kids

Toddler bike fleet lined up outside our apartment building

winnie_pooh_bikes_toddlers_nakano_centralmansion

マンションの小さな子供たちが共有できる押し車はカラフルです。ここに、一番古いのはどれくらいここにあるのでしょうか。

It’s adorable that between the bike parking and the car parking, there’s a fleet of toddler bikes. It looks like they are shared among all the kids in our apartment building. I wonder how long they’ve been stationed there.

This “value net” can be used on land and in creeks to capture insects and small creatures

value_net_kabutomushi_crayfish_atami

アメリカの子供たちはあまり虫とかをネットでつかまえません。このネットは、小川でも森でも使えます。たったの380円。楽しそうです。

Japanese kids love to use nets to capture small wildlife. This net can be used to capture kabuto mushi beetles on land, and also crayfish in creeks.

A temporary fishing pool for kids

日本で携帯釣りプールを初めて見ました。楽しそうです。

I like this fishing game that’s often at Japanese festivals. Above is from Asagaya’s Tanabata festival. The scoop is made of a paper that quickly dissolves, so you want to catch as many fish as fast as you can.

Seed bomb recipe for kids workshop at Shibaura House

.@ShibauraHouse の子供たちのワークショップのために、この種爆弾のレシピを書きました。五種類の種を使いました。人と動物の食べられる植物を選んで、背の高い花は見えやすいので選びました。子供が粘土と土と種を混ぜて、汚れるときが楽しかったようです。

This is the handout I made for the Shibaura House seed bomb workshop for kids. The recipe is 5 parts powdered clay, 2 parts soil, 1 part seed, and 1 part water. Thinking about the season, late spring, just before rainy season, I chose clover, soba, sunflower, hollyhocks, and watermelon.

The seed selection also responded to the theme of “eating and seeing green.” I wanted to provide food for animals as well as people, as well as flowers that are tall and easy to see. The soba and clover seeds are the least expensive and served as the seed “base.”

Corrected: Below are photos from the event, taken by Naomi Muto and written up by Shirakuma Ikuko in Japanese. It’s funny that my instructions were to make balls (dango), but the kids enjoyed making shapes like stars, bows, donuts, Jupiter, and even a black hole.

In the afternoon, the adults who attended the kick-off talk event also participated in vegetable planting on the 4th floor. Shibaura House is tweeting the growth of their new garden!

Participating in Shibaura House’s Eat and See Green

来週の土曜日の5月19日、SHIBAURA HOUSE の「たべるみどり みるみどり」のキックオフイベントに参加します。子供たちのために種爆弾のワークショップ、グリーンカーテンとグリーン階段の作り方のワークショップ、そして片山陽介さんとトークイベントをします。興味があれば、是非来てください。

Next Saturday, May 19, I’ll be participating at the kick-off of Shibaura House’s two month Eat and See Green program. I am leading a workshop for kids to create seed bombs, helping plant a green curtain and staircase at Shibaura House, and talking on stage with Katayama Yousuke (片山陽介). The events are low-cost and open to the public!

Espaliered persimmon in front of Aoyama school

「espalier」というフランス語の意味は木を垣根仕立てにすることです。東京ではちょっと珍しいですけど、混雑した都市の中で、この二次元にされた植物は適切です。最近、学校の前に背の高い垣根仕立てにした柿の木を見ました。

I am a big fan of espaliered trees. By pruning a tree into a 2D shape, it fits into the dense urban landscape. Here’s a mature, espaliered persimmon tree in front of a public school in Aoyama. I wonder if the kids will eat the fruit.

I am going to be posting this week different fall fruit trees I’ve seen over the past few weeks. What is your favorite urban fruit tree?

Elementary school has new off-the grid, vertical garden

San Francisco’s Sanchez Elementary School has created a vertical garden that is edible and off the grid. Solar panels and windmills provide electricity for the irrigation system, and power a weather station so that kids can monitor the climate and how it relates to plants. The kids learn about plants, science, and food by growing things like mustard greens. Apparently the total cost was $10,000, and the project benefited from volunteers from the Slow Food movement. Great use of a limited space, and great to see kids learning about where their food comes from. Very inspiring!

Why are neighborhood parks so sad?

Why are neighborhood parks so sad?

I am struck by how poorly maintained and under-used many of the residential neighborhood parks are. This one, close to where I live, is large, has many mature trees facing the street, and has almost no usage. To call it uninviting and unloved would be an understatement.

Why are neighborhood parks so sad?

The street side is almost promising. There is a long row of mature trees and a community bulletin board. Next to the bulletin board, and also on the far end of the park, are designated areas to leave your trash. Unfortunately, there is no receptacle for the bagged garbage, so crows and cats pick through the bags and the contents start to disperse.

Why are neighborhood parks so sad?

The entrance to the park reveals vast areas of gravel, unplanted beds, and few amenities or attractions. The size of the park only underscores the waste of so much public space going unused. Given how avidly neighbors tend to their tiny gardens and occupy small strips of public space, why are local governments unable to harness this human resource for beautifying and maintaining public space?

I can imagine many other uses for the park: community vegetable gardens, flower contests, rice field, bee hives, food stand, children’s play area, public art-making space. Given limits to local government budgets, maybe there would be a way to attract corporate sponsors and neighborhood volunteers. If more people were attracted to enter the park, I am sure it would be cleaner and more inviting.

After the jump is a photo inventory of the current park assets, mostly aging structures with a surprising amount of trash. During my visit I noticed a small garden crew and two people on a bench.

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Meeting John Moore

Over a lunch of French crepes and organic cider, I had the pleasure of meeting John Moore. John is the former president of Patagonia Japan, a permaculture teacher, and entrepreneur involved with retailing and advertising agencies, corporate foundations, the design school Ikejiri, and social businesses. He will also be teaching a bilingual class at Freedom University on indoor vegetable gardening and natural soil creation.

John will be releasing a book and website soon about seeds and what to plant when for urban gardeners. In promoting the practice of growing your own food, he is adamant about keeping his distance from hippie aesthetics and connecting organic living with modern life today.

Our conversation ranged around so many topics: rural town planting fruit trees along roads for free food; a mountain bike resort for rural town revitalization; unused facilities and opportunities in the Japanese countryside; a program for kids with cancer to visit Okinawa; organic wasabi farming; a special machine to make “revitalized water” based on wasabi farming; indoor edibles in cites; kids and gardening; a farmer’s market at United Nations University in Tokyo; borage, elder berry, camfry and yarrow as compost accelerants; turning a small town’s landscaping waste, including branches and grass clippings, into compost and thus reducing the town’s cost of hauling and disposal; the role of animals, particularly rabbits & chickens, in soil improvements by turning leaf waste into fertilizer; use of urine, including human, in soil improvement; Japan’s need to create organic farming standards; lack of awareness of free range, antibiotic and hormone free meat and eggs in Japan; and connecting city dwellers with farming.

I hope we can find urban food and other projects to work on together.

Fall omatsuri

Night omatsuri

This month there are many neighborhood omatsuri, festivals organized by local shrines to celebrate the harvest. Like the summer omatsuri I wrote about earlier, the festivals include carrying portable shrines through the streets, taiko drums, music, costumes include happi and fundoshi, public eating and drinking, and much neighborhood socializing.

Above is a large night festival in Suginami, popular with young people. The long path to the shrine is lined with hundreds of food stalls, selling regional foods and even imported ones like shawarma (which Japanese call kebab). Chocolate-covered bananas, light-up horns, and beer all seem popular.

Several features of omatsuri are particularly relevant to Tokyo Green Space: the celebration in the city of a harvest festival, the use of streets for community gathering, the multi-generational bonds of community that are formed and maintained.

Kids omatsuri

Last weekend, my local shrine celebrated with a kid’s omatsuri one day, and an adult one the next day. Each day the parade made a stop in front of my apartment building, turning the parking lot into a public festival. The supermarket offered free drinks and food, and I met several young fathers and kids who live in my building. The woman next door who tends an overflowing flower garden in the alley was at the shrine, watering the ground. She welcomed me and gave me a tour of the shrine area, which had portable structures and the doors open in the small permanent building. You can see it is surrounded by blue sheets for an impromptu seating area.

Local shrine open for omatsuri

I was also struck by the mesmerizing music. A band played in front of the shrine: three drummers, a flute player, and a simple metal instrument that resembles a tin bowl. The Youtube video gives you an idea of how it sounds.

After the jump, you can see a few extra pictures showing how the procession takes over the main street.

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Kajima and bees

Kajima bee project on Japanese MX television

Yamada Yuriyuki (山田順之) , a biodiversity specialist at Kajima, one of Japan’s largest construction companies, appears in a video on Japanese TV about Kajima’s beekeeping and biodiversity education work. Kajima has started a hive in one of their buildings, and is studying how and where bees travel.

Yamada-san makes the important point that “greening” is not just about aesthetics but about eco-systems. Bees play an important role because they pollinate fruit trees that in turn attract birds. Bees also scare away crows. And it is because of the decline of bees in the wild that farmers need to manually pollinate fruits and vegetables. The video also shows how Kajima has educated school kids about the value of bees.

I am curious how far bee-keeping can take off in Tokyo, and the connections its advocates can make with native plants, urban wildlife, and city agriculture.

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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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