World War II

Only recent human history: American, Japanese, American, Japanese ownership of Ogasawara

cave_chichijima

小笠原の人間の歴史は二百年くらいしかありません。第二次世界大戦のトンネルもアメリカの教会まだあります。

What’s surprising about Ogasawara is that there are no indigenous people. First settled in the mid 1800s by Americans who departed from Hawaii, the Japanese seized it during their colonial expansion, retaken by the United States after World War II, and then returned to Japan in the 1970s.

There are numerous reminders of the war. Inside the many hills you still see dank tunnels created for the island’s defense. Apparently there was no land war here, unlike (somewhat nearby) Iwo Jima. There’s also this incredibly forlorn-looking, Saint George church in the main port village. I love how the entry walkway does not meet the current sidewalk.

It’s odd to be in a place with such little human history. The English name for the islands, Bonin, is a mispronunciation of the Japanese words “no people” (bu nin, or mu nin).

american_church_shu_chichijima

Shinjuku Gyoen and Summer Cicadas

Shinjuku Gyoen and Summer Cicadas

Summer in Shinjuku Gyoen is a wonderful escape from the crowded, hot city. The shadows seem extra dark, and the sound of the cicadas (semi, or 蝉) was loud. Click the short video below to hear the sounds of the cicadas on August 15, 2009. You can hear three of the four types of cicadas that mark early, mid and late summer in Tokyo.

Shinjuku Gyoen is one of central Tokyo’s largest green spaces open to the public: 58 hectares (or 144 acress) with a 3.5 kilometer circumference. There are French, English and Japanese gardens, an expansive lawn, and 20,000 trees.

Occupying what was once the personal residence of Edo daimyo Naito Kiyonari, the garden was created during the Meiji period in 1872 to promote modern agriculture, became the Imperial Botanic Garden, burned almost completely during the Tokyo fire bombing in World War II, and later opened as a public park.

Today, in addition to serving as a popular recreation spot, particularly during hanami (cherry blossom viewing), Shinjuku Gyoen provides cuttings and seeds for buttonwoods (sycamores) and tulip trees (liriodendrons) that are later planted as roadside tree in Tokyo.

Image of Tokyo residential vegetable garden in 1944

Tokyo residential vegetable garden in 1944

This is an image of a residential vegetable garden during the war in Tokyo from March 1944, published by Life Magazine. It comes from an amazing urban agriculture website called City Farmer, out of Vancouver, Canada.

United States residents are aware of our country’s World War II “victory gardens,” recently revived by the Obama White House. Yet somehow seeing a similar war-time image in Tokyo, shortly before the city was decimated by fire bombs, is surprising.

In times of war and scarcity, urban residents naturally turned to growing food in their gardens. Are today’s combination of unemployment and climate change enough to generate an equally widespread movement in global cities today? What skills have urban residents lost? What governmental and non-governmental resources could make urban agriculture a significant source of food?

Some images of the Obama’s White House garden after the jump.

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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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