This morning’s NHK Asaichi programme featured a really interesting experimental activity by an NPO. A group consisting of a diverse group of volunteers, who have taken to beekeeping on the skyscraper rooftops of GINZA district. You would think that this is a highly unlikely place to keep bees, but the bees thrive on the many cherry blossom trees that line the streets of Tokyo, and the honey produced is a rich thick cherry-flavored honey (or so the taster says on TV). The volunteers include a motley group of unrelated people but not surprisingly, include sweets or confectioners, department store staff, and a French restaurant chef.
For more see the NPO’s website HP: http://www.gin-pachi.jp/
Tokyo bees make honey on rooftops of Ginza (Daily Onigiri, MARCH 11, 2010)
We are living in turbulent times where bees are dying rapidly in large numbers because of profitable pesticides and pollution. If this trend keeps going on, one day we’ll be filling up our plates with artificial food, compressed in colorful Pfizer tablets with chemical taste of green salad, beans, strawberries, blueberries and other natural goods that we’ll know only from pictures and ballads.
Science says that about one third of all food we eat depends on pollination from bees, and about 40 percent of all bee population in the world has vanished in the past decade.
The Ginza Bee Project
Well-aware that those numbers can’t mean anything good, are the members of a very successful project called Ginza Hachimitsu Project (The Ginza Bee Project). Five years ago, the group set itself a task of creating a bee-friendly space on top of a building in Tokyo’s Ginza district where bees will be able to produce honey.
On top of the 11-story Pulp & Paper Building in Ginza, this glitzy area of luxurious boutiques and department stores, members of the Ginza Bee Project take care of 300,000 Western and Japanese bees.
Every morning the bees take off into the sky from their wooden hives in search of flowers for pollination and nectar. Because there are many parks in Tokyo, the bees can find a lot of greenery in the area of just 2 kms (1.2 miles), like the Hibiya Park, Hamarikyu Gardens and the vast parks of the Imperial Palace. The roadside trees are also a good source of nectar, as are small flower and vegetable gardens that many Japanese grow on balconies of their apartment buildings.
The amount of produced honey increases every year. The Ginpachi bees — as locals named these bees in Ginza — produced over 760 kgs (1675 lbs) of honey in 2009 alone. The honey is then sold to local stores and pattiseries in limited numbers as a final product or as an ingredient for sweets and cake-making.
But there’s more to the project than just making honey. Ever since they brought bees to Ginza, the local cherry trees began to produce cherries which wasn’t happening before when the blossoms were not pollinated. Birds began eating the cherries and the amount of small insects, beneficial to the environment, increased in the area.
At the start of the project some people were concerned about safety as they thought that keeping so many bees in such a densely populated area could be dangerous for people. After the group thoroughly explained the behavior of bees to the tenants of the building, they successfully agreed to place three beehives on the rooftop.
According to the group, the bees are very gentle creatures and would attack only if suddenly surprised. Ever since the project was launched, there was never a case where anyone would be attacked by the bees, even though there are masses of people walking on the streets near the building every day. Quite the contrary — the Ginpachi bees have become some sort of a mascot for Ginza.
According to one of the beekeepers, Fujiwara, the Ginza bees are even healthier than those in the countryside where farmers often use pesticides. He explains that pesticides — not exhaust fumes — are the biggest threat to the bee population because a bee’s lifespan is only about 30 days and therefore any toxins they might get from the air don’t accumulate to any considerable extent in their bodies. Fujiwara adds that bees fly in the air only for about a week to ten days and they spend the rest of their lives cleaning their hives.
A project for the future
“Our future vision for Ginza is not a place where buildings compete for height but a place where people and small insects could live in harmony with nature,” says Atsuo Tanaka, co-founder of the project. “We believe that bees and people’s appreciation for them will help build an urban environment, full of greenery in the spirit of satoyama (satoyama is a Japanese word that means a traditional environment where people coexist in harmony with nature and its resources). We will be happy if our project could in some way help in the future urban planning in Japan.”
The Ginza Bee Project has received support from the city government and has gained attention from the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, students and people who live in the area. In an effort to create an even friendlier environment for the bees, the Ginza Green Projectwas launched in 2007 with aim of growing flower and vegetable gardens on the rooftops of other buildings in the district. The project also looks to create green spaces that would help lower the heat retained in roads and concrete, to promote the principle of “grow local, eat local” and to encourage interpersonal relationships among people who help with the project and who may have otherwise been complete strangers.
The Ginza Green Project started out on the rooftop of the Matsuya department store where today 30 employees voluntarily take care of the gardens after they finish their regular job. The customers are also interested in the activities on the roof, so the gardens are open to the public. Matsuya sells bread and various sweets that use the ingredients they grow on the roof of their store.
In this article for The Japan Times Atsuo Tanaka says: “A bee’s average lifespan is 30 days. In this short period, a bee produces only half of a spoon of honey. This tells us how precious are their lives.”
UPDATE: Some of our readers were curious if this type of beekeeping takes place in any other cities around the world. According to this article at MSNBC, some other beekeeping cities are Paris, Berlin, London and Washington D.C. Urban beekeeping is also encouraged in San Francisco. What makes The Ginza Bee Project in Tokyo so distinct is the fact it is carried out by a large group of people who have a long-term vision that makes it possible for the project to expand and give birth to new ideas, useful to people and the environment without being limited only to beekeeping, for example, The Ginza Green Project. On the other hand, some other world metropolitan areas have banned beekeeping. In New York City, for instance, this type of illegal beekeeping is punishable with a $2000 fine (the ban has been in effect since 1999).
What do you think? Could other cities around the world benefit in a long run from a project like The Ginza Bee Project? Write your thoughts in the comments!
– The Japan Times: http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20090816x1.html
– Japan for Sustainability: http://www.japanfs.org/en/mailmagazine/newsletter/pages/029489.html
– TreeHugger: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/06/urban-beekeepers-lift-ban.php
– The Ginza Bee Project: http://www.gin-pachi.jp