Close community outreach, daily life experimentation, do it yourself ethos, food production, nature and gardening
[UPDATE Summer 2018: former gardener Sachiko left the project in 2017 to start a new phase working with social house Cocoroom in Osaka. The garden is now being managed by other members of the group and still has special events, and open days. Please feel free to visit, though the below practical information may be different]
1-18-8 Midori-cho, Inage-ku, Chiba-shi, Chiba, Japan, 〒263-0023
Open 10am – 5pm everyday except Wednesday and Sunday, open outside these hours during special events
HELLO GARDEN is a very unique open public space and garden which aims to inspire and provoke thought about the basics of everyday living. Leading by example, through various activities and events, in how to make small changes in your lifestyle to create a larger social change. It also is a free, green, no restrictions space which is enjoyed by local residents, children, local students and visiting guests.
HELLO GARDEN is maintained day to day by the friendly English-speaking Furuta-san (Sachiko). The space, like Kasu Harappa ONDI in Yanaka, is a regular house plot bought by the owner who then decided to offer it as a community space for Nishi-Chiba, in order that local people can appreciate their own area and have the opportunity to try new things. The space includes lots of various seasonal vegetable and herb plots gardened by Sachiko, along with the small trees and flowers this provides a living green space in an otherwise residential district. During its muddy creation (and often still now) the children of the neighbourhood who love to use the space invent games and run wild through the garden, which is bordered by the neighbourhood playground. Sachiko knows each child well, and they know and trust her, often sharing sweets and even attending events. I myself have played a language exchange game with one of the girls who stops by often and joined a Malaysian traveler, Sachiko and myself in our cross-cultural card game.
The products and herbs from the garden often make their way into the cooking events, shared picnics and also take a role in the drinks stall. The permanent drinks cart, which like the rest of the purpose-designed furniture folds and morphs for flexibility, stores a chilled ice box or hot kettle which creates a personal tea or soda made from the herbs which you can pick from the garden. There are also different low priced drinks available depending on the time of year. If you help out with the gardening, or in some other way, then you’ll receive a ticket for a free drink.
Several older and knowledgeable local resident gardeners help Sachiko with advice and time. One man in particular stops by almost every day to help start up and take down the furniture, join events or just relax (in summer, maybe in a deck chair). If you see him, say hello. At other times, local mums use the large shared tables and movable furniture to hold weekly picnics and socialise while their children play nearby. A large retractable canopy over the furniture helps shade the seating during the summer, providing a cool spot for passersby.
Another permanent feature of the garden is a book and magazine library, available to read in the space or borrow. The publications include DIY lifestyle, cooking and gardening books which you can learn from. They are mostly Japanese, but Sachiko can talk through some of the pages with you. There are also major newspapers available at the tables. Nearby is the “How Much Shop”, another permanent feature. This piece of folding furniture hosts an experiment in which you set the price for the item you want, whatever you think the product is worth you can pay to Sachiko and take home the item. Products include clothes, household items and other small things.
One of the other main purposes of the garden is hosting weekly and special events throughout the year which promote its core values of community sustainability, person to person exchange and do it yourself making. Most of these events, if not all, are easy for international people to take part in, even without Japanese. Weekly events include a Language Lab, and weekend picnic lunch. There are days with soy sauce making, cooking and special nights too. For the past two years, along with the neighbouring playground’s local Bon Odori night, HELLO GARDEN has hosted its own Bon Odori – with live DJ’s, international live music, visuals, handcraft market stalls, special local food and drinks, and lots of local interaction and partying. All these elements are provided by skilled local students and residents, showing that you can make a party in your own neighbourhood with your own skills – you don’t need to go to the big city. Another special night was an evening Autumn Jazz night helped again by local skilled people and cooks, creating an evening under suburban stars.
The generosity of the owner of the land has allowed this non-commercial experiment to flourish and benefit the local area, much like ONDI in Yanaka. However, these two spaces are the only examples we collectively know of in or around Tokyo. That is part of the reason why visiting HELLO GARDEN, despite the potentially long trip from Tokyo, can be so rewarding.
Volunteering at the garden is very easy, just turn up and say you’d like to lend a hand. Message Sachiko-san first to let her know you’re coming if you want to. She will be very glad you came and give you some small things to do (like picking some vegetables or weeding some herb beds), but more than that she will be very happy to talk with you about all sorts of topics, teach about the products in the garden, and introduce you to the local residents and schoolchildren. She is very open, and very knowledgeable about community projects not just in Kanto but across Japan. This is one of the easiest voluntary works around Tokyo to get involved with I know of.
HELLO GARDEN is managed by the local company, Mikey Inc. Their office is also located in a very interesting building which serves as a DIY workshop rental space for local people, children and students with a cafe and a library of interesting books. The office is near the garden, I recommend you stop by to have a look. You can even rent the DIY space yourself for an hour to create a product using their tools and machines.
Also in Nishi-Chiba
2600044 Chiba-shi, 2-7-10 Matsunami Chuo-ku, Chiba-shi
At the north exit of Nishi-Chiba station is a very interesting Palestinian cafe and restaurant which promotes, serves and sells Palestinian products. Beer, dry foods, books and music. There is also a very large collection of interesting books about Japanese and international political activism and other subjects. You can read them at the tables freely. They sometimes host music and other events with a Palestinian theme. This is a unique business which I recommend you visit when in Nishi-Chiba, the owners are very friendly people and the cafe is very welcoming.