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Japan: How Tokyo’s Farms Have Survived for Centuries

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Credit: Martin Egbert

Enacted in 1992, an unusual law has allowed owners of farmland in Tokyo to register their farms as Productive Green Areas and claim a property tax break in exchange for not selling or developing the land.

By Klaus Sieg
Reason to be Cheerful
Mar 10, 2023


Kei Icawana bustles about her farm. Behind vegetable beds and greenhouses, car traffic roars. A train glides along an elevated track in the direction of Hino, a city in the west of Tokyo. Boxes of tomatoes, radishes and cabbage wait to be loaded into a small van. Where was the delivery bill for the supermarket? Her smartphone keeps ringing.

With a Bluetooth device in her ear, Kei Icawana answers questions about the farm store’s opening hours, tours or products as she cares for her crops. “The interest from the neighborhood is huge,” she says happily. “Producing so close and fresh to the consumer is what I think is the future of agriculture.”

That future is unfolding in Japan’s most populous metropolis, Tokyo, known for crowded subways, garish neon signage and spectacular skyscrapers. But agriculture? Though it seems improbable, an innovative law in place for three decades has ensured that farms –– some of them having operated for hundreds of years –– continue to thrive in one of the world’s biggest concrete jungles. Now, with a major expiration date attached to the law that protects these farms, Tokyo’s farmers, with the city’s help, are finding ways to keep cultivating their land.

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