Business / Corporate

Ishikawa firm’s styrofoam domes find favor with farmers seeking disaster-proof growing environment

by Nana Kunieda

Kyodo

For years, Katsuyuki Kitagawa dreamed of living in a comfortable home in the shape of a domed manju (dumpling), minus the bean paste.

For over a decade his firm, Japan Dome House Co., based in Kaga, Ishikawa Prefecture, has come about as close to that realization as possible with the construction of a domed house made of next-generation polystyrene foam with various applications.

The styrofoam, a denser variant of the packing material used for consumer products, is now being used for agricultural purposes and drawing attention because of its durability against earthquakes and thermal insulating properties that enable energy savings, replacing more conventional materials like concrete and wood.

“I’d like to change the way of farming,” Japan Dome House President Kitagawa, 72, said about the material, which is ideal for pesticide-free cultivation because it does not rust or rot and is not subject to termite infestation. The streamlined curvature of the dome offers resistance from wind.

A Farm Dome in Kaga measures 7.7 meters wide and 30 meters in length. Although the outside temperature might be below freezing, a temperature of about 22 degrees Celsius is maintained inside the structure, suitable conditions for growing succulent summertime vegetables, normally produced outdoors.

Kitagawa was born in Shanghai but grew up in a hot springs village in southern Ishikawa Prefecture. As a young man he operated a wholesale Japanese confectionery company but opened Aso Farmland, a health-themed recreational facility in the village of Minami-aso in Kumamoto Prefecture in 1995.

Hemispheric domed houses were developed as accommodation in 2004 when Kitagawa noticed that polystyrene, unlike other materials, does not rot. Such structures can be customized to everything from residences to educational facilities, or even karaoke bars. What’s more, an antioxidant has been kneaded into the building material and formaldehyde is not used in the construction process.

“I thought I’d be happy if I could scoop out the bean paste from a manju dumpling and live there,” Kitagawa said about one of the products he sold before establishing the modular home manufacturer.

The company began developing the domed houses for agricultural purposes in 2015. The stable structure of the dome, which can be assembled in several days, protects against wind and snow, and is highly earthquake resistant because there are no beams or rods holding it up. It uses about one-tenth the energy of a wooden structure, the company says.

More than 450 domed houses in Aso Farmland were spared damage when a major earthquake hit Kumamoto and its vicinity last April and the village was later used as an evacuation site for nearly 700 people.

Not only has the company been expanding domestically, but it has been receiving a string of orders from overseas, including the Middle East and other areas with harsh climates, including Antarctica.

Kitagawa, whose parents died of illness during his childhood, says no one should have to go hungry. Farm Dome, he believes, is the first step to achieving the goal.

“I want people around the world to be healthy and not go hungry. This is farming that will not be influenced by the weather or disasters,” he said.