January 3, 2014


Allotment Gardens Sprout One after Another as Interest Grows in Urban Agriculture

Keywords: Civil Society / Local Issues Food Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.136 (December 2013)

Copyright East Japan Railway Co. All Rights Reserved.

Japan's food self-sufficiency rate is as low as 40 percent on a caloric basis, but in recent years, interest in agriculture is growing among citizens. In this issue, we report on the burgeoning popularity of allotment gardens.

The number of allotment gardens has been increasing every year particularly as more urban dwellers feel the need for a garden as a place of recreation where they can touch earth. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), the number of allotment gardens established in accordance with the two relevant laws, the Act on Special Provision of Farmland and the Act on Promotion of Development of Community Farms, was 691 as of March 31, 1993, but has now grown to 3,968 as of March 31, 2012, soaring to almost six times as many gardens over 20 years. (Japanese)

In recent years, an increasing number of people have become interested in farming through urban-rural exchanges, as a recreation or leisure activity, through education involving agricultural activities, or from observing the beneficial effects that gardening has on handicapped and elderly people. This led MAFF to promote more urban-rural exchanges. In 2002, the Ministry released a revival plan for food and agriculture, in which "co-existence of and exchanges between urban areas and farming and fishing villages" was given high priority. MAFF has made efforts to make the best use of the various resources available in farming and fishing villages and to realize a lifestyle where people in urban areas and farming and fishing villages can interact more easily.

In April 2003, the Act on Special Zones for Structural Reform came into effect and other special measures were also implemented with respect to areas where idle farmlands had become a serious problem. All of them worked to promote the establishment of allotment gardens. The number of people wishing to use small patches of farmland to grow vegetables and flowers increased and this led to wider implementation of the Special Zones for Structural Reform Act around the country. The Act on Special Provision of Farmland Act was revised to allow individuals and various entities such as local governments and agricultural cooperatives to establish allotment gardens, and these revisions came into effect on September 1, 2005. In March 2006, the government released an opinion statement saying that it is OK to sell crops produced in allotment gardens, showing a positive attitude towards their establishment.

There are several types of allotment gardens. One is a "day-trip type," in which garden users come out to work in their gardens from their homes in urban areas just for the day. Another is a "long-stay type," called "Kleingarten" (meaning "small garden" in German), in which garden users stay in a nearby village for several days while they work in their gardens. In addition, to realize expectations for educational and medical benefits, some educational institutions have established allotment gardens to give school children agricultural experiences; some social welfare corporations have also established welfare allotment gardens for horticultural therapy.

Ojiya Kleingarten
Image by icoro. Some Rights Reserved.

Day-trip-type allotment gardens are made available by a variety of entities. Some are set up by professional farmers who want to make their farmland available as allotment gardens in order to respond to the rising demand for experience of a farming village lifestyle from people who wish to enhance their health or to provide their children with opportunities for better emotional development. In addition, many private companies have established allotment gardens for their employees to provide them with new opportunities to interact with their families and to deepen their understanding of agriculture.

Each allotment garden facility is different. Some gardens are designed for hands-on experience and leisure, with a view to helping people raise a more cheerful and healthy family through growing plants and vegetables in direct contact with soil and nature. Elsewhere, there may be a plot for physically challenged people, in which the height of plant containers can be changed between 57 and 67 centimeters according to the conditions of their disabilities. Some gardens are gaining popularity as leisure facilities: such gardens are equipped with a lounge and a kitchen where users can communicate with each other; whereas other gardens offer a plan in which members can use a nearby hot spring facility at a discount.

List of day-trip-type allotment gardens with photos (Japanese)

Many gardens offer people various services so that even beginners can enjoy farm work with ease. Such services include, for example, lending out the necessary farm tools and providing support from a staff member with expertise in growing vegetables. Another service is offered by Myfarm Co., a Japanese farming consultant that lends out gardens called "Myfarms," where people can experience farming. These farms, which Japan for Sustainability has introduced in its newsletter and articles, allow interested people to come and observe farm work before joining, in response to the fact that more than 80 percent of its users are beginners. They observe the farm work and occasionally ask questions or consult with staff about their concerns.

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Rental Farms with Online Features to Offer Farming Experience

One basic premise of Myfarms is to grow vegetables organically without using any agricultural chemicals. Myfarm Co. has stated, "If people personally experience an entire cycle of the cultivation process, from sowing seeds to watering, fertilizing and harvesting vegetables, they will notice it is unnatural for all vegetables to be uniform in shape and color. They will also realize each individual vegetable has a different taste. On top of that they can experience the rich taste of freshly-picked vegetables." Myfarm Co. says, "We would like people to know these things and think about what they mean for the future."

There are also allotment gardens that have been created on vacant lots in cities, based on the idea of enabling anyone to readily enjoy growing vegetables. One example is Machinaka (literally "downtown") Vegetable Garden established by the Toho Leo Co., which includes the Mori-Tora Farm located near Tokyo Tower. (Japanese)

The concept of the Machinaka Vegetable Garden is a "new urban lifestyle," aimed at building a healthy mind and body by enjoying growing vegetables in your own garden where you can drop by easily. In the garden, all basic farming necessities, such as seeds and seedlings, gardening tools, fertilizers, chemicals, and poles for plants, are provided to users. They can enjoy a barbecue after harvesting vegetables in the garden. The garden has separate locker rooms for men and women, so people can visit the garden on their way home from work when still wearing business clothes. This feature is unique to gardens located in a downtown area.

In this way, allotment gardens are being widely used as places for comfort and relaxation. There has also been recent rapid growth in the number of rental rooftop gardens located on rooftops of buildings and condominiums in downtown areas.

Vegetable farms rented to subscribers by East Japan Railway Co. (JR East), called "Soradofarm," are located near JR stations in Tokyo and surrounding areas, including one on the rooftop of Ebisu Station and one in a station building directly connected to Ogikubo Station. In Soradofarm, events such as harvest festivals and lessons on growing vegetables, which are popular among beginners, are frequently held to provide subscribers with opportunities to promote personal and information exchanges. Subscribers to Soradofarm can cultivate plants under the constant care of its staff members, who maintain the gardens on a regular basis. (Japanese)

Copyright East Japan Railway Co. All Rights Reserved.

"Agris Seijo" is a vegetable garden-for-rent run by Odakyu Electric Railway Co. Its aim is to be a garden where users, most of whom are beginners, can enjoy cultivating vegetables without feeling uneasy. A culture school related to gardening and a flower shop are also located next to the garden. Quotations from users include: "Because there are staff members present at all times, even a beginner like myself can be worry-free," "The vegetables we grow as a family are very tasty and we can eat them without anxiety because we grew them without using pesticides," "We can learn through both lectures and practice while gardening groups monitor each other's progress, so I felt easy," and "I can make friends and learn various things." (Japanese)

A growing number of vegetable gardens for rent are highlighting their unique features. In "City Farm," located on the rooftop of a big commercial facility, the DiverCity Tokyo Plaza located in the Odaiba area of Tokyo, members can cultivate vegetables and fruits while looking out over Tokyo Bay. One of the features of this farm is that rice for sake brewing is grown using the rice-duck farming method. The harvested rice is used to brew sake, "Odaiba-grown pure rice sake," and sake-tasting events are held. (Japanese)

Another organic vegetable garden is located on the rooftop of "3331 Arts Chiyoda," a facility that was built as a base for arts in Tokyo. Users grow vegetables and herbs without using chemical fertilizers, etc. Once a month, a lecture is held by an expert on organic farming and staff members water vegetables and herbs in the garden twice a week on behalf of users. (Japanese)

From the experiences they have in vegetable gardens, people can feel the joy of cultivating plants, look forward to harvesting, enjoy eating their vegetables and fruits they grew themselves and feel happy to have seasonal vegetables on the table. An increase of urban vegetable gardens in Japan shows that a growing number of people find joy and happiness not exclusively from what money can buy but also from being in contact with nature, taking care of plants and touching earth.

There are many countries throughout the world where the farmlands that supply crops to urban areas are located in and around these cities. In Japan, however, cities and farm villages have traditionally been seen as separate. The movement to create vegetable gardens in cities and for urban dwellers is only a small step towards improving the food self-sufficiency of cities and Japan, but it is expected to expand in the future and contribute to a change in people's perception of happiness.

Written by Kazuko Iijima and Junko Edahiro