TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Businessmen more used to meeting clients in boardrooms put on wellies with their suits on Thursday to slosh through an indoor rice paddy at the heart of Tokyo's business district.
Visitors and workers at Pasona Group, an employment and staffing company, teamed up to plant rice by hand in the traditional way, stalk by stalk, in the lobby of the company's office just minutes from busy Tokyo Station.
About a hundred 1,000-watt lights, a mix of high-pressure sodium and metal halide lights, stud the ceiling of the broad room, where low walls hold in the shin-deep mud and water of the "paddy," to simulate the sun throughout Japan's gloomy winter.
Most of Japan's rice farmers plant in the spring and harvest in autumn, usually in October. But this is the second crop this year at the lobby field.
"By planting rice in the autumn as well, we hope to be able to transform agriculture from something that allows one to only plant once a year into something that can be done two or three times a year," said Pasona Group CEO and President Yasuyuki Nambu.
"We can actually harvest it three times a year."
Government statistics show that Japan produced about 8 million tonnes of rice last year. While it does produce enough rice for its population, it is dependent on imports for much of its other food.
"If this sort of environment can be produced, I think it would be nice to have in more places," said 35-year-old Ryoko Sato, although she added that having a paddy inside a building was "quite strange."
Others found the contrast with the busy Marunouchi district outside surreal.
"It was odd going from the sound of cars to the sound of running water," said 35-year-old Mayumi Taguchi, after planting.
"The feel was very different from a normal office, a lot more natural."
The rice, once harvested, will be served in the staff canteen. The previous September harvest yielded more than 50 kg (110 pounds.)