With its convenient proximity to the Tokyo downtown area, it is no surprise that Machida city has experienced extreme growth in tandem with the expansion of public transit lines. Particularly interesting to me is the level of density present in the area. Considered a ‘suburb’, Machida looks much more like a small city than any typical suburb of Long Island. There are very few single-family homes, and even then they are on small plots close together-lacking in expansive lawns or cul-de-sacs.
The Planning officials from the Machida City Office took our group on a tour of the different land-use zones present in the area, discussing their strategies for adapting to demographic shifts along age lines, as well as finding a balance between the urbanized and preserved landscape. Given its plentiful natural environment, amazing work is being done in Machida to preserve open space in the form of “Urban Containment”. Similar to an Urban Growth Boundary, urban containment zones prohibit new development within a specified natural landscape. Previous development continues to exist, and dots this preservation area with small homes and structures akin to a rural countryside.
Indeed the feeling of being in this natural landscape was remarkably different from anything we had experienced in Tokyo thus far- we could hear frogs in the forest, and could see rolling hills dotted with working farms and community-gardens. Students of agriculture were using some of the preserved land to learn about growing crops in order to support themselves and a business in the future. Hiking trails were dedicated for public use- allowing for commune with the natural environment, access to agricultural education, and one another. That cities and working landscapes were coexisting hand-in-hand here (This was TOKYO!) was astounding, and inspiring for me- a long-time advocate of urban farming, and passionate lover of vegetable gardening.
After our tour of Machida and its development zones, some students from the Tokyo Institute of Technology mingled with several of us at an Italian restaurant in near the train station. I am amazed by how much the Japanese seem to love Italian food. More importantly, being able to relax and unwind - to laugh and joke with one another across cultures and languages was the most rewarding part of the day. Connecting at our very common, very human level- joking about silly tattoos and bad karaoke- is a heartwarming and eye-opening experience. As a stranger in a strange land, being welcomed with open arms and made to feel at ease is something I am truly delighted to say I have felt in Japan, and very hopeful I will be able to reciprocate in New York.