by guibi


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You want to do what? Part one of our story:

Distracted, annoyed and saddened by the commercial 'noise' of modern capitalist society and my reluctant participation in it, I have been wondering for many years, too long in fact, how best to put my contrary beliefs into action. When I was younger, my energies were spent on resisting institutional authority and protesting the many injustices I witnessed on an almost daily basis. I have resisted the 'me first' ethos with all my heart.
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.
by guibi | 2010-03-10 01:16 | About Us:私達について


About Us:私達について
Early days:初めは
Forest Garden:食べる森
Lower Field:下の畑
Other Work:その他の作業
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