Japan has a long and rich tradition of urban gardening and the people of the highly populated island nation are especially aware of dealing with limited land. For example, The esoteric gardens created by practitioners of Zen Buddhism, dating back to the eighth century, make exceptional use of the small spaces on temple grounds. However, More functional and colloquial urban gardening all but disappeared during Japan’s rapid postwar urbanization.
Recent years have seen a resurgence of urban gardening (shimin noen in Japanese) across the country. During the 1980s, changes in legislature created a legal framework that promoted the use of urban and suburban margins and abandoned lots for vegetable gardening. The developed consumer society and their search for a better quality of life has created a great deal of interest in urban gardening.
Remaining legal restrictions have dramatically affected the aesthetics of these gardens. The short-term five-year lease limit has given the gardens a temporal bend. Also, as produce grown on leased land cannot be sold, these plots are never run as businesses but instead as a leisure pursuit. Furthermore, plot size is restricted in an effort to make certain that anyone who is interesting in gardening has a chance to use the space, particularly in densely populated urban areas were land is in high demand.
The benefits of this gardening movement have gone beyond the individual satisfaction and improved nutrition that urbanites gain from the gardens. Inhabitants of the depopulated rural areas of Japan have seen revitalization of many villages and found help in maintaining Japanese farmland. Rural farmers are able to increase income and improve their land by renting small parcels, often complete with villas, to urban eco-tourists seeking to reconnect with their agrarian heritage. In this way the new gardening movement of Japan has simultaneously improved health in cities and helped to maintain Japan’s traditional countryside lifestyle.
The pressures Japan has seen in rapid urbanization with limited space are by no means entirely unique, but they are particularly intense. The solutions adopted in Japan will serve as a model for many countries as the entire world begins to feel the pressures of globalization, urbanization, and development more acutely.