For people who spend long hours at work, it’s getting easier to get things done while you wait for a train headed home: Virtual grocery stores are popping up on subway platforms, Shanghai residents can pick up library books while riding on the train, and services like Amazon Locker are delivering packages to local transit stations in cities like London. And in Tokyo, locals who don’t have the time or space to garden at home can rent out a plot in a series of urban farms on top of train stations.
"We're promoting the greening of the city," says Makoto Kawada, a spokesperson for East Japan Railway Company, which runs train lines throughout Japan. "We started this vegetable garden business out of a desire to contribute to the environmental maintenance and the revitalization of the area along the train line."
There are five "Soradofarms" on the company’s rail network. The first was launched along with a green roof in Tokyo's Ebisu station four years ago. Since the spaces aren't huge—the garden in Tokyo is a little over 500 square feet—and they've been popular, there tends to be a waiting list to get a plot. A basic space, without any extra services, isn't cheap: The yearly price is around $980.
The train station provides standard garden tools, seeds, and some regular weeding. Anyone who hasn't gardened before can get expert advice, and people who don't have much time to take care of their plants can get help with things like checking for bugs or harvesting vegetables.
For many, it's just a place to come to relax—when commuters aren't stopping by after work, families come for picnics or to give their kids a little extra room to run around. And as locals and commuters spend time learning about how to grow kale and tomatoes, they're also getting to know each other.
"We're building community by involving the whole area in activities in which the locals can take part in and have fun with," Kawada says.