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Responding flexibly to societal needs

Interview - April 14, 2023

Embodying an entrepreneurial spirit that flexibly responds to society’s needs, Kakuichi has developed a business model that is diversified in the fields of energy, agriculture and community.

RIU TANAKA, PRESIDENT OF KAKUICHI CO., LTD
RIU TANAKA | PRESIDENT OF KAKUICHI CO., LTD

In the 1980s, major general trading companies monopolized Japan's exports, but many trading companies were eliminated due to the collapse of the real estate market in the 1990s. However, even today, there are 9,000 niche trading companies in Japan, and your company is a great example of that. As a small and niche trading company, you operate 11 different businesses through 8 companies and support Japanese companies' approach to end-users. Could you please share more about the specific support you provide?

We started in business by trading hardware, so we built with carpenters and artisans, and we dealt with products in this field. We were not manufacturers, but we were more like a joint venture in that field. The second stage focused on making things. After World War II, my father was the third generation. There were no products to sell, so we had to make our own products, and we turned to manufacturing company. It was a time of innovation as a company, like a fish metamorphosing on land.

In the third stage, we have changed to the stage where we add value to the products we manufacture and sell them throughout Japan by ourselves. We are doing business where we can see each other’s faces, and our users, so hotels are one of the examples of businesses. Rather than being a trading firm, it's more about providing added value services. In the 1980s, we transformed ourselves into a private label manufacturer. Since then, we have expanded our human connections and transformed ourselves into a company that connects with a wide range of users.

Become a manufacturer connected to its users. Rather than a trading company, it became a company that provides necessary value for users. Doing face to face business, and that's how the hotel business started. It is a company that delivers value rather than a trading company.So it was good that it was small and niche market oriented.

 

How did the Great East Japan Earthquake impact your current management and what realization did you have from that experience?

Three years before I became president, the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred. What happened there has had a great impact on my current management. I thought then that the centralized network had come to an end. From the experience of that disaster, I thought that I want to make a society where everyone can shine, where support each other, connected, and altruism are valued, and where the elderly can work with vigor and vitality. Then I realized decentralized, independent networks would be necessary in the future.When we thought about it, our resources were our connections with our customers, the farmers. We felt that we had to make a difference in society, starting from where we could.

 

What inspired your company to expand into nanobubble water technology for agriculture, and how does this fit into your vision for regional revitalization in Japan?

Up to now, we have been deepening our relationship with our customers, especially in the agricultural warehousing and hose businesses. Since 80% of our customers are agricultural producers and we want to support and encourage agriculture, we have continued to develop and research nanobubble technology in the agricultural field.

In 2016, we purchased  “ Nano-Sight”, the most advanced measuring device at the time, which could measure nano-sized bubbles, and proceeded to develop a nanobubble generator while repeatedly developing and verifying the bubbles.

Once development and performance verification were complete, the next step was to propose this new technology to farmers throughout Japan to use. First, we asked 100 farmers to use the new technology on a trial basis. As a result, 80% of them realized the effect and difference.

Then we expanded the number of users to 1,200 farmers nationwide. We interviewed the users who introduced oxygen nanobubbles to agriculture to find out what kind of changes and effects they were experiencing. As a result, we obtained more detailed data and conducted a joint verification with three universities and research institutes. We gathered detailed information from the nation's top producers among the users, and had a university research institute come in and analyze the data. As a result, we made various discoveries.



This may be a uniquely Japanese way of thinking, but we believe that sharing knowledge is a treasure. We tell others what we know and listen to what they know. We also share what we do not know and listen to what others do not know. We believe that in the process of unraveling what we don't know about each other, new discoveries are made. Our business continues to be exactly that give and take.

We have also installed sensors on each of our farms, as the number of users has been increasing nationwide. In the future, we aim to use AI to analyze information from the sensors and use the data to provide a variety of solutions.

In recent years, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) has been pushing for an increase in organic farming; it has stated that by 2050 the percentage of arable land devoted to organic farming will increase from 0.6% to 25%. At the same time, it is said to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers to 30%.

Oxygen nanobubble water is highly effective in reducing soil degradation while maintaining the stable productivity of organic farming. Verification with a university has shown that irrigating with oxygen nanobubble water activates the work of microorganisms.

In recent years, agricultural producers have been suffering due to soaring fertilizer prices. Japanese agriculture, which relies on imports for much of its fertilizer needs, is now in a critical situation.

Nitrogen and phosphorus used in agricultural fertilizers are applied every year, but in fact, the soil cannot absorb all of the amount applied each time, and the remaining fertilizer accumulates in the soil from year to year.

The remaining nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil combine with the aluminum and iron in the soil and are no longer available for plants to absorb.

Growers using our nanobubble generator have told us that the amount of phosphoric acid left in the soil has been decreasing every year since they started using the nanobubbles. We actually verified this with flower growers' items and found a situation where phosphoric acid was absorbed faster in the oxygen nanobubble zone than in the zone where nanobubbles were not used, and where the oxygen nanobubble zone converted the immobilized phosphorus into a state where it could be absorbed.

Simply by reducing the size of bubbles, filling them with oxygen, and irrigating them, soil degradation can be controlled, and agricultural productivity can be improved. In other words, nanobubbles are a hidden technology that goes beyond agriculture to solve environmental and social problems.

Technology that supports agriculture and energizes Japan from the countryside. With this vision, we will continue to work for regional development.

 

Japan is considered one of the most challenging places for agriculture in the world, with 75% of its terrain being mountainous and frequent flood damage. Despite this environment, your company has worked closely with over 1,200 agricultural producers nationwide to apply nanobubble technology and improve productivity and solve issues in agriculture. What are your plans for future developments? Also, your company holds an international patent for ultra-fine bubble devices. In which countries do you expect your technology to be most utilized in similar agricultural environments as Japan?

We believe that our nanobubble water technology has the potential to be useful in many countries around the world, especially in regions with harsh agricultural environments, such as Japan. We are still in the process of considering overseas expansion and are already planning to export to neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, such as Thailand and Indonesia.

We have also received interest from foreign companies, such as Qatar, which are interested in introducing subsistence solutions and technologies. Furthermore, countries in the Middle East are considering introducing organic farming, and we have received inquiries from farmers in Brazil who are interested in our equipment.

However, exporting our equipment requires careful consideration of each country's unique requirements and regulations, including differences in electrical and plumbing systems. As we continue to explore international opportunities, we will prioritize collaboration with companies that share our values of sustainable agriculture and environmental responsibility.

 

What steps has your company taken to address the global food crisis caused by population growth and environmental pollution, and how do you plan to spread your technology around the world?

Our company has obtained international patents in 13 countries for our equipment and devices, and we are in the process of applying for more patents in other countries. We are also developing new devices and gathering valuable data to continue improving our technology. Our mission is to spread this technology worldwide to help solve the global food crisis caused by population growth and environmental pollution, and to leave a better future for the next generation.

 

You became the president in 2014. Let's say we come back to interview you again on the last day of your presidency. What would you like to tell us about your goals and dreams for the company by that time, and what would you like to have achieved by then?

As the president of Kakuichi, my goal is to create a society where everyone can shine.

The name of our company, Kakuichi, means that each individual should shine in their own unique way and brighten up society.

In today's society, there is a sense of stagnation, and the economy is concentrated in urban areas. I believe that we need to change the industrial structure, decentralize the economy, and create added value and innovation by utilizing various resources such as natural environment, agriculture, and local communities in rural areas.

As a leader, I want to remove such barriers and encourage diversity and creativity. I believe that by valuing diversity, we can generate new ideas and lead to innovative solutions.

I will promote the creation of added value in rural areas and work towards solving social issues. My aim is to achieve a society where each and every one of us can shine, and to strive for further growth and development.

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