harvest

So many tiny fruit harvested in Tokyo backyard

yusura_ume_kuge_craft_sm

ゆすらうめー3分の1 収穫しました。

These two bowls are just one third of the yusura plum’s harvest. It’s a small tree behind Kuge Crafts, and it produces a lot. Thanks to Yoshiko Kuge for the photo and explanation about her jam-making.

Thinning radishes and turning roots and leaves into lunch salad

radish_seedlings_winter_crop_nakano

ベランダで育ったラディッシュが美味しいです。種をたくさんまいたので、今、間引きする必要があって、小さいラディッシュを収穫しています。根も葉もランチのサラダにしています。

My balcony winter crop is radishes and snap peas, planted by seed. My Tokyo farmer friend Joan advised me to plant densely, and eat my way through the thinning process. The leaves are surprisingly tasty, as are the mini-red radishes.

Night and day views of balcony strawberry

夜の庭と昼間の庭は全然違います。台所からイチゴを収穫することができます。

This half-ripe strawberry looks very cinematic at night. The garden has a different feeling at night and during the day.

Strawberries are taking shape. Looks like 6 plants will make a big harvest.

「東京イチゴ」には、小さなフルーツがいっぱい出来ています。最初にイチゴを食べられるのは鳥か自分か分かりません。

There are so many small fruits taking shape on my six “Tokyo strawberry” plants. I hope we get them before the birds do.

Edoble brings people together to eat free food growing in Tokyo

東京の「エドブル」は人を集めて、無料で料理を作ったり、食べたりします。
ハッサクという果物が食べられることを知っていますか? 区役所の公務員と一緒にハッサクを廃校になった中学校で収穫しました。先月、20人が集まって、ハッサクを切って、皮や種や膜を取って、マーマレードを作りました。もっとエドブルの料理パーティーに参加したい。

Through this blog, I was contacted by Edoble, whose tag line is “free food everywhere, in Tokyo.” Last month Edoble organized a hassaku marmelade party at a small shoutengai in Nakano, not far from where I live.

Edoble’s founder Jess Mantell is a Canadian designer, doctoral student, city explorer, and community organizer. As you can see from the poster above, she’s a great illustrator, too. At Keio University, she previously led a team that created an iPhone app that tracks movement across Tokyo with city sounds.

Edoble’s hassaku marmalade making event was great fun. Hassaku is a citrus tree that I often see growing in older gardens in Tokyo. The tree is very robust, and the fruits bright orange and large starting in winter. Seeing them makes me feel like there’s a bit of Florida or Southern California in Tokyo. But everyone had told me that the fruit is inedible. Jess’ idea was to bring people together to harvest and prepare hassaku.

It seems that if you pick the fruit at different times, the taste changes. Jess spotted mature hassaku trees in an abandoned city middle school near her house in south Nakano. She asked permission from the ward office to harvest the fruit in the spring, and several city workers unlocked the gate and joined her in collecting and sharing the fruit. That alone is pretty cool.

In June, Edoble hosted a marmalade party as a public event at a small space that is shared by the shoutengai association. On June 11, about twenty people very rapidly peeled the fruit, eliminated the membrane, put the seeds and membrane into a cheese cloth, and then boiled everything in four large pots. It was fun to see the amazing knife skills, particularly the older women and one young nursery school chef. We even got some help from some neighborhood kids.

The workshop was super-inspiring. It is great to realize how much food is growing in Tokyo, and that we can join with our neighbors in collecting and preparing super local food. Edoble’s accomplishment was in bringing together residents and local government, children and seniors, mostly Japanese and a few foreigners, mostly women and a few men.

Edoble reminds me that cities can grow a lot more of their own food, and that residents enjoy opportunities to work together and share food. Urban foraging is low cost and high return.

Joan’s small farm in western Tokyo

友達のジョアンは西東京の駅の近くで畑を作っています。ジョアンに野菜をたくさんもらいました。夏のポテトサラダに使うために、ベルガモットもくれました。

Fifteen minutes on the express train and four blocks from the station, my friend Joan is farming a small plot of land. It’s actually several short rows that form part of a much larger city farm owned and operated by a Japanese retiree. As soon as I saw him, I was glad that I, too, had prepared for weeding and harvesting by wearing the all important white work towel.

Joan blogs and writes about urban farming, farmers’ markets, city landscapes, and Japan travel. It was very exciting to actually see Joan at her farm. I was impressed that she had also recruited a neighbor and her husband’s co-worker to help with tidying up the winter beds, getting ready for planting, and harvesting and taking home the last winter vegetables. There was a huge leafy bounty that Joan shared with us: Russian kale, red karashina, brocoli, spinach, komatsuna, and shungiku. Joan also sent me home with some bergamot that I am growing on my balcony. I am still waiting for Joan’s famous bergamot potato salad recipe. And I was able to share what Joan gave me with three other households.

We all gathered at the farm just two weeks after the Tohoku quake, tsunami and nuclear crisis. It was great to be outdoors, talking about city vegetables, chatting with friends and new acquaintances. I liked hearing about Joan’s permaculture ideas of doing less, leaving flowers to attract pollinators, and hand mowing rather than eliminating the weeds between rows. The Japanese man who owns the farm clearly has a different attitude since he keeps his farm empty of all plant life except for the vegetables he grows. I can sense that Joan and the farmer each want to show the other how to farm. There’s both conflict and mutual respect for each’s passion for city farming.

I hope to go back as often as I am invited.

Fall omatsuri in my neighborhood

The lanterns announce that the omatsuri festival will be happening Using simple plumbers’ fixtures and scaffolding, flexible and removable frames for lighted paper lanterns are erected all over the city.

I find omatsuri incredibly charming: a public street festival evoking rice farming and harvests, organized in Tokyo around tiny local shrines, work organizations, and local associations. A friend told me that in his town, the whole town celebrates together. But in the large megalopolis of Tokyo, the intensely local nature of each celebration is very personal and social.

Members of my apartment building are some of the main leaders of our local shrine’s festivities, which includes children’s and adults’ parading through the streets with portable shrines, flute, drum and bell music, (Japanese) lion dancing, traditional clothes including hapi (cotton jackets), and lots of public drinking.

At the shrine, one of my neighbors offered me a free shaved ice. I hesitated to accept other offers of food or drink because I did not want to be carrying the portable shrine; I know from experience that this is best left to younger and drunker participants.

Just in the other direction, on the same weekend, a small park gets transformed into a space for dozens to do “bon” dancing around a raised platform. Mostly seniors, they dance to various traditional and regional songs, while wearing yukatas. Children and even dogs come wearing this summer kimono. Unlike the local shrine, this small park has an area for more commercial “omatsuri” games and foods, including delicious mini-cakes, the ever present chocolate banana on a stick, yakisoba, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and more shaved ice.

I experimented this time with black-and-white photos that seem to make the event more timeless and nostalgic. It’s funny to see something very contemporary, like a child taking a cellphone photo of her chocolate banana, using this backward-seeming technology and juxtaposed with dances and music that may be centuries old. There’s something timeless about cast iron pans used over a gas grill to make the small cakes sold 12 or 40 to a bag.

I feel a certain surge of excitement when the portable shrines enter the large boulevard or fill the small streets radiating out from it. The shrine is very heavy, and there’s a definite camaraderie formed by sharing this load.

I’ll end the post with a short video of the dancing. The drumming and bells are live, and the other music and voice from an old CD player and simple amplifier sound system.

Neighbor’s small pot of okra

I have been passing this pot of okra for a weeks as I walk to the station. It’s great that this small pot is at eye level. A few days after I took these photos, they were harvested. I wonder how the neighbor cooked them.

Eating balcony-grown watermelon

In San Francisco, my garden is shaded and the cold summer makes growing vegetables very difficult. It’s been fun this summer to grow a variety of vegetables in our sunny high-rise balcony in Tokyo. This weekend I harvested and ate my first home-grown watermelon.

It looks big in the photo above, no? Actually, the two fruit that formed were not much bigger than oranges. I kept hoping that they would get a bit bigger, but finally I decided to harvest them.

Here’s what it looked like cut open. It was very sweet and just right for one person.

To get a sense of the scale, you can see the two watermelons paired with a single cucumber below. The cucumber seems to go from tiny baby to full-size in just one week. It’s been a great summer vegetable, probably the most successful plant in the balcony farm. (There’s also eggplant, some very stunted corn, and 4 lemons).

Shimekazari at Muji

On my way to price a vaccuum cleaner for our tatami floors (ended up buying at 1300 yen used vaccuum at a recycle shop), I was surprised to see this display of shimekazari at Muji, which was busy blasting Xmas music and offering holiday specials.

Shimekazari are end of the year Shinto displays for the home. They can include rice, rope, pine, and folded paper, and welcome ancestral harvest kami or spirits. Smaller ones hang on the door, and larger ones sit outside of homes and shops.

Seeing shimekazari inside Muji was an uncanny juxtaposition of Shinto shrine and modern commerce, old Japan and Xmas, agrarian and urban.

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.

Continue reading

Residential rice harvest

Neighbor harvests rice

One of my neighbors tends an interesting garden on the edge of a small street leading to the JR station. I previously blogged about her spring peonies and her use of recycled containers for growing rice. On October 13, I stopped in front of the rice plants and was surprised how dry the soil was. Within minutes, my neighbor came out and told me that she was going to harvest the rice. It did not take long.

Residential rice harvest on pavement

Next time I see her, I have to ask her how it tasted.

Maids’ environmental group in Akihabara

Maids environmental group in Akihabara

Thanks to a great Japan eco-blog Kurashi, I learned about an Akihabara maids organization called Licolita that is involved in public environmental activities: including summer-time uchimizukko (splashing water on the sidewalk to lower ambient temperature), blessing bicycles at a shrine, and now growing and harvesting rice in rooftop pots. It is cool that this group is so focused on otakus (manga and anime fans) and raising their awareness and interest in urban ecology and agriculture.

Neighborhood rice

Neighborhood rice

It’s wonderful to see rice growing in a simple residential street garden, alongside geraniums and other ornamentals. The rice is nearly ready to be harvested. Below you can see that it is growing in a blue plastic pot and a white styrofoam box. What it lacks in aesthetics it exceeds in frugality and resourcefulness.

I haven’t seen this neighbor in a while, since she offered us some beer on a warm day; unfortunately, we did not have time to stop then.

Neighborhood rice

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.