work

I received the last morning glory flower of the year, by air mail

last_asagaya_nakano_letter

仕事で、二ヶ月間サンフランシスコにいました。今年最後のベランダのアサガオが東京から送られてきました。切手もアサガオです。ゆっくり開いてくださいと書いてありました。

I have been in San Francisco the past two months for work, so it was a great pleasure to receive this letter from home. Inside is the very last balcony morning glory flower of this year. I love that the stamps are morning glory and butterfly. “Open it slowly.”

last_asagaya_nakano_letter2

Pedestrian overpass also passes under freeway in Shiodome

pedestrian_overpass_underpass_shiodome

汐留の歩道橋です。高速道路のせいで、階段を登って、階段を下って、階段を登って、階段を下りなければなりません。なぜそんな道があるでしょうか。

This pedestrian overpass, which dips below the freeway in Shiodome, is a hot mess. I often wonder why city planners value pedestrians and bicyclists so much less than private vehicles and trucks. This is not how I’d like to walk to work from the station.

Elevated forest in Shibuya

渋谷のビルの上に、小さな森があります。宮下公園の斜め前にあって、このビルには店とギャラリーと事務所が入っています。こんなに木が見えて、自然光を使っている事務所は良さそうです。明治通りからは、この小さな空の森が見えませんが、渋谷のBear Pondコーヒーからはよく見えます。

Recently I have been drinking coffee at Bear Pond on the street that connects Miyashita Park and Aoyama. On these hot days, it’s great to look up and see a vertical forest on this 10 story mid-rise that combines retail, gallery, and office space. It’s easy to miss this from Meiji Dori, but you can see it easily from the Bear Pond coffee shop. it must be great to work surrounded by thick trees and natural light. It also looks like you can walk between the top three levels.

A day in Tokyo in 1963

1963年の東京と今日の東京はどう違いますか。面白い昭和の短い映画はそのころの日常を見られます。

This almost 50 year old short firm provides a nostalgic view of daily life in 1963 Tokyo: a family wakes up in the morning, takes the train to work, shops in Ginza, and travels through the metropolis. Showa Tokyo’s trains and sheer density don’t look that different than today. While fashion changes and the city gets even bigger, it is amazing how much remains the same. (Via @rolandkelts).

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.

Small green curtain at factory car shop

This small green curtain makes a nice contrast with Suginami’s giant green curtain. When I see small green curtains, mostly they are on residential balconies and small houses. This one is at a car shop across the street from a printing factory in Bunkyo ward. I love how the shop worker or manager chose to create a small green spot with bitter melons climbing up the window and to the roof. It’s great to see people make use of work time and space for some vegetable gardening.

Omotesando Farm

Iimura Kazuki (飯村一樹) at Omotesando Farm

On the first of September, Iimura Kazuki (飯村一樹) opened Omotesando Farm (表参道彩園), a roof-top garden rental space in a central upscale commercial and residential district. He is offering sixteen small plots at rents ranging from $170 to $250 per month (15,750 to 23,100 yen). Although community gardens exist in outer neighborhoods of Tokyo, Omotesando Farm is only the second roof-top one in central Tokyo. The other is on top of the JR Ebisu station.

Omotesando Farm

With stunning views of Shinjuku, Roppongi and Aoyama, the roof is located on a three story modern structure, next door to the Paul Smith boutique on a small back street. Because the roof is concrete, no structural changes were necessary. Iimura-san brought in special light-weight soil from a Chiba Research Center (Norin), and the same wood artisan Hirano who created Ginza Farm built the planters and deck here using untreated Japanese cedar (杉). Both are great examples of fine craftsmanship combining function, elegance, and avoidance of chemicals. On the roof perimeter, vines have been planted to cover the banister.

Omotesando Farm

Iimura-san explained several surprises in starting this new urban farming concept. He was able to quickly rent all the plots, with many responding to ads on Yahoo Japan and all registering online. Iimura-san imagined that he would attract people who live nearby and families. However, these first customers are almost all young, many couples, and most are drawn by the proximity of Omotesando Farm to their work spaces. While visiting, I spoke briefly to an older customer who lives in Saitama, but is making Omotesando Farm part of his work day. He showed off his vegetable seedlings protected with plastic bottles from the birds.

Omotesando Farm seedlings

Iimura-san estimates that 70% of his customers are female, and that 75% are new to vegetable farming. Omotesando Farms is planning to provide a coaching system, using agricultural students and/or farmers visiting on the weekends. Although Omotesando Farms does not have the public access that the street-level Ginza Farm does, there has been tremendous media attention, including newspapers, television and radio. Even Japan’s top business newspaper, the Nikkei, has written a story about Omotesando Farm. Iimura-san thinks it is because this project combines “LOHAS” (a lifestyle of health and sustainability) with a green business idea that turns wasted space into a profitable business benefiting green entrepreneurs and property owners.

Iimura-san is already planning to open several more rental garden plots early next year, in Harajuku and Chuo-ku. I wish him luck in inspiring urban residents to grow their own food and creating an urban farming business.

Omotesando Farm