IMAGINE THIS | Farm inside your office, where tomatoes grow from the ceiling and rice paddies occupy the floor

“Bye, Ryan. See you later. Mom will go to work and harvest. I’ll pick kale and spinach and we’ll have salad later.”

Imagine saying this to your child as you leave home and start another day at the office — a different kind of office where computers, tables, and chairs share space with vegetables and fruits that creep into the building’s plasterboards and toughened glass, hang from the ceiling, and grow on walls.

Welcome to office farming — the future of work where growing isn’t just about job promotion and better pay but also literally growing your own food and eating healthy.

At Pasona Group’s headquarters in downtown Tokyo, that future is already a reality.

The firm founded in 1976 by Yasuyuki Nambu does not only provide staffing solutions to its clients worldwide, but also gives its own employees life solutions to chronic job stress by planting and harvesting their own food right inside their office.

The facade of the Pasona building in Tokyo. Photo from imageMILL video screenshot.

“(T)he idea is to increase people’s understanding and appreciation of agriculture and nature — symbiosis with nature,” Nambu , who isn’t just the company CEO but also its chief ethics officer and chief encouragement officer, said in a February 2017 interview with Japan Today.

It was in 2005 when Pasona decided to devote 20 percent of its 215,000-square-foot nine-story high building into green spaces and hire architecture firm Kono Designs to develop an acre of the office space into a vertical urban farm equivalent to three-fourths of a football field.

By 2010, all things became perfect. The Pasona building bloomed like a towering flower within a concrete corporate jungle.

From outside, the Pasona building stands out among other structures in Tokyo’s central business district as its façade is curtained with plants and flowers including varieties of roses and orange trees planted on balconies.


Urban Farming in Tokyo from imageMILL on Vimeo.

The green drape enables Pasona to save on energy costs, such as from using air conditioner or heater. Sunlight comes in when the foliage falls off during winter and is then minimized when leaves grow back during summer time.

At the wooden-floored entrance lobby, near the lunch area, are organic rice paddies that can be harvested thrice a year, yielding up to 150 kilograms per harvest.

Pasona’s rice paddy at the office’s entrance lobby. Photo from Kono Designs.

In lieu of sunlight, Pasona uses energy-efficient LEDs or light-emitting diodes and HPS or high-pressure sodium lights for the rice and other plants to grow abundantly.

Fresh air is replaced with computer-controlled temperature that creates wind, while moisture is produced through industrial mist humidifier.

At the reception area, shades of orange and green brighten up the place as pumpkins and cucumbers crawl overhead, while ladyfingers abound in a wooden rectangular plot near the staircase that leads to the second floor where eco-meeting spaces are made available to employees.

In these spaces are beans that germinate underneath benches where employees sit to chat and relax. When sprouts appear, the beans are moved to a lighted area, joining various aromatic herbs on shelves that line the walls.

Pasona’s eco-meeting spaces with plant dividers. Photo from Kono Designs.

Also in these chat areas, office partitions that are usually made of wood or tempered glass are replaced with lemon and passion fruit trees that serve as oxygen-packed living dividers for each meeting booth.

At the conference and guest rooms, scarlet-red and light green tomatoes grown through hydroponics dangle from the ceiling like Christmas balls, making one feel it’s always the Yuletide season.

Hanging tomatoes inside Pasona’s conference and guest rooms. Photos from Kono Designs and ImageMILL.

Pasona also has what it calls a vegetable factory where fluorescent tube-lighted shelves of lettuce are grown in hydroponic trays. The leaves can be harvested in just 30 to 40 days, which under normal conditions would take 60 days.

The lettuce harvest is among the office produce cooked at the Pasona cafeteria, where 10,000 organic meals are served to employees yearly through direct farm-to-table catering that slashes Pasona’s yearly carbon footprint by 7 to 8 tons.

Pasona’s lettuce ‘factory.’ Photo from Kono Designs.

Up on the rooftop, the floor is carpeted with greens and grown with apples and berries and has reclining outdoor chairs on wooden platforms where employees could swiftly switch from work to vacation mode.

From above, the rooftop looks like the only living island in a sea of gray, black, and brown surfaces of skyscrapers that huddle in Tokyo’s financial district.

The rooftop garden at the Pasona headquarters in Tokyo. Photo from imageMILL video screenshot.

In media features about Pasona’ green building, its big boss, 65-year-old Mr. Nambu, is often seen flashing a big smile. And he has every reason to do so. While job stress and burnout remain as big problems in every nook and cranny of corporate Japan — where cases of karoshi or death due to overwork continue to rise — the Pasona model has taught the country and the world that work-life-nature balance isn’t just a dream.

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