Japan's firms growing new business

Japan's firms growing new business
Using fertiliser produced in-house and clean-room technology to control the environment, Fujitsu is growing low-potassium lettuce at a facility in Fukushima. Sharp, meanwhile, is growing strawberries (above) at an experimental facility in Dubai.

What does spinach have to do with massage chairs?

Mr Takayoshi Tanizawa was confused when his boss at Panasonic told him that his next project, after being in charge of massage chair development, was to grow a high-tech spinach farm.

That was three years ago.

"I was not confident of handling the new job," said Mr Tanizawa, 41. "But I decided to see the project through."

His hard work has paid off.

This October, Panasonic plans to market its "Passive Environmental Control System", which grows spinach in greenhouse environments regulated by computer, and produces a stable supply of the vegetable all year round.

"Spinach is the most difficult leafy vegetable to grow. Now that we are successful, we plan to apply the system to other vegetables," said Mr Tanizawa, now a senior executive at Panasonic's in-house Eco Solutions Company, which is behind the project.

Panasonic is not the only Japanese electronics maker to jump into agribusiness. Faced with slumping global demand for their traditional products, they see high- tech farming as a promising revenue source.

According to influential business daily Nikkei, Panasonic was forced to retreat from its once much-touted plasma TV business and scale down its consumer electronics business to focus on products for corporate customers.

But the company is reluctant to project too far into the future.

"In agribusiness, there are many problems on the ground, so there are still many ways we can contribute. But to keep going, we need to have a business model that will benefit not only our company, but all stakeholders involved," said Mr Tanizawa.

Fujitsu, which went through years of restructuring to shrink its chipmaking operations, has also waded into high-tech farming, turning a disused semiconductor facility into a plant factory.

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