Relaying The Message, Animating The Future 〜Further Pursuing What Seeds And Osamu Tezuka Tell Us〜

grow official

“Noguchi Seed / Noguchi Seed Research Institute”, located in Hanno City, Saitama Prefecture, is a seed store that handles only the fixed seeds. Isao Noguchi, is the third generation, growing up reading Osamu Tezuka comic books since childhood. He joined the Mushi Production Publishing Department at the age of 19, becoming the first editor in charge of the extraordinary masterpiece “Phoenix”.

As a successor to the family business, Noguchi is committed to taking over and expressing the message and ambition of Mr. Osamu Tezuka’s life-long pursuance, “Dignity of Life and Sustainability of the Earth”.

On the other hand, Takayoshi Serizawa, CEO of PLANTIO Co. Ltd., is the third generation of a planter manufacturer that sparked the home gardening trend in Japan in the 40s.

“It is not that the object my grandfather invented, ” Serizawa said. “It was the “culture”. The culture “to enjoy growing vegetables and flowers at home.” Founding PLANTIO was Serizawa’s inclination to furthering the original intendment.

Currently, using the latest technology, Serizawa is working on a brand called “grow” to create a society where “agriculture and food” take the natural part of the lifestyle.

As part of its brand development, PLANTIO is setting up a “grow FIELD” (IoT-based farm) mainly on the roof of an office building in the city center, aiming to socially implement a culture where everyone grows vegetables in cities and at home.

A third-generation seed shop that has been soundly exposed to the perspective of the late Osamu Tezuka and a third-generation planter shop that inherited the will of commitment from his grandfather. Both of them who share the circumstances will be talking about the mechanism plant seeds possesses,  the challenges of Japanese agriculture face, and the differences presumably viewed from overseas. What is it that we can do for the “Dignity of Life and Sustainability of the Earth”?

From the left in the photo, Isao Noguchi and Takayoshi Serizawa. Taken at the entrance of “Noguchi Seed / Noguchi Seedling Research Institute”. Osamu Tezuka’s characters greet the guests. Tezuka’s works including his masterpiece “Phoenix” and Noguchi’s seeds resonate with the philosophy of “relaying the life ”.

Isao Noguchi
For three generations, the company has been operating seed and seedling shops dealing with fixed and native seed and traditional vegetable seeds in Hanno City, Saitama Prefecture. By feeling the crisis of traditional vegetables he gives lectures nationwide. He has authored “Seeds to the Future” (Soshinsha) , “Seeds in danger” (The Nihon Keizai Shimbun Publishing) and co-authored ” How to Grow Fixed Seeds Vegetables” (Soshinsha). Growing up reading Osamu Tezuka’s work since childhood, and after dropping out of college in 2 years, he joined Mushi Production at the age of 19. The first editor of “Phoenix”.

Fixed seeds are “collectible seeds.” What is the true meaning of “local production for local consumption”?

Serizawa: Noguchi Seedling deals only with fixed seeds. PLANTIO’s “grow FIELD” also grows many of the fixed and native vegetables.

One of the sites by PLANTIO. At Ebisu Prime Square

Noguchi: Fixed seeds are in other words, “seeds that are collectible”. Plants are capable of defining the condition through epidermal cells of the roots, stems, and leaves, then bear seeds, drop seeds to lead them to another life cycle. This repetitive process is the factor for strengthening the local character of the seeds and vegetables.

It also cultivates microorganisms in the soil at the same time, which leads to making the best seeds for the land. Therefore, it doesn’t make much sense to grow fixed species in an environment where they focus on efficiency for mass production and grow them only once and ending it. The main point about growing fixed-type vegetables is all about “collecting seeds”.

We are selling seeds that can be harvested and hoping those seeds are grown and harvested in each location extending the life to the next generation. I’m running our place with that sort of mindset.

This leads to the true meaning of  “local production for local consumption” and is the concept of *SHINDOFUNI.

Buddhist term. Body, Land, Not, Two. It indicates that the “body” (as a result of one’s previous actions) and the “land” (as an environment to which the body belongs) can”not” be divided into “two”.  It is one of the food education slogans meaning “you are what you eat”. It encourages the consumption of local seasonal foods considering the land you live in and yourself are inseparable.

Reference:Yamashita Soichi 『Searching SHINDOFUNI』(Soshinsha)
Soichi Yamashita, “Searching SHINDOFUNI ” (Somorisha). Born in 1936. While working on agriculture in his hometown of Saga Prefecture, he mainly published novels and non-fiction works on agriculture. His first collection of short stories “GENTANJINJA” was published in 1981 won the 27th CHIJO Literature Prize and nominated for the 85th Naoki Prize.

Serizawa: I believe so too. The awareness of fixed and native varieties has been gradually increasing recently, and some restaurants are appearing in Tokyo that deal only with fixed and native vegetables.What could be your observation of this set of a trend?

Noguchi: Fixed varieties are the vegetables grown in an open field. Given the nature of its diversity, the growing conditions are uneven, and very hard to harvest a large amount of products at once.

On the other hand, “F1 (first hybrid) varieties”, which is widely available in the world, can be harvested in the same size and shape at once, making it more efficient in growing process and convenient for physical distribution.

Serizawa: “Producing only what can sell”, which has been the basic concept for the society of mass consumption, seems to have become less durable. Are you suggesting we start giving thoughts when purchasing vegetable products?

Noguchi: But consumers’ demand would always be about delicious food at all times at low prices. F1 was made to meet those demands. F1 vegetables, which are the first generation of hybrids from different varieties, will show only the obvious traits of their parents and have a uniform appearance.

Also, the effects of heterosis enable the short-term growth of the vegetables, which allows the efficient use of fields, meeting the demands of both mass production and mass consumption.

And many of the F1 seeds are made using the “male sterility” trait. This is a condition in which the mitochondrial gene has been mutated to disable the male function.

In short, the seeds coming only from genetically unhealthy plants without healthy pollen and the seeds which force farmers annual purchases are the go-to seeds for “profitable vegetables”.

The book “Seeds In Danger” (Nihon Keizai Shimbun Publishing), written about the time spent with Osamu Tezuka, the issues surrounding the survival of fixed and F1 varieties, and the dangers the genetically modified products and the industry may cause. Actor Bunta Sugawara had done the afterword.

I’m concerned that soon, the vast majority of plants will become male sterile as genetically editing technology keeps driving the trend.

The effects on the human body through regular consumption of genetically edited male-sterile vegetables have not yet been clarified. But I have a feeling that the mass disappearance of honeybees called “CCD (bee colony collapse syndrome)” in the United States was a cause of the F1 seed production. There could be a possibility that animal sperm be affected by the continuous consumption of plants with no reproductivity.

From The Catholic Side, Under Earth Is A World Of Demon. -Different Places Different Background-

From the left, Isao Noguchi and Takayoshi Serizawa. At “Noguchi Seed / Noguchi Seedling Research Institute”

Serizawa: Under such circumstances, the trend “Grow Your Own Vegetable” is widely spreading around the world, mainly for people who are interested in food, health, and the environment. More people casually grow vegetables in New York and London, and around 3,000 community farm locations have opened in London since the 2012 London Olympics.

PLANTIO is also starting full-scale development of the IoT community farm “grow FIELD” mostly on the rooftop of the buildings in the central area of Tokyo, but do you think the development of community farms in Japan will be different from that of Western countries?

Noguchi: Many traditional vegetables are quite different among Japan and the western countries, so I’m sure there will naturally be a difference. You say “the history of vegetables is the history of civilization”. Overseas and Japan have very different climates and food cultural backgrounds. For example, there is no “Nappa (= green leaves of any vegetables)” in Western Countries. There is no exact word equivalent to it too.

It is clear when you go to supermarkets in Japan, that the characteristic of Japanese vegetables is “Nappa” ,the green leaves. However, it is rather rare in the western countries. There maybe lettuce and spinach, but the vegetables with yellow flowers are either cabbage or broccoli.

There is a possible reason why the culture of eating leafy vegetables did not flourish in western countries. Green leaves are originally from root vegetables such as turnips and radishes. Many of them are native to the desert, with low precipitation around the Mediterranean. These root crops with rich nutrients stored in the roots were also wages in ancient Egypt.

But in the Roman Catholic nations, the wealthy had a preference for what they eat. Starting from the sky, flying birds, fruits growing in the air (trees), beasts running on the ground, and the leaves growing on the ground, and finally, the turnips and radishes buried underground.

In the world of Catholicism, the underground was demonic. Therefore, root vegetables buried in the ground were not considered food for humans. Turnips were mainly for livestock, so no breed improvements were there to be advanced. Hence, it became a culture where green leaves are not in demand.

Serizawa: Story really does change depending on the climate and culture doesn’t it?

Noguchi: Leaf vegetables as of lettuces that are mainstream in western countries belong in the Asteraceae family. Asteraceae plants are difficult to crossbreed but are easy to harvest seeds. Japanese leaf vegetables, on the other hand, are mostly in the cruciferous family which is easy to cross.

Many fields overseas have “heirloom varieties”, seeds that have been handed down from generation to generation as heirlooms, which is largely due to the ease of harvesting seeds.  It is an interesting attempt to grow Edo traditional vegetables in the city, but it is also good to know that there will be different challenges from that of the western countries. 

Jean-Marie Pelt’s book “Delicious Vegetables” tells about “vegetables worthy of his or her status”. In western culture, as mentioned earlier, even vegetables were given a class.

“Delicious Vegetables” authored by Jean-Marie Pelt, a French botanist, and pharmacist. (Shobunsha) Born in 1933. While being a professor of biology and pharmacy, she has also written several books on medicinal plants, plant biology, urban ecology, etc.

It was only after the emerge of Protestants that people started eating the product dug up from below surface. Potatoes were brought in from America to the colder regions such as Germany, proving that people are capable of surviving on potatoes.

Until the turnips and radish came in with Buddhism from China, people in Japan ate five grains of rice, millet, fin, soybean, and wheat. Other than wheat, people grew food from spring to autumn, so in case of a cold summer or drought during the summer, food shortages caused famine throughout Japan. To prepare for such circumstances, people made some pickle using autumn turnip and radish to save themselves from starvation. In that event, Japan became the second hometown of turnips, radishes, and leafy vegetables.

(Left photo) Bolted “Waseimaichi Turnip” (a traditional vegetable from Nara Prefecture), left unharvested for seeding. (Right photo) Bolted turnip harvested for eating.

Serizawa: And Japan became a country full of rape blossoms. As if it proves the history of vegetables does tell stories about the history of civilaization.

Noguchi: Culture speaks for itself. It’s about cultivating.  

Plants are not there to be eaten

Serizawa: Do you have any expectations for the community farm or urban farm in the future in Japan?

Noguchi: There is only one wish: I want people to harvest the seeds. Whether it’s an urban plantation or a home vegetable garden, I want people to harvest the seeds by themselves and grow new life out of that very seeds. The collected seeds are easy to grow in the land where they are coming from. Plants are not born to be eaten. Plants are there to bear seeds. It is best to leave them alone and have them their way.

Fruit and flower seeds produced at peak of vitality are the best. It is indeed delicious to eat, but there’s a need of a little patience for greeting with good seeds (laughs). You can collect healthy seeds by making a mark on good fruits and ripening them while keeping them on the stems.

Self-pollinating plants such as tomatoes in the Solanaceae family will be the easiest to collect seeds.  I hope the experience of collecting plant seeds and relaying the life cycle will bring people joy to share it with the world.

Healthy seeds can pass on life to the next generation. I hope eating vegetables grown from healthy seeds increases and revitalize the fundamental strength of human beings and stop the declining birthrate.

Coverage, Text, Photography = Rina Tanaka

Edit = Yusuke Mori

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