Japanese malls' rooftops come alive

ROOFTOP RECREATION: A rooftop garden inspired by Monet's Water Lilies at the Seibu Ikebukuro department store in Japan.


    Oct 30, 2015

    Japanese malls' rooftops come alive


    A VARIETY of interesting spots are popping up on the roofs of shopping centres, department stores and other commercial facilities in Japan these days, including vegetable gardens, a park inspired by a famous series of paintings and a running track.

    At the Seibu Ikebukuro department store in Tokyo's Toshima ward, a rooftop garden opened in April this year, inspired by a garden used as a motif in Claude Monet's Water Lilies paintings.

    Covering about 360 sq m, the rooftop green space has an arched bridge over a pond with water lilies, and about 80 kinds of flowers and plants that include a rambling rose and about 20 kinds of trees. A weeping willow drapes its branches over the pond.

    Vegetable gardens are a recent standout among rooftop innovations. Mark Is Minatomirai, a shopping mall opened in Yokohama in 2013, has a 1,000 sq m rooftop garden named Minna No Niwa, which offers a place to rest and attracts shoppers with their kids, office workers and others.

    Twenty-two kinds of citruses are cultivated in the garden, including the Shonan Gold cultivar and about 100 species of vegetables. Free events, such as the digging and roasting of sweet potatoes, are held throughout the year.

    "Families enjoy these events, with parents saying they're glad to have their kids experience agriculture in an urban setting. More than 10,000 people have participated in our events as of this spring," manager Toru Habuchi said.

    Shopping centre chain operator Aeon Town has introduced rental vegetable gardens on the rooftops of its malls in Nagoya and Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture. The company rents 0.7 sq m plots for 880 yen (S$10.22) per month, and offers 184 plots in Nagoya and 180 in Funabashi.

    Tenants can rent as few as one of these sections, enjoying vegetable gardening when they come to shop.

    Rooftop gardens have been emerging in response to regulations established by some local governments, mainly in large cities, requiring greenery of a certain standard on the premises of new buildings. The regulations were designed to protect the environment and control the heat-island phenomenon, in which temperatures rise in urban areas.

    Commercial facilities can also expect to attract a wider range of customers through rooftop greening. Kaoru Matsumoto, a member of the non-profit organisation Sky Front Forum, said: "Commercial facilities are examining how to use rooftop greening to contribute to their profits. There will be more (rooftop) events that draw a lot of customers."

    According to a survey by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, about 413.8ha of rooftop gardens, equivalent to about 580 soccer fields, were set up from 2000 to 2014.

    Rooftop spaces are being utilised for other purposes as well - Morinomiya Q's Mall Base, a shopping mall opened this April in Osaka, has a running track on its rooftop named Health Aid Air Track where anyone can run for free.

    The rooftop track has three lanes that are 300m a lap and a surface of artificial turf. Located in front of Osaka Castle Park, which attracts many amateur runners, the commercial facility was built on the former site of the Nippon Life Insurance Baseball Stadium, where professional baseball games were played. The rooftop running track was established with the sports-friendly character of the location in mind.

    At Tokyu Plaza Kamata, a shopping centre in Tokyo's Ota ward, a classic playground featuring a Ferris wheel was reopened on the roof last autumn. The playground was closed in March last year, but "many requests from local people" led to its reopening, according to the centre's manager, Shigeru Kaneko.