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Farmers bring a slice of country life to Tokyo

by Angela Erika Kubo

Special To The Japan Times

With Tokyo Tower as a backdrop and being home to some of Tokyo’s most famous nightclubs, several foreign embassies and upscale clothing stores, Roppongi has all the flash and glamor missing from slow-paced, rustic country life. Fields and farms have no place in the steel-and-concrete labyrinth of Roppongi Hills or the nightclub-lined streets congested with partygoers. Instead of the chirping of birds or the growl of tractors at work harvesting fields, visitors to this area in central Tokyo are more likely to hear the thump of club music or the screech of sports cars.

However, the organizing committee of Tokyo Harvest is bringing a taste of Japan’s countryside to the capital by hosting a harvest festival showcasing produce and seafood from all over Japan at Roppongi Hills Arena next month.

Tokyo Harvest goes beyond the average farmers market, where the public are able to buy produce directly from producers (although you’ll be able to do that too). Held Nov. 9-10, its main attraction is a specially prepared patch of soil filled with bounty for visitors to “harvest” with their own hands.

“The reason why we chose Roppongi Hills is because it’s symbolic of what a city looks like, and also there’s a huge gap between a farming area and Roppongi,” says Eika Matsuoka, a PR representative for Tokyo Harvest.

Indeed, the decision to hold the event in Roppongi is symbolic. The trendy bars and designer stores contrast sharply with the simplicity of the fresh produce that will be showcased and sold at the event. Unlike usual harvest festivals, which are held in areas where the produce is grown and where most people must go out of their way to visit, Tokyo Harvest sets itself apart by bringing the farmers and the produce to the big city itself, much like a farmers market.

“We think that people in Tokyo don’t have a lot of opportunities to meet the people who grow their food,” says Matsuoka. “The places where the food is sold and the places where the food is grown are far apart. We’re holding this event as a way for people in the city to show their thanks to the people who grow their food.”

Except for a few areas in the western part of Tokyo, the chances of finding any farmland in the metropolis are close to zero. There’s no room among the skyscrapers of Shinjuku or Shibuya to squeeze in a rice paddy or a wheat field. Those who wish to experience an authentic harvest festival have to venture outside the city.

Moreover, farming and fishing are not considered the most glamorous of professions, as evidenced by the shrinking and graying farming population, according to Matsuoka.

“In other countries, such as France, where people want to become winemakers, there is an environment where food producers are respected. In Japan, we don’t have that yet.”

For those who live in urban areas, especially young people, there is also a lack of awareness of how the food on their table is grown, where it comes from and how the people who produce it live.

“Lately, there are some young children who see prepared fish being sold in the supermarket and think that those cut-up parts are actually swimming in the ocean. I think they’re living in a world that’s so convenient that they don’t really have that much knowledge about how vegetables grow,” says Matsuoka.

The organizers of Tokyo Harvest are hoping to change that by giving a limited number of visitors on a first-come, first-served basis the chance to spend a day experiencing what farm work is like, lugging a large amount of soil and fully grown vegetables into Roppongi Hills to create a temporary harvest garden. Visitors can get on their hands and knees for a bit of backbreaking work, their prize being fresh vegetables to take home — the exact varieties are as yet unconfirmed but think along the lines of mushrooms, cucumbers and lettuce. The organizers hope that this taste of humbling toil will give city-dwellers a newfound appreciation for the work that farmers and fishermen in Japan do.

In addition there will be a photo exhibition of Japan’s farmers at the Mori Art Museum and a food court serving dishes made from fresh produce.

Tokyo Harvest will be held on Nov. 9-10 (Sat 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun 11 a.m.-6 p.m.) at Roppongi Hills Arena, near Tokyo’s Roppongi Station (Hibiya and Oedo lines). The gardening activity will be open to a limited number of participants; more information on how to apply along with details of the event will be available later in October at www.tokyoharvest.com.

Adachi harvest festival

If you miss your chance to be a bona-fide farmer during Tokyo Harvest, Adachi Urban Agricultural Park is also offering a chance to harvest organically grown vegetables on Nov. 23-24 with its Aki no Shukakusai (Fall Harvest Festival). Veg to dig up include spring onions, carrots, daikon radishes and sweet potatoes. Additionally, there will be lessons on threshing wheat and running a grain mill, a botanical-art workshop, guided tours of the park and live jazz music. Food stands will also be selling vegetable pizza and teppanyaki, along with a fresh-herb tea tasting for ¥100 — including a cookie.

Aki no Shukakusai runs Nov. 23-24 (9 a.m.-4 p.m.) at Adachi Urban Agricultural Park, Shikahama 2-44-1, Adachi-ku, Tokyo; 03-3853-4114; ow.ly/pD4Q8. Entry is ¥200; some attractions carry an additional charge and have limited spaces.