[The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming The Last Bastion of Civilization: Japan in 2041.]
By Akira Yoshida, Ph.D.
Japanese National Food Standards Board (JNFSB)
Monday, 21 October 2041
The rapidly increasing cases of adulterated food being imported into Japan at the start of this century prompted the government to expand the scope and gamut of the Japanese National Food Standards Board. It was the case of lettuce imported from the “old China,” adulterated with human feces, that outranged Japanese housewives.
Most people do not realize today that the now ubiquitous Japanese Food Paradises were originally created as a research project of JNFSB. The initial name of these production centers was “Food Factories,” but even the most hardened bureaucrat realized very quickly that no self-respecting Japanese housewife would ever consider buying food for her family produced in a “factory.” So, a name competition was held in the JNFSB offices next to the Imperial Palace; the winner was a 21-year-old office lady, Miki Okino, originally from Osaka, who won the prize of four tickets to Tokyo DisneySea. Her winning suggestion was “Food Paradises,” a name the three judged unanimously agreed was the best. So “food factories” became “food paradises.”
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The most important concept of the food paradise was to make Japan self-sufficient in food. The extensive attempts by the Americans to starve Japan to death in the early 1930s had not been forgotten. In addition, the rapidly aging farming population had to be addressed; not only was the farming population aging, but young people in rural areas were fleeing to the big cities, especially Tokyo, to escape the backbreaking stoop labor that all farmers endure; better to be working in a clean and warm Starbucks serving espresso than in the freezing cold of the fields back home.
These factors combined with Japan’s growing pre-eminence in robotronics led to the rapid development of the food paradises. Actually, the basic concepts were surprisingly simple: have artificial sunlight shining 24 hours a day, seven days a week; use both hydroponic and traditional soil, but the enhanced soil was a product of the Fiji Soil Company—three times as nutritious as real soil, and over 500 times more pure—no debris of modern society to pollute this soil; and provide purified water that was both nutritious and pure at the same time.
The “sunlight” was light generated from specially developed LEDs by the Toyota Motor Corp. and protected by 47 patents worldwide; this light provided the most perfect light to encourage rapid and natural plant growth—no chemicals or pesticides, just perfect light around the clock. Of course, different vegetables required different Growth Optimization Spectrums—the LEDs used for light-green-colored lettuce were very different from those used for dark-green spinach and broccoli; this differential spectrum constituted over half of the patents.
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The area of most rapid evolution was the robotronics—in the early food paradise prototypes the plants were harvested with human-like hands that attempted to mimic humans. As is described elsewhere in this yearbook, one of the biggest mistakes that early robotronics engineers made was their slavish attempts to have the early machines mimic humans—akin to Monkey See, Monkey Do. This was a mistake. The correct approach, finally adopted after much trial and error, was to answer the simplest question: how can the lettuce, or carrot, or spinach best be harvested with the least bruising? And it turned out that a thumb and four fingers was one of the least effective ways—humans did it this way in the past for the simple reason they had no alternatives.
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Obviously a hydroponic food paradise was the easiest case. In a hydroponic paradise the vegetable is grown in a highly nutritious water bath; no soil is used at all. Hydroponic cultivation has a long history dating back to 1627 with a book written by Francis Bacon; in 1699, John Woodward published his experiments with the cultivation of spearmint in water; in 1842 the Germans took the lead when Julius von Sachs and Wilhelm Knop published a list of nine elements they believed essential for the best soil-less cultivation.
Lettuce was the first hydroponic vegetable grown in the Japanese food paradises. After the first five years, the food paradises were all constructed by building robots, so the proliferation and growth of the paradises was extremely rapid: in 2018, just under 1% of all food grown in Japan was produced at a food paradise; by 2028 it was 45%.
Following the pioneering work of Sachs and Knop, the most important question the JNFSB had to answer was what is the optimum combination of trace elements and the type of light? Would a change of the spectrum mandate a change in the mix of trace elements? And if so, how could this be developed?
The elegant solution provided by the JNFSB scientists was to first list the trace elements and the likely upper and lower bounds. Then the possible spectrums to be used were listed. Once the lists were compiled, a robotronics program was created so that in the third basement of the JNFSB in Tokyo, an experiment of over 32,000 permutations was conducted. Each growing area or cell measured 15 centimeters square and was protected on all four sides by blackened aluminum shades to prevent pollution from the adjacent cells. In this way the optimum mix was developed in a little over two weeks. Not surprisingly, these optimum mixes were protected by worldwide patents.
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There are clearly many benefits of food produced at food paradise. First and foremost, it is grown in Japan under Japanese control—never again could a starvation blockade by America hurt Japan. Second, the food is the purest possible, even by the strict Japanese food standards. More for amusement than for edification, the JNFSB did a comparison of lettuce produced at a Japanese food paradise with lettuce grown in the new North China Confederation and the United States. The results were as expected: the Chinese food had over 167 times the number of impurities, including—hard though this is to believe—traces of rat poison; the American samples had no rat poison but massive doses (over 1,120 times the Japanese sample) of herbicides including massive amounts of glyphosate known to create birth defects. Third, the growth rate—for a far superior vegetable—was reduced from 70 days to 10 days. Fourth, the “product density” (as JNFSB analysts still insist on calling the growth density) is over nine times that of a traditional farm per level. In other words, on the same area of ground, there are nine times the density of lettuce when compared to traditional open-field cultivation. But this neglects the fact that the robot-built food paradises are typically 16 or 32 layers and each layer is just 1.5 meters in height—no human ever enters a layer.
It is these last two statistics—the growth rate and the growth density—meant that Japan was exporting food as early as 2031. And the ultra-pure Japanese produce commanded a significant premium over the traditional vegetables produced using massive doses of herbicides.
In summary, the JNFSB is proud to have made Japan a food-exporting country for the first time in history, and is equally proud of leading the way in growing vegetables of unparalleled purity. While the statistical data is still sketchy, it seems that the highly nutritious paradise vegetables, that are now available to all levels of Japanese society, have added two or three years to the average Japanese life expectancy.
Originally inspired by this article: Here’s What Happens Now That American Farming’s Fat Years Are Over