Our Programme Foci
Learning about Sustainable Living (Past Programme Foci)
Where We Work: National and Urban

A trip that shook and swayed my heart

By Ding Ying (Assistant Researcher in the Institute of Biotechnology, Guizhou Academy of Agricultural Science)

The moment we got off the plane we could feel the quiet neatness of Japan. In the spacious arrival hall, people were queuing and waiting in silence. It was so quiet I had to lower my voice when I spoke. Since the trip, my mind has been filled: by our visits to the nature reserve and the intentional communities; by all sorts of ideas, work approaches and things I observed on the trip. The following are some features of the places we visited.

1. Biodiversity and unique regional culture

Veiled in the rain, Lake Biwako was imbued with an air of mystery. Set off by lighting, the distant fountain was spectacular. Dr Kada Yukiko [1] introduced us to the past and present of Lake Biwako. From her account, dotted with words such as "mother river", "suffering" and "resurrection", we learnt how they have been struggling to protect the environment of the lake from being further damaged. They started by studying the history of Lake Biwako, and emphasised protecting and passing on the traditional culture and biodiversity of the lake. They advocate drinking and eating close to the source and producing one's own food, which coincides with the idea of "selling one's own produce" at Omi Rice Farm. They market agricultural products and processed goods to neighbouring communities and schools nearby. While this practice brings income for the farmers, the local communities eat foods that are healthy and fresh and that put their minds at ease. The eco-agricultural products of Hareyaka Farm are also marketed directly to consumers. In this way, exchange platforms between producers and consumers are built and trust is developed between them. The Yamagishi Association too produces most of what they consume. The menu of its canteen changes according to what is harvested. A very important implication is the effective reduction of food miles and cutting back on energy consumption. From the standpoint of sustainable development, producing locally to meet the needs of local communities contributes to long-term sustenance by reducing reliance on external sources.

Another instance left me with a deep impression. When we were visiting Biwaku Lake, someone mentioned that "fish were swimming near where people were washing clothes". They were planning to apply for this scene to be listed as a protected cultural monument. Actually such scenes can be seen anywhere in the southeast region of Guizhou. However, we are probably not aware that if we don't work hard to preserve our environment, such scenes will one day be consigned to history. It's because Biwaku Lake has gone through many "calamities" that they have such strong conservation awareness. Though our environment still looks fine, we must think of the dangers ahead of time, and start to build an ecological home.

Biwaku Lake is rich in terms of biodiversity. Apart from all sorts of fish and aquatic plants, all kinds of plants, trees, fungi, bears, monkeys and birds are preserved in Mount Ibuki's Kozuhara, where they live in harmony. Local villagers pay a lot of attention to preserving the resources of their villages. They believe sustainable living is only possible when the environment is improved.

2. Respecting Nature; all living things have spirit

Mr Kawaguchi Yoshikazu practises 'Natural Farming' in his rice field. The fertile soil is black in colour. Even though there are weeds all over his field, the rice is growing very well. There are many small creatures such as frogs, grasshoppers and moths, and all kinds of insects in the water. Mr Kawaguchi has been farming in this way for 33 years. Not only does it save labour and keep the soil fertile, all kinds of animals and plants live in balance in his field. In his vegetable field, different kinds of vegetables grow together with other weeds. Once in a while, Mr Kawaguchi plucked a cucumber or a pumpkin as though he were a conjurer. Natural Farming is a very happy and unforced way of farming. Its philosophy is the same as Laozi's idea of wuwei erzhi (i.e. "doing nothing yet leaving nothing undone"). After seeing his farm, I was enlightened. We'd been talking about not using pesticides or chemical fertilisers. Actually it's not difficult to understand, when you look at the soil as having a life of its own, and think it is as much part of this world as humans are. As the soil has its life, we shouldn't have the heart to use dangerous materials that hurt it. Everything on Earth has its purpose and meaning of existence. Be they animals or plants, soil, forest or rocks, they live together in interdependence just like humans. Once you realise this, you'll be free from anxiety and become happy. At the Yamagishi Association, you can also feel how they treat animals and plants equally. Every day they go into the chicken pens and pig pens and greet the animals cheerfully. They will also talk to cucumbers and eggplants in the vegetable field. With this kind of labour, you won't feel tired. Instead you'll feel very happy.

When we visited the graveyard of the Yamagishi Association, we noticed that the urns for ashes, whether big or small, were made of the same materials and all looked very simple. I had thought that the urn of the organisation's founder would at least be different from the rest. Instead it was the same. Equality for all. There's no difference in terms of high and low, noble and lowly. Equality not only in words, but also before and after one dies.

3. Common ideals, harmonious community life

We spent three days with the Yamagishi Association. What impressed me most was that the people there looked much younger than they actually were. They loved to smile and their smiles came from their hearts. Elderly people, children and young people all have their own lifestyle and the division of labour is very clear. Some raise pigs, cows and chickens while others work in the field. Some take care of children while others work in the elderly home. The workers of the canteen meet everyday to discuss what dishes to make. In sum, everyone has a role and everything is in order.

The main characteristic of the community is to give up one's self-interest for the good of all. Everyone has the same goal: humans, the village and the universe are one. Only with this in mind can people live together in harmony. This is similar to the mode of production of Omi Rice Farm which recognises and creates roles for each individual based on the belief that people are different. Everyone has his/her talents, which he/she may develop and contribute to the community.

Every person has his/her own strength and capability. Working together, we can complement each other and make up for each other's deficiencies. In Kamiyamada Kohokucho Doppo village, there were a farmer and an architect. They support each other and grow together. These ideas are very important for us. We may draw from them when we start working in our communities. They will broaden our vision in our work.

4. Being honest with each other, communicating sincerely

Conflicts are inevitable and there are many concrete problems in everyday life. There is a weekly and sometimes biweekly kensan [2] meeting that all members of the Yamagishi Association must attend. All sorts of everyday issues are brought up in the meeting and everyone shares and exchanges what they think. These kensan meeting are held outside the village, so that people outside can join and learn more about the Association, and to increase its influence. Actually they hold similar meetings every day, for members to speak out, listen to each other and discuss problems they're all concerned with. This is a very effective way of communicating and helps to reduce conflicts and to increase the exchange and sharing of feelings. In this way, common consensus can also be reached on various subjects.

In our own community, we meet regularly too but we only share on skills and technology or to plan activities. There is comparatively little sharing of our thoughts. We should consider having more exchanges of our thoughts in the future. If possible, we may allow more people from outside our community to join, so as to increase our influence and the interaction between our community and the outside world. It will also enable the farmers to gain more knowledge about the world outside.

There is one commonality among the various communities we visited in Japan. Those who came together to set up the communities share a common vision: to treat all things in Nature, be they big or small, with respect and non-discrimination, and to live moderately, healthily and happily. They also emphasise that everyone should fully develop his or her potential. It's like a machine that is running, whose every screw is fulfilling its own function in a concerted effort for a common goal.

On the trip to Japan, I saw many farms that practise natural farming, and intentional communities. They are all engaged in agriculture happily, and living together in harmony. My views on building eco-villages have been broadened by the trip and my confidence in achieving our goals has been strengthened. I will reflect on the ideas and approaches we learnt from this trip and apply them gradually in my work in the future. It was a very rewarding journey. Our future plans will definitely benefit from our experience on the trip.

Photo sharing:
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Dr Kada Yukiko, Governor of Shiga Prefecture, introduces the changes at Lake Biwako to us.
Mr Kawaguchi Yoshikazu pushes the wild grass aside to show us the soil, rich with nutrients due to the No Dig method.
We can see the fertile soil in Mr Kawaguchi's paddy field.
Housework, like laundry, is collectively done by the members in the Yamagishi community.
Members of the Kasugayama Village have their meals in the canteen together every day.
There is a weekly and sometimes biweekly kensan meeting that all members of the Yamagishi Association must attend – an effective way of communicating that helps reduce conflicts.