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Robots in Fukushima monitor cucumber production in IT-farming joint project

8 July 2020

Three ventures from the IT and farming industries have started testing methods to produce cucumbers with less human labor in Sukagawa, Fukushima Prefecture, in the hope that it will reinvigorate the agriculture industry suffering from a worsening labor shortage, including a lack of successors.

Two technology companies, Benefic Co. and MK tech, have teamed up with Fukushima Seed Center and established a project team called Smart Agri Fukushima.

The team created a 1,300-square-meter testing greenhouse, planted 2,000 cucumbers and is monitoring temperatures, humidity and carbon dioxide among other data remotely using robots. The team has already shipped 1.6 tons of produce to a local agricultural cooperative, with a plan to expand the greenhouse to 1 hectare, or eight times the current scale, in the next five years.

In developing robots to monitor the cucumbers, Benefic will be in charge of its software while MK tech will manufacture the hardware. In the greenhouse, cucumbers are produced through a unique hanging method, which makes it easier for robots to monitor the produce, rather than the usual method which is to cut the plant at a certain height.

According to the seed center, the Sukagawa area, well-known for cucumbers, has been struggling for years with a shortage of labor, causing farmers to automate the farming process to make it more attractive to younger people. In the future, they hope to spread the smart farming method nationwide.

“We want to protect cucumber farming by making the fields less labor intensive,” said Katsumi Hashimoto, president of the seed center.

14 July 2020

J-pop group TOKIO promoting Fukushima products in 3 new TV ads

Three new TV commercials starring members of all-male J-pop group TOKIO have been completed to promote farm, forestry and marine products from Fukushima Prefecture, Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori announced on July 13.

The TV ads, separately focusing on peaches, skipjack tuna and summer vegetables, began airing from July 15. It was the first time fishery products were promoted in a Fukushima TV commercial series, intended to overcome safety concerns stemming from the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. The ads represent the connection that exists between the people of the prefecture and the TOKIO bandmates.

■1st ad for seafood

TOKIO leader Shigeru Joshima performs in the peach ad while two members, Masahiro Matsuoka and Taichi Kokubun, separately appear in the bonito and summer vegetable spots, respectively. The 15-second commercials were produced by Michihiko Yanai, creative director for the Fukushima government, who hails from the Fukushima Prefecture city of Koriyama.

The ads were shot at a peach orchard in Fukushima city, Onahama fishing port in Iwaki city, and a tomato farm in the town of Yabuki. The commercials depict peach farmers, fishery industry workers and children, all making a pitch for their area's specialty. The TOKIO members are shown consuming peaches, bonito and summer vegetables delivered to Tokyo. Also appearing in the ads is "Bekotaro," a prefectural mascot based on the motif of the "Akabeko" (red cow) doll, which chimes in with "n'da, n'da," meaning "right on" in the Fukushima dialect.

The commercials are being broadcast in the three major urban regions of Kanto, Kansai and Chukyo centering on Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, respectively, as well as in Hokkaido and Fukushima. "We will transmit across the country the high quality of our agricultural, forestry and fishery products, their charms, and the 'Fukushima pride' of their producers," Uchibori said as he unveiled the TV ads at a press conference.

Also produced along with the commercials was a new poster in which all TOKIO members, including Tomoya Nagase, promote prefectural farm, forestry and marine products.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

10 July 2020

Cylindrical facility to be built in park planned in Fukushima in memory of disaster

A national park to be built in an area straddling the towns of Futaba and Namie in Fukushima Prefecture in memory of victims of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster will have a cylindrical indoor facility for the permanent display of local people's reconstruction efforts, the central and prefectural governments said on July 9 in a project overview. The facility, having a vaulted ceiling, will stand in an elevated part of the park, to be dubbed a "hill for the memory and repose of souls." It is intended to be a base for future generations to learn about the quake and nuclear disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant and remember those who lost their lives.

The park will be about 50 hectares wide, with its 10-hectare central portion to be devoted to the hill set to be constructed by the central government as a place of remembrance. The memorial hill will be 16.5 meters high, equivalent to the maximum height of the tsunami that hit Futaba at the time of the quake. Another part of the area to be developed by the prefectural government will preserve the site of a residential community in the town's Nakano district, where foundation stones of tsunami-swept houses remain. In Namie town, on the north side, it will cover the ruins of a hamlet in the Morotake district as well as marshland.

The Fukushima government will also build a road stretching from the Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum, constructed in Futaba as an archive facility, to the hill via the remains of the town's residential community. A bridge is to be built over the Maeda River flowing through Futaba, linking facilities in the neighborhood in an integrated manner.

Part of the park is scheduled to open soon, possibly this fall, in time for the inauguration of the museum.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

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