Thursday, December 16, 2010

Worlds most astonishing Indoor farm - Tokyo Business District

Conference room, Head office, Pasona Group Inc.

With all my Japan projects bedded down for the winter, I set out for some sightseeing in my final weekend in Tokyo (Dec 4th) with a visit to the head office of the Parsona Group Inc.

Pasona is a stroll away from Tokyo station, a kind of urban desert of towering concrete and glass.
But it looks like someone at the company decided "Life is for spending, lets do something astonishing" and the result is impeccable, improbable 'urban farm'. Plants are grown mostly under human-supplied light and nourishment, mostly indoors.

I saw lush-looking eggplants, giant daikon radish and beans, with cucumbers and roses climbing the walls. 200 kinds of plants are grown, disease free, all without pesticide. When your a farm isolated in urban concrete, there is nothing really to bug you.

Their full-sized ricefield has three harvests a year. You can see the 'autumn' crop drying in the background.
They brighten the 'HELF' lights and drop them down closer to the paddy as the plants desire - about 5 lux most months, up to 10 lux when the rice kernels are ripening.

The neighbouring building is an energy company. Maybe they got mates rates. I've drunk tea and eaten sweets flecked with real gold, but if you did your calculations, a bowl of this rice would outdo such opulence, easily.

My favorite part of the whole building is this tiny 'willow fence' that slows down the circulating rice paddy water as it gets close to the inlet. The clay-soil edges of the paddy are planted with a natural cover of brave little weeds, but the rice itself grows on palm fibre.

Here the agricultural consultant, Sakuma-san, tells me how they make it all work. When I ask what his dream job is, he says to be a regular farmer, under a regular sky, with all the disasters it entails. The predictability is heaven for the rice, but humans need more challenge to flourish.

The office staff all share the task of caring for the 'office pets', the plants. They water, remove withered leaves, and havest the produce for the staff cafeteria upstairs. I chatted with Matsumoto-san and asked if she was a farmer. No, a geologist. The cafe, she tells me, is just delicious.

Pasona is a Temp agency, where young ladies come to be sent out for employment. A young, irresistable Audrey Heburn is their image girl.

Quiz: What color light does lettuce like to eat? Why?

The public cafe, a forest of hanging baskets.

One of the meeting rooms. The furniture is elegant and 'wholemeal' with its raw edges and pencil marks showing. The staff are are proud to say that the glass tabletops were recycled from the old office partitions, and that the floor is made of forest-thinnings. The entire building is a retrofit, and infused with 'green' virtue-points, as listed in their PR materials.

Hydroponic lettuce floating on polystyrene

These plants requested a little more breeze.

Roses love light. In this season, early winter, the plants on the exterior balconies are mostly climbing roses, braving the cold, thin but elegant.

The tall young Japanese are not particularly aware of any food crisis going on. Urban farm's educational posters fill everyone in a bit.
Above are their ideas of of how to solve the food crisis.
The more closely you read it, the more interesting it gets.
They admit its a bit uncertain if all these solutions listed will work.
So, my goal for next year is to have fun events at Parsona, and watch them change that list, with Permaculture in big letters.

The Japanese are astonishing.

I'm showing you these pictures in the Permaculture spirit, that is, that you can find something positive from this story of Pasona, something that gets you into action.
Creating a new culture is hard. Nobody can get it all right in one go. Its okay to do amazing things that have big flaws. Have a lovely vision and make it real the best you can. Others may come along later, get inspired, and finish the work you couldn't.


Elizabeth Saunders said...

This is incredible and quite beautiful I think! Yes- maybe not the most efficient use of energy, but the concept is great. What do they do with the harvest? Was the building purpose built for this or was it designed into an existing building? I just love the idea of designing office buildings that can also feed the workforce.

Kate said...

Astonishing and very Japanese. Just goes to show that anyone can make a start and have an impact, you do not have to be working in agriculture or government to bring the world's plight to the minds of everyday people. This type of introduction would have a bigger impact on the thinking of many mainstream people than any amount of grass roots demonstrations, I think.
Still love your blog, Cecilia! Hope you will come to Tasmania one day.

Emma-Kate said...

I love how much good intention went into this idea. I am yet to see a company, particularly an employment agency, go to these lengths in Australia. At the very least it raises awareness of the issues. I loved the comment about the farmer and his love of the 'outdoor' challenge - he must feel like a lab rat at times!

Mrs Bok - The Bok Flock said...

Amazing and wonderful, sad to think I instantly thought 'only in Japan, no one here would make the effort' but an incredible thing to do. The love, the care, the thought behind it all. I'll visit next time I'm in Tokyo. I hope it continues for many years to come and inspires other businesses to do similar.

Richa Bhardwaj said...

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