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Community Gardens in Japan

Updated: Oct 28, 2021

What is a community garden?

A community garden is a shared plot of land designed, built, and organized by groups of local residents. Community gardens can be located in urban, sub-urban, or rural areas. And also it can be organized by various scales of community. There are really no restrictions as to how a community garden should look like. However, one common feature of community gardens is that it brings the community together by providing opportunities to work together and learn from one another. Also, they help people build relationships and show each other respect. Not only do community gardens create safe communities by strengthening social bonds, but they also encourage sustainable living by regenerative farming and producing food locally.

Moreover, with more and more people starting to live in urban areas, many cities and organizations are designing community gardens to engage residents. Why? They’ve found many benefits for society through organizing community gardens.

(Photo credit: Genki Nakamura)

What are the benefits of community gardens?

There are many benefits of community gardens but the top three are: Environmental protection, food security, and social security.

Environmental Protection

Community gardens are very environment friendly since they improve the ecosystem and reduce our carbon footprint. They improve air and soil quality as well. Community gardening also helps with composting, water infiltration, and building micro ecosystems. As a result, environmental problems such as biodiversity, urban climate, and waste management are effectively tackled.

Food Security

In terms of low-income neighborhoods, where undernourishment and malnutrition prevail, community gardens help overcome these challenges. They do so by providing neighborhoods with more access to affordable and nutritious food, increased physical activity through gardening activities, improved dietary habits through education, and reduced risk of obesity and obesity-related disease through encouraging vegetables and fruits consumption.

Social Security

Community gardens strengthen social relationships and promote healthy interactions. As a result, the crime rates are seen to be reduced as community gardens provide a sense of security. Moreover, they enable residents to adapt skills in design, food production, and business management. In addition, by offering economic opportunities such as selling crops at the local farmer’s markets, community gardens help to boost the local economy.

That is why many governments, companies, and community groups are starting to implement community gardens in urban areas to tackle problems brought by urbanization. They create better environments, promote social cohesion, reduce crime rates, and much more.

What do they look like and what types are there?

If you're unfamiliar with the concept of “community garden” then it may be hard to even picture what one looks like. A community garden is a small plot of land or soil that is used by a group of people to produce vegetables, fruits, and/or other plants. There are various types of community gardens but they are all collaborative activities.

Community gardens can be categorized into 5 specific types: plot gardens, cooperative gardens, youth gardens, entrepreneurial market gardens, and therapeutic gardens.

Types of community gardens:

Plot gardens are community gardens subdivided into individual plots so each person can customize their garden. People use these plots for choosing their own crops, designing their own garden, and using the grown crops for their own purposes.

Cooperative gardens are relatively larger than plot gardens. The entire space is coordinated through the cooperative work of the community members. People can form strong community bonds through cooperative gardens, since they require a lot of teamwork and social interaction.

Youth gardens are a type of community garden established with the purpose of learning, growing, and nurturing. Schools usually start youth gardens to teach students science and nutrition. In addition children learn how to be responsible, patient, curious, self-confident, and collaborate with their peers as they cultivate foods.

Entrepreneurial market gardens not only produce food but sell food in local markets. Community members of these sort of gardens engage in the local economy by selling their crops at farmer’s markets.

Interview with a community garden organizer, Robin Rauner!

We interviewed Robin Rauner who transformed a vacant parking lot into a community garden in Kyoto, Japan.

1) Why did you start this community garden project?

The project began earlier this year when my neighbor, who I met through mutual friends, asked if I would like to use the vacant parking space at his house to grow a garden, as he knew that I had a small garden on my balcony already. He had just started a plant-based diet himself, and soon became involved in the garden too.

After meeting up a few times to plan how we would build the garden, we realized that we shared a common interest in finding ways to reduce our plastic use and

disconnect from mindless consumerism. We view the garden as a first step towards greater independence from plastic-filled supermarkets and a more considered way of life.

In the space of a few months, the garden quickly grew from a few felt planters that I seeded with basil, komatsuna, spinach, and Swiss chard, to over two dozen varieties of plants.

2) What are some of the difficulties you ran into and how did you overcome them?

I am still a beginner gardener, so I turned to an organic farmer friend for guidance and advice. He recommended a place to get quality, local compost and what to do about pests such as caterpillars. Otherwise, the garden has taken shape quite naturally without too many problems. It was mostly a matter of doing a bit of planning and renting a Kei truck to pick up all of the materials we needed.

3) Do you have any difficulties now?

We would like to grow enough to share with our neighbors, but we do not have much space. I offer produce to the neighbors who I’ve gotten to know while out gardening, but the unspoken rule of reciprocity is limiting. While the garden already serves as a green space that everyone in the area can enjoy visually, we are trying to think of how to create more opportunities for community participation.

4) What are the next plans for the garden?

I plan to make name tags for each plant in the garden so that the kids and adults living nearby can easily see what everything is. I would also like to make cold frames so that I can grow seedlings next year to plant in the garden and offer to our neighbors. Either this year or the next, I am considering applying to the Kyoto City environment award in order to raise awareness for and promote more grassroots community garden projects.

5) Any comments for the readers interested in community gardens?

I would say that if you have a bit of space and a decent amount of sun, try planting something! You don’t need much money, but do invest in good soil, and start simple. For first-timers, I would recommend propagating negi from the supermarket in a glass of water and then transferring it to a pot once it regrows. There is no pressure and no such thing as failure, just opportunities to learn.

And gardening is a meditative practice that has brought me a great deal of peace in uncertain times.

The community garden has also been a fantastic ice-breaker and way to connect with my neighbors. Everyone I have met has been so positive and supportive, even bringing me gifts of home-grown plums, mosquito repellent bracelets, and Japanese desserts.

Address: 232-1 Akitsukichō, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8371

Interview with a community garden organizer, Takako Ohyama!

We also interviewed Takako Ohyama who transformed her frontyard and backyard into community gardens in Tokyo, Japan.

1) Why did you start a community garden?

When I was living in Brooklyn six years ago, there were many community gardens in my neighborhood, and I learned to connect with the environment and nature through their existence. I'm hoping to bring this experience to my own neighborhood so that I can inspire more people to share!

2) What were some of the challenges of running a community garden? How did you overcome them?

There are those who want to use pesticides, and those who use insecticides when insects increase. I myself prefer to use no pesticides to protect the soil, but I guess not everyone has the same awareness, and that's been my problem lately. Rather than forcibly eliminating their opinions, I try to avoid using pesticides little by little, and throw out words about living in harmony with insects and other living things.

3) What are you working on now, or what do you think needs to be worked on in the future?

I feel that we need to involve the local community in various ways, such as calling out to them and putting up signs to let them know that the place is open to them.

4) What are the next plans for the garden?

Community composting!

5) Any comments for the readers interested in community gardens?

Instead of worrying about it, let's try it! If you have the space, you can do it anywhere. I think it's a good idea to start by trying it out and laughing at your mistakes.

Address: 4-27-8 Nagasaki, Toshima City, Tokyo, 171-0051

How do you find a community garden?

For those of you wanting to participate in a community garden, “mamoru” could be a good place to start for finding community gardens in your area. mamoru is a free online map managed and run by volunteers around the world that introduces sustainability-focused places, including businesses, shops, and community gardens. You can enter in your city to see what's places are listed and filter the places by the sustainability category "Rental/Share" to see if there are any community gardens in your area!

If you do not see any in your area but know of one, please add it to the map to share it with others and help encourage a more sustainable lifestyle!

It’s your turn to get involved!

Community gardens bring positive outcomes for you, your community, and our planet. After reading this, we hope you start getting involved with community gardens, start your own, or share with others the ones that you already know!


About the Authors

Mary Connolly

I'm a 17 year old HS student from Tokyo working in mamoru as an intern. I joined mamoru because I am drawn to innovative projects like it, and I saw it as a chance to directly get involved in working on climate justice, a cause that I'm passionate about. My interests include fashion, art, business, IT, and sustainability. In the future, I hope to be involved in a business where I can merge my interests and make a positive impact. My hobbies are to dance, travel, listen to podcasts and to explore the city.

Sarah Kim

I am an 18 year old high school student working in mamoru as an intern. I enjoy discovering new perspectives of the world through people, places, languages, and books. I’m glad that I joined mamoru because I was able to expand my boundaries and contribute to creating a sustainable community. In my future, I want to become a lawyer who defends the rights of nature and activists.




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