Combine rising food prices with rejection of the rat race and you’ll begin to understand why the popularity of farming as a hobby – both in Tokyo and the surrounding hinterlands – continues to grow. It’s not a bad idea, actually, especially when you consider Japan’s wilting food self-sufficiency rate and the fact that nearly half of Japanese working farmers are in their 70s or older.
Programs like WWOOF have been matching farmers with willing workers for decades, but the recession and subsequent corporate layoffs have inspired both part-timers and nine-to-fivers to trade in the work shoes for muddy boots on the weekends. Some travel to plots of land in the suburbs, while others are taking to the rooftops, even in high-street districts like Omotesando. Matsuya department store even has their own line of honey produced by bees buzzing around their Ginza garden. The vegetables in many of these high-rise sanctuaries aren’t always the idealized size or shape, but that’s OK . . . because Japanese consumers are finally overcoming their aversion to oddly shaped vegetables.
The question to ask here may be whether or not this return to the dirt will last when (or if) prosperity arrives again, but there’s no doubt that many city-folk enjoy the nostalgia of a farm life they may or may not have memories of. Just take a trip out to Mother’s Farm, a pastoral theme park centered on livestock. Here, families and dates on a day trip may stand in cues for nearly an hour to milk a cow. If agriculture has become entertainment, can we grow popcorn?