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Saturday, June 23, 2012

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Veggies on the waterfront: A man checks on his tomatoes at a rented garden plot on the rooftop of DiverCity Tokyo Plaza in the Odaiba area on Tokyo's waterfront on June 15. SATOKO KAWASAKI

Garden on the bay plots agricultural revival

Staff writer

Rich red tomatoes and purple eggplants are ripe for harvest while loaches swim in a lush rice paddy awaiting seedlings.

It is difficult to believe that this 600-sq.-meter patch of farmland is in Odaiba, the waterfront development built on landfill in Tokyo Bay, unless one looks out and sees the shiny Fuji Television building right next to it.

But the field and its vibrant produce appear to be floating on the bay because the farm was built on the rooftop of DiverCity Tokyo Plaza, the eight-story shopping complex that opened in April.

Tokai no Noen (City Farm) is one of the many vegetable gardens that have sprouted up on Tokyo's rooftops recently.

Hoping to mitigate the capital's sweltering summers and reduce its notorious air conditioner use, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government began requiring building owners and developers to plant trees on rooftops from 2001. The requirement applies to commercial buildings with more than 1,000 sq. meters of floor space and public buildings of more than 250 sq. meters.

According to a 2003 report by the metro government, greening brings rooftop temperatures down to 30 degrees from a sizzling 55 and helps lower indoor temperatures by 1 to 3 degrees.

Some viewed this as a chance to use the barren rooftops as gardens or rent them out to urban farmers to promote ecological and sustainable lifestyles.

City Farm, which opened on April 19, offers the biggest rooftop farming space in Tokyo.

It rents 3-sq.-meter plots for ¥21,000 a month and about 70 percent of the 120 lots are already in use, according to Plenty Co., its operator.

The renters are a diverse crowd, ranging from cooking school teachers to South Korean singers, but most are families.

"Given the current radiation fears, some people with children want to have vegetables that they produce themselves," said Eri Patricia Yoshiiri, a public relations official for Plenty.

City Farm keeps a full-time professional farmer on site and offers various fee-based services, including watering, weeding, harvesting, and even photography for those who want pictures of the veggies sent to them.

But Plenty said many come to the site to get hands-on experience with farming and to teach their children about nature.

Some also use the farm as an opportunity for bonding and to create a sense of community.

"We are planting 'edamame' (soy beans). Employees take turns coming here to take care of them. We will have a beer party when we harvest them," said Yasunori Yomo, executive general manager at Suntory Flowers, a Suntory Holdings Ltd. unit near DiverCity. The company is renting a 150-sq.-meter plot.

Plenty is hoping its City Farm business will raise public awareness about the decline of the nation's agriculture industry by giving people a chance to grow their own vegetables and learn about farming.

"Odaiba is a great place to disseminate the information. I hope this will help reinvigorate the agriculture sector," said Asuka Imura, 21, a farmer from Nagasaki Prefecture who works full-time taking care of the City Farm facility.

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