At a research lab I recently visited, heads of lettuce were flourishing in a culture chamber.

A record of the exact times the lights were turned on and off was posted on the door.

At Toyota Boshoku Corp.’s lab in Kariya, Aichi Prefecture, an experiment is under way to grow vegetables according to the rhythm of the rise and fall of the tide.

Yuko Yamamoto, 38, and fellow researchers posited the theory that vegetables grow faster if exposed to light according to the moon’s phases, rather than to the solar rhythm.

The team has been growing turnips, “nazuna” (shepherd’s purse), bok choy and other vegetables. With lettuce, the harvest has increased by as much as 20 percent.

As a factor promoting growth, Yamamoto focused on the tidal force, which is affected by the moon’s gravitational force and Earth’s centrifugal force.

Experiments showed the magnitude of the influence of the tidal force on the growth of animals and plants.

With “suppon” Chinese softshell turtles and mice, the team is studying the effect of the tidal force by varying feeding cycles.

Come to think of it, there are many old Japanese farming tips that have to do with lunar phases and tidal cycles.

“Sow seeds around the time of a full moon” is one. Another goes, “Harvest when the moon is new.”

In the dyeing and weaving industry, a traditional rule of thumb is said to be that the right time to prepare indigo dye is when the moon is new.

Some people have reacted coolly to Toyota Boshoku’s undertaking, skeptical of the possibility that any commercially viable product will spring quickly from it.

If the question is whether it will bring any short-term profit to the company, the answer, unfortunately, appears to be “No.”

However, its potential benefits to food production are huge beyond estimation.

Looking at the lettuce with vigorously growing leaves, I felt like they had helped “recalibrate” my thinking, which tends to lean toward the power of the sun, to seeing the power of the moon in a new light.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 17

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.