【April 2018 No.397】Feeling the Breath of God through Biotechnology

by Ueno Keiichiro, head of Research Planning

Kagoshima Prefectural Institute for Agricultural Development

Member, Kagoshima Kajiyacho Church, Kyushu District

 My parents met each other through the mukyokai (non-church) movement’s nationwide aino (meaning “love agriculture”) agricultural activities.  So I grew up watching my father engaged in farming, with him sometimes being in tears while at other times singing hymns. Also, my hometown of Fukuoka in Kyushu was rich in natural beauty, and I was fascinated by the beautiful world that God had made, so I chose to study science. My goal was to go to a university in Hokkaido, but the school I was able to get into was down south, in Kagoshima, where I studied agriculture for six years. During that time, I met my wife at an event that was attended by young people from several churches, and then we got married. I put down roots as an agricultural researcher of Kagoshima Prefecture, and I have been here in Kagoshima ever since.

 Because I am the eldest son in my family, even after I got married and got a job, I thought about returning to Fukuoka. However, I kept in mind the words of my parents. “What you can save by returning to your hometown is only our household, just one farming family. You must do work in Kagoshima, as that will bring joy to many farming families.”

 That is how I became engaged in my job as a researcher. For many years, I have been working on using biotechnology to produce improved varieties of chrysanthemums, sweet potatoes, and other types of produce. I think there are many people who, when they hear the word “biotechnology,” feel that it is against the laws of nature, or that it infringes on God’s domain. However, biotechnology is something that draws out the power that living things originally possess. Whenever we encounter some new knowledge or discovery, we can become more skillful in realizing the depth and splendor of God’s creation. And we can feel the breath of God.

 To give a concrete example, from autumn until spring, one can see white ring chrysanthemums at flower shops and funeral homes all over Japan. Those chrysanthemums are mostly a variety called jinme, (literally “sacred horse.”) They are pure white and beautiful, but it is necessary to remove the side sprouts one by one by hand, which is a very time-consuming task. So I began my research by producing thousands of chrysanthemums from the leaves of jinme chrysanthemums and then choosing only the best of those. Among the types I chose, two varieties had few side sprouts, making the task of removing them much easier. Then I started to have a little fun with the words. I said, “Now we have a new jinme.” I took the word “now,” which is ima in Japanese, and the jin of jinme, and put them together to make imajin (which is how the English word “imagine” is transliterated into Japanese). Then I took the word “new,” which is ara in Japanese, and the jin of jinme, and put them together to make arajin (which is how “Aladdin” is transliterated). I called the two new varieties “Imagine” and “Aladdin.” The flower of Aladdin is big, and this new type of jinme is now being produced all over the country, as if it really did come out of a magic lamp!

 Ten years ago, I relocated to Tanegashima Island. At that time, though it was the beginning of the sweet potato boom, the quality and yield size were unstable. Through repeated research, we developed a way to stabilize the yield and provide a steady flow of healthy, excellent seedlings to farming families. Now, moist Anno sweet potatoes are lined up in stores all over Japan. I am so happy that people appreciate the delicious flavor of the authentic Anno sweet potatoes produced in Tanegashima.

 This kind of achievement is greatly influenced by the presence of the members who worked together with us. It is not just about research and technology. When many people—including municipalities, agricultural cooperatives, and producers—combine their efforts, they can create something new. In the same way, my life was greatly influenced by getting to know my research companions. Thirty years ago I made some friends from all over the country when I went to Tsukuba for training to learn biotechnology, and this experience resulted in me going to America 20 years ago to study for one year. It was my first time to live overseas in an unfamiliar place, and I was so anxious. However, when I found out that it was the same city as Amherst College, where William Smith Clark had served as president, and where Uchimura Kanzo and Niijima Jo (also known as Joseph Hardy Neeshima) had studied as international students, it impacted me greatly. I felt that God was telling me this about my life: “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” (John 15:16) I realized that God’s plan, though it may start out as just a point, the point becomes a line, the line becomes a plane, the plane becomes a solid, and God’s plan transcends the dimensions and comes close to us. God said to Abraham, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” As for me, I left my household in Fukuoka, and now I can finally accept that these words are also about myself.

 The church I belong to, Kagoshima Kajiyacho Church, operates a kindergarten called Keiai Yochien on the same property. My wife was a teacher there, so I also got involved in the events at both the church and the kindergarten. Again this year (2017), I am on the committee in charge of the Christmas events. The candlelight service, complete with the sound of the pipe organ playing hymns, has been held on Dec. 24 in the evening, every year. This event has a 40-year history. Including visitors, more than 250 people attend this event, which is more than three times as many as attend our normal worship service. The sanctuary is overflowing with God’s blessings! Christmas is a time to wait expectantly for the Lord of reconciliation, blessing, and peace. This year’s theme is “Joyful News From Heaven.” We want to prepare to spread the joyful news to as many people as possible! (Tr. KT)

—From Shinto no Tomo (Believers’ Friend), December 2017 issue

 

バイオテクノロジーに神の吐息を感じる

上野敬一郎(うえのけいいちろう)
鹿児島県農業開発総合センター研究企画課長鹿児島加治屋町教会員

 両親が無教会主義の全国愛農運動で出会ったこともあり、賛美歌を歌いつつ、涙しつつ農業を営む父の姿を見て育ちました。また、故郷の福岡は自然豊かな環境で、神の創られた美しい世界に魅せられ、理系を選択しました。目標の大学は北海道でしたが、進学できたのは南の鹿児島で、ここで6年間農学を学びました。その間、複数の教会の青年が集う会で妻と出会って結婚し、そのまま、鹿児島県の農業関係研究員として根を下ろして、現在に至っています。

 私は長男ですから、結婚と就職の後も、福岡へ帰ることを考えました。しかし、「帰郷して救えるのは、わが家、一農家にすぎない。鹿児島でたくさんの農家に喜んでもらえる仕事をしなさい」という両親の言葉に思い留まりました。

 そのようにして携わった研究員としての仕事で、バイオテクノロジーを活用した作物の改良を長年手がけ、菊やサツマイモの品種改良に関わってきました。「バイオテクノロジー」と聞くと、自然の摂理に反するとか、神の領域を侵害すると感じる方も多いと思います。でも、これは生物が本来持っている力を引き出すものであり、新たな知識や発見に出会うたびに、神の創造の奥深さとすばらしさを堪能できます。そして、神さまの吐息を感じるのです。

 具体例を示すと、秋から春に全国の花屋さんや葬儀場で見かける白輪ギクは、ほとんど「神馬」という品種です。純白で美しいですが、手でひとつずつ、わき芽を摘みとる大変な作業が必要です。そのため、「神馬」の葉から数千のキクを再生し、良いものを選び出す研究を始めました。選んだ中には、わき芽が少なく作業が楽になる品種が2つありました。そこで、「今」時の「新」しい「神馬」はこれだ!と少し遊び心をもって、新品種に「今神」(Imagine)と「新神」(Aladdin)という名を付けました。「新神」は花も大きく、まさに魔法のランプから出てきた「新しい神馬」として、今でも全国で生産されています。

 10年前には種子島へ異動になりました。ちょうどいもブームが始まった時期でしたが、当時は品質や収量が不安定でした。そこで研究を重ね、収量が安定した無病の優良苗を農家に供給する流れを作りました。今では全国の店頭にしっとり甘い安納いもが並びます。本場・種子島産安納いものおいしさが理解され、うれしく思っています。

 このような成果は、一緒に取り組んだメンバーの存在が大きく影響します。研究や技術面だけでなく、市町村や農協、生産者など、たくさんの方々の力を結集して、新たなものを生み出すことができるのです。

 研究者仲間との出会いも同様に、人生に大きな影響を与えます。30年前、バイオ技術の習得に行った筑波での研修で全国に仲間ができ、20年前の1年間の米国留学につながりました。見知らぬ地で初めての海外生活、不安でいっぱいでした。しかし、その場所こそ、クラーク博士が学長を務めた大学、内村鑑三や新島襄が留学したアーマスト大学のある街だと知ったときは、大きな衝撃を受けました。私の人生にも「あなたがたがわたしを選んだのではない。わたしがあなたがたを選んだ」(ヨハネ15・16)と神が語りかけてくださっていると感じました。神さまのご計画は、点から線へ、線から面、そして立体へと、次元を越えて迫って来るのだと実感しています。

 神さまは、「あなたは生まれ故郷、父の家を離れて私が示す地に行きなさい」とアブラハムに語られました。福岡の家を離れた私ですが、今、ようやくこれを自分のこととして受け入れることができます。

 私が所属する鹿児島加治屋町教会は、併設する敬愛幼稚園と共に歩んでいます。敬愛幼稚園の先生をしていた妻とともに、私も教会や幼稚園の行事に関わってきました。今年も、委員として担当するクリスマスが近づいています。12月24日夜のパイプオルガンと賛美歌が響くキャンドルサービスは、40年ほどの歴史があります。一般の方も含め、当日は普段の礼拝の3倍以上、250名を超える人々が集い、礼拝堂が恵みに満ちあふれます。和解と祝福、平和の主を待ち望むクリスマス、今年のテーマ「天のかなたから、うれしい知らせ」を、ひとりでも多くの方々に伝えられるよう、準備を進めていきたいと思います。 (信徒の友2017年12月号より)

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