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Reuters and BBC report: Tokyo office workers turn into rice farmers

BBC Oct 25, 2010. A new farming trend has taken over in an office block in Tokyo. In what looks like an every-day office building, employees are not just doing their normal work. They are turning their hand at farming, in an experiment to grow their own food. See English speaking video here.

Indoor paddy field a strange sight in downtown Tokyo as urban agriculture burgeons in Japan.

Reuters Sept 10, 2010

A marble-floored hall with some potted plants in a corner is what you normally see in Tokyo’s office lobbies, but one now instead offers visitors a panoramic green and seasonal yellow view – of a paddy field.

On Thursday (September 9) some 40 women and 20 men in suit jumped into the golden bush in Otemachi, Tokyo’s business heart, with rubber boots on and sickles in their hands.

The 90-square-meter (969-square-feet) indoor farm was full of rice plants that bent with hangs before its first harvesting since created early 2010 in a remodelling project that featured rural elements into modern style, reflecting the burgeoning trend of urban farming in Tokyo.

All the harvesters, employees of a manpower outsourcing firm, Pasona Group, came down from upper-floor offices to join the urban farming.

Through struggled reaping tough and dry rice stems, they seemed to enjoy the outlandish experience.

“I’m refreshed. It’s an interesting experience to harvest rice after finishing my computer works,” Yoshiko Tsuruta, a 25-year-old recruit told Reuters.

Although some found their office-wear unsuitable for this kind of work. “My suit doesn’t fit to this work. It’s quite laborious,” a 20-year-old intern Ruriko Oba said.

Since it was planted in March 2, the paddy field was cultivated by eight full-time farmers who used no pesticides and only a limited amount of chemical fertilizer.

About a hundred 1000-watt lamps, a mix of high-pressure sodium and metal-halide lamps, are used to provide energy for the plants to photosynthesise, the company said in a news release. Electric fans are also used to help them pollinate.

Bringing stressed-out business men and women to the rural scenery and letting them get in touch with their farming roots was what the company valued more than the 50 kilograms (110 pounds) or 15,000 yen (179 U.S. dollars) value of crop they yielded the day.

“People working in cities think a paddy field is something far from them and rare to experience. We want to give them a chance to experience it at the place where they are,” said Sayaka Itami, one of the eight full-time farmers.

Itami said a place for refreshment was especially needed in the building. Many of the visitors are job seekers who come to the human outsourcing company in a frozen recruiting market amid what financial experts are calling the worst economy since World War II.

“Many people come to this building to look for new jobs, so we thought a green paddy field would ease their tension, helping them relax and restore peace in their minds,” Itami said.

The rice harvested that day will be served in the staff cafeteria, the company said, adding that the seasonless farm can yield corps up to 3 times a year, and new rice sprouts will be planted into the field in early October.

See Reuters video in Japanese here.

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