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The Burgeoning Gardening Boom

July 14, 1997

Stores catering to gardeners are enjoying popularity and sales. (Photo: Nihonbashi Main Store, Mitsukoshi Co.)

Gardeners Attracted by Increased Ease of Hobby
More and more Japanese are taking up what they call "gardening," using the English word instead of the traditional Japanese term "engei." "Gardening" means cultivating English-style flower gardens, whether on a meager house plot or on an apartment balcony. "Engei" has connotations of the painstaking cultivation of bonsai or exotic plants like orchids over a period of 10 or 20 years. "Gardening" is different; it is less structured and has a high "fashion component," with amateur gardeners assembling matched sets of tools.

The gardening boom, which began a few years ago, no doubt owes something to the wish for closer contact with nature and something to the desire for a more leisure-oriented lifestyle. Another factor is probably the growing number of overseas travelers, who are charmed by the central place of flowers in the Western cities and towns they visit--on balconies and verandas, in window boxes, and in roadside flower beds.

In response to growing demand, Japanese florists are stocking more Western flowering plants, and the horticultural sections of department stores are setting up specialized gardening areas. Gardening magazines are proliferating, too. And in 1994 a tour of private English gardens was organized for the first time.

New large-scale gardening stores are springing up, and older shops are stocking a greater variety of garden tools and other paraphernalia. Last year one department store opened a rooftop gardening shop that featured an English-style flower garden; sales exceeded initial estimates by over 30%. According to the Leisure Development Cente's 1997 annual report, last year 38 million Japanese--about a third of the population--spent some time gardening.

Making the Most of Limited Space
Living space is at a premium in Japan, and real estate prices are still quite high. Most people cannot afford to own a house with enough land for a sizable garden. About 60% of Japanese live in detached houses, but 20% of these have no garden area at all. It goes without saying that most apartment buildings are devoid of any such space.

Many apartment dwellers are laying wooden flooring on their balconies or terraces and making them into gardens. Last year, for the first time, a new condominium building offered buyers the option of apartments with rooftop balconies that could be used for Western-style flower gardens. Demand for these units was 14 times greater than for conventional ones.

Because of the cramped quarters in which so many people live, planters have been catching on. They can be hung from the eaves or a balcony railing, and people can design these mini-gardens to suit their own taste. No land is necessary. And because planters are detachable, they can be brought indoors for display or shifted to give plants more (or less) sun. What is more, they can be taken along when moving house. One appeal of planter gardens is the fact that unlike outdoor plots, which require extensive time and effort, they can be quickly and easily made into a decorative adjunct to one's living space. Lower prices for imported seedlings and a greater variety of planters have added to the popularity of this gardening option.

Behind the Gardening-Population Explosion
The late 1980s saw the start of a trend toward shorter working hours and more leisure, but this came to an end around 1994 because of the effects of the recession. It was just about then that the home-gardening population began to swell. Perhaps mounting social stress made people more aware of the need to incorporate the soothing influence of nature in their lives and bring more "breathing space" into their tiny homes. That this urge, together with the factors mentioned earlier, may have spurred the gardening boom is suggested by a survey of female gardeners conducted in March of this year by a major liquor company as part of its support for culture and the arts. Of the 250 women 20 years of age and over in the Tokyo area who were questioned, 42% said they had taken up gardening to brighten their lives.

Traditionally, gardening has been seen as a pastime for the elderly. Now, though, younger people have begun making flowers and greenery an integral part of interior--and exterior--decoration, partly because they can do so fairly easily and partly because they want to make a fashion statement. Probably, too, they wish to re-create, if on a small scale, the "flower-decked lifestyle" they have seen in movies and photographs and perhaps firsthand on overseas trips. The survey referred to above found that 49% of respondents in their twenties said they had more opportunity now to cultivate flowers and other plants than they had had in the past.

Of course the pleasures of gardening are not confined to the gardener. The planter gardens adorning apartments and houses are also designed to impress neighbors and passersby. Over time, we may see this pastime acquire various distinctively Japanese touches.

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Trends in Japan Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.
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