing of a garden, and although it felt complete, I thought it didn’t look cool at all. Then I saw a garden in a book I had picked up that looked cool, and I wondered why and what was different about it. I thought, “Oh, plants!”. I was about 25 or 26 years old, and my mother was taking a gardening class, so I went along and was shocked to see how the space was made up of plants. I was amazed at the fact that a space could be created using only plants, not concrete or other hard materials. That’s when I decided that I wanted to learn about plants. I started out knowing only cherry blossoms, tulips, and dandelions!

●What kind of people did you train under?
My teacher was a woman who was especially skilled in English-style gardens. She was so well regarded, people would come to her and ask her to make a garden for them. She’s the kind of person that would bring a Gaudi piece along with them when proposing to make a fence. Seeing her creative process made me realize that this was what I wanted to do. Before that, all I had been doing was choosing from catalogs and making proposals. But when you build a house, you either go to a house builder or a design office and in the case of a design office, the customer tends to search for an architect that will fit their image of the house they wish to build. So I knew that I wanted to do something similar with gardens and design firms. My teacher always had an interesting perspective and a cool way of thinking. She also happened to be Christian, so in the evenings she would start drinking wine and singing hymns while working on drawings. It was always an interesting time with her!

●What did you learn about plants?
I learned how to treat plants. The way my teacher treated plants was full of love. Since Japan has four very distinct seasons, I learned how to design in light of that, and how to create space by composing such plants based on scent or harvest time. At the age of 30, I decided to start my own business, so I concentrated on my studies for four years at the age of 26. It was quite late in the world of landscaping, but there weren’t many craftsmen who could make active suggestions, so I concentrated on getting the qualifications, studying, and cutting all my friendships. I thought that if I was going to do it, I had to do my best.

If I bought a cool European garden to Japan, it would just be a copy. So, I decided to interpret it in my own way and create an original genre.

●After four years of training, did you start your business immediately?
At the age of 29, I quit my job and went on a three-month wandering trip to Europe. My sister was living in Paris, so I used that as my base, but had no real plans. I got a map from an information desk in front of the station and went around the parks, thinking that if there was a green area, it meant it was a park, so I went there. When I was thinking about why parks are so pleasant, I realized that it’s because they house culture. The way children play, the way people relax and live, the closeness of the relationship between people and parks.

●Were there any parks that impressed you?
Every big park in Europe has a Japanese garden, and when I came across a Japanese garden, I thought to myself, ‘this space is so cool!’. And I had a lot of respect for it, but because I’m not trained in Japanese gardens it wasn’t something I could do professionally. Also, if I bought a cool European garden to Japan, it would just be a copy. So, I decided to interpret it in my own way and create an original genre. I wanted to have respect for Japanese gardens and mix it with foreign culture, but still keep it local and not too tall.

●Were there any other influences you discovered during your trip?
I was also visiting art museums, and every museum had a picture of Christ. I was surprised at first, but since they were everywhere I went, I started to feel tired! I decided to change my perspective and focus on the lifestyle of the aristocrats and farmers in the paintings. From there, I started to fantasize about the background of the painting, wondering what kind of person painted it, in what kind of situation, at what kind of time, and it became interesting. I would wonder if a balding father was painting this picture while opening a window along the coast of Spain! Eventually, I became good at imagining things, it was almost like training. Even now, when I receive a commission for a garden, I can visualize plants in the empty space. If I keep looking at it, a forest or a terrace will appear, children will start playing, and my imagination will grow.

●Did your independence go smoothly when you returned to Japan?
I could be independent and still get by pruning and taking care of plants. But the reason I started my own business was to make gardens, so I thought about what I could do to make that happen. I thought I had to do some kind of activity. I planted small pots and bonsai trees together called table gardens, and I asked an electronic music professor at the University of Yamanashi to do a live event where I improvised bonsai trees while playing electronic sounds on stage. At the time no one was really being playful with plants. I thought that if I did such activities, trend-sensitive people would come. From there, I started getting more and more calls, and although I didn’t get paid for it, I was happy to do things like decorating for events. Although I started getting jobs in Tokyo, I always wanted to work in Yamanashi, so I opened my office and store, “THE SOIL,” after 10 years of founding “Yard Works”. I felt like I had finally made it to the starting line.

Kabutocho is a town made of stone, so he wanted to return that gray image to one of a forest, and maybe he chose a gardener with Kabutocho as a whole in mind.

●How did you come to work on the plants at K5?
I received a phone call from Mr. Matsui of Media Surf. He said, “I have this project, are you interested ?” Something like that! I said, “Can we talk later?” and hung up. He seemed shocked by that and immediately came to Yamanashi with his family. I thought it was amazing that he would go that far, so I decided to take on the project.

●What did you talk about with Claesson Koivisto Rune (*1)?
When I was introduced to Ola Rune of CKR for the first time, I thought I should at least say “Welcome to Japan”, so I went there with a simple self-introduction in Swedish I had made using Google Translate. I nervously introduced myself in Swedish, but they replied in English! But when I heard about it later, it seemed to have made a difference. After that, Matsui brought Ola to Yamanashi, and it turned out to be a job interview. He wanted a gardener, not a flower shop, to do the greenery for K5, and I think that’s why he asked me. Kabutocho is a town made of stone, so he wanted to return that gray image to one of a forest, and maybe he chose a gardener with Kabutocho as a whole in mind.

※1 Claesson Koivisto Rune
The Swedish design unit that designed K5 Hotel

●Did you have a specific plan in mind?
I didn’t have one at all. The K5 project members were young, and I was probably the oldest member of the project. Since I had been the youngest in many scenes, I wasn’t used to being asked to do things by junior members, so that was also surprising. It was also interesting to see the energy of the young people, and the high level of skill of the people in Tokyo. And the way Ola, a person who is active on the world stage, judges. On the last day, we started taking large pots and placing them in various places, which was a really interesting experience!

In the morning when I was walking to K5 from the stock exchange side, the plants in the sun shining through the window looked very beautiful. It's because the building is gray that the greenery looks so vivid.

●What did you focus on for the plants in K5?
At the entrance of K5, I put some Australian plants and some Japanese plants. I think Tokyo is a culture of mixing. It takes a lot of skill, but I try to mix and match plants and put different plants in one pot. The suites have a particularly good mix of plants. Because of the high ceilings, we were able to bring out the techniques of the landscapers. The planting is done by imagining the scene that can be seen when the door is opened or from the bed. Plants are completely different when viewed from the front or from the side. I also made it a point to place them in such a way that you can see the passageway and the extension of people’s line of sight. Simply knowing about plants is not enough to create such a space. I calculated how people would walk, and how they would look when they walked and laid it out while thinking about it.

●Were there any differences from how you usually go about gardening?
At first, I was very conflicted. My job is to create gardens, but K5 is different from a garden because it is all inside. But I thought about how it looks when you walk in, how it looks when you walk around, how it looks from the street, and I realized that it’s the same as making a garden. If you change the way you think about it, it can become a garden, and so I started to enjoy it. But since it’s indoors, it’s very difficult for plants to grow, and I’m very conscious of the amount of light and wind. The plants outside the entrance were placed so that the four seasons would be visible. When K5 opened in February, there were no leaves on the plants because it was winter, but in spring, greenery slowly started appearing, and in summer, strong greenery appeared. And in the Autumn the Dodan Azalea leaves turn a surprisingly bright red. The management of the on-site staff is also very important. I would like people to come and see this place at least four times a year because its expression changes completely with the cycle of the four seasons.

●Please tell us how you select your pots.
I like simple pots. Plants bring out color and movement, so I like pots that are as unobtrusive as possible. But I do suggest different things along with the space. For K5, Ola chose an unglazed planter. Unglazed planters are made of soil, so the plants can breathe, but plastic or resin can’t breathe like unglazed planters. In an age when you can get any kind of planter, I was happy that a world-famous designer chose the most classic one.

●What kind of impression did you have of Kabutocho?
I had vaguely heard of the name, but I had never been there before. I only had an image of a financial district. But because the stone buildings are so cool, it makes the plants look even better. There is nothing superfluous, and the plants look great. For example, in the morning when I was walking to K5 from the stock exchange side, the plants in the sun shining through the window looked very beautiful. It’s because the building is gray that the greenery looks so vivid.

●Have there been any changes since your work on K5?
The power of the K5 brand is so strong that I feel lucky to be in Yamanashi, and actually, my work has increased! Inquiries have increased through word of mouth, and although we used to have only individual customers, now we have more corporate clients. But plants tend to be a tool, and I don’t want them to be a tool. When I get an inquiry about adding plants to a commercial facility, I sometimes decline if I think the client is only looking at it as a tool. It’s important that the people who live there grow plants with love. I’d like them to think about the future, rather than just using plants because they look good. I ask them, “Is there love there?”

I need to tell the young people in the area that there are people like them and that they can do things like this so that they can broaden their horizons.

●What is your current inspiration for gardening?
I still look at western books, and many of them are landscape books. I also get my inspiration from movies. When I saw “No Time to Die”, I was interested in the garden in the last scene. I also liked the feeling of running through the American wilderness in “Breaking Bad”. I like to look at the backgrounds of movies, but I also like to look at the locations of the pages of high-fashion magazines. I get inspiration from the colors and images, like the way the bricks are stacked, or the way the stones are laid.

●Is there anything you would like to do in the future?
I’ve been following my seniors since I was in my twenties and was surrounded by older people, but now I’m not so young anymore and there are more younger people in the projects I’m involved in. I am now at the point where I feel that I need to communicate properly. When I come to K5, I see young staff having fun, but I don’t see that in Yamanashi. I need to tell the young people in the area that there are people like them and that they can do things like this so that they can broaden their horizons.

●Do you have any goals in mind?
I have been saying for a long time that I would like to create a street that I produced entirely, even if it is only 50 or 100 meters long. I want to produce everything from buildings to tenants to plants. It might be similar to building a city. I think that if there is a very good 50 meters, people will come from all over the world to see it. I feel that I’m getting closer to that goal now.

Kei Amano

Kei Amano

Born in Yamanashi Prefecture in 1977. After working for a remodeling company, he studied landscaping and planting under a teacher specializing in English gardens. In 2017, he opened his office and store, “The Soil”. He attracted a lot of attention for his work with K5. Later, in Kabutocho, he was also in charge of planting direction for KABEAT, which opened in December 2021.

Text : Momoko Suzuki

Photo : Naoto Date

Interview : Momoko Suzuki