Tokyo Urban Farming
March 23, 2010
On my first morning in Tokyo I found myself on the end of a chainsaw cutting up an old gingko tree. Hardly what I was expecting to be doing on my first day in Japan. It reminded me of the time I went to stay with friends in central Wellington only to be asked to trim the hooves of a goat. Asako and I were helping out in the small (really very small) garden of our friend Nobu and his family. Small as it was there was a gingko tree, a plum tree, two small ume (Japanese plum) and a couple of rows of shingiku (an edible chrysanthemum).
The first thing about Tokyo that impressed me was the number of vegetable gardens and orchards in the city. Everywhere otherwise empty plots of land are mounded up into rows growing winter vegetables. Quite astonishing considering the high demand for land in Tokyo. There are also many kaki (persimmon) and nashi orchards in the middle of densely populated neighbourhoods. I could hardly believe it when I first saw a city-block-size nashi orchard amongst the tiny streets of crammed houses. We first thought this may be an anomaly of an old farming village that had gradually been swallowed by the ever expanding frontier of Tokyo but we have since seen many examples of large vegetable gardens and orchards much closer in to the centre of Tokyo. Generally these gardens are not attached to houses but stand as individual lots and many are quite significant in size.
Impressed as I am by the number of vegetable gardens and orchards I am a little suspicious of how neat and tidy they all look. Not a “weed” in sight and soil so pulverized it looks like it might blow away in the next strong wind or be washed away in a heavy downpour. Thankfully there are also examples of vital organic gardens growing healthy soil and healthy plants. (Photos of the Terrace garden in the gallery below are a good example).
I have seen many non-commercial gardens where families are growing their own food but there are also a lot of what look to be market gardens. Many of the orchards appear to be commercial concerns given the size (and monoculture) of them. There are also small mixed orchards in some of the vegetable gardens. I have seen some orchards advertising direct sales to the public and pick-your-own. I have also come across a couple of community gardens but these seem to be an exception in Tokyo (Or maybe I’m not recognizing them yet).