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Indoor Farm in Tokyo

by Cecilia Macaulay

Conference room, Head office, Pasona Group Inc.

With all my Japan projects bedded down for the winter, I set out for some sightseeing in my final weekend in Tokyo (Dec 4th) with a visit to the head office of the Pasona Group Inc.

Pasona is a stroll away from Tokyo station, a kind of urban desert of towering concrete and glass.

But it looks like someone at the company decided "Life is for spending, lets do something astonishing" and the result is impeccable, improbable ‘urban farm’. Plants are grown mostly under human-supplied light and nourishment, mostly indoors.

I saw lush-looking eggplants, giant daikon radish and beans, with cucumbers and roses climbing the walls. 200 kinds of plants are grown, disease free, all without pesticide. When you’re farm isolated in urban concrete, there is nothing really to bug you.

Their full-sized rice field has three harvests a year. You can see the ‘autumn’ crop drying in the background.

They brighten the ‘HELF’ lights and drop them down closer to the paddy as the plants desire – about 5 lux most months, up to 10 lux when the rice kernels are ripening.

The neighbouring building is an energy company. Maybe they got ‘mates rates’ (as we say in Australia). I’ve drunk tea and eaten sweets flecked with real gold, but if you did your calculations, a bowl of this rice would outdo such opulence, easily.

My favorite part of the whole building is this tiny ‘willow fence’ that slows down the circulating rice paddy water as it gets close to the inlet. The clay-soil edges of the paddy are planted with a natural cover of brave little weeds, but the rice itself grows on palm fibre.


Here the agricultural consultant, Sakuma-san, tells me how they make it all work. When I ask what his dream job is, he says to be a regular farmer, under a regular sky, with all the disasters it entails. Predictability is heaven for rice, but humans need more challenge to flourish.


The office staff all share the task of caring for the ‘office pets’, the plants. They water, remove withered leaves, and harvest the produce for the staff cafeteria upstairs. I chatted with Matsumoto-san and asked if she was a farmer. No, a geologist. The cafe, she tells me, is just delicious.


Pasona is a Temp agency, where young ladies come to be sent out for employment. A young, irresistible Audrey Heburn is their image girl.

Quiz: What colour light does lettuce like to eat? Why?

The public cafe, a forest of hanging baskets

One of the meeting rooms. The furniture is elegant and ‘wholemeal’ with its raw edges and pencil marks showing. The staff are are proud to say that the glass tabletops were recycled from the old office partitions, and that the floor is made of forest-thinnings. The entire building is a retrofit, and infused with ‘green’ virtue-points, as listed in their PR materials.

Hydroponic lettuce floating on polystyrene

These plants requested a little more breeze

Roses love light. In this season, early winter, the plants on the exterior balconies
are mostly climbing roses, braving the cold. Thin but elegant.

The tall young Japanese are not particularly aware of any food crisis
going on. Urban farm’s educational posters fill everyone in a bit.

Above are their ideas of of how we might solve the food crisis. [Editor’s note – some actual causes and solutions.]

The more closely you read it, the more interesting it gets. They admit it’s a bit uncertain if all these solutions listed will work. So, my goal for next year is to have fun events at Pasona, and watch them change that list, with permaculture in big letters.

The Japanese are astonishing

I’m showing you these pictures in the Permaculture spirit, that is, that you can find something positive from this story of Pasona, something that gets you into action.

Creating a new culture is hard. Nobody can get it all right in one go. It’s okay to do amazing things that have big flaws. Have a lovely vision and make it real the best you can. Others may come along later, get inspired, and finish the work you couldn’t.

Further Reading:


  1. Hi Cecilia,
    Thanks for posting your photos. The forest of hanging baskets in the cafe look like a beautiful public artwork! Actually, so many of those photos remind me of installations I’ve seen in art biennales around the globe. The Japanese have an understanding of balance and form that they’ve valued and therefore developed over centuries.

    What fertile ground of interested people you have to work with over the coming year! I look forward to hearing about the projects you undertake. Thanks for your generous comment on my post. Please feel free to get my email address from Craig (PRI editor), I’d love to work with you. Cheers, Nicola

  2. Thanks for the great article. Quite enjoyed the photos. Growing under lights isn’t my forte. Never mind that, it’s very pretty, and with the best of intentions, as far as I can see. Good day!

  3. Thank-you for so many encouraging comments, Im so glad you liked my story. I’ve so many pictures of places Ive visited that have amazed me, like this, that I havent shown yet…maybe I should get them out …

    Nicola, we will have fun together. Yes, there are a lot of plant artworks around these days. Lucky for the artists.

    Øyvind , thank-you for sharing those links, which I’ve vistited.
    Pattern lanugage and Christopher Alexander are a puzzle to me. Im so excited when I notice patterns, and so Im pretty quick at it. But when I read about ‘pattern language’, I feel surprisingly left out. Maybe its the Academic language. Maybe its because the idea of designing a whole building and town is scary. What a commitment. Your mistakes there for all the world to see daily.
    I often notice your perceptive comments, and that your brain is always ticking over.
    Are you in Norway? Australia?

  4. I,m am not sure I get it?
    I am a bit of an idiot and simple shiny things usually appeal to me.
    Am I to marvel at this?
    To me it’s repulsive,I see a lot of wasted resource spent on feel goodisim,I don’t see a single redeeming feature in this,if this is the future I pity our children.

    There is a pattern here all right it’s stupidity,repeated more and more profoundly with every incarnation.

    Here is a vision, worth pursuing the only real option we have it might be imperfect but it’s a lot more constructive.
    I may just be feathering my own nest, but as far as I can see, the only way is to follow the road back to nature, bearing in mind a natural philosophy.
    I believe that in doing this, we will establish techniques that go beyond our present technology.
    Although this philosophy still takes various forms and names, it is clear that the thought underlying it is “Green Philosophy” as described it in The One-Straw Revolution.

    It is fine to turn gradually from organic farming onto the road that leads to anti-scientific farming.

    It is fine to set our sights on farming that perpetuates itself infinitely and on a return to nature, even while enjoying life on a designed farm.
    But these must not end up as microscopic techniques and should not be used as temporary fads.
    Even though we have these at our command, at the core there must be a natural philosophy, in order to establish a farming method that will become the great principle of an agriculture that continues infinitely.
    Masanobu Fukuoka

    Pasona an ugly vision of a world gone mad,it’s everything we should be rejecting,it is only worthy of contempt.

    The promotion of this sort of rubbish as an imperfect option worth working on just helps perpetuate the crass commercialism that got us here,it’s an “installation” it says to me,”I am a corporation”,
    It says “I am a million miles from reality” while the world starves and the biosphere dies, I spend my money without any thought other than to fulfil my grandiose self delusion,I already plunder more than I need and here is an even greater waste of resource so you may be suitably impressed and become my client and I may make a suitably impressive profit”.
    It’s funky,it’s chic,it’s green…it’s the new black.

    The only fun event I would be holding here Cecilla is the composting of the greedy parasitic executives and the burning of their building nothing would look more beautiful than that in ruins.
    You would have more luck running round in circles yelling woo woo woo woo woo woo woo woo woo woo than trying to polish this piece of shit into gold.
    Fernando Pessoa


  5. Hei Cecilia, I’m in Norway. Well, we’re different, when I read A Pattern Language & A Timeless Way of Building I was so exited that I could not stop (and I’m not an academic). For me it was like reading Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings for the first time. And later I was lucky to discover Nikos Salingaros, although I’m not so into his writing yet.

  6. Hei from Sydney, Oyvind.
    You have re-ignited my spark, I will find and read A Pattern Language.

    I just went back to Google to check what happened, how I got de-railed from Reading Christopher Alexander, when so many people I respect sent me his way.

    Oyvind, the official Christopher Alexander website is not a good advertisement for Pattern Language, and this is an understatement.
    If you like things lively, beautiful and well-tended, you see the broken links, the layout, the general air of abandonment, and run hollering in the other direction.

    Maybe If I get as excited about this book as I suspect I might, you and I and whoever we can recruit could help clean up the website a bit, transfer it to a 21st century platform (wordpress etc) and keep it maintained. If it seems worth the effort, for making a better world. Which again, I suspect it might be.

    It has got me thinking interesting thoughts, such as ‘If the Pattern Language website was an edible garden, how could it be described?”
    If the Pattern Language website was the parent of a beautiful child, what kind of parent is it?

    Thats the exquisite torment of permaculture (and pattern language?) – that the people with the most capacious minds and far-sighted vision are often the least able to act, to create. The people who feel the deepest pain over the world’s waste are the ones with the most spectacularly wasted talents, and those of us most passionate about sustainability are those of us who have the least preparations for our own old age.

    I’m in love with permaculture because it saves me, personally, every day. Its saving me every day from myself, From the way I let my default emotions run my life like a machine.
    Pattern language may too.

    Thank-you for sharing your enthusiasm. Your world-changing, Cecilia-changing enthusiasm.

    I will let you know how it goes.

  7. I fully agree Alexander’s own website is a catastrophe; probably he has too much other stuff going on. Anyway, the site of The Center for Environmental Structure as he founded back in 69 is far better:

    Here is A Pattern Language online (still this version is not so thoroughly as the book):

    Also remember that Alexander has a very Taoist worldview:

    He had this view from the beginning, and it influences all his research. Someday I hope, if I manage, to write an article about the influence of Taoism in Alexander’s work, in contradiction to the nihilistic and deconstruction philosophy of the modernists. Of course, this will be a task far above my head, but as I’ve nothing to risk I still might try.

  8. Fernando pessoa:

    I hope you come back to comment some more. You are right. This is a spectacular waste of resources. The energy for the lights on the rice paddy is ridiculous.

    My real question/concern is on what type of return to nature you are talking about. Why is it ok to turn from organic farming to anti-scientific farming? it seems that we should use whatever techniques we have available to use to solve our impending food crisis, and the environmental issues surrounding our current food production methods.

    I also agree with you that this is crass commercialism. But it does wonderful work in beginning to address one of the most pressing issues we have, which is how to bring nature, specifically agriculture and living systems into our cities and urban areas. This building seems to be beginning to answer that question aesthetically and intellectually, as well as with a touch of community spirit (everyone waters the plants). In “returning to nature” we can’t forget that humans are social creatures and are filled with cultural and aesthetic concerns.

    According to the UN there will be upwards of 5 billion people living in urban areas by 2030, and in 2005 for the first time ever, more than half the population lived in urban areas. Unless you plan to reverse that trend, as well as the trend that the population is projected to top 9 billion by 2050, and have everyone become “good-old back-to-the-landers” (Im from the northeastern US) we need to address environmental issues through the lens of urbanism. By thinking about our relations to each other, our natural environment and our constructed environment in an urban context, we engage these vital issues on the scale, in the setting and with the eye towards design and culture that are required.

    Policy analysts and vehement protesters will not solve our problems. They both have the same problem. They think of how things ought to be as opposed to how things are. Malcolm X said the future belongs to those who prepare for it today. With each tangible project, no matter how crassly commercial, we prepare for the future today. By the way, those crass and greedy commercialists/capitalists happen to have a lot of money, which many protesters and would be policy makers do not have. why not leverage that money into paying for our experiments today. As opposed to plan and brood over where we wish that money was going in the future.

    Thank you for your comment on resource waste. It is very pertinent.

  9. The way that you take advantage of the capitalist’s capital is by connecting these projects through networks of researchers. By networking all of the disparate projects, in disparate disciplines, (agriculture, science, engineering, art, literature, psychology, food, academics, religion, politics, anything you can imagine!) you bring together the small bits of knowledge that are being generated at each site. This method doesnt get rid of the crass comercialism, but it amplifies the development of new methods and techniques while incubating new ideas through communication. As we pack tighter and tighter into cities, and the internet develops, these networks will be easier to establish and maintain.

  10. It was great to get your positive, useful comments Ross.
    Ive just now come to live in Sydney for 5 months, and Im wondering how to be a good connector-woman. I think nothing is more important.
    I searched for more things written by you, but couldn’t find any links.
    Are you the man who translated David Holmgrens Book to Japanese?

  11. Oyvind! I got the ‘Pattern Language’ book.

    “Yes, Yes, yes”! I say, as I read though on how things could be.
    But after all these years of persuing beauty, Ive got my own CeciPatternLanguage quite refined. How things should and shouldn’t be. I wrote an article a few months ago with a permie lady I met in cyberspace,
    Here it is:’s-13-steps-to-creating-beauty-in-the-permaculture-garden/

    And the Achitect who lent “Pattern Lanuguage’ to me is now getting excited over Mollison’s Designers Manual, which Ive just borrowed from another friend
    Nice ‘share the surplus’ happening over my coffee table.

  12. Hei!

    I really didn’t know you have made the beautiful paintings for the PRI-blog; I understood when your new article came up today. They are just so nice! Keep on making permaculture paintings to inspire the world!!!

    I see you are a blogger too. I just started blogging too, I gave up my “professional” web-site, as it became more and more as catastrophically and chaotic as Alexander’s site, the blog format is much more to prefer for a computer idiot like myself.

    I added your blog to my blog list at once! My new blog is: Nb! Don’t feel obligated in no way to put my blog on your list! Also most of my English writings will appear on the PRI-blog anyway, until Craig gets tired of me.

    I’m so happy to see you liked A Pattern Language! I guess you loved pattern 167 most of all, SIX-FOOT BALCONY:

    Nb! I’ll read your article tomorrow, it’s 23:15 here now and I need to go to bed. Thank you!

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