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Japan: Tight-space farmers

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Takehiko Kambayashi

(Read caption) 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.

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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.

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“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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