HORIBA: How did you establish your present style of growing lettuce in a factory? First, please describe how you launched your company, Oizumi Yasaikobo Co., Ltd.

Mr. Miyashita: Since 1964, we had been working as a subcontractor for a major electric appliance manufacturer to process parts as well as design and manufacture machines for compressors used in home refrigerators and air conditioners. However, since about 15 years ago, the orders were shifted to overseas subcontractors, which provide products at lower prices. Around that time, I began to feel a sense of impending crisis as well as a need to start something new. Then, when I was 62 years old, a major electric appliance manufacturer stopped manufacturing home refrigerators. As we had no more transactions, I came to understand that we were no longer able to continue in the manufacturing business. Fortunately, we had a factory as part of our business’s assets, so I thought about how to use the factory to start a new business.

I wanted to make products that would be remembered in the history of Japan’s manufacturing—and products that we would be able to deliver directly to end-users. In other words, I wanted to escape from subcontracting work. I thought about how to do so and concluded that among the clothing, food, and housing industries, which respond to basic human needs, the food industry was the most realistic option. What then came to mind was a plant factory, which can provide not only a stable supply of vegetables but also a comfortable work environment. Also, this was advantageous in that I could make use of my factory management experience.

HORIBA: Converting from parts manufacturing to agriculture is a big change. Did you have any experience in agriculture before?

Mr. Miyashita: About seven years ago, Oizumi-cho’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry established a tourist association in which I served as Vice Chairman. One characteristic of Oizumi-cho is that many residents are from Brazil. For this reason, we focused on Brazil to promote tourism as well as to develop local products. Accordingly, we decided to grow Brazilian sweet potatoes as a special product of the community.
We obtained potato seedlings to start joint cultivation with a local high school; I experienced farming from planting until harvest. From this, I learned how hard it is to work in the summer heat; I also experienced abnormal weather conditions that lead to insect damage and prevented harvest of stems and potatoes. Therefore, for me a plant factory, which provides a comfortable work environment and produces the products that are free of insect damage, was an ideal environment.