Rooftops Sprouting Rice and Vegetables!

Boyé Lafayette De Mente

TOKYO—By all accounts, Tokyo is one of the world’s most extraordinary cities in terms of facilities and amenities that include more restaurants, more bars, more clubs, more department stores, more business centers, more subways and more commuter trains than any other city on the planet—to name just a few of the things that are more conspicuous.


     Now, the city has undertaken a massive program to turn the huge urban area into an oasis of rooftop and open-field gardens, and it is well underway.


     The urban gardens of Tokyo are not just for show. Altogether they include virtually all of the popular table vegetables as well as rice—still a major staple of the diet of most Japanese.


     Tokyo’s Metropolitan Government has taken the lead in promoting this greening campaign by constructing a 770-square meter garden on the rooftop of its high-rise headquarters building in Shinjuku on the west side of town.


     The city has launched a major program to increase the amount of green space in its 23 wards from the present 29 percent to 32 percent over the next seven years.  This green space includes forests, rivers, rice paddies and gardens on office buildings.


     A city ordinance requires that all new, expanded, or improved buildings in the city that have 3,000 square meters of space or more must cover at least 20 percent of their land and rooftops with plants, trees, turf or other foliage.


     In 2006 the famed Isetan Department Store replaced the amusement rides it had on its rooftop with a garden—which not only attracts more visitors than the amusement center did, it also brought summertime rooftop temperatures down by 18 degrees.


     In May of 2007 school children and young women planted a rice paddy on top of one of the signature Mori Building towers in Roppongi—known around the world as one of the city’s entertainment districts.


    Another feature of this phenomenon has been the opening of membership gardens in open areas of the outlying wards. These gardens that include clubhouses where members can change into their work clothes, shower, eat, drink, exchange information and socialize.

     One of the largest of these new communal gardens is located in Seijo, an upscale residential area in Setagaya Ward just 15 minutes from the core of Tokyo. The 500 square meter walled-in area, called Agris Seijo, is divided into 300 plots to accommodate members who pay annual fees of $1,120.


     For an additional fee, staff members of the club take care of the individual gardens of members when go on vacation, or are away on business trips, and cannot tend their gardens themselves.


     Suburban cities like Musashino have gotten into the act with garden centers on city property that also feature a variety of seasonal agricultural events that residents may attend free of charge.


     Pasona, Inc., the well-known temporary staffing company, has inaugurated a training program for people who want to get an Agri-MBA. Classes are given three times a week at the company’s headquarters building in Otemachi, one of Tokyo’s premiere business centers. The course includes a 7-day training session on a working farm.


     Some of the students say they are taking the course to get out of the business rat-race and make their living farming.

     This new phenomenon, known as “hobby farming,” is itself becoming a big business in Japan, and it augurs well for the growing millions of people who feel—and are!—trapped by the prevailing economic system and are yearning for a saner, simpler life.


Boyé Lafayette De Mente has been involved with Asia since the late 1940s as a member of a U.S. intelligence agency, journalist and editor. He is a graduate of Jōchi University in Tokyo, Japan and Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Arizona, USA. In addition to books on the business practices, social behavior and languages of China, Japan, Korea and Mexico he has written extensively about the moral collapse of the U.S. along with books on his home state of Arizona. To see a full list of his books go to: Recent books include: CHINA Understanding & Dealing with the Chinese Way of Doing Business; JAPAN Understanding & Dealing with the NEW Japanese Way of Doing Business; AMERICA’S FAMOUS HOPI INDIANS; ARIZONA’S LORDS OF THE LAND [the Navajos] and SPEAK JAPANESE TODAY – A Little Language Goes a Long Way!