Ginza rooftop sprouts herb crop

JAPAN - How about a refreshing mojito garnished with locally grown mint at a bar in the centre of the metropolis?

A nonprofit organisation that raises bees on a building in Tokyo's Ginza district is now growing mint and other herbs on the same rooftop.

Some Ginza bars use Ginza Honey Bee Project herbs to make cocktails, giving locavores a fresh option in the heart of the nation's capital.

"We'd like to turn the honey bee and herb garden into a place where local people can get together," a member of the NPO said.

People from a variety of backgrounds are taking part in the project, from bar owners to company employees.

The NPO began raising bees on the roof of the 11-story Kami Pulp Kaikan building in the Ginza 6-chome area in the spring of 2006.

The honey harvest has proved popular, whether sold under the Ginza Hachimitsu brand or used in castella cakes from the famous Ginza Bun-meido store.

The project grows flowers and fruit trees to provide the honey bees with nectar on the 10th floor of the Kami Pulp Kaikan building, as well as at 12 other locations, including on department store roofs.

However, maintaining the plot, which totals 1,000 square meters in size, has been costly.

Hoping to raise funds to cover maintenance costs, the group began growing spearmint, Japanese peppermint and two other herbs last November.

The project's spokesman, Akihito Tanaka, 31, has taken charge of the herb-growing effort.

Planter boxes were brought up to the terrace, filled with compost and soil, and planted with seedlings.

The herbs grew well, and regular harvests began in April.

The group now provides herbs to five bars and a French restaurant in Ginza, which use them in mojito cocktails and elsewhere.

"Ginza-grown herbs have large, pretty leaves. They have a good aroma and the flavor isn't overpowered by rum or lime," said Fumihiro Mimi-tsuka, owner of Bar Mimitsuka in the Ginza 6-chome area.

Members of the NPO hope to turn the rooftop garden into a place for local interaction.

Until recently, there had been a risk of falls or other accidents if guests were brought up to the garden, so the group has basically kept nonmembers out.

But starting in October, safety precautions will be in place that will allow the NPO to introduce Ginza's rooftop greenery to domestic and foreign tourists.

A variety of plans are in the works, including hands-on events for kids on food and environmental topics.

The group has begun an online fund-raising drive to pay for such community projects and operational expenses, and is seeking staff to help out when the garden is opened to the public.

"With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics coming up, we'd like to show off what's great about Ginza and create more fans of the district," Tanaka said.

The NPO can be reached at (03) 3543-8201.