“Improving people’s health and the environment around us is about improving the future. It has the greatest direct relevance to those who not only serve to benefit from it the most, but who also have the power to influence it – young adults.”

Providing solutions to society’s problems has been at the heart of Pasona Group’s corporate mission since their establishment in 1976. So turning their office space into an urban farm seemed like a natural move.

Pasona has challenged themselves with the task of creating jobs by attracting human resources to rural areas. Alongside their training services and outsourcing, the organisation in Japan undertakes initiatives to revitalise the agricultural workforce and regional industries in Japan. One of these was their in-office plant and vegetable system, the Pasona Urban Farm, which now provides food for the company’s employees.

The IPF spoke to Keisuke Nemoto  from the Tokyo-based Pasona Group, about their unique, fascinating and award-winning office venture.

How did the Pasona Urban Farm get started?

Within the turmoil of Japanese job market in 2001, we chose to focus our job creation efforts on the agricultural industry, beginning in earnest in 2003. There are three reasons why we chose agriculture.

First, the agricultural workforce has been gradually shrinking as a result of Japan’s ageing population and the movement away from agrarian industries.

As fewer people are self-sufficient in terms of food production, revitalising the agricultural industry has become a crucial task.

Second, agriculture is a cornerstone of many regions in Japan and is inextricably linked to many other sectors. Kickstarting the agricultural industry [can] broaden employment opportunities in retail and distribution, manufacturing, IT, tourism, and many other economic spheres.

Third, there is potential to shift people’s perceptions and values. By implementing programmes that help popularise agriculture and make it easier for white-collar workers to participate, we can increase the number of people who want to work in agriculture and have the means to do so.

Pasona O2, the predecessor to our current Pasona Urban Farm, was established in 2005 in what was once an underground city bank vault. We created Pasona O2 in a distinctly metropolitan setting in order to inspire interest amongst the business people of Tokyo.

Growing rice, vegetables and other plants using cutting-edge lighting and irrigation systems, we wanted to show what was possible in a place without access to natural sunlight or rainwater.

In 2010, we moved to a new building and converted our below-ground systems into its current above-ground iteration, the Pasona Urban Farm.

Pasona Urban Farm

The Pasona office is built with three main purposes in mind: agriculture, health and eco-friendliness. [Image credit: Pasona Urban Farm]

What’s the one achievement you’re most proud of?

The Pasona Urban Farm has received a number of accolades over the course of its existence and I attribute that success to its three foundational pillars.

The first pillar is agriculture – and our aforementioned push to popularise and revitalise the industry. The second is the environment. Our offices are located in a renovated 50-year-old building, with systems in place to reduce our carbon footprint.

The outer walls are covered in vegetation known as the “Green Curtain”. Its benefits range from reducing our yearly CO2 emissions by eight tonnes, to blocking sunlight in the hot summer months and cutting back on air conditioning.

The third is health. The Pasona Urban Farm has positive effects on the mental and physical health of our employees and guests. The vibrant environment of plants and flowers soothes and facilitates conversation. The vegetables grown within the building are used in the employee cafeteria to provide a tangible, physical benefit for our staff.

Broadly speaking, I believe that our greatest achievement is making sure these concepts shine through in our Urban Farm.

Pasona Urban Farm

The vegetables grown in the office are used in the employee cafeteria. [Image credit: Pasona Urban Farm]

 Why should young people care about this cause?

As public perceptions gradually shift and diversify over the years, I feel that more and more young people are slowly developing a greater interest in agriculture.

Japan’s farming regions have a beauty that cannot be found in its highly-modernised cities. A growing number of people are drawn to the natural landscapes, fresh foods and traditional culture of rural Japan. These local regions receive jolts of energy as more people are drawn there. “Regional development” is a hot-button issue right now in Japan.

We believe that creating an environment in which young people can gather and flourish is key to approaching the issue.

Building our agricultural infrastructure is not merely about regional and economic concerns, but also about our two other foundational pillars – health and the environment. These concepts affect everyone, but it is also important to note that they are explicitly forward-looking. Improving people’s health and the environment around us is about improving the future. As such, it has the greatest direct relevance to those who not only serve to benefit from it the most, but who also have the power to influence it – young adults.

How can young people support your cause?

In Japan, both people and businesses alike have flocked to Tokyo. But with the advent of telecommuting and with fewer jobs that require an employee’s physical presence in Tokyo, some are forecasting a “great migration” to the outer areas of Japan, particularly among young adults.

As such, it’s important to create a climate in which they can easily and comfortably work in rural regions. In order to build that flourishing environment, it is vital to reinvigorate the broader industries of the area.

While there are many small – though nonetheless important – steps you can take to improve the environment and health of those around you, in a wider sense, we encourage young people to be more open-minded about their work and their futures, and consider the possibility of an unorthodox career.

The Urban Office Farm is also for free tours: Open: Weekdays 9:30am-5:30pm. Location: 2-6-4 Otemachi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8228 Japan (1st and 2nd floors open for viewing). To find out more about the Pasona Urban Farm, visit their website.