Japan: Tight-space farmers

Takehiko Kambayashi
Four-year-old Yaeko Kunikane helps her father garden in a small plot near Tokyo. Recent food safety issues in Japan have prompted an increased interest in farming.

TOKYO – Under a cloudless sky, Yoshitaka Shiraishi starts his farming class and dozens of students hang on his every word.

To get a taste of farming, his students, including homemakers, chefs, and former executives, come to his 300-year-old farm in Nerima, not far from the skyscrapers of Tokyo. About 200 people lease a 325-square-foot lot for about $300 a year. These hobby farmers are eager to till the soil and plant arugula, spinach, mustard greens, and romaine lettuce.

“I want my kids to enjoy the feel of the soil,” says Hiroyuki Kunikane, a local builder, while plowing the fields with his daughter, 4-year-old Yaeko.

Mr. Shiraishi is thrilled to see more young parents like Mr. Kunikane show an interest in farming. In mid-March, more than 1,500 people embarked on this year’s hands-on farming in Nerima, a production center for the tasty radish, daikon.

Farming has drawn renewed attention these days as the Japanese are preoccupied with issues of food safety. Last year, a string of food-related scandals, including contaminated gyoza (dumplings) imported from China, have made many reconsider the nation’s low self-sufficiency in food.

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