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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Tokyo ramps up greenery effort

With an eye to the 2016 Olympics, the capital is sprucing up with grass and trees

Staff writer

Tokyo is gaining greening speed.

News photo
Laying the groundwork: The Tokyo Metropolitan Government will plant thousands of trees in this Tokyo Bay landfill to create an 88-hectare woods called Umi no Mori (Sea Forest) by 2016. KAZUAKI NAGATA PHOTOS

Over the next 10 years, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is going ahead with ambitious plans to plant a forest along Tokyo Bay, increase the number of tree-lined streets, plant grass in parks, and all the while encourage community involvement in a bid to nurture a "green movement."

Tokyo's Big Change: the 10-year plan, which was laid out in 2006, responds to growing environmental concerns worldwide and aims to boost the capital's image as it prepares to bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

"Tokyo has always worked on increasing greenery, but we'd like this Olympics bid to be a tail wind," said Motoaki Kobayashi, the metro official in charge of the environmental section's greenery plan. "To host an Olympics, it is essential that the city be environmentally organized."

The 10-year plan really took off last year when the metro office set up a special team with a budget of ¥39 billion to cover 74 projects this year alone.

One is the 88-hectare forest Umi no Mori (Sea Forest) at the Inner Central Breakwater Landfill site in Tokyo Bay.

At the moment the site, created from 12.3 million tons of landfill, is bare except for an area where trees were planted 10 years ago. The aim is to transform the land by planting 480,000 trees.

"We had this plan for the sea forest before, but with the 10-year green project, the plan has gained momentum," Kobayashi said.

Other projects focus on adding greenery to existing sites.

As of 2006, Tokyo had an estimated 486,000 roadside trees, according to the metro government. The goal is to increase this to 1 million within 10 years.

The trees will be planted along both new and existing thoroughfares.

Although it may appear there isn't much space left for new trees on existing streets, the plan calls for planting medium-height trees between the tall ones already there. Some utility poles will also be taken down and their wires buried to create more space for trees.

Another approach involves public schools. The idea is to add 300 hectares of greenery by planting grass in the fields of all the nearly 2,000 metro-run elementary and junior high schools. The same would be done at some public high schools and kindergartens.

Musahidai Elementary School is one of the first to go grassy in Nakano Ward.

News photo
Keep on the grass: Pupils mow their new grass field at Musashidai Elementary School in Tokyo's Nakano Ward at the end of March.

"A primary reason that we decided to do this is because of the environment," Principal Shigeru Sakurai said.

The school opened its 2,496-sq.-meter grass field last August.

Sakurai said the grass is not only environmentally friendly but also good for the pupils.

"It seems many children, especially girls, who come out and play in the field has noticeably increased," he said.

Proving his point, many kids could be seen playing on the grass during a lunch break in April. Some kicked and chased balls, or simply sat and chatted with friends, while others performed cartwheels.

Because the grass is softer than the hard ground it replaced, the children are less likely to hurt themselves, Sakurai said.

The pupils are tasked with cutting the grass with mowers provided by the school, which gives them a sense of responsibility, he added.

Despite some inconvenience, including not being able to use the field for about three to four weeks when new seeds are planted, Sakurai said the field is beneficial for children overall.

In addition to the 300 hectares of public school fields, the metro government plans to plant grass and trees in another 700 hectares at parks and elsewhere.

Kobayashi emphasized that community involvement is a key element of the project.

For instance, the sea forest project calls for cooperation from the community, and elementary school pupils are now growing saplings for it.

Another program, My Street Tree, gives citizens the chance to see their name on a donated roadside tree.

He added that various metro government departments are setting up their own volunteer programs for various tasks.

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