A city known for Edo culture and cherry blossoms, Tokyo has long integrated natural beauty within a sprawling metropolis. Now the world’s biggest city supports more than 13.2 million people and imports 80 percent of its food, making the need for innovative and productive use of urban spaces – beyond beautification – more pressing than ever. Here’s how Tokyo’s most notable urban agriculture projects are combining Japanese cultural tradition, innovative technologies, and architectural design to create Edokko urban foodscapes.
The Agrimedia Corporation operates 20 plot-share farms in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, and Chiba, connecting beginning farmers with elderly former farmers who were forced to abandon their land. Groups of farmers share plots of 10 square meters for a US$75 rental fee, and receive resources such as seeds, tools, inputs, and technical advice.
Atop a roof on the man-made island of Odaiba in Tokyo Bay, City Farm grows melons, tomatoes, soybeans, and rice using traditional semi-aquatic conditions. Community members can participate in threshing events, cooking projects, and sake making courses.
Hoping to raise awareness about honeybees and educate community members about sustainable lifestyles, Takayasu Kazuo and Tanaka Atsuo founded a rooftop bee yard in the Ginza district of Chūō, Tokyo in March of 2006. Ginza’s beekeepers are able to harvest about 300 kilograms of honey per year; the bee farm is home to more than 150,000 bees, which may even protect endangered bird populations from crow attacks.
Situated on an empty lot in the Ginza shopping district, Ginza Rice Farm is run by Iimura Kazuki, supporting ducklings, bamboo cultivation, and other vegetable plants. Inspired by the success of Ginza Rice Farm, which has held a farmers’ market, noodle rolling events on bamboo poles, and a community rice harvest. Kazuki later founded Omotesando Rooftop Farm, renting empty plots to interested community members.
Telecommunications corporation NTT launched this project as part of a larger green roof, choosing to grow sweet potatoes using aerohydroponics. Sweet potatoes have wide leaves, which can provide a cooling effect through higher transpiration rates, combating the urban heat island effect in Tokyo.
The Pasona O2 interior urban farm is the most famous of Tokyo’s urban agriculture projects, incorporating climate control, sodium vapor lamps, and remote technology to maximize yields of more than 100 types of produce, all grown indoors. Created by Kono Designs in 2010, the project is especially notable for its use of underground spaces, the role of office staff in caring for the plants, and the visual aesthetic created by the vertical crops growing on the exterior of the nine-story building.
Described as a country oasis in the middle of the city, this urban farm and restaurant features Japanese specialty crops, such as negi leeks and mustard greens, growing in large glass cubes, created by a partnership with ON design. The menu features the plants grown on-site, and offers both American and Japanese cuisines.
New farms on rooftops of train stations feature small rental plots of local veggies, professional support staff, and zen-inspired design. The farms were created through collaboration between the East Japan Railway Company and entertainment company Ekipara, and currently occupy five locations.
Since May 2009, Tamachi Building Co., a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, has provided produce from its rooftop garden to New Tokyo restaurants. The company has invited schoolchildren to strawberry picking events and potato digs, and has incorporated solar power for energy efficiency.
Between Tokyo’s obsession with luxury fruit and its renewed love of DIY gardening lies an interesting phenomenon of noncommercial fruit production in urban spaces. A research collaboration seeks to understand how fruit in Tokyo is grown and harvested on the community level through storytelling; many of the collected stories and fruits are unique to Japan, or even to Tokyo.
Perhaps most appealing about urban farming in Tokyo is not the larger rooftop farms or use of impressive technologies, but the everyday, surprising manifestations of urban agriculture on the smallest scale: flowerpot collections, ivy growing from a water bottle, edible sidewalk gardens. Jared Braiterman of Tokyo Green Space attributes this “gardening for strangers” to the distinctive streetscapes of Tokyo and a culture of respect, noting that “homes are built directly to the property line, [so that] gardens spill out into small streets or climb vertically against the walls.” Participation in small-scale cultivation is akin to cultural citizenship on the streets of Tokyo.