Chiba Sees Farming Revolution Budding Underground

by Tim Hornyak

In the 1980s, the Japanese economy was growing by 4% to 5% annually. As the stock market surged, Japanese companies bought up US landmark properties such as Rockefeller Center and Pebble Beach Golf Links. In Tokyo, real estate prices floated higher and higher. The capital became home to some of the most expensive land on the planet, so developers looked elsewhere to build. Neighboring Chiba city was an obvious choice. It had plenty of reclaimed land from Tokyo Bay built in the 20th century and easy rail links to Tokyo and Narita Airport. After Pacific War bombing, it was rebuilt into a planned community that blended steel factories, port facilities, and modern residential complexes. City planners dreamed of raising a mini-Manhattan by the bay, with skyscrapers and ocean views. Then the bubble burst.

Japan’s economy capsized and went adrift for two decades. The skyscrapers were a pipe dream, but developers’ frothy optimism had already left its mark. One example is Makuhari Messe, opened in 1989 as one of the largest convention centers in Japan with some 80,000 square meters of space, but it’s also 30 kilometers from Tokyo.

Another legacy of better times is infrastructure hidden beneath the streets of the city’s Mihama Ward. There are 7.6 kilometers of abandoned tunnels ten meters underground, built as service conduits for the skyscraper city that never materialized. Built on reclaimed land in 1995 in the Narashino district, the tunnels are now being used to grow food. In a project grouping the Chiba prefectural government, Fujitsu and Itoh Denki, the Vechica underground farm opened in December 2017 and is now yielding some two hundred leafy vegetables per day. While indoor or vertical farms have been developed across Japan for their ability to produce high-quality vegetables faster than traditional methods while skipping pesticides, the Makuhari plant factory is almost completely automated.

“These tunnels were abandoned for twenty years, and we considered using them for wine cellars or a mushroom factory, but we eventually decided to build a fully automated plan factory that doesn’t need humans,” says Takefumi Toki, vice commissioner in the Chiba Prefectural Public Enterprises Land Management Bureau. “Thanks to Itoh Denki’s cutting-edge technology, this farm needs only one-third the energy of conventional factory farms.”

Read the rest of the article at Shingetsu News Agency here.