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Saturday, Dec. 15, 2007

Shibuya to rent land to fill demand from green thumbs

Staff writer

Not many people go to Shibuya to commune with nature, but starting in spring, gardening and farming might see a boom in one of Tokyo's most populous wards.

News photo
This vacant lot at a nursing-care facility near JR Shibuya Station will be turned into a vegetable garden. Shibuya Ward will rent the 818-sq.-meter plot for use by its residents next April. PHOTO COURTESY OF SHIBUYA WARD

Shibuya recently announced it will start vegetable gardens on three of the ward's properties next April.

The three properties include an empty 818-sq.-meter plot that belongs to a nursing-care facility near JR Shibuya Station, a 1,030-sq.-meter plot that was once the site of an elementary school gym near Yebisu Garden Place, and an empty 480-sq.-meter lot in Yoyogi near Sangubashi Station on the Odakyu Line.

Shibuya Mayor Toshitake Kuwahara said at a ward assembly meeting last month that the motivation for the unusual initiative was the local lack of farmland. Without farmland and gardens, the ward can't provide opportunities for residents to interact with nature, he said.

"The gardens will give opportunities for elderly to get outside, have some physical activities and meet with others. For families with children, the gardens will provide great bonding experiences," Kuwahara said.

While renting land for gardening is common in other wards, Shibuya's plan is extraordinary because the land has high commercial value and could produce a fortune if leased for commercial activity or sold for a hefty profit.

According to Shibuya's public property chart, the going price is ¥4.45 million per sq. meter for the plot near the station, ¥1.69 million for the Ebisu site and ¥2.90 million for the Sangubashi one. The total price for the three properties, which cover about 2,300 sq. meters, is about ¥6.8 billion.

The properties will be subdivided into 110 patches measuring 2.5 × 4 meters. Each will be rented to one entity, an individual or a group, which will need to pay a yet to be determined fee.

While the ward will draft instructions and rules regarding use of the gardens, renters are basically free to grow whatever they want as long as it is not disturbing or illegal, said Akihiko Ozawa, head of the Shibuya Ward Parks Division.

The gardens are to be available only to ward residents.

Ozawa said the ward decided to open the gardens because demand for gardening space has been high.

An idea was floated to rent the three lots for sports activities, but the ward decided on vegetable gardens instead due to public demand, he said.

"Although it's hard to find appropriate lands for gardening in Shibuya Ward, if we get good feedback from the residents, we will try to open more," Ozawa said.

The ward also plans to get help from nonprofit organizations and volunteers to tutor people on gardening and farming.

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