Photo of 'green parking lot' taken in China, not Japan

Green spaces are a common sight in Japanese cities but floating gardens in parking lots have not become a widespread phenomenon, according to urban planning experts. A photo was circulated online in May 2024 as an example of a new green initiative in the country but it was in fact taken in China.

"Japan installs floating gardens in parking lots," read a Facebook post that shared the photo on May 19.

The post claimed the "green initiative" aims to improve biodiversity and air quality and "beautify the urban setting".

Screenshot of a Facebook post sharing the misleading claim, taken June 11, 2024

The photo was shared in similar Facebook and X posts around the world, including in the United States, the Philippines and Senegal.

Similar posts sharing the misleading claim

However, the photo shows a parking lot in China. While urban planning specialists said that Japan had created various green spaces in cities, AFP found no reports of widespread installations of floating gardens in parking lots.

Chinese parking lot

A Google reverse image search found the photo in a Facebook video about a green parking lot in Nanning in the Chinese autonomous region of Guangxi (archived link). 

Screenshot of a Facebook video sharing the image, taken June 14, 2024

Two seconds into the video, a car is seen featuring the logo of Chinese maker BYD and a license plate with a Chinese character.

Keyword searches on Chinese social media site Weibo found a similar video published on January 26 by the official account of the Wuming district of Nanning City (archived link). 

According to the Weibo post, the video was filmed at the Xingwu Building's parking lot in Wuming.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the photo shared in misleading posts (left) and Wuming district's Weibo video (right): 

Screenshot comparison of the photo shared in misleading posts (left) and Wuming district's Weibo video (right)

Baidu Maps images of the  Xingwu Building's parking lot confirmed the Weibo video was filmed there -- although the most recent street view image was taken in 2019, before the green roofs were installed (archived link). 

Green cities in Japan

While the photo shared online was not filmed in Japan, the East Asian country has pushed for green spaces in cities in recent decades.

"The Japanese have been covering urban structures with parks for a long time," Cécile Asanuma-Brice, an urban sociology researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, told AFP.

She pointed to Miyashita Park, which was installed on the roof of a shopping centre in Tokyo in the 1960s (archived link). 

However, Sophie Buhnik, a geographer specialising in Japanese cities, said that while the green roof trend went back a long way in Japan, she was not familiar with green-roofed parking lots.

"Parking lot roof vegetation seems less likely to me, no doubt because there have always been few open-air parking spaces in Tokyo," she told AFP.

Keyword searches in English and Japanese did not reveal any official announcement or reports about floating gardens installed in parking lots in Japan in 2024.

Japan was listed among the top 10 global CO2 emitters in an analysis of cumulative emissions in 2021 by British global warming website Carbon Brief (archived link).

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