Kunitachi Farm: Bringing porn business know-how to the world of vegetables

Kunitachi Farm: Bringing porn business know-how to the world of vegetables

Ganari Takahashi has invested ¥1 billion into his new company to try to revive Japanese agriculture and feed the Tokyo masses with the best possible produce
Kunitachi Farm
Kunitachi Farm
A worker at the Ebisu location of Nouka no Daidokoro works behind the famed "fresh greens on ice" salad bar.

An article about vegetables and porn may get you thinking CNNGo has turned a little too tabloid. But hold up.Kunitachi Farm sums up a zeitgeist: a national need for entrepreneurialism, structural reform of key industries and the revival of Japanese agriculture. And this story is much more extraordinary than a simple case of Japanese fetishism.

Ganari Takahashi made his millions as head of adult video business Soft on Demand. He retired (how much quivering flesh can one man take?) and established Kunitachi Farm in 2006 with a self-investment of ¥1 billion. From Takahashi's point of view, this leap from pornography to agriculture was not as rash as it may seem.

"When I entered the adult video industry, the most important people, those who were actually making the product, weren't able to earn anything," he explains. "Instead the distributors were making all the money. So I worked to create an industry where those who made things were properly valued. When I thought about living as a farmer, I realized that in agriculture as well, the act of making things was not duly valued. So I thought to apply what success I had in the adult industry to the world of agriculture." Thus was born Takahashi's idea of "agricultural reform."

Direct from farms to your mouth

Kunitachi Farm now works directly with 200 regional farmers to source the vegetables for his chain of restaurants and line of products. All the farms meet the minimum requirement of abstaining from herbicide use and, moreover, share Takahashi's vision of the young, hip farmer. The produce harvested goes to supply Nouka no Daidokoro ("Farmhouse Kitchen"), the restaurant Takahashi opened in the west Tokyo city of Kunitachi in early 2007 (Poporo Building Minamikan 3F, Higashi 1-16-17, Kunitachi-shi, tel. 042 571 4831). Meanwhile packaged products, like miso pastes and jams, are delivered to select department store food halls.

Kunitachi FarmThe interior of the Ebisu Nouka no Daidokoro displays pictures of the farmers and otherwise looks like an old farmhouse.The restaurant Nouka no Daidorkoro has since expanded into two downtown Tokyo locations: Ebisu (Ebisu South One 1F, Ebisu Minami 1-7-8, Shibuya-ku, tel. 03 3719 4831) and Shinjuku (Takayama Land Kaikan 4F, Shinjuku 3-5-3, Shinjuku-ku, tel. 03 3226 4831). These have proven particularly popular with young women at lunchtime. In addition to reasonably priced set meals, there is a salad bar of assorted crudités artfully arranged on ice, as well as a selection of fresh juices prepared in-house.

With white walls and wooden beams, the restaurant is reminiscent of a traditional farmhouse and the interior is decorated with posters featuring the smiling faces of the farmers whose goods appear on the table. These images help consumers connect the food on their plates with the real people that grew it. These "star farmers" can inspire the next generation, doing what Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui have done for baseball, Takahashi says. "I'm borrowing the strength of these outstanding farmers to reform the whole industry."

"Do, See, Plan": Farmer chic, women and the future

Kunitachi Farm is very much a contemporary endeavor, with a handle on the current cult of celebrity. Nouka no Daidokoro feels a bit like Planet Hollywood for the vegetable set. Meanwhile, the Kunitachi Farm website maintains several active blogs, which reinforce the cult of personality around these star farmers. The mainstream media has also jumped on the story, leading to coverage in magazines ranging from the culture-savvy (like Brutus) to the teen trendsetting (like ViVi), plus countless TV shows. Kunitachi Farm has not only gotten agriculture into the news but it has also made it fashionable.

Takahashi's approach to Kunitachi Farm is admittedly a trial and error process, or what he calls the "do, see, plan" approach. In the last three-and-a-half years he has undertaken a number of diverse projects in addition to Nouka no Daidokoro. In February of 2008, he purchased a farm in the adjacent prefecture of Chiba that had fallen into disuse, adding this property to the community farm that he already overseas in the more urban Kunitachi. There is also the "Kunitachi Farm Girls' Farm" in rural Yamagata, started a year ago with the aim to "run a farm from a female point of view." The all-woman team is working to create products (mini-tomatoes, for example) that they feel would appeal particularly to a female clientele.

Although sales remain favorable, Takahashi has exhausted 90% of his initial investment. "I'm going to use the remaining ¥100 million to see if I can turn this enterprise into an advantageous one," he says. Despite his wealth from a former career, a second retirement is out of the question. There are lots more vegetables to be grown.

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