For a city of such inimitable proportions, Tokyo is surprisingly green. Its numerous parks and botanical gardens are evidence enough of this, but they aren’t everything. Choose any residential neighborhood to wander through and witness tiny plots bursting with vegetation, curbside flower displays, houses painted green with creepers and balconies transformed into miniature urban oases. The city is dense and crowded, but the ingenuity of its residents means that it is also alive with nature. In short, Tokyo is a prime example of the transformative potential of urban gardening.
The best part is that adding a dash of green to your life in Tokyo couldn’t be easier. In what follows we offer up a few tips on how to go about it, but not before taking a look at a few particularly inspiring examples.
Tokyo’s urban farms and gardens
Since the 1990s the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has been increasingly open to the idea of public and private spaces being transformed for use as urban farms or gardens, recognizing the innumerable positives these kinds of projects can have.
City Farm Odaiba
City Farm grows rice, melons, tomatoes, soybeans and more, all using traditional farming methods. What’s not so traditional is its location, atop Odaiba’s mammoth DiverCity shopping mall. Plots are rented out for a small fee and anyone is welcome to get involved. Even those with no gardening experience will be helped out by the staff, who also run threshing competitions, cooking demos and sake making classes.
A collaboration between JR East Railways and a station entertainment company, the Soradofarm Project is bringing rooftop gardens to train stations across Japan. Rooftop plots are available to rent (for a fee, of course) and all the necessary equipment is provided. One of the first and very best examples is the Machinaka Vegetable Garden above Ebisu Station which is worth checking out if you’re in the area.
The Pasona building in Otemachi isn’t shy about its green credentials; its outer walls are literally draped with plant life. Inside, the recruitment company headquarters features a rooftop garden and cutting-edge urban farming facilities. The aim if for “crops and office workers [to] share a common space”, so “tomato vines are suspended above conference tables, lemon and passion fruit trees are used as partitions for meeting spaces, salad leaves are grown inside seminar rooms and bean sprouts are grown under benches”. It’s one of the city’s most intriguing projects and a great model for the future.
Ginza Honeybee Project
Another rooftop operation, this time in one of the glitziest parts of town and dedicated to protecting the all-important bees. People of all walks of life come together to form the Ginza Honeybee Project, all lending a hand to tend to the hives and look after the small garden which the bees help to pollinate. It’s a non-profit operation but supports itself by selling honey to local businesses and restaurants, ensuring its admirable work can continue.
DIY gardening at home
If your green fingers are twitching, it’s time to get gardening yourself. As said, gardening in the city is all about ingenuity, meaning it doesn’t matter if all you’ve got to play with is a balcony or even a windowsill, there’s still work to be done. For a few more ideas, check out Tokyo DIY Gardening, a great site dedicated to showcasing the best examples of urban gardening in the city.
Tokyo garden centers and gardening supplies
To get your hands on some gardening essentials, you’re going to want to visit a garden center. Unfortunately, central Tokyo is a little desolate on this front, with most of the bigger places to be found out in the suburbs. There are a few options though.
One is D2 Home Center, a large store that stocks plants, seeds, pots and everything else you’ll need. They have 10 stores across Tokyo, the most central of which is not far from Tamachi Station. Super Viva Home Center is similarly well-stocked with plants and supplies, with a location a few minutes from Toyosu Station. Tokyu Hands also usually has a limited selection of gardening products, though expect to pay a little more than you would elsewhere.
If you’re willing to travel a little further, you’ve got a lot more options and prices become a lot more reasonable. Grand Stage Tsukuba is about an hour in the car or on the train from central Tokyo and is one of the best garden centers around. It’s huge, with a great variety of plants and accessories and its prices are hard to beat. A little closer is Joyful Honda in Moriya. Again, it is a large and extensively stocked place which even has a section dedicated to garden furniture if you’ve got the room for it.
Our video guide to the tuna auctions at the shiny new Toyosu Fish Market
Recommended hotels located nearby
Narita, from ¥6,500
Shibamata, from ¥3,600
Narita Airport, from ¥6,545
Narita, from ¥6,100