Ginza Farm

Australia’s Jacaranda geography textbook uses Ginza Farm photograph to introduce “Japan and Korea.”

japankorea

オーストラリアの地理の教科書が韓国と日本の章に私の写真を使ってくれました。銀座農園の写真です。とても良い教科書です。もちろん、世界の中心はオーストラリアになっています。

I was very flattered that one of Australia’s top geography textbooks, published by Wiley, included my photograph of Ginza Farm in their “Japan and Korea” page. My father in law was confused by the idea of the two countries together. I’d like to think it’s a hopeful gesture. Of course, since it’s an Australian textbook, the atlas is clearly centered on Australia and its immediate neighbors.

japankorea_cover

Lotus 149 publishes my photos of urban rice farming in Tokyo

「Lotus』というイタリアの雑誌に私の東京の農園の写真が二つでました。パソナのロビーの田んぼ銀座農園の空き地の田んぼの写真が選ばれました。「Lotus』には素敵な建築のプロジェクットがたくさんのっています。四角いかたちです。もっと東京のグリーンスペースを雑誌に紹介したいです。

Lotus Editorial kindly sent me a copy of Lotus 149, titled Lotus in the Field, which explores the relations with the countryside. Lotus is a beautifully designed, Italian-English bilingual architecture quarterly from Milan.

Lotus 149 includes two of my urban agriculture photographs: one of Pasona’s corporate lobby rice field, the other an outdoor, temporary rice field in Ginza that took advantage of an empty lot between demolition and new construction.

I was happy to see that my Pasona photograph extends into a second page, and I like how the image shows a more ambivalent side of the project than the text and photos provided by the architects and corporation. Especially with the post-3.11 energy shortages after the nuke plants have been suspended, creating a show garden with grow lights looks less than utopian.

You can see the original 2009 and 2010 posts on Tokyo Green Space that inspired Lotus 149: about Pasona, and about Ginza Farm.

Woman’s Day features Tokyo Green Space photos

Woman’s Day published a “Magnificent Urban Gardens” feature for Earth Day. The ten photos include two from Tokyo Green Space: Ginza Farm’s rice field and the sidewalk pansies photo that is the project icon. I am amazed that these photos are in the context of famous and not so famous world city gardens, including Patric Blanc’s London Athenaeum Hotel, NYC’s High Line, Chicago’s City Hall, and a cool basil wall next to a NYC pizza oven.

I love how the focus is on beauty as much as environmental benefit.

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.

Ginza Farm rice harvest

Iimura and Ginza Farm Rice Harvest

On November 1, Ginza Farm celebrated the rice harvest. The event began at 9 am on a Sunday morning and drew a crowd including children, parents, bloggers, an actress in an upcoming movie about farming, and the carpenter Hisano who built the beautiful tanbo, tables and benches. Above entrepreneur Iimura san helps the kids hang the rice along a bamboo rail.

Here’s what the rice looked like just before harvest.

Ginza Farm Rice Harvest

Below is a photo of Hisano san, the Chiba carpenter who created Ginza Farm and Omotesando Farm.

Hisano san, the Chiba carpenter

After the jump are photos of the actress helping the children bundle the rice, two kids enjoying the remaining duck, and a sad note about how one duck died the previous week from an assault by a Ginza raccoon.

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Public behavior: Tokyo’s advantage in building a livable city

Vandalism of Paris' Velib, bike sharing program

A recent New York Times story about vandalism of Paris’ visionary Velib bike-sharing program highlighted an enormous advantage that Tokyo has in creating great public spaces: the respect that citizens pay to shared space and to each other.

To mitigate climate change, reduce traffic and clean the city’s air, Paris created a remarkable bike sharing program, with over 20,000 bicycles available throughout Paris at a very low rental price. With 50,000 to 150,000 daily trips, this bike-sharing program created a real impact on how residents and tourists traversed the city. Since 2007, more than 80% of the sturdy bicycles have been stolen or vandalized beyond repair.

The New York Times quotes Parisian police and sociologists who blame the attacks on “resentful, angry or anarchic youth” in a “socially divide Paris.”  Specific blame is given to suburban youth, the mostly poor immigrants who live in the outskirts of the city and view the bicycles as a symbol of urban privilege that they lack.

Compared to the extreme inequality in many global cities, Tokyo remains surprisingly safe and clean. This allows for some amazing new public spaces, from the wonderous Ginza Farm open to everyone and unguarded– disturbed in five months only by a raccoon hungry for one of its ducks (more on this later)– to the many common gardens and plants placed outside homes and shops.

Most Tokyo residents are unaware that their relative social harmony is unique. With public behavior the norm, there are unparalleled opportunities to create even more exciting new public spaces that revitalize human life connected to plants and wildlife. Public spaces open at night, habitats that require clean running water, valuable plants that require time and care to mature, the care that individuals and organizations invest in place-making are all more likely to be respected and allowed to thrive in Tokyo.

Velib poster

Ginza Farm’s rice is almost ripe

Ginza Farm's rice just before harvest

On the first day of October, I visited Ginza Farm, and saw the rice is almost ready to be harvested.  San Francisco Chronicle’s transportation reporter asked to interview me about Tokyo Green Space, and I thought there was no better public place to meet than Ginza Farm. The reporter’s interpreter told us that one sign that the rice is close to being ready is that the stalks start to droop under the weight of the grains.

Metropolis article on Tokyo Green Space

Metropolis magazine article on Tokyo Green Space

Metropolis magazine in Japan published my article on Tokyo Green Space. It’s my first general interest article on some of the amazing green space innovators I have met during my research in Tokyo: including Ginza rice farmers and bee keepers, a modern bonsai Continue reading

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

White Roses cabaret

Shiroibara, white rose cabaret, Ginza, photo by weblog244

Leaving Ginza Farm, I spotted a famous Ginza institution, the Shiroi Bara or White Rose cafe in an ancient brick building. Between Ginza Farm and the undulating de Beers building on Kazutou Street, just off Chuo Street, the White Rose dates from 1931, the early rise of Ginza, and is associated with the writers Nagai Kafū and Kikuchi Kan and the 2-26 coup attempt in 1936. Given how little history is preserved in Tokyo, it is amazing that this cabaret remains in business full of retro charm.

White Roses poster

(Note: Top photo by weblog244, shared on Flickr through Creative Commons)

Ginza Farm Update

Ginza Farm rice

Yesterday I stopped by Ginza Farm to check on the rice. As you can see in the photo above, the rice seeds are already forming. Despite the challenges of growing rice in a high rise-district, as Iimura-san explained last month, the plants are thriving.

In fifteen minutes, I saw fifteen visitors, plus the attention of the construction workers next door. One visitor was a Ginza gallery worker, another a retiree and his wife, a chef, two smartly dressed young women, and a young guy taking photos of the ducks. Clearly, Ginza Farm has become a neighborhood treasure, with repeat visitors checking on the progress of this urban farm.

Ginza Farm ducks

Born on July 3, the ducks have become almost full grown in just over two months. They have gone from cute yellow ducklings to mature, striped fowl. The sign in front of them explains that they are an integral part of the rice farming, in a method called aigamo nouhou (あいがも農法). Ducks that are a cross-breed that includes wild duck eat weeds and insects in the rice paddy, and provide fertilizer with their droppings. This natural method reduces pesticide, insecticide, and fertilizer, and has been introduced throughout Asia. Aigamo nouhou rice farming was used in pre-Edo Japan, and was recently revived in the 1990s.

Ginza Farm ducks explain aigamo nouhou farming

I am amazed at how well Ginza Farm attracts the neighbors’ attention, how well they communicate their commitment to natural farming, and how they combine attractive design with environmental education. In addition to the well crafted wood logs that forms the paddy and provides seating and tables, there are flowering morning glories, potted pine trees, bamboo, hostas, and wind chimes as decoration.

Morning glory at Ginza Farm

For more information on Japan-Bangladesh duck-rice farming cooperation and science, please see Hossain, Sugimoto, Ahmed, Islam, Effect of Integrated RiceDuck Farming on Rice Yield, Farm Productivity, and RiceProvisioning Ability of Farmers,” Asian Journal of Agriculture and Development, Vol 2, No 1, 2005, pp 79-86.

Interview with Iimura Kazuki (飯村一樹) at Ginza Farm

Interview with Iimura Kazuki (î—ë∫àÍé˜) at Ginza Farm

Last week I sat down with Iimura Kazuki (飯村一樹) at Ginza Farm, with a translator, and learned much more about his ideas for Ginza Farm, his background and his next project.

Iimura-san told me that he is very interested in urban farming in Japan and worldwide. His background has given him unique skills for pulling off something that at first seems impossible: creating a ground level rice farm in one of Tokyo’s most expensive neighborhoods.

Iimura-san recently worked with rural towns on revitalizing their small commercial streets, most recently in Shizoka. He realized that this local problem required new connections with the rest of the world. When he turned his attention to Tokyo farming, he drew on Ginza connections he forged as a venture capitalist. And finally his obvious skill with growing comes from his childhood on his parents’ farm in Shimoutsuba in Ibaraki prefecture, a town known for its high quality rice. The Ginza Farm soil and rice come from his parents’ farm.

How did Iimura-san secure a site that is on a small side street west and north of the intersection of Chuo Dori and Yanagi Dori (not far from the twisty De Beers building)? Using connections with tax accountants and attorneys, he located the plot and spent six months negotiating with the landlord. Although I do not know the details, apparently lending land between demolition and construction confers some significant tax advantages, yet still it took a long process of negotiation.

A giant photo banner at the back of the field proclaims that “One hundred rice farmers make Japan healthy.” Below is information about the supporting farms. Iimura-san contacted some of Japan’s most award-winning farms, appealing to their pride and patriotism. He spent two months sending documents and gaining equal support from these farmers.

Some of the activities at Ginza Farm have included a farmer’s market, a Tanabata festival with Nagashi Somen (noodle rolling along a long bamboo tube). At the festival, he said that the kids who participated were initially afraid of getting dirty, but that within five minutes they were throwing mud and “becoming monsters.” He wonders if it might have been the first time for many of these city kids to play in the dirt.

The field, the sitting area of benches and tables, the awning are all very rustic and well crafted. Iimura-san told us that a famous bamboo artist and his workers built much of it.

Iimura-san said that many types of people have visited. With the introduction of the ducklings, more women have become interested. I noticed an interesting mix of Ginza workers, including construction workers and shop clerks. Iimura-san explained that the school kids who helped plant the farm each received a plant to take home. Iimura-san was very proud that one kid came back to tell him that the rice he cared for was bigger and stronger than the Ginza Farm’s.

A true farmer, Iimura-san told me of very specific growing problems in Ginza that makes it hard to grow rice well. The sun does not shine into the field until 9 am which is bad. At night, the field is full of artificial light, which he has attempted to control with a large black plastic curtain he closes at dusk. “It’s important for the rice to sleep.” And finally, the night time temperature in Ginza is too warm, without the cool breezes found in the countryside.

Iimura-san has many future plans: to create another Ginza Farm next year, to find new markets for Japanese rice, and to open a rental farm (貸し農園) with sixteen roof top plots on the top of the Paul Smith building in Omotesando. He says the rental farm has wonderful views of Roppongi and Tokyo.

Iimura-san’s resourcefulness and passion will be very helpful, and I am looking forward to visiting Ginza Farm again and his next projects.

The photo at the top of the post and below show how the rice and the ducklings have grown so much within 10 days. While my last visit he showed me a tiny frog, this time he pointed out a small snail on the trunk of the entrance-way maple tree.

Ginza Farm ducks

Ginza rice farm

Ginza rice farm

On a side street in Ginza, I noticed a rice farm and met Ginza Farm‘s CEO Iimura Kazuki (飯村一樹) and his assistant who were tending the rice and two cute ducklings. Shop clerks and construction clerks stopped by to admire the rice in its mid-summer glory.

The rice farm occupies an empty lot. At the end of the afternoon Iimura-san was draining the rice paddy, and his assistant was collecting the ducklings to take back to the office for the evening. On the left is a beautiful table and benches, on the back and right side a huge photo mural of rural Japanese rice farms, and in front a bamboo fence, some live bamboo, vines, a black pine, and a few cucumber plants.

The banner reads “100 rice farms make Japan healthy.” The project is apparently funded by this group of Japanese rice farmers, with support from a lumber association. The following day was going to feature an “onigiri” (rice ball) party at 5 pm, and there’s something planned for this Sunday, July 19.

Iimura-san was very friendly, and even pointed out a frog that had somehow discovered the rice paddy.

Ginza Farm's Iimura Kazuki Ginza Farm frog

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