Guerilla gardening in Tokyo


Some great photos of guerilla gardening in Tokyo from

Look at the girl in the picture, she is planting some tomatoes in little corner between two roads in the middle of Tokyo. Isn’t it amazing? She cares about that little place of land lost in Tokyo’s immensity, and what is more amazing is that she doesn’t seem worried about people or dogs destroying her tomatoes and her lavender.

Previously on Boing Boing:
Guerilla gardening in London
LA Times on guerrilla gardeners


  1. “Mmmm, the vehicle fumes, asbestos from brakes, and stray lubricant give my tomatoes almost a mesquite flavor.”

  2. With the amount of times Godzilla and King Ghidorah flatten that city, it’s amazing anyone even bothers with gardening.

  3. This will before long become a necessity in Japan and everyone will be doing it; In fact it will be necessary all over the industrialized world in the post-Peak Oil age to come.

  4. Why should she worry about people destroying her little garden?
    That type of social pathology does not run rampant everywhere, you know.
    IMO, it’s actually atypical across human history, peace is the norm, it’s just that the violence is so much more memorable.

  5. It’s lovely, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the government cracked down. Someone tried something similar here in San Francisco last year and it brought up all these liability issues: if a gardener is hit by a car, how is blame apportioned? The American legal term for this sort of thing is “attractive nuisance,” and even nice things like gardens turn quickly into magnets for litigation.

  6. Not too long ago there was a guy in Saitama (?) who liked to destroy flowerbeds on his way from work.
    Sort of recreational and relaxing, he said.
    She shouldn’t fret, though, because he has already been arrested.

  7. I remember seeing, years ago, a tiny garden—perhaps two feet on a side—at the foot of the staircase next to Roppongi Tunnel in Tokyo. Someone had gone to considerable trouble to turn that minuscule plot of unused land into something green, and surrounded it with a low fence made of bamboo.

    I wonder if it’s still there.

  8. #4

    A couple of months ago a salaryman was observed destroying a flower garden in one of the major cities (not Tokyo but maybe Kyoto or Osaka). It was a major story appearing in the english language press for several days if not a week or more (sorry didn’t pay that much attention at the time) with the usual tut-tuting that this sort of thing causes. So the short answer is that she has little to worry about.

    Secondly, this is not a new phenomenom but one I have seen in Korea and Japan going back to the 90’s with clear evidence that it was a long standing tradition. Virtually every place that there is room to plant there are gardens. Whether or not they are officially sanctioned I don’t know but I can say I have seen them in vacant lots, railroad ROW’s, on publis roads, and even right in the middle of shopping districts. My guess is that if someone actually asked this person you would not find a guerilla gardener but rather some one who is following the local traditions.

  9. I wouldn’t be afraid either. Dogs don’t really roam wild in Tokyo, and anyone who is walking them is very concerns that they pee on only things that are considered unclean anyways. A light pole, yes. Someone’s fence, absolutely not.

    And there might be some possibility that some jackass will mess it up, but if it looks like it’s been put there for a reason, most likely no one will mess it up.

  10. Agree with #9. The story was in the Japanese news for weeks when a salaryman went on an eco rampage. It wasn’t even that severe, but people really took offense to the whole thing.

    I really don’t consider this guerilla gardening either. Keeping your neighborhood beautiful is a kind of citizen duty in Japan with many people volunteering to clean the streets, pick up trash and do civic work like gardening. It’s not really unexpected, though in recent years housewives especially have become a bit resentful of the way this is expected of citizens because by citizens they usually mean housewives and working women and not men of any persuasion except the retired.

  11. in a place with centuries if not millenia of human occupation with animist tradition, every paving stone,every tree, every scrap of land is somehow, somewhen connected with a spirit – animal, human or kami. Most modern Japanese have forgotten this but they live among the echoes both in place and in their own behaviour. A case in point; should you go to a insignificant isle in the volcanic chain leading to Fuji-san, you will find a roadside shrine of a marble surfboard engraved with the word; “strive”. I doubt any there will know why there is an offering of a coca cola can upon it. But the offerings will continue.

  12. “…what is more amazing is that she doesn’t seem worried about people or dogs destroying her tomatoes and her lavender”
    Japanese society is so much more polite than western societies. It would bring shame upon their ancestors if someone was to destroy another’s work.

    I agree to a point, but Japanese culture has a unique respect towards objects and the time/effort people place in creating or cultivating those objects. Whereas in America, land used to plant things is looked on as a “place holder” before something else happens.

    I’m not a Japanophile, but that apsect of their culture really makes me admire them very much. And respect them even more. More power to people who do this!

  14. Keeping your neighborhood beautiful is a kind of citizen duty in Japan with many people volunteering to clean the streets, pick up trash and do civic work like gardening.

    It’s more than that. People from historically-Christian countries tend to have trouble grasping this, but Japan isn’t like them. Their culture is based around the Shinto faith, which is unique to Japan.

    Shinto is fundamentally embedded into Japanese culture – it’s the root of most of their ethics, traditions, and secular beliefs. Japanese people who don’t consider themselves religious are still profoundly influenced by it, and their notions of “right” and “wrong” will be roughly in line with it.

    The relevance of all this? Shinto is an animistic faith. Where faiths like Christianity worship a creator deity, Shinto worships the world in which people exist. One of its most fundamental precepts is a deep love and respect for nature; to live close to nature is holy.

    This isn’t just some kind of “citizen duty”. It’s sacred.

  15. Shinto worships the world in which people exist. One of its most fundamental precepts is a deep love and respect for nature

    That might be true if this were the Edo Period. Most Japanese were raised in cities. They have a Shinto wedding and a Buddhist funeral. The idea that nature worship has any meaning for the majority of Japanese makes Japan sound like a diorama or a petting zoo. On a practical level, the worship of technology eclipses the worship of nature.

  16. I think it’s probably quite therapeutic for the city dwellers –
    this is all reminding me of the ‘dabber’ cult in Bass’s Half Past Human, where underground hive-dwelling nebbish have a secret cult involving dirt, adobe and bamboo:

    “Nothing gets rid of the old anxiety quicker than a bucket of mud.”

    “The most important thing…” continued Walter, “DAB [dirt,adobe and bamboo] protects you from is suicide. That is the number one killer. Inappropriate Activity – old I.A. Without DAB your ectodermal debris sensitizes you. all your skin scales, hair and skin oils get into the house dust and feed the mite, Dermatophagoides. THe mite acquires ectodermal protein antigens. As you live with the mite and breath in dust – mite fragments – you build up antibodies against them. Antibodies against your own ectodermal antigens. When the titre gets high enough the antibody cross reacs with your own neuroectoderm – your brain. Hence the logarithmic correlation between crowding and I. A. Between house dust sensitivity and suicide. Humans who nest with rugs, drapes and stuffed furniture have the highest suicide rate. Humans who live with dirt,adobe and bamboo have the lowest” (p.99)

    aren’t you just dying to read it now? Yeah, that and Inter Ice Age 4
    yeah boyee

    ok – maybe its just me…

  17. #20

    I agree, but to add for the sake of it: The Japanese tradition and upbringing is more tightly nit, hence the influence is a lot greater.
    For ‘christian’ countries, most have been effectively corrupted through history – to them it’s nothing more than a statement, than that of a way of life.
    In relation to what you say of the actions of a Shinto influenced culture, True christians would also be highly respective of their neighbours and environment (would see others as part of the world family, etc). Just these days, it’s so watered down and not the ‘norm’ is western countries, that it’s rarely seen and even down-trodden.

    Same goes for many other cultures.

    (FYI – is not a religious statement, this is a culture statement).

  18. In London they’d last about two minutes before being stolen or, more likely, vandalised.

  19. @5: Attractive nuisance? Not so much.

    An attractive nuisance is a dangerous object or structure on a landowner’s property which attracts trespassing children who are unable to appreciate the dangerous nature of the object. If it doesn’t by its nature attract and then injure children, not an attractive nuisance. Gardens, however they come into existence, don’t remotely qualify.

    Wikipedia actually has a nice definition of the concept that (I think) is understandable to laypeople:

  20. I’m surprised no one else besides #1 mentioned the probability of toxic soil, and how it’s a terrible idea to plant FOOD in these spaces.

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