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Blockchain: protector of cryptocurrencies ... and eggplant

The ledgers are safeguarding the tracking of veggies, drivers, home keys

Sivira's system allows shoppers to use their smartphones to view the path that, say a package of Brussels sprouts, might go through on its way to a Tokyo supermarket.

TOKYO -- The blockchain is said to be bitcoin's big technological innovation. Think of it as a public, digital, ever-growing ledger that tracks all transactions made with the cryptocurrency and, essentially, vouches for the currency. Now the innovation is being adopted by Japanese agriculture and other sectors.

Osaka-based venture Sivira has established a system in which multiple computers can share and record information regarding vegetables produced in Aya, in the southwestern prefecture of Miyazaki. The records are blockchained together against modification, thereby ensuring that consumers get accurate data on the produce they buy.

For instance, when a shopper buys a package of eggplant, often used in Asian curries, he or she would be able to look at a long set of data, including the farmer's name, kinds of fertilizers used, planting time as well as the date and time of day the vegetables were delivered to a neighborhood store.

Consumers can access these chronological ledgers by using their smartphones to scan QR codes on packaging.

Currently, some vegetable packaging includes pictures of farmers to enhance the appearance of transparency.

There are also production databases available to consumers. But conventional data management systems can be hacked and their data fabricated.

Hiro Shinohara, Sivira's chief operating officer, says his company's system can improve food safety.

Vegetables from farmers who use Sivira's technology are sold at small produce stores in Tokyo.

Meanwhile, a Tokyo-based developer Caica wants to use blockchain technologies to assist in the home-hunting process -- from digitizing the apartment key to concluding the rental agreement.

Once a home-seeker fills in the necessary documents, they will be assigned a digital key, with which they can go see a potential home on their own. Caica can monitor who enters the houses and at what time. By not having to borrow the physical keys to each apartment or having a real estate agent accompany each visit, the speed and cost of home-hunting could significantly improve. 

Back in Osaka, information system developer Smartvalue is offering a blockchain platform that can be easily applied to existing data sets.

The company is currently conducting a trial in Chiba Prefecture, near Tokyo, using devices in rental cars that collect and analyze data like driving speeds and how often the brakes are applied.

The aim is to develop auto insurance policies with premiums that are based on data generated by a holder's personal driving habits.

While blockchain is said to reduce costs in the long run, businesses that create whole new systems from scratch just so to adopt the technology might find themselves overspending and defeating the technology's purpose.

Corporate executives will find blockchain useful if the technology organically fits their existing operations.

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