Japan Seed Industry News

This page features a compilation and selection of Japanese seed industry news briefs, summaries and leads, with an emphasis on events that impact or affect provinces, regions, counties, c

ities and locales in Nippon-koku or Nihon-koku (日本国), Japan. 

The news covers trends and events regarding seed regulation, testing, legislation, phytosanitary issues, intellectual property rights, biotechnology (genomics, gene-editing) plant breeding, agronomy and cropping, with original sources linked.

This page will be updated throughout the year, with most recent briefs listed first.

CBD beer product launched: Mar 2: A craft beer brewery in Mochimune, Shizuoka Prefecture, has released two types of craft beer, "Starwatcher CBD" and "Green Light", which contain 15mg of CBD per 500 ml can. The brewery claims their IPA style beer can reduce fatigue and produce a relaxing effect. CBD (CannaBiDiol) is extracted from cannabis (hemp) seeds and stems and does not contain any THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) a component of cannabis leaves, flowers, and roots that has a high psychological effect, which is regulated by the Cannabis Control Law of Japan. Ingredients extracted from seeds and stems, such as CBD, are exempt from regulation.

The Narcotics Control Department of the Kanto-Shin'etsu Regional Bureau of Health and Welfare confirmed that the CBD product does not fall under the Cannabis Control Law, and can be used as an ingredient in edible products. Read original story in Japanese here 

Direct Sowing Rice Reduces Work by 25%: February 19: A growing trend in rice cultivation is direct seed sowing. Using this method yields are not yet stable but are steadily improving through the use of new varieties and technologies, such as small drones. The new strains, such as Emimaru, are able to sprout at low temperatures with improved germination rates and higher yields. Original story in Japanese here 

Pansies and Viola exhibition February: Feb 18: The "World Exhibition of Pansies and Violas", which plans to display 669 varieties of flowers developed by domestic seed producers and breeders, is being held at the Hana Festa Memorial Park in Kani City, Gifu Prefecture. This is the largest exhibition of its kind in the Chubu region. Now in its seventh year, this year's event will be the largest ever. Original article in Japanese here 

High school makes breakthrough in virus free tissue culture propagation: Feb 9: Nyuzen High School in Uozo City in Toyama Prefecture has announced a major step in the conservation of Kanoko-yuri flower by eliminating the "lily mottle virus (LMOV)" that infects the seedlings tissue-cultured from bulbs. The school will start full-scale cultivation of seedlings and aim for early flowering. Conservation activities began in 2017 as the virus infection of the bulbs threatened cultivation, with cooperation between Uozo City, Nyuzen High School and the Prefectural Central Botanical Garden. Original article in Japanese here 

Two new olive varieties developed: Feb 19: "Kaori No. 3" and "Kaori No. 5", new varieties that are resistant to disease and possess a distinctive flavor, have been developed by Kagawa Prefecture. This is the first time in Japan that a new variety of olive has been applied for registration. A total of 770 seedlings will be supplied with the cultivation area is expected to be 2.6 hectares with harvesting to begin in 2025. Original story in Japanese here 

Natural rubber from the guayule plant: Feb 19: Bridgestone Corporation announced on January 28 that it has succeeded in developing a technology to improve the productivity of natural rubber derived from Guayule, which is native to the southwestern part of the United States and northern Mexico, and can be cultivated in arid areas.  Through joint research with Kirin Holdings (Kirin), a technique for the stable breeding of guayule has been developed that will allow the mass to mass-production of guayule rubber tires, which the corporation aims to begin production of in the 2020s. Sourcing alternative raw materials for natural rubber for sustainability and supply chain stability has long been a target for tire manufacturers. https://www.jdt-news.co.jp/news/64400/ 

The 24th Tsubaki Festival: Feb 7: This year’s festival began on the 6th of February at the "World of Tsubakikan-Stones" tourist attraction in Ofunato City, Iwate Prefecture. Visitors will be able to enjoy colorful camellias such as red, white, and pink are in full bloom until March 21st. Approximately 600 species and 700 camellias from Japan and overseas are included in the exhibition. Original story in Japanese here 

Yokote City announces snow damage subsidy: Feb 5: Yokote City, in Akita Prefecture, announced on the 4th of February that it will subsidize half of the restoration cost to farmers and agricultural corporations in the city that were damaged by the record heavy snowfall this winter, expected to total 3.3 million USD. The city will subsidize the cost of removing and rebuilding damaged agricultural greenhouses, as well as the cost of removing snow, spraying snow-melting agents, and purchasing seeds and seedlings. Original story in Japanese here 

Akita Prefecture agriculture damage from heavy snow: Feb 1: At least 630 greenhouses for paddy rice seedlings have been damaged by heavy snowfall over the winter in Akita Prefecture, causing concern among local officials that seedlings will not be ready in time for rice planting. As of the 25th January, it has been estimated that the damage exceeded USD 9.7 million. The prefecture is providing technical assistance to farmers. Read original story in Japanese here

New emergency measure for tomato, pepper seed imports: Starting March 5th, 2021, seeds and plants of tomato and peppers imported into Japan must be certified by the National Plant Protection Organizations (NPPO) of exporting countries as being free from Tomato Brown Rugose Fruit Virus (ToBRFV) based on an RT-PCR Assay. For specific details and mandates of the new emergency measure, download the notifying document from the WTO website here.

 
ISF welcomes gene-edited tomato notification in Japan: January 2021:
The International Seed Federation (ISF) welcomes the announcement of the first voluntary notification of genome edited high-GABA tomato in Japan. The Japanese ministries in charge announced their determination that the genome edited GABA tomato will not be regulated as a genetically modified product. Read full announcement by ISF here

NARO develops predictive ‘genome selection AI’ for rice breeding: January 2021:
On January 8, the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO) announced that it has successfully developed AI powered gene selection capabilities that make it possible to predict important traits such as rice yield and quality, and thereby accelerating rice breeding efforts. Using conventional crossing and selection breeding methods, it could take as much as 10 years to develop a new rice variety, but with the latest application of genome selection AI, "it can be expected to reduce the time required for rice breeding by about two years. Read coverage in Japanese here

Revised Seed and Seedling Law effective in April: January 2021:
Seed IP and Plant Breeders Rights stand to be strengthened when the revised seed and seedling protection law comes into force this April. As covered in various Japanese media, the revised law, which got a nod from the Diet in December, will criminalize unauthorized outflow of protected seeds and seedlings. Individual violators of the law can be sentenced to imprisonment for up to 10 years or a fine of not more than 10 million yen, while violating corporations face fines of up to 300 million yen. Stricter regulation had been proposed following concernsthat some popular, protected Japanese vegetable and fruit varieties had been smuggled out of Japan and reproduced abroad to the dismay of IP rights holders. Read coverage in Japanese here as well as here

2020 News

Expand/Collapse

Fusarium Root Rot of sweet potatoes in Shizuoka: December 2020:
The Shizuoka Prefectural Pest Control Station has confirmed cases of sweet potato (Fusarium) root rot for the first time in the prefecture. According to media, citing a Special Bulletin No. 4 issued on December 23, “yellowing and wilting of stems and leaves, blackening of stems and tuberous roots were confirmed in the kansho field in the western part of the prefecture [linked to an ] outbreak in November.” The diagnostic was reportedly confirmed by the Kyushu Okinawa Agricultural Research Center of the Agricultural Research Organization. Cases had previously been reported in the Okinawa Prefecture in 2018, and later in Kagoshima, Miyazaki, Kumamoto, Fukuoka, Nagasaki, and Kochi prefectures. More details in Japanese here.

Gene-edited tomatoes get green light: December 2020:
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare on December 11 approved the production and sale of a gene-edited tomato. The tomato, developed as a cooperation between startup, Sanatech Seed and the University of Tsukuba. According to this Nikkei Asia report, “the fruit features five times the normal amount of GABA, an amino acid linked to lower blood pressure, thanks to tweaks to genes that normally limit GABA production.”. The non trans-genic fruit reportedly took 15 years to develop. Sanatech Seed, which is a startup formed out of the University, will start to sell seedlings for home gardens in the spring of 2021 via online channels, and plans to launch seed sales to large-scale producers in the fall. 

 

Amended Seeds and Seedlings Law strict on IP: December 2020:
A bill to amend Japan’s Seeds and Seedlings Law was passed by the Japanese Diet on December 2. The revised law, now dubbed the Seeds and Seedlings Protection law, as reported here by Japan Times, is expected to take effect in April, and will “allow plant breeders to designate areas where their varieties can be grown and export destinations when they register their species''. The bill which has been liberated by the Japanese legislative branch since earlier this year, was drafted as part of efforts to crack down on the “illicit outflow from the country of cultivars developed through plant breeding.” According to the above article and other  detailed reports in the Japanese media, including this report on Yahoo, and this one here as well as this one, unauthorized reproduction of such varieties outside of designated areas and/or in violation of licensing terms could carry hefty prison sentences and fines for violators. The amendment was proposed on the basis of widespread claims of illegal reproduction of Japanese fruits and vegetables in neighboring countries. Read more detailed break-down of the ammended law here.

 

AUGUST 2020

Scrutinizing seed coat evolution hypotheses through fossils and genomics

Professor Toshihiro Yamada of Osaka City University has been diligently seeking to shed more light on the evolutionary mechanisms behind the formation of protective seed coatings. According to this report, the professor has considered and scrutinized a number of prevailing hypotheses and theories on the subject, including the telome theory through the work of ate German botanist Dr. Walter M. Chimmelmann as well as other hypotheses related to spore and embryo formation (polysporangiophytes via Dr. Paul Kendrick). The Japanese professor has studied fossils and conducted experiments with relative genes (BEL1, WUS, CNA , PHB , PHV) and may have brought clearer, alternative understanding on the subject, as explained in detail in Japanese here

Invasive wildflower evades Fukushima plant protection eradication, boars blamed

Plant Protection authorities in Fukushima are struggling to eradicate the Cutleaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), which continues to spread and evade eradication efforts that have been carried out for the past decade. According to this article, the invasive wildflower, native to North America, was introduced as an ornamental plant during the Meija era (circa 1868 to 1912) but rapidly propagated beyond gardens and into the wild, posing a significant threat to many other native wildflower species. Though authorities had successfully destroyed traces of millions of the flowers last year, the species is said to continue to spread. It is hypothesized that thriving wild boar populations looking for earthworms have inadvertently dug up and exposed dormant seeds. 

Tracing the origins of the famed ‘Kanazawa Futoshi’ cucumber

An article recounts the story behind the “Kanazawa Futoshi” a popular large variety of cucumber from Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture. The development of the cucumber can be traced back to the early Showa period, when “Kanazawa Setsuna” cucumbers were grown at temple near Kuan. By the Autumn of 1936, a farmer named Toshio Yonebayashi was given seeds of the cucumber, which he distributed to neighboring farmers. Following the war (WW2), there was increased demand for agricultural products and food crops. An industrial workshop was set up in Kuan, and Yonebayashi focused on tomato cultivation and acquired germplasm of thick cucumber varieties from a seedling company in Kyoto. Read more in Japanese here

Seeds for survival

An article, which brings attention to the current process for amending Japan’s seed law, highlights the story of a 15-year-old fresh high-school graduate in February 2018 who started a business to sell and distribute seeds of traditional vegetables, which he collected from various parts of Japan and bred and preserved himself. 

Students to multiply seeds of endangered plants 

Students of the Department of Industrial Science at Iwata Agricultural High School in Shizuoka Prefecture were asked by the Governor to help increase stocks of seeds of various endangered plants The students will be provided with specimens of viable seeds that have been frozen and preserved at the "Fujinokuni Museum of Global Environmental History" and multiply them as part of their coursework. Story in Japanese here

 

JUNE AND JULY, 2020

Optimistic for seeds, seedling business recovery

According to this financial report in Japanese media, there is some optimism for a recovery of the seeds and seedlings business. The report notes that although there have been concerns about the impacts of Covid-19 situation on the domestic farming and international trade, the seed and seedling business in Japan is expected to recover, specifically with regard to the export of cabbage seeds and domestic sale of pumpkin seeds. 

Seed regulations enacted in 21 prefectures

It has been two years since Japan’s Main Crop Seed law was abolished. The law had established public responsibility for the supply of seeds for major crops such as rice, wheat, barley and soybeans, and thus opened the door for private sector production in these crops. Since the law was established, there has reportedly been a vacuum and thus shortage of seed supply in many areas, prompting the need to enact prefecture level regulations According to a recently published summary by the “Japan Seed Protecting Society,” such seed regulations were enacted in Hokkaido, Miyagi, Yamagata, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama, Niigata, Nagano, Toyama, Ishikawa. , Fukui, Aichi, Mie, Gifu, Hyogo, Tottori, Hiroshima, Miyazaki, Kumamoto and Kagoshima. Ordinances have already been enforced in 18 prefectures, but not yet Gunma, Mie and Hiroshima. In addition, the Iwate Prefectural Assembly adopted a petition requesting the establishment of ordinances submitted by the Iwate Food and Agriculture Net in March 2019. 

Tropical ‘ghost orchid’ found growing in temperate hills of west Tokyo

The ghost orchid (Epipogium roseum) known in Japanese as Tashiroran, and which can only be seen during the rainy season, is classified as a semi- endangered species by the Ministry of the Environment. According to this Japanese article it was surprisingly found growing in the hilly areas of western Tokyo. 

Osaka research: agrobacterial mutagenesis could accelerate gene-editing

Researchers from Osaka University  “infected potato with Agrobacterium tumefaciens harboring TALEN-expression vector targeting sterol side chain reductase 2 (SSR2) gene and regenerated shoots without selection. They obtained regenerated lines with disrupted-SSR2 gene and without transgene of the TALEN gene, revealing that their disruption should be caused by transient gene expression. The strategy using transient gene expression by Agrobacterium that we call Agrobacterial mutagenesis, developed here should accelerate the use of genome-editing technology to modify heterozygous plant genomes. The study is reported by ISAAA here, and original study here.

 

MAY 2020

Proposed Seed Bill amendment discussed in Diet but enactment postponed

On 20 May, Japan’s ruling party decided not to put the revised seed bill to a vote — either out of caution, owing to political opposition, or because of requests from civil groups for further deliberation. Seed groups have called for more public discussion before the Diet again considers it. On 19 May, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Taku Eto said of proposed amendment to the Seed and Seedling Law that the issue was “not yet decided,” adding, however: “Even if the Seed and Seedling Law is amended, nothing will change” in domestic markets. He said revision is necessary because “certain export commodities such as strawberries had leaked overseas owing to self-propagation” and that “registration of varieties cannot stop the outflow under the current legal system.”

Watermelon with micro-sized edible seeds

Following 16 years of breeding research and development, a new type of watermelon with a minimal number of micro-sized edible seeds has been launched by a Japanese company. According to publicity material (in Japanese), the watermelon now has been planted across Japan — with resulting national attention.

Sakata Launching New Vegetables and Flowers

Starting in June, Sakata Seeds will launch eight new seed products, including several vegetables and flowers. Vegetables include varieties of stem broccoli and kohlrabi. More details in Japanese here. Sakata is also taking orders for two new “dwarf” button flowers, as announced on its website here.

 

APRIL 2020

Proposed seed law amendments seek stronger breeder rights protection

A bill to amend Japan’s Seeds and Seedling Law was submitted to the Diet in April. According to an article in Japanese language, the proposed amendments, which had been approved by Cabinet in March, aim to establish measures to curb the outflow of certain varieties from Japan while providing more IP protection for breeders and innovators. Under the current law it is legal to export registered varieties once the PVP protection period has expired. And while it is already illegal to propagate or sell registered varieties without license, it is reportedly difficult for authorities to track or enforce this aspect, the article notes. Proposed amendments stipulate that owners of protected varieties (such as breeders or institutions) would be able to specify conditions such as the target destination country and cultivation area, with strict penalties imposed for violation of said conditions, including up to 10 years imprisonment and up to 10 million yen fine. Japan has two main categories of sowing seed: general varieties and registered varieties, whereas the general varieties include “conventional” varieties, varieties that have not been registered, and/or varieties whose registration validity period has expired. Another article notes a push by a ‘seed protection committee’ on April 9 for deliberation on the amendment to be postponed due to the coronavirus situation.  Another comprehensive report by Yahoo Japan here provides more background on the Seed and Seedling law, and details opposition based on the so called ‘farmers rights’ perspective. 

Nagano prefecture seed security regulation in force

Maninichi Japan news reports that new prefecture-level regulations concerning seeds of main crops and traditional vegetables are now in effect. As reported earlier this year, several prefectures started to draft and implement such regulations to clarify prefecture government roles and obligations in seed supply and thus address seed security concerns raised following the abolition in 2018 of the country’s Main Seed Crops law, which no longer obligated the government to ensure staple crop seed supply, and thus promote participation of the private sector in seed production of these crops. 

Sakata to launch new mizuna, pak choy varieties

Leading Japanese seed company, Sakata, has circulated details in local media about some of its upcoming planned leafy-green vegetable releases. These include a new early-maturing, fusarium-resistant, winter cultivar of mizuna (Brassica rapa var. nipposinica). More details in Japanese here. And a high-yielding, heat-resistant pak-choy cultivar, details here. Both are expected to be launched in Japan this coming June. 

Sakata to expand into lettuce market with acquisition of California company

Sakata Seed America, a subsidiary of Sakata Seeds has acquired “Vanguard Seed”, a lettuce seed company based in Salinas, California. The news, announced in both Japanese and English language media, affirms that Vanguard’s genetic resources and operations and personnel for breeding, seed production, sales and marketing will be integrated under the Sakata brand.

 

DECEMBER 2019 & JANUARY 2020

Rice farmers diversify into other crops in wake of staple seed law abolition 

Miyanichi Press reports on efforts to support rice farmers in the Miyazaki prefecture to diversify cultivation into high-value crops such as vegetables. The news, in Japanese language, cites reports of declining incomes for rice farmers said to linked to the recent abolition of Japan’s Main Crops Seed Law, which effectively ended tax-funded government subsidization for the production and supply of staple crop seeds such as rice, maize and soybean, and thus attempt to attract private-sector investment. 

Prefecture-level seed ordinances trending

Sankei News reports that there is an increasing trend of enacting prefecture-level “seed security” ordinances in response to impacts from the abolition of Japan’s Main Crops Seed Law in 2018. According to the article, in Japanese language, such ordinances, which establish regulations, guidelines and seed production subsidization mechanisms, have been enacted in Saitama, Niigata and Hyogo, while similar acts are soon expected to follow in Nagano (as reported in Asahi), Hokkaido, and in Okinawa according to another report by Ronza Web. It was previously reported that the national law was abolished in order to enable the private sector to have a role in seed production of staple crops. In the absence now of the conventional state-subsidized seed supply system, some farmer groups, however, are reportedly struggling to procure quality seeds at competitive prices, which has been reported in Japanese media as one possible reason for rising crop prices. 

New Japanese Vegetable Varieties publication out

Seibundo Shinkosha Co., Ltd. has released the 20th edition of its “New Vegetable Varieties” publication, which lists 183 newly registered vegetables varieties. The publication comes out approximately every three years since 1959. In addition to listing and detailing the new varieties, the publication also summarizes the changes in Japanese vegetable varieties over the past 60 years for each item. The publication, available in Japanese, can be procured via various online channels. Its ISBN is 978-4-416-61936-0

Native Japanese varieties book

In related news, “Japanese varieties are amazing: The story about delicious plants (Chuko Shinsho) features stories behind 268 varieties of staple Japanese fruits and vegetables: potato, pears, apples, radish, wasabi and soybeans.  

Native Seed Library in Okinawa lends out ‘seed books’

One Okinawan woman has modified her book shop and cafe in Nahu city to feature a “Seed Library”, where she lends out books of seeds of traditional crops, which borrowers can take for free on the condition that they multiply the seeds and return the added seeds to the collection.