age

One thousand year old zelkova tree

At the entrance to a public elementary school near our apartment is an enormous tree that I frequently pass by. On the other side of the entrance is a beautiful cherry tree. I didn’t pay any attention to the larger tree until the husband remarked that it sports a sign declaring it a “thousand year old zelkova” (in Japanese, it’s keyaki, けやき).

I went back, examined the tree more carefully, and took some photos. Does anyone know if this one thousand year designation is literal or figurative? It seems incredible, especially when compared with what I thought was an ancient ginko tree at Kishbojin Temple in Zoushigaya, reportedly 600 years old.

Looking carefully at this zelkova tree, I can see that there are huge fissures in the trunk and the tree has been pruned radically, including all the main branches and even the base close to the ground. I would like to think that this tree is a local treasure, and that someone is taking good care of it. Its age gives it character, and its canopy is still very impressive.

Nouka no daikokoro: Locavore restaurant

Nouka no Daikokoro in Shinjuku

A new branch on Nouka no daikokoro (農家の台所), literally the Farmer’s Kitchen, has opened in Shinjuku, and is extremely popular. Housed on the fourth floor of a new tower, the restaurant brings a farm experience to urban resident with local food, an unusual interior, and information about local farmers.

Above the open kitchen and salad bar hang posters featuring the farmers who are growing the incredibly fresh vegetables being served. The posters are designed to look like election campaign posters, and the signage, including hanging cloth banners, introduce food producers to food consumers.

Farmer's Kitchen

The unusual farm experience begins with the entrance. Customers enter the restaurant through a large walk in refrigerator full of fresh produce for sale. If the wait for a table is too long, you can also buy a 700 yen (US$8) bento salad lunch and take it to nearby Shinjuku Goen.

Inside, the interior is an odd mix of a futuristic space (silver squishy floor and sleek counters) with a traditional space of tatami mats and low tables, and another utilitarian area of counters and tables near the salad bar. The first room has a papaya tree growing in a sleek tube, and the middle room a greenhouse with shelves of green peppers.

Nouka no daidokoro papaya tree

The vegetables were some of the tastiest I have had in Tokyo, and the lunch price very reasonable (800 yen for lunch set, 400 yen additional for raw salad bar). If you can’t get a reservation, it’s best to come late for lunch or early for dinner.

Farmer's Kitchen

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.

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