Seeds from quake-hit Japan areas to travel to space in bid to revitalize region upon return

On the approach of the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, a project is underway to launch seeds of crops and plants associated with disaster-hit areas to the International Space Station in a bid to use the returned seeds to revitalize the region and pass on memories of the disaster.

The project, the Tohoku Reconstruction Space Mission 2021 promoted by The One Earth Foundation, a general incorporated group in Ibaraki Prefecture, is headed by Yoichi Hasegawa, 58, a former employee of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The seeds will be launched from the United States in May and are scheduled to return in July. Those involved are hoping that through the project, "reconstruction will progress further."

Fifty-one local governments, mainly from the three disaster-stricken prefectures of Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima, participated in the mission. The selected items included rhubarb seeds from the Miyagi Prefecture town of Shichigahama, and acorns sown in the city of Fukushima by Wangari Maathai, the late Nobel Peace Prize winner and former deputy environment minister of Kenya. From Iwate Prefecture, items that are not plant seeds were also selected, such as shiitake mushrooms from the town of Hirono and amber, a specialty of Kuji.

Another part of the mission, a video including a message from the disaster-stricken area read out by astronaut Soichi Noguchi and the display on the space station of a 7-meter-long banner with photos of the affected areas -- which was launched from the U.S. in February and will return in July -- will be made public on March 11.

In February, a ceremony was held at Shiogama City Hall to send seeds of Chinese cabbage produced on the Urato Islands of Matsushima Bay. The islands are famous for producing traditional Sendai Chinese cabbage, and are said to be the birthplace of domestic Chinese cabbage. The seeds returned from space will be named "Urato space Chinese cabbage," which are planned to be distributed to other areas in the hopes of improving interaction between regions.

Shiogama Mayor Koki Sato mentioned in her opening remarks, "I hope that the Urato space Chinese cabbage will take root and bloom with bright yellow flowers in the spring."

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