Tokyo’s honeybees on skyscraper rooftops
“The office tower would not look out of place in any central Tokyo street: from its glass entrance door and sweeping marble lobby to the ear-popping lift with its steady influx of salarymen.
But this particular building is not only abuzz with the activity of its grey-suited workers. Its rooftop is home to a less conventional breed of tenants: more than 300,000 honeybees.
As one of the most densely populated cities in the world, Tokyo may be more famous for its concentration of human beings than for its status as a home for bees. However, the urban honeybee is flourishing in the metropolis.
Once associated with strictly rural environments, the world’s honeybee population is in crisis. Fuelled by a complex cocktail of problems ranging from climate change to the use of pesticides in rural areas, a global decline of the honeybee has gathered pace in recent years…
The decline of the honeybee has led to experts making increasingly vociferous calls for urban dwellers to take up beekeeping in cities where pesticide contamination is low and honeybees are able to flourish.
Among the most famous of the urban beekeeping aficionados is Scarlett Johansson, who received a hive of the animals from Samuel L Jackson as a wedding gift.
Testimony to the rise of the urban beekeeper is the success of Tokyo’s honeybee project on a rooftop in the heart of the upmarket Ginza area of the city. Here, in an area more famous for its architect-designed fashion towers, historic department stores, crowds of shoppers and the most expensive commercial rental space in the capital, the honeybees are thriving.
Fortified by nectar from pesticide-free flowers grown in the nearby Imperial Palace gardens, inner-city parks and the odd rooftop garden, the collection of 20 hives of bees has produced more than 760kg of honey so far this year…”
“Some people are fearful of the thought of thousands of honeybees in the city. But they are not dangerous. They rarely sting. They are quite soft creatures; they have good characters. And they are very happy today – they haven’t stung me once.
“At first, we had to persuade the other offices in the building and the local authorities that it was a good, safe idea to have honeybees here – and since we started up, we have not had a single complaint.”
At least 10 companies in Ginza have started planting rooftop flower gardens to create nectar-rich enclaves as part of the project.
“The city is actually a very good place for honeybees,” says Tanaka. “The flowers that are grown here are not affected by pesticides like in the countryside.
“Honeybees don’t live for very long – only 30 to 40 days – so there is not enough time for city pollution to affect them. It is a great environment for them to make honey.
“Working on this project has made me realize that the city is not just about humans. There are bees and butterflies and all sorts of other insects living alongside us.”
Photo by: Chris Hondros