Tag: ‘Vegetation’

JAL logo uprooted from rice paddy art

04 Jul 2008

Inakadate rice paddy art, 2008 --

Has Japan Airlines' crop-based advertising gone too far? For some residents of Inakadate -- a small town with a big reputation for cultivating fantastic works of multi-colored rice paddy art -- the answer is "yes."

This year's crop art, which is Inakadate's 16th work since 1993, features giant images of Daikoku (god of wealth) and Ebisu (god of fishers and merchants) alongside the corporate logo for sponsor Japan Airlines (JAL). Here are a few photos of the rice paddy taken in June from the 6th-floor roof of the adjacent town hall.

Inakadate rice paddy art, 2008 --

Inakadate rice paddy art, 2008 --

Inakadate rice paddy art, 2008 --

Inakadate rice paddy art, 2008 --

Inakadate rice paddy art, 2008 --
Daikoku (left), Ebisu (right) and JAL logo

The town committee responsible for the annual crop art project decided to incorporate advertising into this year's work to help offset rising costs associated with increased numbers of visitors. Last year more than 240,000 people came to see the crop art, and many of them used the town hall bathrooms and elevators (there is a nice view of the rice paddy from the roof), resulting in a costly utility bill.

However, the owner of the rice field, Ryuji Sato -- who also happens to be the former mayor of Inakadate and a member of the committee -- thinks the ad stinks. At the end of June he demanded the corporate logo be removed from his property.

"The idea has always been to create art that attracts lots of visitors and stimulates the economy," says Sato. "Turning it into a giant advertisement contradicts what we set out to do."

After a week of heated discussion, the committee voted to pull the ad, and on the morning of July 4, town hall employees were dispatched to the field to uproot the rice plants that make up the JAL logo. TV crews were on the scene. (Watch a Fuji TV news report.)

The video shows people removing rice plants only from the area occupied by the JAL symbol, which creates a very conspicuous negative space in the field. Ironically, this makes the logo more visible. It remains to be seen whether they can successfully remove all traces of the ad.

Workers remove JAL logo from rice paddy art --
Town hall employees remove JAL logo

Sato's critics are skeptical of his motives. Because he is on the ballot for this autumn's upcoming mayoral election, some believe he is trying to draw attention to his candidacy. Others think he may be taking revenge for the bitter 2004 mayoral election loss that removed him from office. Sato dismisses the criticism, saying that if he really wanted revenge, he would not have allowed the art to be grown in his field in the first place.

"I just can't stand the fact that they are trying to turn this into a commercial venture," says Sato, who hopes to see the rice paddy art tradition continue as it has in the past.

Meanwhile, the Aomori-based marketing agency that coordinated the advertising agreement with JAL does not know what to make of the situation. A company spokesperson says, "We obtained the committee's approval and signed a formal agreement, but yet it has come to this. We are baffled."

[Sources: Inakadate Village, To-o Nippo]

Rice paddy art in Yamagata

24 Jun 2008

Rice-growing season has only just begun, but this year's first crop of rice paddy art, which is created by planting various colors of rice in the field, has already started to emerge.

Rice paddy art in Yonezawa --

In the Yamagata prefecture town of Yonezawa, an image of 16th-17th century samurai Naoe Kanetsugu has appeared in a field near the Onogawa hot spring. The samurai, whose image is based on a portrait housed at the nearby Uesugi Museum, appears along with a pair of fireflies and the kanji characters for "Love" and "Tenchijin," the name of an NHK drama about Naoe Kanetsugu that will air next year. The rice will be harvested in October.

This year marks the third time that crop art has been grown in Yonezawa. Here are a few photos of works from the past two years.

Rice paddy art in Yonezawa --

Rice paddy art in Yonezawa --

Rice paddy art in Yonezawa --

Rice paddy art in Yonezawa --

In recent years, a growing number of local governments around Japan have started organizing rice paddy art projects as a way to attract tourists and educate people about rice farming. Look for more rice paddy art to crop up in the coming weeks.

[Photos: Asahi, chosasi_Bkyu]

21-leaf clover

09 Jun 2008

21-leaf clover --

A 21-leaf clover discovered on June 3 by Iwate prefecture farmer Shigeo Obara has shattered the Guinness world record for most leaves on a clover stem (Trifolium repens L.). The current official record is held by an 18-leaf clover that Obara found in his garden in May 2002.

The record-breaking clover's 21 leaves each measure about 1 centimeter long and overlap each other like rose petals on a 3-centimeter stem.

Obara, a former food crop researcher, has been conducting independent research on clovers in his garden for over 50 years. He first became interested in clover mutations after discovering an unusual patch of 4-leaf clovers in 1951. Since then, Obara has been crossbreeding the plants in his garden to research the genes associated with leaf count, color, pattern and size.

Obara plans to file a new application with Guinness, although he is considering waiting a while. "We are likely to find clovers with more leaves," he says. Last month, a family member claimed to have found a 27-leaf clover, but the discovery was not confirmed.

While some say that 4-leaf clovers symbolize happiness, 5-leaf clovers symbolize wealth and 6-leaf clovers symbolize fame, it is unclear what 21-leaf clovers symbolize.

[Source: Yomiuri]

Photos: Rice paddy art harvest

01 Oct 2007

Art rice harvest --

On September 30, about 900 volunteers participating in a hands-on rice farming tour began the annual harvest of the Inakadate village (Aomori prefecture) rice paddy art, which this year depicted a pair of famous Hokusai woodblock prints created with four different varieties of rice.

Art rice harvest --

Art rice harvest --

Art rice harvest --

View more photos of rice paddy art HERE.

[Photos via: Inakadate Village, Mainichi, Sankei, Yomiuri]

Pimp my rice paddy

19 Jul 2007

Rice field art --

Each year, farmers in the town of Inakadate in Aomori prefecture create works of crop art by growing a little purple and yellow-leafed kodaimai rice along with their local green-leafed tsugaru-roman variety. This year's creation -- a pair of grassy reproductions of famous woodblock prints from Hokusai's 36 Views of Mount Fuji -- has begun to appear (above). It will be visible until the rice is harvested in September.

Hokusai woodblock prints --

The residents of Inakadate have been drawing pictures with rice since 1993. Here are a few crops from the recent past, found at this site.

Rice field art --

Rice field art --

Rice field art --

While Inakadate is Japan's most famous rice paddy decorating town, a couple of other places in Japan have joined in the fun.

Rice field art ---
Yonezawa, Yamagata prefecture, 2007

Rice field art --
Yonezawa, Yamagata prefecture, 2006

Rice field art --
Nishio, Aichi prefecture (2005, 2006)

UPDATE (Oct 1, 2007): Check out photos of the 2007 harvest HERE.

Seaweed as biofuel

23 Mar 2007

Sargasso seaweed as biofuel --- On March 22, a group of Japanese scientists released details of an ambitious proposal calling for the large-scale production of bioethanol made from cultivated seaweed.

Researchers from Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, Mitsubishi Research Institute, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and several other private-sector firms envision a 10,000 square kilometer (3,860 square mile) seaweed farm at Yamatotai, a shallow fishing area in the middle of the Sea of Japan. They claim a farm of this scale could produce about 20 million kiloliters (5.3 billion gallons) of bioethanol per year, which is equivalent to one-third the 60 million kiloliters (16 billion gallons) of gasoline that Japan consumes each year.

Seaweed has long been discussed as a potential source of bioethanol, which is typically made from crops such as sugar cane and corn, but the idea has never been brought to fruition. According to the proposal, giant nets used in nori and wakame seaweed cultivation would be laid out to cultivate sargasso seaweed (hondawara), which grows rapidly. Floating bioreactors -- special facilities that use enzymes to break the seaweed down into sugars -- would prepare the seaweed for conversion into ethanol, which would also be done at sea. Tankers would then transport the ethanol to land.

The main components of seaweed are fucoidan and alginic acid. While an enzyme for breaking down fucoidan has already been discovered, the scientists are looking for an enzyme that breaks down alginic acid. They are also looking at the possibility of using genetic modification technology.

The group is also conducting research on how to develop the production plants and attract investment. Other participants in the project include NEC Toshiba Space Systems, Mitsubishi Electric, IHI, Sumitomo Electric Industries, Shimizu Corporation, Toa Corporation, Kanto Natural Gas Development Co., Ltd., and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC).

The researchers claim that in addition to serving as a source of fuel, the seaweed would help clean up the Sea of Japan. According to Professor Masahiro Notoya from Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, the seaweed would work to remove some of the excess nutrient salts that flow into the sea from the surrounding land masses.

Professor Notoya will formally present the proposal at the International Seaweed Symposium, which is set to begin on March 26 in Kobe, Japan.

[Source: Fuji Sankei]

Instant bonsai

19 Jan 2007

Mini-petunias (top left) and ordinary petunias -- On January 18, researchers from Japan's Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) and the University of Michigan announced the development of a technique for engineering "mini-plants" that are 1/10th their ordinary size.

The researchers claim it is possible to tailor the size of plants by manipulating the genes that regulate the activity of growth hormones. The technique is expected to lead to the creation of miniaturized versions of decorative houseplants, as well as dwarf crops that are easier to harvest and more resistant to wind damage.

In studying dwarf varieties of rice and wheat created through ordinary hybridization, the researchers found damage to the genes that synthesize gibberellin, a growth hormone. When researchers looked for a mechanism to control the growth hormone, they discovered that the GAMT1 and GAMT2 genes commonly found in plants were responsible for producing an enzyme that neutralizes gibberellin.

When the researchers engineered strains of petunias and thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) in which the two genes were constantly expressed, the plants grew to 1/10th their ordinary size. When plants were administered gibberellin, they grew to their normal size, demonstrating that the size of plants can be freely adjusted.

[Source: Yomiuri]

Sweet wheat

18 Dec 2006

Sweet wheat -- On December 12, researchers from Japan's National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO) and Nippon Flour Mills announced the development of sweet wheat, a hybridized variety of wheat with twice the sugar concentration of common wheat. This first-of-its-kind sweet wheat eliminates the need to add sugar when it is used in cakes or other baked goods, researchers claim.

By repeatedly breeding varieties of wheat with low levels of enzymes associated with starch production, the researchers were able to lower the wheat's starch content -- which is ordinarily around 70% -- to 25%. The result is a variety of wheat with a significantly higher concentration of sugars such as maltose and sucrose.

In this way, sweet wheat is similar in concept to sweetcorn, which also was specifically bred to increase its sugar content.

Sweet wheat is identical in appearance to common wheat, except that it withers and develops wrinkles when dehydrated. Its natural sweetness gives it a distinctive flavor when it is ground into flour and used as an ingredient in baked goods.

Nippon Flour Mills hopes to make sweet wheat commercially available in two to three years. In the meantime, the company is looking into the possibility of developing new types of food products that draw upon the natural flavor of sweet wheat.

[Source: Chunichi, Yomiuri]

Aiterrarium: Remote-control gardening

12 Oct 2006

Aiterrarium --

On October 11, Matsushita Electric Works, Ltd. (Panasonic's parent company) announced plans to begin selling an indoor gardening system whose lighting, temperature and water supply can be remotely monitored and controlled via the Internet. The system, called Aiterrarium, is slated for release on December 20 and will initially target research facilities for universities and businesses.

The system consists of a growing chamber that is 50 centimeters wide and 1.2 meters tall. The chamber is outfitted with 190 watts of fluorescent lighting on the walls and ceiling, and sensors measure 15 different growing conditions, including soil temperature and moisture level. If a heater and automatic watering system are added, users can connect to a Matsushita server over the Internet to set ideal temperatures and perform watering. A webcam allows users to monitor growing conditions from anywhere in the world via cellphone or computer.

The system was exhibited at the 2005 World Expo (which may explain the "Ai" in "Aiterrarium," since Aichi prefecture played host to the Expo), where it received a favorable response, prompting Matsushita to make improvements and begin test marketing it to research facilities.

The standard system will cost 360,000 yen (US$3,000) plus monthly server fees, while the fully-optioned model will run 600,000 yen (US$5,000). The company is aiming for sales of 600 units in 2007.

In an effort to expand its business in the market for automated agricultural systems, Matsushita is developing remote-control systems for greenhouses, which they aim to release in April 2007.

[Source: Fuji Sankei]