Seeing Green: Environmental Urban Living in Tokyo

Tokyo makes its case for environmental urban living

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Yuriko Nakao / Reuters / Corbis

The city’s efforts to go green are evident in places like the Pasona 02 indoor farm

Wasteful, elaborate packaging. Mountains of consumer electronics. Whale hunting. Nuclear disaster. Japan doesn’t exactly have the most stellar reputation for environmental friendliness. But, as anyone who has been to a previous Eco-Products Exhibition (www.eco-pro.com) will tell you, nowhere is as innovative as Japan when it comes to eco-solutions. Launched in 1999 as a showcase for green products and technologies, the annual event runs this year from Dec. 13 to 15 at Tokyo Big Sight International Exhibition Center and will feature some 750 exhibitors. If you’re in town, why not join the expected 185,000 visitors to find out where Japan is heading in its efforts to get greener? Not that Tokyo isn’t already green in part. When you’re done at the fair, here are four more places where green shoots are poking through.

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1. Pasona 02 Urban Farm
Few buildings in Tokyo are as easy to identify as the head office of staffing company Pasona in Tokyo’s Marunouchi district. Plants burst from each of the building’s balconies, enveloping it in greenery. The offices inside are equally verdant, with pots hanging from ceilings and the staff cafeteria more like a greenhouse than an eatery. Then there’s Pasona’s staff-tended indoor farm. Covering about 1.5 hectares, this urban greensward grows an array of vegetables and even has rice paddies that, with the aid of indoor lighting, can be harvested three times a year.

As skeptics will rightly point out, it takes a lot of energy to power an indoor farm, but Pasona (www.pasona-nouentai.co.jp) doesn’t bill the project as a ready-made ecological solution. In part, it’s a team-building exercise for the company’s staff. It’s also an attempt at promoting a greater understanding of environmental and food-supply concerns. (And, yes, it’s good p.r.) More important, it’s a pioneering experiment: How are we going to develop truly efficient urban farms if we don’t start urban farming in the first place? Visits are free but need to be booked in advance; accessed via Otemachi or Nihonbashi stations.

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2. UNU Farmer’s Market
Held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday at the United Nations University in Aoyama, this laid-back market (www.farmersmarkets.jp) is crammed with fresh organic produce and artisanal foodstuffs. It also attracts vendors selling handicrafts, flowers, natural cosmetics and other specialty items made in keeping with the market’s sustainable mantra. Add to that the couple dozen or so food and drink vendors, like the organic-smoothie van and the mobile pizzeria, and it all adds up to a colorful, aromatic and extremely chilled-out way to while away a few hours. And it’s just as good if you are around on the third Saturday of the month, when the market sets up for its monthly evening edition, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

3. Shinjuku Gyoen
Given Tokyo’s image as a built-up, neon-lit metropolis, it’s easy to overlook the city’s numerous green spaces. Parks like the centrally located Yoyogi Koen and traditional strolling gardens such as Kiyosumi Teien and Korakuen provide welcome respite from Tokyo’s unyielding clamor. None, however, are quite as tranquil as Shinjuku Gyoen. Entry costs $2.40; best accessed via Shinjuku-gyoenmae Station.

Spread over 58 hectares in the Shinjuku ward, the over-100-year-old park combines British, French and Japanese garden styles with a spaciousness and calm that belies its location just a short walk from one of the busiest train stations on the planet. In spring, delicate cherry blossoms bathe the park in pink. In summer, the roses in the park’s French garden are at their regal best. In autumn, the pathways that dissect the vast picnic-inducing lawns are dappled with richly colored fallen leaves. Year round, Shinjuku Gyoen is perfect.

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4. Yoyogi Village
This small eco-friendly enclave of stores in Yoyogi, a gentle 10-minute walk from Shinjuku Gyoen’s Sendagaya Gate, represents the fashionable face of green Tokyo. Some would say it represents the eco-conscious retail future of Tokyo too, though that is pushing it a bit.

That it should emit a certain hipster chic should be no surprise. The “village” (www.yoyogi-village.jp) was put together in 2011 by the producer of Japanese pop-rock giants Mr. Children in collaboration with Kurkku (www.kurkku.jp), a style-conscious firm that operates an organic café-restaurant and “green design” shop and library in Omotesando. The result is a cool two-story complex that combines plant-lined wooden walkways with simple contemporary architecture to create a laid-back shopping setting. Stores include an organic-cotton-clothing retailer that works with Indian cotton growers, an organic Italian restaurant, a friendly café, a spa and a chic music bar.

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