Feel free to read earlier posts! :-)
Time to post an update before I forget what I got up to this month. Seemed like an awfully busy one.
Most of the jobs this month were finishing up things that I'd left half done. I've added three strands of wire to the fence all around to act as extra deer deterrence. Built 3 gates and hung 4 (John's gate was waiting for hinges). Planted about a dozen new fruit trees, some replacing those that got deered last winter (kaki, apple, nashi), others just adding to the variety (Paw Paw, Feijoa, Wolfberry, Almond, Peach, Cranberry and others). I also moved some of our surviving rootstock out into the woods where I'm looking forward to seeing it develop (if it survives out there, deer and all). The orchards got a major tidy up and I sowed heaps of hairy vetch and clover in the areas Kazumi will be building the understory next spring.
I consolidated two of the three compost piles so as to increase the volume and hopefully the temperature within, thereby speed up the decomposing and killing any seed that's made it this far. If it goes right, I'll have about a ton of wicked compost next spring. What was the third compost heap is now full of autumn leaves and when that's done (maybe next winter) there'll be another half ton of tip-top, seed free compost ready for spreading.
I've cut up a bunch of tree trunks that I'd left lying around the place, so we now have benches placed in strategic locations. It'll be great to just veg out with a book on them in the spring... Ha! Who am I kidding? Time to read? Pah!
I started the month in need of a break from the yurt. I'd spent all summer in there and was starting to make silly little mistakes, so I decided to turn my attentions elsewhere for a bit before I made any big ones.
I've been scrounging glass for the shed windows and "the green-house-to-be " all year and had enough to complete the shed so got down to doing that. Needless to say I didn't finish the job, (hey who do you think I am?) but I got all the sills and surrounds -John will probably teach me the real names later- done and rather spiffy they look too.
I would have got the windows themselves in, but suddenly got an email from a WWOOFer. "A WWOOFer?" I hear you ask. Yes. A WillingWorkerOnOrganicFarms-er. Basically, WWOOFers are folk looking to exchange their labour for accommodation and food. They do this to either learn more about organic farming or just to prolong their trip. The WWOOFer who wrote to me had been involved in a number of Permaculture projects in Europe, but was about to arrive in Japan and had read about us. "Maybe I could stay for a few weeks and help you out..." or words to that effect. Never one to look a gift-horse in the mouth, I wrote back explaining the lack of creature comforts, the heavy nature of the work I had in mind and not to expect a garden of eden as what we were still doing was basically re-building the soil.
She surprised me with her response: "Fine. I'll be there on the 14th."
Click here to read on...
I've been basically focusing on the yurt interior which, as you probably know, is taking a darned sight longer than putting up the yurt itself did. Very few pieces of wood are the same dimensions, lots of them have to go together to make curved surfaces and unlike the deck, most of the pieces fit together by way of a joint rather than with galvanized hardware and bolts. Also, there are less places where I can say "Fuck it. That'll do...". Pretty much every piece is a finishing piece and making it not just functional but also looking crisp and proper chews through time no end.
(more pics here)
The main changes since last time I wrote are:
- The loft/ceiling is up and solid. Now we have somewhere for stuff that we don't want to look at every day.
- Emma's room, our room, the bathroom and the kitchen are pretty much done. Most of the t&g paneling is on, and looking great if I say so myself. Electrical outlets are in place, and the wiring is all ready to be pulled through the walls (yes, I've left off the odd piece of wall paneling so that I can do this easily, and yes, all the holes in the stud work that it'll pass through are drilled and sanded smooth).
- The kitchen and bathroom fittings are all in place and no floor joists are in the way of the drainpipes. The hot and cold water pipes are in the walls and seem to be water tight... fingers crossed! The gas piping just needs connecting at both ends (bottle and cooker).
- Overhead kitchen cabinets are together and awaiting paint and the fitting of some old window frames that we are going to use as doors.
Still to do are interior doors; genkan; book shelves; our desks; the 'L' of the kitchen; doors for the under-counter kitchen cabinets and Emma's bed/desk combination. Then I have to plug the electrics together and connect the solar PVs etc. I also have to dig two filtration tanks near our water supply and run a pipe from them down to the yurt. Why didn't I do this earlier? Basically because it's too bloody hot to be out digging two 1500 litre tanks and a 50m 50x50cm trench. "Get a digger in!" do I hear you say? Nah. I can do it myself if only it were cooler. I'll wait.
Our friends Iain and Tomoko, having found their land at long last, came to pick up the last of their stuff from the shed a couple of weeks ago. While they were here we press-ganged them into giving us a hand to re-distribute the canvas yurt wall so that it was more evenly tensioned all around. Now it looks much better, and should be better in the case of a big blow (Typhoon season just around the corner). It wasn't that it was a heavy job but it needed lots of hands. Big thanks to you, guys!
So, slow but steady progress here. Of course I've had no time at all for the veg beds, much to I&T's disgust (sorry guys, only got two hands!), but despite that K and I have done some re-thinking regarding the layout and will be making major changes this winter. Should be much easier to handle... more on that when it happens.
That about wraps it up for this post. I hope to find time to get a September report out, but it may well turn into a Sept/Oct report after all. Again, we'll see.
The deer have been back again and made short work of our proudest plum and had a good go at one of our apricot trees.
I suppose the lesson from this is that a fence is only as good as its weakest point, and the weak point would be the lack of gates, I suppose.
I've spent the last few months (between other jobs) digging holes for and erecting 172, 3m fence posts around the perimeter of Guibi. I then stretched wire mesh between them, as one does.
Trouble is that I haven't got all the gates made and hung yet. We also intend to run an electric wire or three above the fencing, just to get the point across! In the mean time, the deer are still able to get at our trees. So, this brings me back to sausages. Anyone out there with a gun who feels like going halves on a deer's worth of sausages?
The end of December saw the shed getting it's last few planks of siding fixed on, and a lovely new pot-belly stove replacing the one we'd borrowed from Iain and Tomoko. We took the chimney out through the northern wall instead of going through the western window, and it's made the shed feel so much more spacious. Not to mention warm.
As hinted at in that last post, we ended the year with the digger. Sankyo lease, our local tool hire place, has this cool system where they don't charge for days on which the company is closed. So, if you rent something on Saturday morning and get it back to them first thing Monday, they only charge for a day. Cool eh! We timed the digger rental for the new year holidays, meaning that while we had the digger for 6 days, we only had to pay for one! How's that for lateral thinking! We had to pay for drop off and pick up, but it still saved us a packet. We also rented a chipper which ended up costing nothing as I had to fix it before it would work properly, and they felt bad about it. "So", you may ask, "what were you doing that needed a digger and a chipper?"
The first job was to dig a pond.
We kind of like the idea of having water flowing across the land, and want to keep ducks at some point, so a small pond on the top terrace which will over-flow down onto the lower terrace seemed like a good idea. Another reason was that we wanted to fill and level what used to be a pond on the third terrace, down at the bottom of our land. We used the digger to dig the pond and fill the Kei truck . The poor old truck worked it's metaphorical arse off, hauling dozens of loads of earth down the track to the old pond. We ended up filling an area of around 150 sqm with an average depth of 80~90cm. You do the math. I reckon each load was close to half a ton, and oh, did I mention the snow? 50cm deep at it's worst point. The whole new-year period we had basically 2 days of snow, followed by two days of freeze and one day of melt... over and over again. The site looked like a scene from Flanders during World War One. Mud everywhere. Actually, once we were done with the digger and the snow finally cleared, I felt guilty as hell looking at what we'd done. What a mess! Still, all cleaned up now.
As well as the ponds, we wanted to make a turning space in front of the shed.
We ended up moving another 50 sqm or so of earth down the slope so as to make a new, flat vege patch. Of course, we needed to build a retaining wall to stop it heading further down hill than we wanted it to, and so we decided to make use of the free timber mill off cuts that I'd picked up before the snow to do just that. In the meantime, we just moved the earth and hoped we'd get enough dry weather to build the walls later (which we did, and you can read about below).
We had planed to grade the road around the site, but ran out of time and the weather wasn't co-operating so decided to scrap that for this year. We'll just have to fill some of the ruts with hardcore and see how that lasts.
Once I'd fixed it, we used the chipper to chew up all the wood we'd cleared from the old pond and spread the chips where we wanted paths up on the top terrace. Luckily we had a 'melt day' which allowed us to see the path lines which were previously (and later) under snow.
So, that was how we spent our new year. cold, muddy and physically knackered. I should say at this point, how impressed and thankful I am to Kazumi. Hardly a word of complaint, and an honestly fair day's work the whole period. Hat's off to ya Kazumi. I couldn't have done it without you!
The winter weather set in for good right after we'd handed back the digger, so in a way, our timing was perfect. Most of January was taken up with moving out of our house in Hyogo, and into a small apartment we've taken on temporarily down here in Mimasaka. Kazumi has quit her job to join me full time on the land, and the Hyogo house was no longer needed. We moved what was left of our stuff after we'd sold or given away a bunch of it, in a rented truck at the end of Jan, and as Kazumi had stuffed her wrist, it was down to me to load and unload all the boxes and furniture. Don't want to even guess at the number of times I climbed the stairs to our new apartment. Helped me get rid of at least one spare tyre around my waist, though
Early February saw the snows melt away at last, and we could get back onto the land without freezing or picking up a ton of mud on our boots. As I mentioned earlier, we had a retaining wall to build, and so that's what we did next. Made a lovely job of it too, I reckon. We mixed in a truck load of well composted cow shit/woodchip bedding with the soil, and it looks like it'll end up being a prime growing patch.
Oh, I forgot to mention that the day the digger arrived, our neighbour turned up with a story about how they owned a slice of our land... Riiight, show us the documents... What? No documents? Riiight.... Here's a map from the city defining our borders for taxation purposes... let's go and pace it out, shall we? Of course, she wouldn't accept that, so we ended up telling her to take us to court if she felt like it, but in the meantime, kindly step out of the way so I can get the digger in. Thank you very much! Long and the short of it, we no longer have a friendly neighbour and have decided to put up our deer and wild boar proof fence earlier than we had intended.
Before doing that though, we decided to pace out and mark our lower terrace vege beds and paths. What fun that was! And how much easier it is to envision the place as it'll hopefully look in the not so distant future. I dug out some old plans, re-thought and re-drew them and armed with a compass, dozens of pegs and a huge ball of string we proceeded to mark it out. We don't really want to turn over the soil down on that lower terrace, as it's lovely and soft as it is. Trouble is the weed seed bank buried down there. We've decided to take our time and do the job properly, sheet mulching out all the weeds this year and building up the soil little by little over the years
Which brings us to the middle of February. Now, as you might recollect, we built the shed using timber from the local home centers. Which was ok, except that we were limited to using the sizes they stock and were paying over the top for the timber itself. Our fence, to be truly deer and boar proof, needs some pretty hefty posts. The best we could find in the home centers are 40 or 50mm diameter and no longer than 2m. Not really man enough for the job. We finally got off our arses and tracked down a proper source for wood. We stumbled upon a small wood yard near to our new apartment, and popped in to ask about fence posts. What a goldmine of useful information they've been. And friendly? Hell, we've been showered with hospitality down at the Marudai lumber yard. The boss, one Oishi san, sits at the center of a constant flow of coming and going, with carpenters, plasterers, glaziers, hunters, and other local retirees dropping in for a chat over a cup of ocha and a smoke. seriously, it never stops and we've been welcomed into their world with open arms! We asked about posts for deer fencing and got a seriously competitive quote for exactly the dimensions we wanted. 3m long, 6" diameter posts. Oishi san took us out to a free range chicken farm which is using the same type of posts, and sure enough, they were exactly what we'd been looking for.
200 3m posts are not the sort of thing to be found quickly, however, and we were told that they'd take about 10 days to gather. No problem, we thought, we can get on and dig the post holes. Two days later, we got a phone call, and were surprised to hear that they'd struck lucky and located the posts. One wee snag, they were all of Hinoki. Now, if you've been here for a while, you'll know that Hinoki is the king of woods out here, beaten only by Keyaki, but almost as pricey. Thing was, they were happy to let us have them at the same price as we'd been quoted for the regular Matsu (Pine). We couldn't believe our luck, and told him to go ahead and get them delivered.
I had to go into Osaka for work the next day, and Kazumi got a call saying that they couldn't find our land so had delivered them to the Marudai yard which we were welcome to use as a place to de-bark and charcoal the ends so as to make bug and rot proof(ish), if we wanted... keeps on getting better and better, this yarn, doesn't it! Bingo! So, for the last few days we've been de-barking the posts, the majority of which are very conservatively labled as 6" and often bigger... at their base of course. A word of warning. 200 posts take a lot of time to de-bark!
Of couse, having two weirdos working out the back of his yard just adds to the entertainment value from the point of view of their stream of visitors, and we're constantly having to down tools for yet another introduction. Each visitor has something seriously interesting to to say though, and a result of this, we've now got a freezer full of venison, finished off about 3kg of boar meat and been fed and beerd every day since we started. Our project has sparked the interest of a number of folk, and advice and good ideas are coming in fast and furious. Surprisingly, no-one has laughed at our ideas (yet) and these are country folk, not used to mincing their words bear in mind. The builders love the idea of a yurt, and a cord wood house, the farmers nod approvingly when we mention oil based fertilizer, pesticide/herbicide free farming methods, and when people hear that we don't have or want power or mains water brought onto the land, they nod sagely, and start talking about how things used to be...
Anyway, more posts to skin tomorrow, so I'm going to finish this post there. I'll add some pics over the next few days so keep an eye out.
Due to public demand, It's time for another update.
As you can see, winter has arrived. We had our first frost at the end of Nov, and the cold has brought about an increase in activity here in Okayama, both to keep warm by moving during the day, and to keep warm once the moving has stopped at the end of it.
The 'un-shed' has come on leaps and bounds. After cladding the walls with 'Yaki Sugi' boards, it was brought to my attention that a single skin of boards was going to be pretty drafty. Indeed, it was. So, after extending the floor out to the second bay (as reported earlier) off came all the cladding, and up went a skin of plywood...
This pic was taken mid November, and you can see that the roof is still just felted at this stage. Please note the lovely fascia board which is now in place!
Having got the plywood up, it all of a sudden felt a darn sight warmer in there, and, dare I say it, quite homely to boot! Some transparent bin-liners stapled over the window spaces, and yes, we had succeeded in cutting out almost all the drafts!
In fact, it felt so snug in there that I even started to think about other stuff, like vegetable beds and the area where we're going to site our real house some years down the line. In fact, in a couple of days of recklessly not-getting-on with-un-shed-building, we dug the first vegetable bed and on another day I went and cleared all the brush and scraggly trees that were going to be in the way down the bottom.
Here we have the first vege bed complete with cabbage, onions, spinach and strawberries... should make for some interesting salads, hmm?
Anyway, I was brought back to reality and resumed shed building activities with the return of Iain and Tomoko, which coincided with the early morning discovery of ice in my kettle and frost outside. Time to get back to work.
I decided that seeing as Iain was around, it was time to get the tin roof on, so we did. I opted for 0.3mm painted corrugated iron roofing as it was cheap and thicker than all the other varieties available locally. We fixed 9 sheets across and 4 rows of 7 '尺-shaku' sheets and one row of 8 'shaku' sheets to cover the roof. Much to Iain's disdain, I gave in and used synthetic caulking in various places, just to be as sure as I could that we had a water-tight roof. Now it's dry under there, but the quality of the water that comes of the roof is debatable. Good enough for washing clothes though, I'm sure, and if I pass the rainwater through some sort of filtration beforehand, I'm sure it'll be ok for irrigation purposes... Just as an aside, with rainfall of a mere 1mm in an hour, we stand to get almost 50 litres of water off the roof. Seeing that rain rarely falls so lightly (average local rainfall figures here) and with a monthly average of approximately 121mm, I should be getting well over 5,500 litres of water a month off that roof! Where to put it all?! Something tells me it's not all going to fit in here!
Meet 'Ern', btw. A monstrous great earthenware bottle that we found in a recycle shop that was closing down. Had to be had!
Anyway, with the roof in place, while the shed was dry, it soon became apparent that it wasn't all that warm after all. Iain to the rescue once again! "While we're off searching for our plot, why don't you use our woodburner?" Blimey! What a dude! So, we figured out a place to put it, and in she went!
Man, you have no idea (or maybe you do) just how big a difference the stove can make. No more frozen kettles in the morning, just put a monster log on before turning in, shut down the air flow to a minimum, and the thing's still warm come first light. Excellent things!
Trouble is, the stove used up one of the three vertical windows that I like so much, so I've now moved it to exit through the wall to the right (North) of the stove in the picture above. Now I have my three windows and the luxurious heat of a roaring woodburner!
What else have we done..? Well, Kazumi, being a sensitive wee lass, found that the only significant draft was coming from the entrance area where the hole in the floor was awaiting a gravel and brick sunken 'genkan'. She undertook it as her job to build, and has done a really nice job of it with no end of scrabbling around under the floor shoveling stone and dirt in as the base for the bricks. It looks really cool, and I'm sorry to say that you'll have to wait for a pic (keep an eye on the photo gallery, btw. I often upload pics there even if I can't find the time to write here in the blog).
Other stuff?, yes, there's more. We've put a vapor barrier on top of the plywood, battened it in preparation for the 'Yaki Sugi' boards mentioned earlier, made a solid start on planking the exterior (rain stopped play today and yesterday, hence the blog update), dug a couple more vege beds, planted some more trees (Acacia, Yama Boushi and Bay Laurel）, logged a windfall Sugi and built a temporary wood pile. All in all, a pretty productive six weeks since I last wrote here.
Sorry about the slow rate of my posts here. As you can probably imagine, I don't spend much time in front of the computer anymore. I'll probably get the next post up in the new-year, and just as a teaser, I'll leave you with a visual hint of what you can expect to read about then... bye for now.
Well, after getting the shed framing up and (relatively) plum, the flooring and roofing went on. And then the comments started flowing in... "You should live here!", "This is too nice to be a mere shed...", "Look at all this space... are you really going to use two thirds of it to park cars under?", "Imagine some nice lighting under those beam braces...", "You could turn that bay into a bedroom for guests.".
Ok! I give up! I'll build a shed somewhere else and this will be a living/relaxing/temporary accommodation space. Alright? Satisfied? Jeez...
So, I've now floored the center bay, and will be removing the cladding on what was the northern wall of the Southern most bay (ex-Shed!!) so that we have one big room and people can come and look at it and say "When are you going to floor the third bay?".
Actually, I've spent so much time on this 'shed' that I fear I've left getting the deck up for the yurt too late, to be honest. Bummer, but maybe I'll move the yurt parts (somehow, it all weighs a ton) into the third bay until spring. Ho-hum.
In other news, our slightly skewed solar array (too much beer and wine the night of 10/10 methinks) is now standing straight and level and is aligned properly. That should improve its efficiency markedly!
The trees we planted are doing reasonably well, only the Walnuts are giving me cause for concern, but maybe it's just that the weather has turned quite wintry this last week or so. We'll see how they look in the spring. Talking of trees, all my research on the web turned up two opposing schools of thought on whether one should fertilize the soil when planting. Some say that the sapling needs a boost of compost mixed in with the back-fill, and others say that doing that leads to a weaker tree that is reliant on more human care than otherwise might be the case. I opted not to add anything to the back-fill, as less maintenance is a good thing, and I figure on losing up to 25% of the trees anyway. Better the weaklings give way to the vigorous ones, in my opinion.
We've also added another half dozen trees to those we planted on 10/10. This time filling the citrus 'gap'. We planted a lemon, a lime, two varieties of orange and two of mikan. Now, wherever you stand in the 'forest', you'll find a citrus, a nut, a pear or apple and a soft fruit evenly spaced around you. Darn, I'm looking forward to doing that 10 years from now. We also scored some cranberries and some more varieties of blackberry, so they've gone in too. Finally, our local garden center had neem trees in stock the other day. We snapped up 3 of them and planted them on the bank behind the toilet/shower block. They're supposed to deter cockroaches and mosquitoes and be generally handy trees to have around. Wouldn't that be nice! Trouble is that they're usually found in subtropical regions of the world, and don't do so well when temps drop below 4C... we'll see how they fare. Actually, as they grow pretty big (15~20m is not uncommon), if only one survives, that'd be cool enough.
Kazumi and I have been blessed with the presence of Iain and Tomoko for the last three weeks. An absolutely enchanting couple, Iain has been keeping me going and focused on getting the shed done, while Tomoko has been reminding us that despite the primitive conditions we're human and that there's no need to slum it. At the same time making sure that we're well fed and watered. Happily the four of us have found each-other very easy to get on with and, dare I say, I feel like a life long friendship has been founded. All power to the both of you!
The shed has come together great guns, and all that remains is the roofing and cladding. The frame is up and rock solid... and considering our amateur status, pretty much all aligned and square. There have been a number of 'plan Bs' during construction, and even some 'plan Cs', but we work on the old Islamic tradition that it would be arrogant in the extreme to create something that didn't have any mistakes in it.
Iain and Tomoko are now off on their 3 week trip down to Shikoku's Shimanto gawa region to see if the land down there tickles their fancy or not. We expect to see them again at the beginning of October.
In the meantime, Kazumi and I have to get the Yurt ready for putting up.
The Yurt arrived last week (on the 7th) and was processed and ready for collection on the 9th. Paul & I jumped the gun a bit and turned up on the 8th with a bloody great truck and all our papers at hand, but the Yurt itself was not ready for us yet. Unfortunately Paul wasn't available the next day, so that left Kazumi and I to load all 1,350kg of the thing onto the truck on Thursday. No mean feat! Luckily one of the longshoremen took pity on us and lent a hand with his fork-lift. I really don't know how we'd have managed without him. Many thanks to you, sir, whoever you were!
We got back to Okayama after all the messing about with customs and what-not at about 5:30pm with an hour of daylight and two and a half hours left till the truck had to go back... cutting it fine as usual! Iain was at the land waiting for us, and admitted to having been on the verge of going into town to call us as we'd been expected back on the previous evening. Cell phones don't work on our plot, not that he has one anyway.
We got the truck unloaded in double time, and rushed back to the rental company as fast as we could go. Five minutes over our deadline, but they let us off. Kazumi and I then drove back to Osaka as I had work from 10am the next morning.
So, back to digging foundations again this time for the yurt. We'll be building a deck on which the yurt will stand. Much bigger than the shed, 10m x 10m this time. I'll have to use proper concrete forms and reinforce them with re-bar this time, then we'll be placing whole 25cm diameter logs as legs and 10x6 beams sitting on them and then 6x2 joists and 2x4 decking... lots of wood, lots of work... and all in time for the yurt raising which we have planned for the weekend of the 25th/26th. Pah! Who am I kidding? Still, no time to lose, got to get on. More to follow!
It's official, we will be hosting a 'work party' here in Okayama on Oct 10th for all our friends and colleagues. The idea of the party is not only to help us with some of the jobs on the land, but also to raise awareness of climate change issues and to persuade people that waiting for their leaders to do something will be too late, and that they themselves can do something.
Hopefully we'll have got the yurt, the shed, and a toilet set up in time, because we're expecting maybe 20 people or more. We'll be putting together the solar array that we've bought (most of), and people will each have a couple of trees with which to start planting our forest garden. Of course, if you're coming, feel free to bring a tree for the forest. Anything productive and suited to the climate. Bushes, trees, ground cover (that handles shade well)... the choice is yours!
We will be providing soft drinks, so bring a bento for your lunch. Party runs from 10am to 10pm. If you want to stay, bring a tent!
It's been hot. Bloody hot! Working out there in the middle of the day is impossible, so we've kind of gone Mediterranean... maybe nocturnal would be closer to the truth. Work starts at sun-up, usually between 5~5:30am, then we knock off at 10 or 11. If there's stuff to be bought from the builders' merchant or some such, we head off and do that in the middle of the day or just chill out (figuratively speaking, 'melt out' would be more accurate) over a slow lunch. Once the site is back in the shade, between 4 and 5pm, we head back to finish off and tidy up. Usually knocking it on the head just before sundown. Not such a hard schedule, but hey, we're not on any particular schedule... actually, having said that, I've kind of gone and created an artificial deadline and battle plan for the next two months, culminating in a "Forest Garden Tree Planting and Solar Array Building Work Party" in solidarity with the 350.org inspired Global Work Party on Oct 10th. Oops!
So, where are we at? Firstly, a new face. Iain will be wintering with us and helping out around the place. He has spent most of the last year down in Kyuushu and has moved up to Honshu recently to look for a plot of his own. Hopefully, while staying with us, he'll be able to find something suitable in the vicinity. Talk of an Okayama based 'Intentional Community' has been bandied around for quite a while now, and who knows, this might be the start of something along those lines.
We've finally finished the foundations for the shed/garage that Kazumi & I have been building in the N.W corner of the plot. Horrible job in this weather. Fiddly as hell too what with the slope and all. Hopefully Iain and I can make short work of getting the framing and cladding up and done with in the next couple of weeks because then we really have to start getting the Yurt foundations done. The Yurt will ship on the 22nd of this month, arriving in Osaka on or around the 8th of September. Theoretically that'll give us 3 weeks or so to get it up and ready-ish for the Oct 10th do. The compost toilets have already arrived and are cluttering up the hall in Kawanishi, along with all the stuff that's destined to be put in the shed once it's done (generator etc). Kazumi and I bought ten Sharp 120W solar modules yesterday. They're 5 years old and 2nd hand, but polycrystalline so relatively long lasting (30yrs) as PV modules go. We paid a very reasonable price for them and considering that we can count on 4 hours of sunlight a day almost all year round in Okayama (Japan's 4th sunniest prefecture!), we should be able to get somewhere around 3kWh a day out of them on average. Hopefully more than enough.
One thing that has been knocking around my head the last few days is "Where the hell are we going to put them all?" I'm thinking now that maybe we'll end up having them on the bank, though I'd have liked to plant that over with stuff that'll bind the thing together a bit more than it is. Maybe we can do a bit of both... Have to think about it.
Kazumi's bathroom goodies are also on their way, apparently. We've ordered a shower unit that, to be honest, looks more like a shower room to me! Hope I can get the water pressure up. This yurt is going to be so well kitted out that I doubt we'll want to move out of it, even if the real house gets finished ahead of schedule! (very unlikely, I should add).
Other things that have kept us busy. Weeds. Now, I know they say that there are no such things as weeds, that all plants have a use. Well, the only use I can think of for these is cutting down and mulching/composting. A very important role, I know, and it's good to have a limitless supply of compost... really it is. Anyway, I've started mulching large areas of the lower field with old cardboard boxes in an attempt to:
a) add some organic matter to the soil, which seems to need it, and
b) suppress new weeds from springing up where Kazumi is going to start her raised beds.
We'll see how that goes.
I just wish the weather would give us a break. It's been in the mid to high 30s for about a month now, and 22℃ with minimal humidity would be just perfect right now! Climate change in action? Maybe so. The media are full of stories about unstable and unusual weather nationwide, veg prices are all over the place and the count to date is 132 dead of heatstroke. It's not just Japan either. Pakistan and China are experiencing horrendous floods. Russia along with more than a dozen other countries is burning up under record highs. The World Meteorological Organization has a sobering news item up at the moment titled: "Unprecedented sequence of extreme weather events.", and the next item on their news page sounds even more ominous: "Scientists projected an increase in intensity and frequency of extreme weather events". The warnings were there for all to see...
"We don't want a world fit for our children any more. We want one that's fit for us now!"
I've gone through a bunch of handouts, books and links that I've collected over time, and have put together the following quotes that might serve as a good introduction to the principles and ethics of permaculture:
For our guidance & inspiration - to give direction to our path, to underlie our
objectives, regardless of occupation. If we state our ethics, we can make
connections with other people with similar views.
Care of the Earth
Includes all living and non-living things (such as animals, plants, air, water, land) - provision for all life systems to continue and multiply - intrinsic value of all things, (not just those that are useful to us, that we can exploit or sell or that we can understand) - all life is connected. Law of necessitous use - leave an otherwise natural system alone unless we have to enter it; if we do, then:
Law of conservative use - use the smallest possible amount of land to meet our needs - (setting voluntary limits to consumption) - reduce waste and hence pollution - do environmental impact analysis of our actions & design to buffer against adverse effects - do energy accounting of our actions & replace at least as much as is used.
Care of People
Make sure all people have access to those resources necessary to their existence - need for a self-determined, equitable and sustainable society – society needs to be ecologically sound and economically viable to protect and promote peoples' health - for the world to be socially just and humane we need clean air, clean water, food, shelter, satisfying employment, meaningful human contact - self- reliance, interdependence and community responsibility.
Choose Limits to Consumption & Give Away Surplus
Frugal and equitable use of resources. The reinvestment of surpluses to further the above aims - this includes money, land, labour, information, etc. Needs not wants.
For our own existence and for that of our children - attitude shift: change is not something external to ourselves - not "Someone else ought to do it", but "I'm responsible". Take responsibility for change. Instead of being an observer,
powerless outside the current system, gain self-reliance through achievable
practical solutions - direct action.
Co-Operation, Not Competition
Is the very basis of existing natural systems and of future survival. Create harmony not competition - build self-managing systems - things not forced into a function but doing what they would do naturally - harmony is the integration of chosen natural functions to the supply of essential needs. Permaculture is about interconnections.
The principles provide a set of universally applicable guidelines that can be used when designing sustainable systems. These principles can be used in any climate, and at any scale. They have been derived from the thoughtful observation of nature, and from earlier work by ecologists, landscape designers and others.
☯ Relative location - place things so they work together beneficially.
☯ Each element performs many functions - 101 uses for nettles...
☯ Each important function is supported by many elements -
spread risk and use diversity.
☯ Efficient energy planning - use gravity and put things you
need regularly close by.
☯ Use biological resources - let living systems do the work, in
preference to machines or chemicals.
☯ Cycling of energy, nutrients, resources - reuse, recycle,
return to the earth.
☯ Small-scale intensive systems - use 3-D space and time
creatively to fit more in.
☯ Accelerating succession & evolution - speed up natural systems
by understanding how to they work, and how you can help.
☯ Diversity - including guilds of plants and animals that work
together beneficially to support each others needs.
☯ Edge effects - the most productive space is at the edge of
systems - pond/shore, woodland/field, the margins of society...
☯ Attitudinal principles: everything works both ways.
Permaculture is information & imagination-intensive.
From Introduction to Permaculture, by Bill Mollison & Reny Mia Slay
There are many simple ways that you can reduce your impact on the Earth, and improve your quality of life. Read a permaculture book, attend a course or get involved with local projects to find out more.
Here are some simple steps that you can take right now (if you haven’t already), that will help to reduce your impact on the earth, and reduce the amount of money you need to earn to get by:
☯ Eat less meat, or none at all
☯ Eat less processed food, and more that is locally grown, start your own window-box or garden
☯ Eat ethical and fairly traded for the things you can’t get locally
☯ Eat as large a proportion of your diet in the form of fresh fruit and veg
☯ Support local growers or box schemes, give them a hand
☯ Get rid of your car, take up cycling, (or join a car share scheme / share it with friends.)
☯ Avoid traveling on planes - the most destructive form of transport
☯ Insulate your house and do an energy audit (contact your local council). Wear jumpers in winter.
☯ Install a rain water harvesting system for watering your garden, learn to mulch!
☯ Be an ethical shopper - read the labels and investigate alternatives
☯ Become a recycling maniac, and take pleasure in finding new uses for old things!
I think I mentioned before that we're trying to get at least some of the woodland to the north of our plot. Here's an image to help you follow what I'm about to say:
The plot to the right, No.3 in the pic, is up for sale and at not too bad a price, to be honest. It's only 300 or so square meters though, and it's somewhat 'separate' from us, if you see what I mean.
The plot to the left, No. 1 in the pic, might be for sale. Trouble is, the owner is currently bed ridden and, unfortunately, non compos mentis. The family that stand to inherit this plot are inclined to realize it before gramps pops it, and thereby add cash to the inheritance rather than keep the land. Or so we've been led to believe. I'd like this bit of land for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it's three and a half thousand square meters of not too steeply inclined san-rin which we could use to build on rather than the small genya down at the bottom of our plot.
Another reason is that while we were exploring at the weekend, we found a small pond (tame ike) that would be really useful if we wanted to or were forced to stop using the mains supply that we have.
The third reason is that it adjoins what I've called 'Plot 2' in the picture. This plot appears to be ownerless, or we've been unable to trace them in the usual manner (city office, real estate searches etc.). Seems like he's just dropped of the face of the earth... which means that if we put up signs stating out intents to claim the land as our own, and if no-one challenges us for 20 years, it becomes ours
Yes, I'm serious. Here's a link to an article by another non-Japanese homesteader in Japan, Ken Elwood, titled "Adverse Possession of Abandoned Land in Japan: A Primer". It tells you all that you need to know
So if I can buy plot No. 1 and claim plot No. 2, I reckon that will do us just about right and we'll be set up for the rest of our time on this good ol' planet of ours.
There're three maps. The first with no zones, but a rough idea of what I'm trying to do. The second showing with Zone 0 (the yurt). And the third one showing how the zones might change once the real house has been built. I should add that I've forgotten to include the yurt as a secondary residence in this map:
As I said earlier, these are just rough ideas that we're still thinking through (I don't like the look of the beds, for example, and I'm not sure I want the pond so close to the yurt...).
Oh, and comments are open to folk who want to register now.
More as it comes
Well, it's taken me a week to get myself sat down in front of the computer to type this, so here goes.
I got back from the UK last Wednesday, and what a time I had!
The first few days were at home in Farnham with sis and the folks. It was great to see them all again and everyone was looking relaxed and well. It was reassuring to see that the dining room table is still the place for heated political debate and putting the world to rights, just like it always was. The volume seems to rise at about the same rate as I remember too. No wonder Dad's starting to lose his hearing! I managed to catch up with Rog & family too which was great.
The other reason I was in the UK was to do a fortnight's Permaculture design course down in lovely Dorset.
The course was hosted at Pat Bowcock's "Ourganics", a debt free and self sustaining business that is a venue for permaculture courses and grows produce to sell to the local community. Our principal instructor was Aranya of Designed Visions. The residential (they provided a field and food, we brought tents) course spanned 14 days and covered all the usual stuff that a Permaculture Design course covers.
If you've read Bill Mollison's Permaculture a designers Manual, there won't be too many surprises, what the course does provide though is an intense and distraction free 2 weeks in which you can reinforce all the stuff that you've read about and studied by yourself. Further, you get to meet a bunch of highly motivated fellow travelers some of whom may well become life long friends or correspondents. Other things that stood out on the Designed Visions course I attended were the location, the field trips and the food. Yes, there was I expecting to lose kilos by the day (on reflection, I've no idea why I expected that. Guess I had this wrong image of scrappy veggie dishes and camp cooking in mind. Couldn't have been further from the truth!). Needless to say lose weight is precisely the opposite of what I did, and if you've seen the pics on my facebook page of late, you'll know what I'm talking about!
Anyway, suffice to say that I had an excellent two weeks, and ended up with a bunch more confidence that what I kind of thought I understood before, I really do now.
I mentioned the field trips. We visited four permaculture-ish projects in the vicinity.
The first was to The Treewise Co-operative, a terrace of thatched cottages run as a coop which aimed to provide a place of peace and learning for children and adults alike. They began their project by buying the cottages and an abandoned apple orchard behind it. Since then, they have restored the orchard, built a permaculture garden, and gradually expanded up the hill as land became available. Now the site covers 7 acres and goes right up to the ridge above the terrace.
The second was FivePenny Farm. This working farm is where the Peasant Evolution Producers Cooperative keep their shared resources, namely their kitchens, fruit presses, stores, dairy and processing rooms. These shared resources are all to be found in the beautiful timber frame barn (right) that the coop members built using local craftsmen and materials.
I was particularly inspired by the fact that this coop now has well over a dozen participating groups on board. When you think that some of the groups involved have a dozen or more members, think how many people that represents. It's fantastic that there's so much actually going on down there, and if it's happening there, it's probably going on all over the country and if that's the case, it's probably going on all over Europe and so on and so on...
Bloody excellent! The post capitalist society has really made a start.
The third place we visited was the Bridport TLC, a community resource & recycling project. There we saw how Bio-Diesel is produced, and learnt how this volunteer-led group is offering solutions to improve the local environment & contributing to a sustainable local economy by supporting all those working towards a more sustainable, climate-friendly environment. The project was started by two street performers and soon grew to offer community workshops, a small business recycling scheme, an arts & crafts scrapstore, rickshaws and other community based projects.
The fourth and, as far as I was concerned, most inspiring visit took us to Blackthorn Farm, a 28 acre, self described "Energy Farm" permaculture project. Yet another member of the Peasant Evolution Producers' Co-Operative, the farm is home to the Rainbow family (how appropriate is that!) who made us feel so incredibly at home that I was ready to doze off in the shade had I not been totally engrossed in talking to Mark Rainbow about all aspects of their project and especially their fantastic house. I'm sure Mark was understating it, but he made the whole self build thing sound like a doddle. What I found particularly cool, other than the design of the place itself, was how they'd managed to get everything ready for a crew of 30 or so friends and volunteers to put the whole building up in a mere 4 day weekend! Amazing.
All in all, it was a great two weeks made all the more special by the others there to teach and study. My special thanks go to Pat for hosting us all, Aranya for putting up with us, Tim, Trish, Izzy, Bokudan, Jo and all the others there who made it such a unique and special time. Thanks guys! See you next time you get out to Japan!
Well, the interview with the Nogyou inkai is over and done with. I get the impression that the district we're hoping to move into is about as strict as they come. I think I mentioned earlier that the chou had successfully resisted being swallowed up by their nearest city a couple of years back, and that as a result they were proud as hell about their new found independence.
The inkai was represented by the kai-cho and three senior members, and we had our notary (forgotten the Japanese word for it, a kind of lawyer) with us.
The interview was a fairly weird experience, the notary had told us to not go into any details that weren't brought up directly by the inkai, and so I spent most of my time biting my tongue. I wish he hadn't said that as it made me very self conscious.
To be fair to the inkai, the kaicho and one of the members seemed unfazed by my foreignness but keen to establish that we weren't religious nuts or dope fiends, a perfectly understandable stance imo. One of the other interviewers, probably the oldest, certainly the saltiest looking, was full of intelligent questions about permaculture, seed saving and how we intended to protect our crops against cross pollination with local non-heirloom/non-hybrid varieties. If he'd spoken with a less broad accent I would have understood a bunch more of what he was saying, but what I caught sounded very interesting. I'll have to look him out if we get our permission to move. Inevitably there was the obligatory a-hole too. Extremely defensive about his farm/the village's well being and skeptical if not downright hostile towards us and our ability to farm, I assigned him to the 'smile and ignore' pile and concentrated on the others.
One sweaty moment came about when the notary chimed in that we'd bought a Kominka in the neighboring village, which was total bullshit and I've no idea where he got that idea from, so we had to explain that that wasn't the case and what our actual residential situation was. Something we'd managed to avoid talking about up until then. It made us look foolish and cast unnecessary doubt on the whole proceedings. What a pratt!
Anyway, it turns out that the only real reason they can use to reject our application is that they fear we might be up to no good. Whether our notion of agriculture matches theirs or not is neither here nor there. So maybe we'll be ok.
The inkai reps we met yesterday will now take their findings to the whole inkai which convenes on Monday and they'll make a recommendation to the chou following that.
Blimey, what a palaver!
I thought it might be useful for some to see what they can expect to have to do when trying to buy agricultural land (nouchi - 農地) here. There are probably other posts scattered around the threads on GP (the best on-line place to meet other foreigners doing similar stuff) somewhere, but maybe people could post links to other relevant info in the comments below this post.
Caveat Emptor: I'm not a lawyer! This is info that I have gleaned by buying agricultural land myself. There may be inaccuracies or missing info amongst the text here. Please check all this for yourself!
Primer: Dividing the land.
Land in Japan is zoned. The first layer of zoning is when land is designated either 区域内(kuikinai)／区域外(kuikigai). This means that such land is either within or without the area that the local municipality defines as the 'urban area'. Laws are comparatively strict if you're buying/building within the urban area.
Within each of the above definitions are the four classifications known as 原野(genya)、山林(sanrin)、農地(nouchi) and 宅地(takuchi). Loosely translated as 'wilderness', 'Mountain Forest', 'Agricultural' and 'Residential'. So it is possible, though unlikely, to have wilderness within the urban zone for example.
[Note: There are in fact a dozen or more classifications of land other than these, but as an individual looking to live in the countryside, the above are the terms you are going to be running into most often. One other classification you should know about is Nougyoushinkochiki (Noushin for short). This is applied to land that has been made suitable for agriculture at public expense. After the war land was redistributed to the tenant farmers from the land-owning class and a lot of it was improved (water mains brought in etc) with government money. This classification is almost impossible to re-zone. It will be agricultural land for the foreseeable future. Make sure you understand this when looking at agricultural land! For more info see: Land Use Control Regulation in Japan, or find English translations of J law here.
If you're still reading, what you are probably thinking of doing is buying a plot of land in the countryside. I'll stick to describing the process for that.
Scenario 1: You buy an old Japanese house to do up or use as is.
Your house will either be in the 区域内(kuikinai)／区域外(kuikigai) zones. If in the 区域内(kuikinai) zone, any modifications you make to your house 'should' follow rules for such things as earthquake resilience, Electrical standards and the like. If it's in the 区域外(kuikigai) zone you are more free with what you can do. Your house is also probably registered as 宅地, and you will therefore have an address that is registered at the city office and the land's boundaries will be officially and accurately recorded in both metric and traditional J units of measurement. You will be being taxed at residential rates, and basically doing everything 'by the books'. However, many older houses are built outside the urban area (区域外) and some of those are built on 原野. If this describes your case there are several things to be aware of. Firstly, all land on which houses have been built 'should' be re-zoned as 宅地. This is a legal obligation. This is also often ignored. Particularly with houses that have been standing since before the war when much of this legislation was formulated. If your house is on 原野and is 区域外 the ownership transfer may well be very tricky and if not sorted out carefully (and at no little expense) you may end up paying for and occupying someone else's land. Be warned!
Scenario 2: Buying land to live and farm on.
There's a classic catch 22 situation regarding agricultural land in Japan. You can't buy it unless you are a registered farmer. Of course, you can't become a farmer without farmland... ok. You can see where this is going, right?
There is a way around it though! Rent farmland and make your application to the 農業員会 (nogyouinkai - farmers' association) as a tenant farmer. If accepted (and this is in no way a given) you will be legally able to buy the agricultural land that you've found.
So, how to become a member of the inkai? You should be able to get the necessary forms (forgotten their names) from the municipal office or possibly from a JA office. Along with these forms you will be required to present a written description of what you are going to do there, why you want to do it in that particular place and most importantly, how you intend to make a living while doing so. Of course, your living must be seen to be coming from the land in question. In other words no hobbyists.
Let's face it, unless you're one of the 1% of people with enough savings to live the life of luxury and not have to work to do so, you'll be needing a business plan anyway. Translate the whole thing into Japanese and submit it along with your application.
If you're buying through a real estate agent (不動産屋) they should have a scrivener on the books who can make sure you dot all the 'i's and cross all the 't's correctly. Make use of this fella or find your own if necessary! Expect to pay around ¥100,000 for this service.
Changing bare 原野 or 山林 to another classification is not so difficult nor so expensive. However, changing 農地 to another classification, especially to 宅地, is a different ball game. To change agricultural land to residential land requires a minimum area of land to be in your possession (this can, if you're lucky, include rented land). This area of land varies from district to district, but is typically 5 tan (5反= 4,958m² = 1500 tsubo). You will probably only be allowed to change in the region of 100~150 tsubo of this to residential land. Which should be enough. Again, employing a scrivener to do the paperwork is the way to go. Expect to pay in the region of ¥400,000 for this service and fees.
Bear in mind that it is rare but possible to be called for an interview with the inkai. Also bear in mind that it is within their rights to refuse your application.
So far, this is what I've learnt through experience. I'll add more as time goes on. For now, I'll leave it at this. Good hunting!
So, last Saturday we went to have one last look at the Kamikayama plot (Sho-o cho). It'd been keeping us up all week, me worrying about slippage, and Kazumi worrying about the 'being on display' aspect of the place. We also wanted to visit S san, the gent who's got all the useful contacts in the area and was a Miya Daiku until an accident at work took him off the sites.
We intended to just spend the day there, scoping the site, taking soil samples and generally hanging out, soaking it all up. But at the end of the day, while talking with S, he let slip the fatal words "I know a better place..." We bit and asked him if we could take a look at it. "Come round first thing tomorrow." he said. "We'll go take a look."
I was kind of doubtful as we'd 99% decided on Kamikayama, and the place that S had mentioned was a third the size. Still, no harm in checking it out we thought...
So, yet another night in the car at Kamikayama. And man did it rain! We woke up at the crack of dawn and took yet another look around. The site was a total bog. The fact that it was almost all rice fields really sank in. How on earth were we going to build on that, I thought to myself. Anyway, after brekkie at the local michi-no-eki we headed off to meet S.
Boy can he talk. We met at nine, and it wasn't till 12 that I finally said, "Well, the rain's obviously not going to let up. Let's go see the place shall we?" and with no further a do, off we went.
"Guibi valley" (reads: gooey bee) is less than 10 minutes from Kamikayama, one valley over to the N. West. It's a small, incredibly picturesque valley with both sides forested and rice fields running down the foot of the valley from top to bottom. Elevation is about 400m at the top running down gently for maybe 2 or so km where a hamlet is located. About half way down the valley on the northern slopes lies the plot. A mere acre, but 100% usable and only divided in to two terraces. Totally different from Kamikayama. Totally sold!
As you can see, there's a 'curtain' of evergreens running along the southern and eastern sides of the land. A forested mountain to the north and a strip of mixed woodland to the west. Totally sheltered from both the heat of summer sun and morning and evening winds coming up and down the valley. The forest should provide some welcome cool air in the summer months too.
The land has JA water mains on it, with three cocks strategically placed. The south western corner (about 80 tsubo or 265sqm green in the lower pic) is classified as 'Genya' meaning that we can build on it. The rest is 'Nouchi' or agricultural land.
There are just over 1200 tsubo (or 4,057sqm). An almost perfect 'acre'!
Of course, then the price came up. 330 man. We could hardly hold ourselves back from running down to the fudosan (estate agent) immediately, but thought we should at least have a chat over a coffee before making any decisions. One quick coffee later, we were sitting at the desk and I was signing on the bottom line. Man, call me impulsive if you like, but I'm now a land owner (gulp!).
Obviously an underground house wouldn't suit this site as well as the last one, so a new house design is called for. Considering that the only location we can build on is on the south-west corner of the land, the area with the view down the valley, Kazumi and I both instantly thought of a roundhouse. Perfect site for one, really. We both think that it should be on piers, not necessarily so tall, 50cm between the ground and the underside of the wall plate floor beams would do the job. Enough space to get the compost toilet 'tank' under. There's enough space for a 10.8m diameter house with a 1.75m deck around that, the roof (a reciprocal roof) would come out to the edge of the deck, and a floor plan something like this:
I'm very happy to be able to write that Kazumi and I tied the knot today. We've been living together for several years now, and dating longer, and a month or so ago decided that seeing as how we were both intending to stick around and get in each other's hair for the duration, we might as well get married. To be honest, we didn't really see the point in formalizing it as the reality spoke for itself. None the less, what with buying land and/or emigrating looking like strong possibilities we thought we might as well. One unfortunate (?) thing was that due to getting some wrong information from the city, we thought that we had to change Kazumi's family name. With that in mind, we bought air tickets in my family name, but it turns out that she could in fact have kept her own name. Of course, the air tickets are not transferable. I know, I know. You try persuading them that it's not actually a transfer... good luck. The long and the short of it is that there's now a new Mrs Moorey in the family. I'm deeply honoured, but can't help thinking that she must be a wee bit mad.
So, in other news. It's been a week of reading and thinking, and I just can't get Sho-o-cho out of my mind. Here are a couple of rough 3D sketches I made. You can see that the idea of a living roof appeals. I don't yet know how good an idea it would be (damp/humidity wise), but the fact that we wouldn't lose too much in the way of workable land and the insulating properties of the soil seem like a good idea.
Listen to me, here I am going on about the place like we've actually bought it. I had a big chat with my folks the other night, and they seemed fairly disappointed when I mentioned that I hadn't 100% decided to return to the UK yet.
It was made up of about 2,500 tsubo at the top end of a small valley. It had obviously been rice fields until several decades ago, but was now well and truly given over to wilderness. It seemed like it was a close second to Sho-o-cho but on reflection it'd take a heap more work just to get the place in a state suitable for planting anything. Sho-o-cho is way closer to a working state than here.
We meet Saiso san from "Archon", another estate agent specializing in traditional Japanese properties. He was very straightforward and showed us around a very nice old house with over 7,500 tsubo of land with it. Sadly, while the house was in pretty good condition, and obviously well built and cared for, it was right in the middle of a hamlet and was totally inaccessible by car. Not only that, but the 1 tan (300m) of rice fields had been farmed in the normal (oil-based fertilizer) way until last year, and it was right in the middle of a strip of similarly farmed paddies. Yet another disappointment was that the bulk of the land was forest, something like 7,000 tsubo of the whole property. Real shame as the price was great and the house itself would have been perfect if it had just been in a different place
The next place was in Hyogo ken, and we met Ashida san from another estate agent, "Slow Life". This one was in even better condition than the first. Once again though, it was in the middle of a block of houses and only accessible by car if you all breathed in and drove veeery slowly. I'm decided at least, I'm not sure that Kazumi is yet though. I don't think we're going to find an old Japanese house with all of the following criteria:
a) enough useful land attached.
b) a price we can afford.
c) of good enough condition to make it worth while.
I'm for a piece of land that we can build something unique and appropriate on. Sho-o-cho is looking better and better the more places we see.
- Torreya nucifera. also called nut-bearing torreya or kaya
- Chestnut castanea (Castanea crenata)
- Walnut Tree | Juglandeae. regia, Juglandeae. nigra
- Japanese 'heartnut' walnuts
- Hazelnut (カバノキ科; 樺木)
- Chaenomeles japonica Rosaceae Japanese quince
- Fuyu (Jiro), Giant Fuyu, Izu, Fuji Fruit diospyros kaki,
- Goumi, Gumi, Natsugumi (Elaeagnus multiflora - Cherry Silverberry )
- Great White Cherry (Prunus tai haku)
- Cherry Sargeants (Prunus Sargeantii)
- Yakumo, Shinseiki, (pyrus calleryana - Callery Pear),
- Japanese plum (Prunus salicina),
- Japanese blueberry tree (Elaeocarpus decipiens)
- kobushi magnolia (Magnolia kobus)
- ho-no-ki, or Japanese big-leaf magnolia (M. obovata)
- shide-kobushi or star magnolia (wetlands)
- sakaki (Cleyera japonica)
- Filicium decipiens - Japanese Fern tree (good as shade)
- Japanese snowdrop tree (Styrax japonicus)
- Japanese Horse Chestnut (Aesculus turbinata)
- Japanese Tree Lilac - Syringa reticulata
- Golden Japanese Maple (Acer japonicum aureum)
- Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)
- Smooth Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum atropurpureum)
- Garnet Maple (Acer Garnet)
- Dissectum Maple (Acer Dissectum)
Other Productive trees:
- Che (Chinese Mulberry Cudrania tricuspidata) silk.
- Japanese Mulberry - Morus australis
- Chocolate Vine | Five-leaf Akebia | akebia quinata
- kusunoki or camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora)
- Japanese Ligustrum (fast growing,berry bearing dense foiliage)
- Japanese Orixa - Orixa japonica
- Aralia elata Araliaceae Japanese angelica tree
- Berberis thunbergii Berberidaceae Japanese barberry
- Kerria japonica Rosaceae Japanese kerria
- Lonicera japonica var. japonica Caprifoliaceae Japanese honeysuckle
- Japanese rowan (Sorbus commixta)
- Japanese beech (Fagus crenata)
- Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum)
- Urushi (Rhus Verniciflua)
- kiri (paulownia)
- Willow (柳-やなぎ)
- Japanese turnips (kabu)
- Gobo or Burdock root
- Daikon radish
- Nanohana (rape seed blossom)
- mekyabetsu (Brussels sprout)
- aonegi & wakegi
- leaf lettuce
- nira (Chinese chive)
- kureson (watercress)
- Kaiware daikon (daikon sprouts)
- Japanese eggplants
- Japanese cucumbers
- Edamame (soy beans)
- Moyashi (Bean sprouts)
- soramame (broad beans)
- sayaendô (snow peas)
- ingen (string beans)
- millet (kibi & awa)
- hatomugi (variety of wheat)
Herbs and Spices:
- Shungiku (edible chrysanthemum)
- Mitsuba (trefoil)
- Green and purple shiso (perilla fructescens)
- Shishito chili
- AINU NEGI
- AKEBI (CHOCOLATE VINE)
- AMADOKORO (POLYGONATUM ODORATUM)
- YUKINOSHITA (BEEFSTEAK GERANIUM)
- AZAMI (THISTLE)
- FUKINOTO (GIANT BUTTERBUR/FLOWER
- HAMABOUFUU (GLEHNIA LITTORALIS)
- HANGONSOU (SENECIO CANNABIFOLIUS)
- HASUKAPPU (LONICERA
- HIKAGEHEGO (FLYING SPIDER MONKEY TREE FERN)
- IRAKUSA (URTICA THUNBERGIANA)
- ITADORI (JAPANESE KNOTWEED)
- KATAKURI (DOGTOOTH VIOLET)
- KIBOUSHI (PLANTAIN LILY HOSTA
- KOGOMI (OSTRICH FERN)
- KOSHIABURA (ASCATHOPANAX
- KUKO (CHINESE WOLFBERRY)
- KUSAGI (HARLEQUIN GLORY BOWER
- PEANUT BUTTER SHRUB)
- NIRINSOU (ANEMONE FLACCIDA)
- NOBIRU (ALIUM MACROSTEMON)
- OYAMABOKUCHI (SYNURUS PUNGENS)
- RYOUBU (CLERTHRA BARBINERVIS)
- SARUNASHI (ACTINIA ARGUTA)
- SERI (JAPANESE PARSLEY)
- SUBERIYU (COMMON PURSLANE)
- TANPOPO (DANDELION)
- TARA NO ME (ARALIA ELATA)
- TSUKUSHI (HORSETAIL)
- TSUROGANENINJIN (ADENOPHORA TRIPHYLLA)
- UDO (ARALIA CORDATA)
- URUI (HOSTA MONTANA)
- WARABI (PTERIDIUM AQUILINUM/BRACKEN)
- YAMABUDO (CRIMSON GLORY VINE)
- YAMAWASABI (WILD HORSERADISH)
- ZENMAI (OSMUNDA JAPONICA/ROYAL FERN)
- FUKI (JAPANESE BUTTERBUR/GIANT BUTTERBUR)
- AKAMIZU (ELATOSTEMA UMBELLATUM var. NAJUS)
- HONNA (Also called SUPPON)
- YOMOGI (MUGWORT)
On Wednesday we just drove around the prefecture getting a feel for the layout of the land. Basically speaking, the prefecture can be divided into three parts. The Southern most area, sandwiched between the Sanyo expressway and the Seto inland sea, is the most developed. It has beautiful vistas overlooking the numerous islands that are scattered not far off shore. Some Japanese like to call it the 'Japanese Aegean'. But I think that's pushing it a bit. The central area is hilly, but the hills are soft in profile and there are large open valleys and flood plains. Ideal rice growing terrain. The land here is more reasonably priced than in the southern areas, but it's difficult to find large areas that haven't been broken up over the generations. Most of the land here is categorized as "No-chi" (agricultural land) or 'Taku-chi' (residential land). There are few areas of 'Gen-chi' ('wild' land) or 'San-rin' (mountain forest).
The northern part, the area above the Chugoku expressway, soon becomes mountainous and as you move north you start to find ski resorts, tortuous mountain roads and quite severe valleys where what agriculture there is is obviously hard going. Of course, land here is cheapest and most plentiful. No-chi and Gen-chi are pretty equally divided with an awful lot of 'San-rin' and only a small part of the land there designated 'residential'.
What we're looking for is basically anything bigger than 3000 tsubo (2.5 acres) with about an acre each of 'San-rin' and 'No-chi' or 'Gen-chi' with just a small amount of land suitable for building a house on. To be honest, we originally wanted an old Japanese farm house in do-up-able condition, but looking at a few of them over the weekend has made us realize that both in terms of time and money, it'd probably be too much for us. Anything cheap enough would just take too much out of our resources and would probably end up defeating us. To cut a long story short, while we realize that the setting up is going to take a good few years, getting the place running smoothly and in relative comfort is what we're aiming for. The sooner that we're able to do that, the better.
So anyway, on Saturday, we met up with a real estate agent with whom we've been corresponding the last few weeks. He has an excellent website that is obviously aimed at the steadily increasing number of people who've had enough of the metropolitan life style and are looking to slow down a bit. Most of his properties are probably aimed at the newly retired 'U-turn' buyers. People who left the countryside in their youth and now want to return. These buyers are looking for an old house with maybe a half an acre of land on which they can do a little gardening. The prices are still exceptionally cheap all things considered, maybe a typical property would have 1,500m² on which would be a nicely refurbished 100 year old farm house. Hospitals and supermarkets would be within a 5 minute drive and toilets would be connected to the city sewerage system. There are lots of these and they go for somewhere around ¥20,000,000. Cheaper than you could buy a new 3 room apartment in Osaka or Kobe.
Of course, we want something cheaper than that!
Sato san, the estate agent, sat us down for a browse through his books and a detailed conversation on what we were wanting to do. Apparently, they have a word for it ('I-turn', people coming out of the city who've not lived in the countryside before), so it can't be all that rare. After a number of cups of tea, we decided to head on out and look at a few of the most likely candidates.
I think it was a bit of a sales ploy, but the first place he took us while huge (over 6 acres) and in our price range, was a completely un-developed mountain side with the only utility being an unpaved road that the electricity company had made when putting a pylon on the top of it. The insects were teaming and it was impossible to walk more than a meter or so off the track. A wee bit more than we'd bargained for, but we had said we wanted to find a mountain after all... "Ok. Point taken. Let's go and take a look at something a wee bit more civilized, eh?" So that's what we did for the rest of the day. Of all the places we saw, one stuck out.
You can see some more pics of it here and here.
This 3,500 tsubo (3.3 acres) of land is located less than ten minutes north of the Chugoku expressway, just outside the town of Mimasaka, about 15km north-east of Tsuyama. Though it falls in the northern 'third' of the prefecture as described earlier, the landscape while getting higher is still 'soft'. Snowfall here is minimal, barely settling for more than a couple of weeks at the height of winter. Being north of the expressway, the prices are way better than those of land just 10 minutes to the south by car. The plot we looked at is on the west facing side of a one kilometer wide. 250m high valley that runs roughly North-South. It's the top third of one of the 'hills' that make for the western ridge of the valley. The view from there is stunning, and the sunlight from the southern aspect is un-obstructed about an hour after sunrise (at this time of year).
If you can imagine, the contours of this side of valley can be divided into three distinct inclines. The lowest third gently slopes from the river and about a third of the way to the ridge increases to a more sharp incline which is about where the bottom three rice fields of the plot that we were looking at begin. Walking up this incline to the top of the agricultural land is best done at a leisurely pace. Just as one reaches the pond that sits above the terraced fields, the incline becomes steeper still and the forest begins. The 'San-rin' forest runs right up to the ridge line, and is planted with 20~30 year old Pine and Cypress. Not ideal wood for anything but construction 20 years from now, but nice and cool and doing its job of holding the hillside firmly in place.
Below the pond (a water catchment type rather than stream or spring fed) are four terraces, each gradually getting bigger as you go lower. The top one presently has trees on it and along with the pond is classified as 'Gen-chi'. The lower three terraces are 'No-chi'. A small concrete surfaced track, just about big enough to get a 2 ton truck up, runs down the Southern side of these terraces beginning at the foot of the uppermost of the 'No-chi' terraces amd running all the way down to the road that runs parallel to the river at the bottom of the valley. Just after the lowest of the four terraces described above, and on the other side of the road are three more terraces, stepping down the slope. They seem to have been in use most recently, maybe until three or four years ago. The higher terraces have been abandoned a bit longer, I'd guess.
Water seems to be plentiful, but the irrigation system is clogged with weeds and needs a thorough clean up. I think U section concrete water ways would be a good way to better manage the resources, it would also help to dry out the land which seemed a tad on the muddy side to me, but that could have been due to the three weeks of incessant rain we've had of late... but I'm getting ahead of myself as usual.
We looked over the land with the estate agent, and went on to see a couple of other places. I found myself comparing all of them to this one though, and they all seemed to be lacking something in comparison. Anyway, after trudging around the country side for the best part of the afternoon, Sato san took us to meet a couple of his previous customers who were doing something similar to what we are envisioning, in as much as they live pretty much self sufficiently and away from the towns. One man in particular was very inspiring. A builder by trade, he had built his own house and a small, traditionally styled 'lodge' from where he runs 'self-build' courses for other fools like us. He uses timber from the forests, and gets pretty much all the difficult to make yourself stuff (windows etc.) from demolition sites and recyclers. He said he'd be happy to show us where to get stuff cheaply or for free, and help us with advice on constructing a place of our own if we wanted it.
After all this, and as twilight closed in, we said thanks to Sato san and told him we'd be in touch. He wasn't at all pushy, and said that he understood these things need time and careful consideration.
Having nowhere booked for the night, and a whole day of estate agents lined up for Sunday, we headed for McD to sit and drink coffee for a bit. We checked the maps and as we did so, both decided that no-one would know if we parked up for the night on the plot that had grabbed us so earlier in the day. So that's what we did. It was quiet like I haven't heard for a long while, and the lights in the houses across the valley flicked off one by one. By 10 there were barely any lights at all and had it not been so cloudy, I expect the stars would have astounded us. We wrapped up warmly, and despite VW Polos not being the most comfortable of cars to sleep in we drifted off fitfully with our heads buzzing with ideas. We were woken by a spectacular thunderstorm at about 3am and watched as the whole valley was lit up below.
At sunrise, we woke and took another stroll around the property. Climbing right up to the ridge, and poking around all the terraces trying to figure out just how it might be turned into a home. Ideas came thick and fast, and our imaginations started getting the better of us... for the rest of the day as we toured more properties, it was referred to as 'our place'.
We'll have to wait and see. We have another month before going to the UK, and only then will we have to make a final decision on whether it'll be Japan or the UK for the duration.
Back to the busyness. Last Saturday, Kazumi and I went up to Myoken to see a place we've been told about that's on the market.
I went up there with Paul the other day, and was surprised just how big 500 tsubo is (just under a half acre). The house would be lovely if it was tarted up, but it'd be several years worth of work (or several million yen's worth of builders' fees) to get it anywhere near good. The land is big enough for veg, but there's no forest to talk of, and we'd like a rice field too. Don't get me wrong. The land is a steal considering where it is. I'm just not sure that we could do what we want to do there.
On Sunday we got up at the crack of dawn and set off to Nara to see one Mr. Kawaguchi (video). He's been farming a piece of land up there for the last 30 years, and has developed a special technique sometimes known as 'Natural Farming'. If you're familiar with Fukuoka san, you'll know what I'm talking about.
There are some pics up in the Photos section of the site.
The next few days are going to be pretty busy too. We have a bunch of fudosan lined up in Okayama to show us some places that have caught our eye. What do you think of this for ¥2,800,000 !
I'll let you know how we get on.
As I get older, I see friends and acquaintances falling by the way-side. Tired by the struggle, persuaded that there is no other way than the way that we are expected to behave, some become mere automatons, others become aggressive, yet others become vocal 'supporters' of all that they previously knew to be wrong with the world. Blissfully unaware. Co-opted. Ground down. Supplicant.
I cannot resign myself like this! At a minimum, I need to live in a morally, socially, environmentally and realistically balanced way.
I have hope that I can. I think it must be possible to walk another, more positive path. As time passes, I learn of more and more people with feelings and ideas like mine. Others are applying their principles to their lives. It's not an easy path, but neither is it as hard as some, usually those with a vested interest in the status quo, would have you believe.
I see this new 'resistance' gathering more and more proponents. I need to become an active part of this. I need to get on a road of positive action as opposed to one of negative reaction. Primarily for my own sake, but for the sake of my partner, future generations and the planet too. Contradictory as it may seem, I see little choice but to choose this way.
I need to root myself to the land. Re-establish my connections with nature and find a place where I can let nature teach me about the essentialness of life. The balance of existence. I knew it as a child. I must know it again.
I see my partner and I putting ourselves in a mutually beneficial relationship with not only each other but with the land that we end up stewarding for the rest of our lives. It needn't be a solitary journey, in fact the more people with similar aspirations we can come into contact with, the better. No man is an island.
How? Where? I do not have all the answers to these questions yet, but piece by piece, the jigsaw is assembling itself, and as I write I can approximate answers, or suggest part answers to these questions. At least as far as they are relevant to me. Hopefully, others will see a resonance in my reasoning and will be inspired to embark on their own journeys.
Three questions I can answer. Who? Why? and When?
Who: I have been fortunate enough to meet Kazumi. Kazumi is as lost and misplaced as I am. They joy of this is that while we are both in this state of stunned disbelief in regard to the way that society is currently blundering its way toward a precipice in a state of dogged collective and individual denial, we are not alone.
More than this, she's good at what I'm bad at, and has faith that I can fill the gaps in her life. She has a fundamentally humanist approach to people, a strong sense of personal injury when faced with injustice whether aimed at her personally or not. Maybe most importantly, she believes in love. I can't think of anyone I'd rather set out on this journey with.
Why: It baffles me that some might ask this. To me it seems so clear and obvious. If we take a moment to close our eyes and imagine the utopia that must surely exist in every man's heart, then open our eyes again and take a good look around, is it not obvious that what we call civilisation and progress today is so much closer to dystopia than what we saw in our mind's eye? Suffice to say that the blatant and wilful ignorance of the damage we are inflicting on ourselves, our neighbours and the planet and all its elements exhibited and encouraged by nations, 'leaders', corporations, educators, as both individuals and as groups, deeply offends me. My opening lines introduced some of this and I could go on and on about the various elements that offend me so. No doubt I'll be writing about them from time to time here too, but for now, I'm trying to tell you my story, and I'd prefer that it be a positive one.
When: Simple. If not now, then when indeed? It seems to me that I've procrastinated long enough, and that if I'm to stand a chance of doing anything worthwhile with my life before I die, it has to start now.
So that leaves the 'How?' and the 'Where?' The 'how' part of this journey is still in its formative stages, but I see some answers to the question starting to take form in my mind. Recognising my need to be an integral part of and true friend with nature, I see that there are few if any other ways better than starting with my relationship with the land. At present, I contribute nothing to the land. In fact, I take gratuitously and with scant thought or appreciation towards her. I need to fix this. I grew up closer to the land than I am now. My childhood was spent largely out doors where I saw the coming and going of the seasons, the plants and the life that was supported by it all. I loved it then. I was a part of it and it was a part of me.
If I were to have custody of some forest, fields, streams and soil, how would I best be able to nurture it back to health? Maybe I should add that due not merely to economic reasons, I assume that I would be moving on to land shocked and abused by its recent mis-treatment.
I have been greatly inspired of late, by the works of a number of people about whom I've been reading. Firstly, I stumbled upon the Lammas Project. A group of young people with a vision. They had obtained 130 odd acres of farmland in Wales, and were bent on setting up a sustainable and ethically meaningful community for themselves and like-minded others. I followed their story for about half a year and was thrilled when they finally managed to get permission from the local authorities to embark on their mission. As if the authorities had any right to prevent them in the first place! Pah! Anyway, this lead me to thinking that maybe I could become involved in something similar. I spread my jumble of ideas in front of Kazumi, and was amazed to see the look of wonder on her face. I suppose I should have known. She was as enthusiastic about the idea as I was. Great! First potential stumbling block out the way.
We started ruminating on the concept of living in a sustainable way, and over the next half a year or so, spent untold hours poring over the internet, talking things over between us and looking for other sources of inspiration. It remains to be seen if it was time well spent or not, but I get the feeling that it will be seen to have been so.
And then I found Masanobu Fukuoka. Fukuoka san died in 2008. He lived on Shikoku, the fourth biggest of the islands that make up Japan, where he developed a method of farming sometimes known as the 'do nothing' school. He experimented with and developed techniques which went against the grain of accepted agricultural wisdom, employing no fertilisers, or pesticides, nor even tilling the land. He was, predictably, mocked and ridiculed by the established farming community, and written off as a disaster just waiting to happen. Surprisingly, his methods and philosophy, not to mention his crops, started to bear fruit. His yields gradually increased as both his techniques and the land that he applied them to began to improve over time. He established that the best that a farmer could aspire to become, was an assistant to nature, certainly not its master, and not even its manager. One of his books, 'The one straw revolution', made a lasting impression on me, and inspired me to take things to the next level. This was now very clear in my mind. I guess you could say that my journey began in earnest here.
So, Fukuoka san led me to investigate this 'natural' method of farming. One of the first names that seemed to consistently crop up was Bill Mollison. You're reading this, so you probably already know who he is. He and David Holmgren developed what has become known as 'Permaculture'. Permaculture, as far as I can make out, describes a series of systems in which design plays an essential role in the development of a living environment that works with nature to produce a sustainable and balanced way of life that enriches the land on which it is applied as well as the lives of those who apply it. It aims to make a person's legacy a positive one rather than a negative one once he comes to his natural end. Having bought some books and being enthralled with the reading of them (they reminded me of the books always at hand in the toilet during my childhood), I decided to sign up for a two week course in 'Permaculture Design'. and to tie it in with a visit to my parents that Kazumi and I will be making in May. You've no idea how much I'm looking forward to that.
Most recently, we've discovered two other Japanese notables. Kazumi has been reading books by Akinori Kimura. Sadly these books are not available in English, but she tells me that he is a farmer who followed a very similar path as that pioneered by Fukuoka. In Kimura's case, he applied this 'do nothing' technique to apples, though he came to it in a circuitous manner after his wife started getting terribly sick as a result of the chemical herbicides, fertilisers and insecticides that all farmers were encouraged to use at the time. After unsuccessfully trying organic techniques that merely replaced the chemicals with natural substitutes while leaving the basic techniques unchanged, he reached absolute financial rock bottom, at one point even considering suicide as his only recourse when it suddenly occurred to him where he might be going wrong, His focus moved from the plants to the soil and the seeming abundance of life springing up in the forest near his home. You'll have to read the rest yourself, or you can visit him on his farm in Aomori.
The other farmer and writer who, as far as I'm concerned maybe a greater influence, is Yoshikazu Kawaguchi. I'm just now learning about the techniques that he has been developing, but am enthused that his farms are all within easy reach of where I live, so I'm planning a visit out there in the next couple of weeks. See if I can stay out of the way yet learn something too.
I mention these farmers as examples of what I'm striving for, a sustainable and earth friendly way of life. Self sufficiency to the greatest extent possible.
I'm keen to get off-grid. The way I see it is that if I truly want to withdraw my support for the capitalist system and all the damage it causes, I have to be responsible for generating my own power too. Obviously fossil fuelled power generation is out, so that leaves solar, bio-mass, hydro and wind. Wind seems unlikely to be dependable in-land, but luckily hydro and solar should be in plentiful supply. I'm researching all these now.
A later development might be the setting up of a 'natural farming' school of sorts. A way to support others who might be considering a move back to the land. A form of mutual aid.
So we come to the 'where' question:
Up until this time, Kazumi and I had been pretty sure that we would find a better, or should I say more receptive, environment for setting out on the practical stage of this journey in the UK than we would in Japan. I'm not so sure that this is still the case. While the 'green' movement certainly seems to be becoming more strident and urgent in its European guise, the Japanese green movement is taking a different approach. Other considerations are the palpable resistance that seems to be rising in response to this new confidence in the positions that western greens are asserting. I wonder if the west is due a bigger breakdown than may already be coming due to the economic troubles that exist there, one that will be amplified by this confrontational approach by those opposing people pushing for change. Europe has a propensity for destructive social unrest.
Conversely, Japan has a propensity for co-operative pursuance of goals that ostensibly aim to better the lot of the majority. Japan has shown in the past that this possibly unique penchant for epochal about-faces by society as a whole can be carried out with the minimum of disproportionately distributed pain and with stolid lack of complaint once a path has been set. Of course it could also be said that collectively Japan has in the past set out only on ruinous roads of reform, arguing, for example, that the Meiji Restoration led to the imperialist Japanese domination of its neighbours and its devastating defeat at the end of the Pacific war. Similarly it could be said that Japan's current problems of unsustainable pollution and social discordance, are a result of their having blindly followed the course set out for it by the victors of that war. Nonetheless, there is a distinct possibility in my mind at least, that Japan can achieve a more humane transition than Europe. This is yet to be seen, of course.
There is also the matter of money. Land prices in the UK and Japan are still ridiculously inflated. Some argue that this is not just the result of speculation and greed, but the result of limited supply. This is of course nonsensical capitalist propaganda aimed at disguising the horrendous imbalances endemic in modern societies. That a piece of land in the UK, barely big enough for a family of four (I'm talking suburbia here) could cost more than ten times the national average annual wage strikes me as unfair to the extreme. Here in Japan, the land accepted as large enough for a similarly sized family costs proportionately the same, however, when we look at rural land the difference between the UK and Japan couldn't be more glaring. While rural land (without planning permission in the UK) might go for the same price as it does here in Japan, the Japanese land will have planning permission or even an old house on it. It is typically in need of restoration, admittedly, but is still as cheap as plain agricultural land is in the UK. So, I can afford to buy UK agricultural land or Japanese rural land, but would find it next to impossible to get permission to live on it in the UK. Kind of defeats the object, doesn't it.
How much land do we need? This is an unknown at the moment. My guess is somewhere over three acres but under ten, unless a large part of that is forest. We need at least one 300m² field for rice/oats/rye, another 3~600m² for fruit, vegetables, and herbs. Twice that much space for fruit and nut trees. Space for a house and a couple of sheds, space for chickens and goats. Yet more land for forestry. The land has to have a natural source of water, preferably a gradient over at least the forested parts yet not be too wet nor too steep. The ideal fields would have been abandoned no less than 4 years earlier so as to have given them a chance to rest. We don't see the need to battle with adverse climate. Both Japan and the UK have large areas of land where the weather is very conductive to the fruitful practise of agriculture.
If, as we tend to be these days, if we seriously consider doing this in Japan, then the question arises of whether to try to find an old farm house and do it up, or buy empty lad and self build. Unfortunately, most land with a house on it does not have anything like the amount of land we think we need with it. I want to keep the land all together as one 'lot', rather than have various fields spread around the place, as it were. The benefit of this would mostly be that a design a-la permaculture would be much easier this way. Secondly, it's nice to have it all together from the sense of accessibility and containment. There's a strong likelihood that we'd have conventional farmers as neighbours and I'd hate for our crops to get accidentally sprayed with some insecticide or another.
So there you have it. My first attempt at putting my thoughts down in print. We'll see how things pan out, and I'll no doubt be writing more as ideas solidify and time progresses. Thanks for taking the time to read this, and if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us.