Late crop of eggplants, red peppers, and daikon at Setagaya mini-farm



Viewed through a chain link fence, ripe eggplants and chile peppers are growing in a small farm between the road and some apartments. I enjoy seeing this farm on my bike ride to Nodai.

Gorgeous suburban road leading to Nodai campus


This road beneath a canopy of street trees leads to the Nodai campus from Chitose Funabashi. When I commute there by bike, it makes a lovely end to my ride.

Small corn field in Setagaya


To get to Nodai, I bike along a long and straight road covering an old water pipe. Last time I saw this small corn field in Setagaya, surrounded by various types of dense housing.

Tokyo micro-farm has two long rows of snap peas


I stopped to admire these two rows of snap peas growing in a micro-farm between the houses. I love the trellis work, and the combination of white flowers and green vegetable.

I was on my bike riding to Nodai (Tokyo University of Agriculture), and cutting across Suginami and Setagaya on this unusually straight, narrow road. I believe there’s a sewer line underneath which makes this long street especially useful above and below ground.

On my balcony, I am going to do a final snap pea harvest this week. The leaves are turning moldy so I think now’s the finish line for this winter crop. I already started some cucumber plants to take over in the summer. I train them on the railing, and then, above that, a net.

Bike prison in Setagaya

今年に、初めて自分の自転車を撤去されました。下北沢駅の近くに90分だけ置いたのですが、自転車の「刑務所」に行かなければなりませんでした。警官も電話情報も誤った情報をくれたので、困りました。Bear Pond の喫茶店の親切のオーナおかげで、助かりました。手続きはとても頭が痛い。なぜちょっとした過ちがきつい罰になってしまうのでしょう。

Have you ever had your bike confiscated in Tokyo? After living here for more than three years, it finally happened to me a few days into the new year.

Lulled by the tranquility of new year in Tokyo, when many people are still with family in the countryside, and fooled by the laniards clearly demarking bike parking, Edoble’s Jess and I left our bikes near the Shimokitazawa station while we had lunch.

Nintely minutes later, the bikes were 5 stations aways. We received poor information from the local police office. The four officers kept insisting we’d need our bike registration numbers, which of course we didn’t need nor have. The phone number I reached also seemed to say that was the case.

We were saved from further misery and punishment by the affable owner of Bear Pond coffee shop. He phoned the information number for us, and let us know what to expect in terms of bringing our ID and paying the fine.

It was easy to find the bikes, after walking fifteen minutes from the station. The bike prison guys were reasonably helpful but the map they hand out only shows Setagaya!  Jess’ intuition and iPhone map provided us a short-cut back to Nakano.

Hanami in Jiyuugaoka, outer Tokyo

These photos were taken yesterday evening in Jiyuugaoka, an upscale neighborhood between Shibuya and Yokohama. I was leaving Sinajina, and crossed this beautiful pedestrian area full of benches, mature cherry trees and small shops. Like many neighborhoods, an old stream was converted decades ago into a pedestrian plaza. This one is particularly beautiful because it’s well used and central to the neighborhood that radiates out from the train station. They have also added lanterns for hanami.

When people think of hanami, or cherry blossom season, they talk about famous and gorgeous parks like Ueno, Inokashira Koen, and Yoyogi. What amazes me are the many neighborhood boulevards lined with beautifully maintained cherry trees, as well as shrines and public schools which often have at least one great tree. In my neighborhood of Nakano, there is Nakano Street, Araiyakushi Temple, and the elementary school near our apartment.

The magic of cherry blossoms is how diffused and ubiquitous they are. No matter where you go, you see the pink petals above you. It will be a glorious 10 days throughout the city.

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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