farmer

“These are Japanese tabi,” announces the young demolition worker

demolition_nakano_worker (1)

とてもフレンドリーなガテン系の青年は靴を指差して「ジャパニーズ足袋」と言いました。これから、中野にある住居の取り壊しのシリーズをはじめます。取り壊しの時に、住居の中が見えます。真夏なのに、若いガテン系さんは一所懸命に働きます。

On my way to the station, I first notice a large truck parked in front of an old house. A minute further down the small street, this orange-haired youth greets me, and points at his shoes, saying “these are Japanese tabi.” Tabi are the mitten-like shoes worn by Japanese construction workers and farmers. He very willingly posed for his portrait, with the demolition site in the background.

This is the start of a series on the demolition of two adjacent Nakano houses. One was, at one time, an elegant and understated Showa-era home, with clean lines and a few blue ceramic roof tiles as decoration. It’s neighbor is a more international-style home from perhaps the 1970s. The demolition took place during the heat of summer in August.

Home demolitions give you a rare peak inside the homes of strangers, allowing you to see interior courtyards, old kitchens, and other “private spaces.” The demolition requires weeks of dismantling and trash sorting. There’s some machinery for the heavy lifting, but much of the energy for these small projects comes from youth.

Vegetable delivery from Free Farm: from farm to risotto

Free Farmの野菜をリゾットにしました。友達にもすすめます。http://freefarm.co.jp/ @TEDxSeeds で、Twitter の @FREEFARM_taro に会いました。

Free Farm vegetables made into risotto! Check out http://freefarm.co.jp/, which I learned about via @TEDxSeeds.

I learned about Free Farm, a farm-to-city vegetable service, at this year’s TEDxSeeds conference. Recently we received a box of incredibly fresh, organic vegetables that put our normal supermarket food to shame. The carrots tasted sweet, the shiitake were grown on trees and not artificial “medium,” the baby daikon were gorgeous and full of flavor. There was also a small Chinese cabbage and a mild leaf vegetable we had never heard of called okanori (おかのり), which means land seaweed. (Apparently, when dried, it smells or tastes like seaweed).

The vegetables came in a simple box and were wrapped in the Financial Times newspaper. Also included were the names of the vegetables, information about the farm in Tochigi, some ideas for how to eat the vegetables, and a hand-written note from the farmer. The box including the vegetables above cost 2,000 yen, or just over 3,000 yen with the costs of shipping and “furikomi.” I highly recommend this food service, and you will enjoy it even more if you can read Japanese. A similar French service in Tokyo is Le Panier de Piu.

Here’s the risotto we made from the okanori, shiitake, and baby daikon.

 

Rice in a bag kit, sold by Donki

My father in law received a kit to grow rice, complete with detailed instructions in this attractive bag.

Anyone who lives in Japan knows Donki, the abbreviation for Don Quixote, a chain of crowded shops full of the oddest merchandise, from electronics to clothes to food. Known for low prices, Donki is the inverse of a posh department store.

I was surprised to see that Donki (well, some of the stores) now sells grow-you-own-rice in a kit. It’s exciting to see an interest in growing your own food spreading to such a popular urban store. Have you seen other kits that encourage first-time city farmers?

City people connecting with the people growing their food

The last post about Big Globe reminded me of two recent dinners I attended in Tokyo and Kanagawa which featured food with visible and interactive connections to the farmers who produced them.

The first was a mochi party at the ceramic studio where I am a student. Their annual mochi party used special rice grown by Niigata farmers. The teachers found them online last year, and this year along with the huge bag of rice, they included the above image showing the family that creates the rice. I like how they also include a QR code.

The other event was a lavish dinner hosted by a Japanese architect friend that featured Kyushu pork fed a persimmon diet. The dinner included seven courses all of which included pork and persimmon, including an amazing sweet-and-sour and a tonkatsu with cream cheese and persimmon inside the batter. Both at the party and in the email invitation, we learned about the River Wild Ham store, and how it used fallen organic persimmons from Kakinoya farm as feed. The taste was astounding.

Given the discussion of technology in the previous post, it is interesting how these rural farmers are connecting with city people with online stores, blogs, QR codes, and Flickr accounts. I do not fully understand the “21st century rock and roll heart” branding, but clearly the pork store wants to be contemporary and relevant to today’s buyers.

Lastly, I realize that more and more vegetables in Tokyo now include images of the farmer. Well, given how industrial most farming is, I wonder how accurate some of these images are. Still, I think it is part of a broader interest by city people to know where their food comes from, how it is made, and who is making it.

City and Country, 1970s and now

“The Japanese think of the City in the way that Englishmen used to think of Mighty London. It is either one or the other. Rice paddies or the Ginza.” (p35)

I am reading the wonderful author Donald Richie’s The Inland Sea, first published in 1971. Richie is the ultimate American expat in Japan, who stayed from the start of the Occupation until today, and this is a classic travel book focused on Seto Nai Kai (the Inland Sea), which I recently visited.

This passage struck me because Ginza Farm, which I have visited for Tokyo Green Space, overcomes the division between city and country by bringing a rice paddy to Ginza, Tokyo’s most celebrated commercial district full of De Beers, Cartier and now of course Uniqlo flagship stores.

Richie’s The Inland Sea also reminds me of the recently deceased French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss’ Tristes Tropiques, which chronicled an Amazon on the verge of extinction. In a similar voyage by boat, Richie bemoans the new highways and lure of the city that threaten the fishing economy and general isolation of these islands and peoples. What used to be called “salvage anthropology” clashes with contemporary feelings by focusing on purity and what is about to be lost. This antique attitude also portrays the writer as both the “first” and last foreigner to capture a vanishing culture, creating a false sense of importance for the individual writer.

Despite this unease, it is hard not to enjoy Richie’s beautiful writing, his insights on insider and outsider culture, and his only partly closeted attraction to Japan. And I do not doubt the gulf that once existed between city and country, which makes the current urban interest in rural life and agriculture all the more indicative of profound social and environmental change.

On a related topic, I read this week in the New York Times that Korea, which is generally more accepting of national diversity, is having difficulties integrating children of mixed marriages. Most mixed children are the progeny of Korean farmers and their Chinese, Filipino and Thai wives. Partly the social question is of race, but also of class and city versus country.

I was struck that Korea shares Japan’s rural abandonment, and seems ahead of Japan in responding through immigration. Perhaps Japan, too, will first open its doors to immigrants willing to live in its rural areas now inhabited almost exclusively by the elderly. Despite Japan’s xenophobia, immigrants as care-givers and farmers seem more likely than the techno fantasy of robots: more cost-effective as workers and more human in terms of care and culture.

FarmVille, an addiction to virtual farming

Farmville, an addiction to virtual farming

Can anyone comment on this recent story about FarmVille? Apparently, Farmville is Facebook’s most popular application with 62 million users since it started this June. Like the Sims or Tamagotchi pets, players must carefully tend to their virtual worlds, in this case crops, farm animals and neighbors. Created in San Francisco, this game is popular with city people and farmers from around the world.

Omotesando Farm

Iimura Kazuki (飯村一樹) at Omotesando Farm

On the first of September, Iimura Kazuki (飯村一樹) opened Omotesando Farm (表参道彩園), a roof-top garden rental space in a central upscale commercial and residential district. He is offering sixteen small plots at rents ranging from $170 to $250 per month (15,750 to 23,100 yen). Although community gardens exist in outer neighborhoods of Tokyo, Omotesando Farm is only the second roof-top one in central Tokyo. The other is on top of the JR Ebisu station.

Omotesando Farm

With stunning views of Shinjuku, Roppongi and Aoyama, the roof is located on a three story modern structure, next door to the Paul Smith boutique on a small back street. Because the roof is concrete, no structural changes were necessary. Iimura-san brought in special light-weight soil from a Chiba Research Center (Norin), and the same wood artisan Hirano who created Ginza Farm built the planters and deck here using untreated Japanese cedar (杉). Both are great examples of fine craftsmanship combining function, elegance, and avoidance of chemicals. On the roof perimeter, vines have been planted to cover the banister.

Omotesando Farm

Iimura-san explained several surprises in starting this new urban farming concept. He was able to quickly rent all the plots, with many responding to ads on Yahoo Japan and all registering online. Iimura-san imagined that he would attract people who live nearby and families. However, these first customers are almost all young, many couples, and most are drawn by the proximity of Omotesando Farm to their work spaces. While visiting, I spoke briefly to an older customer who lives in Saitama, but is making Omotesando Farm part of his work day. He showed off his vegetable seedlings protected with plastic bottles from the birds.

Omotesando Farm seedlings

Iimura-san estimates that 70% of his customers are female, and that 75% are new to vegetable farming. Omotesando Farms is planning to provide a coaching system, using agricultural students and/or farmers visiting on the weekends. Although Omotesando Farms does not have the public access that the street-level Ginza Farm does, there has been tremendous media attention, including newspapers, television and radio. Even Japan’s top business newspaper, the Nikkei, has written a story about Omotesando Farm. Iimura-san thinks it is because this project combines “LOHAS” (a lifestyle of health and sustainability) with a green business idea that turns wasted space into a profitable business benefiting green entrepreneurs and property owners.

Iimura-san is already planning to open several more rental garden plots early next year, in Harajuku and Chuo-ku. I wish him luck in inspiring urban residents to grow their own food and creating an urban farming business.

Omotesando Farm