For quite some time now Toshiba’s Yokosuka factory, a sprawling 1,969-square-meter facility southwest of Tokyo, has been lying idle. But now the former facility that manufactured semiconductors is turning over a new leaf. Workers at the plant have undergone a major career change and are now using state-of-the-art technology to raise crops like lettuce, baby leaf greens, spinach, mizuna and herbs.
It’s quite a shift, you might think. But there are actually more similarities between semiconductor production and farming than you might have imagined.
What has become one of the world’s largest indoor farms, the project reuses a sealed, bacteria-excluding “clean room” to grow organic vegetables, cut them and package them for distribution. But that’s not the only thing being reused. Long-wave fluorescent lights, an air-conditioning system that keeps the temperature and humidity at fixed levels, an infrared surveillance system and a sanitizing system that sterilizes packaging are all optimal for producing semiconductors but also for growing salad vegetables.
But what’s a farm without buyers? Enter Nendo, the renowned design firm led by Oki Sato. Taking advantage of the hydroponically produced salad’s long shelf-life (since it has no contact with insects or bacteria) Nendo created a fun packaging container that looks like a smoothie cup.
“We named the project ‘1 Week Salad,’” explains Sato, to emphasize its natural freshness. They also “designed internal paper packaging that riffs on the ‘best by date’ sticker found on all food products. Each of the 31 days uses different colors and typefaces for the stand-up numbers so that the products’ shelf experience is fresh and constantly changing.”
Faced with stiff competition from neighbors like Korea and China, Japan, which once dominated the world with their electronics, has been losing share. But it looks like company management is finally getting creative. Instead of asking the government to prop up unprofitable business the companies are making use of that dead space and entering into new businesses.