Odakyu

A very urban, summer scene, with yukata sidewalk party, Odakyu train, and office tower

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH
都市の夏景色かもしれない。歩道に浴衣パーティーや小田急線の電車やオフィスタワーが見えます。

More flowers in transit bathroom

These flowers were discovered in Odakyu’s Shinjuku station’s mens room. Like the two liter bottle with ivy in JR Metro, these flowers seem to be the spontaneous result of a caretaker eager to bring life into this drab interior space. My traveling companion wonders if the flowers aren’t recycled from bouquets that passengers have discarded at the station.

Late fall trees

Leaving Nodai one December day, I was struck by the bright yellow color of this ginko tree, and how it dwarfs the small street. This is the main street connecting Nodai with the Odakyu line, and the numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists far outnumber cars.

Much of Nodai’s built enviornment are 1950s Bauhaus-style six story buildings, including the one in our lab, with some newer buildings also. Outside of the library is a beautiful quad with old trees that give you a sense of the age and history of this Meiji era campus.

It was raining last Friday when I came for the Garden Lab bonenkai, or end of year party. In the middle of winter, Tokyo is very dry so I am trying to enjoy the last rain.

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Holiday plants in Metro & Odakyu stations

I am not a big fan of the artificial tree or of Christmas. But Japanese love holidays, imported and national. I wonder whether the stations planned these small seasonal displays, or if they were the initiatives of long-time workers.

I prefer the use of the flowering “Christmas” cactus at the Shinjuku Odakyu station. And below the JR Metro Aoyama Itchome station’s faux snow tree in all its slightly adorned glory.

Agris Seijo rental farm in Seijogakuenmae

I visited Odakyu’s Agris Seijo rental farm in Seijogakuenmae in Setagaya and was prepared to be charmed by a community vegetable farm built by a rail company above their tracks. Three years ago, the Odakyu corporation rebuilt the station, undergrounded the railway, and used some of the new land to promote urban farming. But I left feeling somewhat strange that reclaimed land could be gated and restricted. Although it is the rail company’s property, I think they missed a huge opportunity to create a great space for the neighborhood.

The farm is entered through a two story building that has a plant store on the first floor, spilling into the sidewalk, and a club room on the second floor. On entering the building, I learned that the garden was gated, and that no photographs were allowed. With my Tokyo University of Agriculture business card, I was handed a visitor’s pass. Two explanations were given about the no photography policy: customers would be concerned about their privacy, and photographers might misrepresent the photos they take. Please note that all the photos in this post were all taken from public roadways outside the gates.

Once inside, I discovered that this Agris Seijo has 303 rental plots, ranging in price between 5,500 and 14,500 yen per month ($60 to $175) depending on size and sunlight. 70% of the plots are being used, and the farm is organized in two seasons, with a fallow period during winter. Many of the customers are first time vegetable growers, and there are classes and staff to help them.

Some of what I observed: an elderly man harvesting giant sweet potatoes. Attractive netting with metallic strips to deter birds and insects. Some very attractive plots with broccoli, rainbow chard, carrots, celery, lettuce, salty leaf, peppers, basil, cauliflower, onion, eggplant, daikon radish.

Clearly burying the tracks below grade reduces railway noise for the neighbors and adds soil and plants which benefits the environment. There are benefits for customers and neighbors. Yet, I was struck by how empty the farm was during my weekday visit, and wondered why only 70% of the plots are rented after three years of operation. I also wonder if the customers or the railway company owner feels more special or important because of the gated aspect of the garden. In a city that is remarkably safe, I cannot imagine why there is a real need for keeping people out.

This wealthy project reminds me of the community garden I observed in Tsukushima. There, neighbors invested great time and effort in making beautiful spaces on an existing concrete river embankment. It appears that each gardener is expressing their own passions and perhaps competing with their neighbors. At no cost to the local government, neighbors have beautified dead space which can now be enjoyed by anyone. The Tsukushima community garden is completely accessible 24/7 and shows how ordinary people can create a great public space.

Some more thoughts and image about Odakyu after the jump.

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