Ginza Honey Bee Project

Ginza Honey Bee Project, cropped poster

Last week the Ginza Honey Bee Project (銀座ミツバチプロジェクト) founders Takayasu Kazuo (高安和夫) and Tanaka Atsuo (田中淳夫) talked with me about their successful four year old honey-making project in the middle of Ginza, and showed me their rooftop hives.

We met in a unremarkable conference room in a nondescript office building behind Matsuya department store. A group of veterinarians was leaving, and we would soon be joined by a professional photographer. In the years since they launched urban bee farming in Tokyo’s most expensive commercial district, Ginza Honey Bee Project has attracted attention from local, national and international media, including National Geographic, BBC, CNN and many others.

Takayasu-san and Tanaka-san lead an all-volunteer effort, and their backgrounds are suitably in organic farming and real estate. They are deeply committed to keeping bees and reviving an industry that is in decline. Tanaka-san explained two factors contributing to the decline in the Japanese honey industry: deforestation after World War II to rebuild Japan and the increasing use of pesticides in rice farming. And while other countries are also experiencing “colony collapse disorder,” Japan is particularly vulnerable to the advanced age of its farmers and a decline in beekeepers from 15,000 to about 2,500.

Ginza Honey Bee Project aims to revive honey production, and increase awareness of the relationship between bees, nature and people. It was initially difficult to gain the permission of all 25 building tenants to have eight hives on the roof, housing 300,000 bees. Now they are producing 440 kilos of honey per year, one third of which goes to the volunteers and the remaining 3,000,000 yen in sales are donated to Ginza neighborhood projects such as an opera concert, a Farm Aid Ginza event in support of organic agriculture, local tree planting, and roof greening to create bee habitats. The large volunteer base includes Ginza club “mama-sans” and bartenders, landscape architects, art therapists and kids. Matsuya department store, a project sponsor, uses the Ginza honey in special pastries and a cocktail.

Ginza Honey Bee Project label

One interesting story Tanaka-san told was how Ginza Honey Bee Project rescued bees from nearby Tsukudajima that were going to be exterminated. There is now a hive of Japanese bees, which previously were not considered suitable for honey-making. Japanese bees are said to be at once “more gentle” and also “less loyal” to their hives. Despite some initial fears, we were encouraged to put our fingers in the honey-comb for a taste, and it was delicious.

Ginza Honey Bee Project honeycomb

The Ginza bees travel to the Imperial Palace and Hamarikyu, “flying faster than taxis.” The honey is labeled according to the nectar source, including chestnut, orange, clover and mint. The honey bottles are marked with the collection date. Future plans include a hoped-for 20 hive farm near Tokyo Station.

Here’s the full poster. Click the image for a larger size.

Ginza Honey Bee Project poster

Below is a view from the rooftop. In the distance a famous sake company has a small rooftop rice field which it uses for a premium local sake.

Ginza Honey Bee Project roof view of sake company

And the roof garden viewed in close-up was designed to provide bee habitat.

Ginza Honey Bee Project green roof

This is an image of the exterior of Ginza Honey Bee Project’s office tower, on top of which are the hives.

Ginza Honey Bee Project building exterior

UPDATE: A Japan Times article adds some interesting details to the Ginza Honey Bee Project: an assertion that because of the lack of pesticides, Tokyo may be a healthier environment for bees than the countryside; Ginza Honey Bee Project’s activism with neighbors to plant more bee-supporting flowers and grasses in Ginza; a vision for “edible landscapes” in the city; and Tanaka’s dream that Tokyo honey one day be the top Tokyo souvenir.

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10 comments
  1. mads said:

    cute hat

  2. margaret rees said:

    just beginning to find out about urban bee-keeping and am excited about being invited to be part of a team which includes expert bee-keepers in the town in Canada where i live. we plan to have a hive on top of an apartment building here. thank you for this.

    • palmsundae said:

      Hi Margaret, thank you for your comment. I am excited to hear about your Canadian beekeeping experience. Are some residents reluctant, or have they been enthusiastic? Please post any links or stories when you have time. I have heard about beekeeping in New York City and Paris, too.

  3. Gerry said:

    Great post! I’ve just shared it on the New York City Beekeepers Association’s Facebook group, and plan to mention it on my Global Swarming Honeybees blog soon.

    • palmsundae said:

      Thank you, Gerry. I like your blog, too, and am very impressed with how many New Yorkers are bringing beekeeping to their backyards and roofs. I wonder if this grass-roots beekeeping will come to Japan.

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