The rooftop garden of the new Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku mall, the one with the fun house, crazy mirror escalator entrance, it is much more lively than I expected. On a nice day, it draws a large crowd to relax and chat in the shade. I am impressed with the generously tall size of the trees, the irregular openings of the deck for plantings, and the many levels that provide seating and variation. The roof garden is partly visible from the sidewalk, unlike the older department store roof gardens, and forms part of the architecture of the building. Perhaps that’s why it’s more discoverable and popular.
Recently, Mukunoki Ayumi gave me a tour of Kuboco, the construction and roof garden company where she works in Shitamachi. She graduated from Nodai, where I am a research fellow. The meeting took place thanks to Edgy Japan‘s Yanigasawa Hiroki. I immediately recognized the building when I spotted the incredible wisteria that is trellised across one building and climbs to the top of the adjoining 8 story building, where it provides rooftop shade on a trellis structure. Mukunoki-san told me that the vine is just eight years old and very vigorous!
Kuboco designs roof gardens and vertical gardens for commercial and retail buildings as well as residences. Since they are a construction company, they are able to combine garden design and maintenance with structural engineering, water-proofing, and retrofitting trellises for vines and vertical gardens onto older buildings.
Mukunoki-san reports seeing a shift from roof lawns to vegetables in Tokyo. She attributes this to customers wanting less maintenance and greater value from their outdoor spaces. Kabuco has roof gardens on both of its buildings, one a more social space and the other full of experiments with soil depth and new vegetables. Kuboco is very hands-on in providing advice about how to build roof gardens and what to grow. Mukunoki-san explained that last summer she grew tumeric because one of her clients wanted to grow it. On my visit, I saw blueberries, carrots, onions, parsley and other food on their demonstration gardens, and admired how they are testing out what can grow in 5, 10, 20, and 25 cm deep soil boxes. And for a while Kuboco’s roof garden provides fresh vegetables to a local onigiri restaurant.
She also introduced me to the Japanese term for “local food”: 地産地消 (chisanchishou, locally produced and locally consumed, with the first and third kanji being the word soil).
The 8 year old wisteria looks like it’s been on this building for much longer. It blooms best when trained horizontally.
I would love to try blueberries, too. It would be so satisfying to eat fresh blueberries, rather than the supermarket ones that have travelled from as far as Chile.
3331 Arts Chiyoda is a cool art space recently created by the Chiyoda ward government. They converted an old junior high school into exhibition galleries, art studios, and creative industry offices. In addition to a beautiful remodel of the unused school building, the ward also refurbished a small park at the entrance.
Katsuhiko Hibino created this created this beautiful morning glory green curtain rising on the front side of 3331 Arts Chiyoda. Called the Asatte Asago project, the morning glory seeds here had been taken to space by Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamasaki. The project involves community gardening and sharing across different regions of Japan.
Other green projects at 3331 Arts Chiyoda include Chaco Kato’s”Slow Wheat” project at the cafe, with wheat grass plants that will be used as a health drink. The art space is also offering small vegetable plots on the school’s rooftop. If you live nearby, check it out!
On August 21, 2010, Chris Berthelsen of Fixes and I will lead a bilingual interactive workshop on greening the city from 7 to 9 pm. More details will appear soon. The same day, Kato-san will be teaching a beginner’s compost class in the late afternoon.
From City Farmer‘s amazing blog, I found this photo and story about NTT Facilities‘ growing sweet potatoes on rooftops in Tokyo. This urban agriculture project makes use of wasted urban space, reduces the heat island effect, and provides local and safe food. Sweet potatoes apparently thrive in harsh sun and strong wind. The Agence France Presse story from November 5, 2008 says that NTT Facilities hopes to take their “Green Potato” project to other Tokyo office buildings and nation-wide to schools.
What prevents other corporations from implementing rooftop agriculture? Is it know-how or cost? There should be some savings by reducing air-conditioning costs (and carbon emissions), and also an opportunity to give office workers opportunities to work together and learn more about how food is grown.
This amazing photograph of Hakutsuru Sake rooftop rice field in Ginza comes from photographers Diane Cook and Len Jenshel, and appeared as part of National Geographic’s global green rooftop photo essay.
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.
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.
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.