Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Final Staw: "What a Natural Farmer Eats"

(Video: Final Straw)

Via Final Straw, a documentary by Patrick Lydon and Suhee Kang:
This series of 'Short Take' interviews offer sneak peaks of characters from the upcoming documentary film, which explores Japanese natural farming and the relationships between people and the environment.

This time around, we meet Osamu Yoshino, a natural agriculture farmer, and Keiko Domae a food activist who started one of Japan's first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) networks. These two individuals worked together to build a successful natural farm by fostering a strong consumer awareness of the relationship between food, farm, and people...

Natural Farming was brought to the modern day agricultural world by two Japanese farmers, Masanobu Fukuoka and Mokichi Okada, and since its introduction has been slowly making its way into communities around the world who wish to create a more sustainable life, and to create closer connections with the land in our towns and cities.

More about Final Straw:
Due for initial screening in Spring of 2014, Final Straw is a cinematic exploration of Japanese natural farming, and...individuals who offer simple solutions to modern issues of sustainability, both on the farm and in the city. The film interacts with a cast of office workers, chefs, musicians, and farmers alike, all of who are students of the late Japanese farmer/philosopher, Masanobu Fukuoka.

It all started on a small mist-covered mountain farm in South Korea, and continued to include over 20 natural farmers in East Asia and the USA...And today, with over 1/2 of the world’s population living in urban areas, it seems we need to revisit this connection with nature more than ever before.
More about Osamu Yoshino, Keiko Domae, and the development of CSA in Japan:

Natural Agriculture farmer finds locating a market more challenging than letting go of chemicals (Lisa M. Hamilton,, Feb. 13, 2004)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Community-Supported Agriculture in South Korea: "Ground Zero for Food Sovereignty..."

The Korean Women’s Peasant Association (KWPA), a national organization of women farmers
 based in Seoul receive the 2012 Food Sovereignty grand prize. 
(Photo: Grist)

In "South Korea: Ground Zero for Food Sovereignty and Community Resilience," published last week at The Nation, Christine Ahn and Anders Riel Muller describe how South Korean small farmers and the communities, food buyers supporting them are challenging the country's industrial elite who want to end traditional organic Korean agriculture and outsource food production to corporate-owned plantations in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America.  These visionary small farmers helping to pioneer the direction of sustainable agriculture for the world:
...And yet, despite a series of domestic and international policies that have sought to systematically eliminate them, South Korean farmers and peasants are fighting back. They have protested the WTO and bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) for two decades, inspiring peasant farmers throughout the global south to mobilize against the free trade regime. At home, they are trying to build a domestic food sovereignty movement that is ecologically sustainable, socially equitable and economically resilient by producing healthy food, creating dignified rural livelihoods and reviving farming communities.

Instead of being blinded by South Korean high-tech bling, our eyes should be on South Korea’s food sovereignty movement. It offers the rest of us robust alternatives to the highly consolidated, industrialized, energy-intensive and chemical-dependent globalized food systems that dominate all of our lives.

In August, we co-organized and participated in a Food First Food Sovereignty Tour where we visited South Korea’s leading organic farms and progressive farmer-consumer cooperatives. South Korea is now a leader in the Asian region in organic production, so much so that the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements set up its offices there. And while there were many inspiring organic farms and gardens, two organizations stand out: the Korean Women Peasants Association (KWPA) and Hansalim.

“The food that is being sold by capitalism is sold as a commodity instead of food that sustains us,” explained Jeong-Yeol Kim of My Sister’s Garden, a KWPA project. “That’s why we believe that helping farmers thrive is the only way to fix this food crisis, and the pathway to do so would be to ensure that consumers and every citizen join us in the process of making this come true....

“Children today have no connection to the rural land,” explains Jeong-Yeol. Unlike previous generations, many children today no longer have grandparents or relatives living in the countryside who are connected in any way to farming. “So part of the effort of this partnership is to expose children to food production.”

...hese KWPA projects seek to radically alter the structure of the Korean food system and to de-commodify the linkages between consumers and producers. It has not been in vain. In 2012, KWPA was awarded with the Food Sovereignty Prize for their work to defend the rights of small-scale women farmers in Korea and preserve the cultural heritage of Korean native seeds.

In 1986, even before farmers’ markets and CSA programs became popular in the United States, South Korean farmers and consumers began Hansalim. “Han” in Korean means great, one, whole and together, and refers to all living things on earth. “Salim” refers to domestic activities that must be managed to care for one’s home, family, children and community, as well as to revive and give life.

With 2,000 growers and 380,000 consumer members, Hansalim is among the world’s largest and most successful agricultural cooperatives, creating an alternative economy that supports organic farmers and local agriculture, producing healthy food and protecting the environment in the process. Despite the global financial crisis, its sales have been growing annually by 20 percent.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Restoring the Soil, Restoring Ourselves: Yoshikazu Kawaguchi

Great photography and content about Yoshikazu Kawaguchi 
at filmmaker and photographer Patrick M. Lyndon's website
 Lyndon's and Suhee Kang's film, Final Straw, 
explores natural farming in Korea, Japan, and the U.S.

Ted Taylor's beautiful essay at KJ, "Even in 'Just Enough' There is Abundance," follows farmer Yoshikazu Kawaguchi's return to traditional organic farming and the development of his natural philosophy:
In fact, all life in the natural world is lived, as demonstrated in the interrelationship of all living things. Plants cannot exist without animals, and vice-versa. If there is good harmony between the organisms, plants, and animals, the cycle of life continues. As a farmer, Kawaguchi's role is simply to nurture this natural order, by cutting the weeds back just enough so that new rice shoots can grow, but later her allows the weeds to grow along with the rice in harmony. This leads to wholeness, with everything living together.
Final Straw, an upcoming documentary by Patrick M. Lyndon and Suhee Kang, also explores Kawaguchi's world  (and that of Seonghyun Choi and other natural farmers in Japan and Korea):

Environmental artist duo Patrick Lydon and Suhee Kang... are now in the final post-production stage for the Final Straw documentary. Due for initial screening in Spring of 2014, Final Straw is a cinematic exploration of Japanese natural farming, and a philosophical ride through the minds of amazing individuals who offer simple solutions to modern issues of sustainability, both on the farm and in the city. The film interacts with a cast of office workers, chefs, musicians, and farmers alike, all of who are students of the late Japanese farmer/philosopher, Masanobu Fukuoka.

It all started on a small mist-covered mountain farm in South Korea, and continued to include over 20 natural farmers in East Asia and the USA. The Final Straw is a story about food, life, and philosophy from individuals who have a great deal of delicious secrets, and a great deal of wisdom to impart about life. Yet, while the Final Straw is a deeply rooted exploration of natural farming, it’s also a film which teaches equally as much about how to live life as it does about how to grow healthy food. And today, with over 1/2 of the world’s population living in urban areas, it seems we need to revisit this connection with nature more than ever before.

Over the past 100 years, our gradual reliance on industry and separation from the natural world have pushed us into the most epically unsustainable and unhealthy time period yet known to humanity.

Food and diet have quietly become the leading cause of death in the U.S., and on a world scale, intensive chemical-based industrial agriculture have caused the deterioration of billions of acres of farmland, the starvation of millions of human beings, and the loss of over 75% of our planet’s agricultural diversity.

The destruction of natural resources continues at an alarming rate, and both governments and food producers are looking for answers to questions of human health and ecological sustainability, with a multi-billion dollar industry leading the charge to find the most economically profitable answer.

It’s slightly amusing then, that that on a few small farms tucked away in the mountain valleys of Japan and South Korea, Patrick and Suhee found a very simple 4,000 year-old answer to this very perplexing modern question.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"War is Over! (If You Want It): Yoko Ono" • Sydney MCA • Nov. 15, 2013 - Feb. 23, 2014

"WAR IS OVER! (IF YOU WANT IT)" opened Nov. 15, 2013 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.  This is the first major survey in Australia of legendary artist, musician and peace activist Yoko Ono. "The exhibition encompasses five decades of practice in diverse media including eight participatory works. Themes include loss, conflict, humanity and the desire for world peace."  Ono designed the interactive parts of the exhibition to encourage collaboration, linked to a central theme of world peace.

Curated by MCA Chief Curator Rachel Kent, the title comes from a text by Ono and her late husband John Lennon that first appeared in 1969—in the middle of the Vietnam War—across public billboards in twelve cities worldwide, including Tokyo, Hong Kong, Toronto, Berlin, Paris, New York, and London.

While other visual artists have also engaged in peace art and activism, Ono is perhaps the most renowned peace artist of our time.  How did the impetus for her highly focused creative work originate?

Ono has explained that a childhood experience of the firebombing of Tokyo awakened her understanding of the human costs of military violence, fueling her peace art and activism for five decades.

Her father was an international banker and moved his family between the United States and Japan, so, as a child, Ono developed positive attachments to both countries. When the Pacific War broke out, she was eight-years-old, living in Tokyo.  She and her family survived (by taking shelter in a basement in their Azabu home) the firebombings of Tokyo, including the massive March 9-10, 1945 raid—the most destructive bombing raid in world history. At minimum, the napalm-fueled bombings destroyed 16 square miles (41 km2) of the city and killed 100,000 people.

In a 2007 interview with Amy Goodman:
I remember, when I was a little girl, a young — you know, when I was very young, one day I had high fever because of just a cold. You know, I had a cold.

And so, my family all went down into the basement to make sure that, you know, they’re alright. It’s a kind of shelter that they created in the garden actually. But I couldn’t go.

And I was just sort of in my bed, and I saw that all the houses next to us and all the places around me were just all fire. I go, "Oh." But, you know, when you’re young, and that’s the only reality you’re working through, you don’t really get totally scared or anything. You know, you’re just looking at it like an objective film or something like that. "Oh, this is what’s happening," you know?

And because of that memory of what I went through in the Second World War, I think that I really — it embedded in me how terrible it is to go through war.
To those who charge that she is "optimistic" or "naive," Ono points out that she is a simply a resilient pragmatist who cares about life and our planet—and does what she can do—which includes encouraging others to do what they can do to support peace building at multiple levels:
Well, you know, most people say, "Oh, you’re so optimistic. I mean, what’s wrong with you?" I’m not really that optimistic.

I am trying to make us survive. And in the course of survival, we don’t have the luxury to be negative. That’s a luxury that we can’t afford.

 And we just have to do what we can do. And I think that instead of getting so upset with some people, you know, or some countries which are doing this, doing that — "How dare they," whatever — I think we should just do what we can do.
 In a Reuters article about this current exhibition, she compares 1969 with 2013:
When John and I stood up, very few people were activists. Now I think 90 percent of the world is activists. If you're not an activist, you'd be considered a nerd maybe.

 (Image: Colin Davidson, The Guardian)

"Pieces of Sky"—WW II German helmets with blue jigsaw pieces inside.
Visitors are told, "Take a piece of sky. Know that we are all part of each other."

"Play It By Trust"/"White Chess Set"
(Photo: Iain MacMillan,© 1966 YOKO ONO)

Shinya Watanabe:"Through her simple alteration of the chessboard
 (a war strategy game), the artist made it extremely hard for the chess players to 
 fight each other, and this creates new relationships between the opponents."

Friday, November 15, 2013

Beautiful Energy - 1st Anniversary Celebration - Tokyo - Nov. 30, 2013

(Photo: Beautiful Energy)

Via Jacinta Hin and Natsu no Color of Tokyo-based Beautiful Energy/The Stand for a Nuclear-Free World.
Beautiful Energy is... born out of the weekly Friday anti-nuclear demonstrations in Tokyo in front of and around the prime minister's residence and Parliament. Through inspired, peaceful action we stand for a nuclear-free world that thrives on renewable energy.

Our current, ongoing project is Candles for Peace. Every Friday, from 6-8pm Japan time, we gather in front of parliament in kokkai gijido, joining the weekly anti-nuclear protest, and create a beautiful display of candlelight to symbolize our intentions...
This group of visionary citizen activists in Tokyo radiate positive (and beautiful) emotional, ethical energy and holistic vision.  They're engaged in outreach and support for Fukushima nuclear refugees, (including bringing hot meals to elder refugees living in a shelter).  Sharing their kind of healing, constructive worldview is a first step in our collective transition from toxic to nontoxic, renewable energy production and use.
In November it will be one year since we lighted our Beautiful Energy candles for the first time. Time for a little celebration!

You are invited to our anniversary party in Tokyo on November 30. Join us for an intimate evening with live music, delicious graceful vegan foods and of course candles!

Date: November 30 (Saturday), from 19.00 – 22.30pm
Place: Bar GariGari (Tokyo, Setagaya-ku, Daizawa 2-45-9, .. Building B1 / / opposite Ikenoue Station, Inokashira-line (2 stops from Shibuya)

Charge: 2,000 yen (inclusive vegan buffet foods, music charge and charity donation).

* Vegan foods provided by our Friday neighbors Yuko Ogura and Yayoi Ito of Guerilla Café

* Drinks are not included. Please order at least one drink at the bar

* 500 yen will go to Share Your Christmas (SYC). SYC collects and brings Christmas presents from around the world to people in Tohoku affected by the 3/11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster (

Please bring your own chopsticks, so we may reduce waste and spread eco-energy!

19:00 Start

19:20 Anniversary Speech

19:30 Special Message from people from all over the world♪

19:45 Music time: nuclear-free world songs by Natsu, Chris and other Beautiful Energizers! (details to follow)

20:30 Enjoy conversation with each other!

22:30 End

Kindly let us know no later than November 20 if you plan to attend (and sooner if you can).

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

7th Organic Film Festival - Tokyo - Nov. 23-24, 2013

Via Organic Consumers Union:
The 7th organic film festival will be held in Tokyo on November 23-24, 2013.

This will be a great opportunity to catch up with recent trends and watch documentaries from Japan and abroad. The theme this year is “Holding on to the Soil” to reflect the hardships many farmers are experiencing, with special focus on Okinawa and Fukushima.

Location: Hosei University, Sotobori Campus (between Iidabashi and Ichigaya stations on the Sobu line)

Tickets: 1800 Yen (pre order) 2500 Yen ( at the entrance)

For more information please check the official website (J):

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Keibo Oiwa on the Localization Movement & Heirloom Vegetable Revival in Yamagata

In Keibo Shinichi Oiwa Tsuji's (14-min.) talk, "Cultural Creatives and Localization Movements in Asia," at the 2013 International Society of Economics and Culture (ISEC)  Economics of Happiness conference, the slow life advocate explores the heirloom vegetable revival in Yamagata, a prefecture in northwestern Tohoku:
Many people feel that localization is isolation. This is totally wrong. In fact, localization is to rediscover and recreate relationships. It restores meanings to relationships.

I will try to illustrate this with one example from Japan.

Shonai is the northeastern part of Japan, in Yamagata Prefecture. At the center of this local food movement is a charismatic chef and restaurant owner, [Masayuki] Okuda. Today he is one of the most renowned chefs in Japan and recognized as one of the slow food master chefs. He is known for his cooking philosophy: The distance that ingredients travel from field to table should be as short as possible. Dinners are served with the freshest of local ingredients, brimming with life energy.

When I met Okuda, he was a young and unknown chef and had just opened his own restaurant in Tsuroka City. He was active in a citizens' group called "Good Water Fan Club" protesting the construction of a dam and trying to preserve underground water wells that were soon to be destroyed.

I asked him why he got involved in this kind of movement. And his answer was, "The kernel of cooking is water." In fact, the region of Shonai was known for good water throughout history, and good sake.

The name of his restaurant, Al che-cciano, sounds to Japanese like Italian, but is actually an expression in Shonai dialect, meaning "It's been always here, hasn't it?".

Just after he opened his restaurant, he became good friends with one of his regular customers, [Hiroaki] Egashira, an agronomist from Yamagata University. Okuda would tell Egashira that, "My mission as a chef is to let people rediscover the quality of almost forgotten local foods, to encourage and support local farmers, and to create a community with a vibrant local economy."

So this rediscovery is what Okuda really meant by Al che-cciano.

Egashira was so happy learning about his new friend's mission as he himself was just launching production of a variety of heirloom vegetables.  Inspired by each other's passion for heirloom crops, Egashira and Okuda formed a team and started to explore the Shonai region, looking for farmers still preserving heirloom seeds...Egashira formed the Yamagata Forum for Indigenous Crops, with a magazine called Seeds...The forum's researchers have identified already more than 160 varieties of plants which had been, at one point, heirloom crops, transferred from generation to generation, but which had been almost forgotten.  Today, the forum's membership amounts to almost 400 citizens with many different backgrounds.

Kusajima, one of the key figures in the Shonai local food movement, and now a member of the prefectural parliament, is a good example of the new political activism. At the time of the Great Kobe Earthquake in 1995, Kusajima left work in Tokyo, and went to work in the disaster zone in Kobe. It was there he felt, for the first time, that he was part of a community where people willingly helped and supported one another.

He decided to return to his native region, Shonai, where he got involved in environmental issues, and found himself in a community of ecologically conscious people like Okuda and Egashira. With the support of this group, he was elected as a city councilor, and later a prefectural member of parliament, independent of any political party.  Since he played a leading role in the Good Water Fan Club, Kusajima's main campaign was about safeguarding the natural water system.

His thinking has not only been influenced by modern Western teachings, but also stemmed from the ancient nature religion of the region. He's a believer and practitioner of Shugendo...of which one of the traditional centers is the holy mountains of Haguro, in the middle of the Shonai region.

Shugendo is an ancient religion that originated in ancient Japan. It's an amalgamation of Taoism, Buddhism, and Shintoism...In this tradition, enlightenment is achieved by attaining oneness with the kami (deity...or spirits). This enlightenment is achieved by understanding the relationship between human beings and nature...

Another member of the local food movement is [Satoshi] Watanabe, a Shonai native and professional filmmaker. Her second feature documentary is Reviving Recipes, a colorful portrait of a community in the making. The protagonists of this film are Okuda, Egashira, and a local businessman and partners whose mutual collaboration leads to the emergence of a new local economy.

Watanabe explains, "In plants are a living cultural heritage that have been passed through decades and centuries, to provide generations not only food...but also farming methods and cooking methods.  In this day of globalization, however, that heritage had been overshadowed by big-scale market agriculture and was on the brink of being forgotten."

Watanabe shares the view with fellow members of this movement: An understanding of heirloom plants leads to an understanding of food, farming, and all the people involved. To revive and pass on local heirloom plants is not just a means to enjoy the bounty of food, but also to create and strengthen bonds among local people.

He and all the supporters of the film hope that Reviving Recipes will help remedy the serious problems surrounding food and farming today, not only in Japan, but throughout the world.

It is important to note that the local food movement in Shonai has its roots in the movement to safeguard the communal access to deep underground water and seeds. The sense of the commons is the foundation of a community. Starting with air, water, and seeds. This is what global corporations are trying to commodify.

The sense of the sacred is essential for community, especially in a time of global market economy when nothing is sacred and everything is translated into monetary value.

The local food movement in Shonai is inseparable from the local spiritual tradition like Shugendo. I recently interviewed one of the leaders of this tradition, Hoshino...and he defined what the meaning of yamabushi [practitioner of Shugendo] is.  It is a connector. Anybody who connects things and people: that's yamabushi...

It is a connector, anyone who connects.  All of us here might be yamabushi.  It is a community of prayer.

The word for happiness in Japanese is shiawase.  Awase means to relate and to bring together. This implies that being slow is an essential part of happiness.  A slow life is a happy life. A slow economy is not a bad economy. A slow business is not a bad business.  It is an art that restores, discovers, and creates meaningful relationships between humans and nature, humans to the land, to the community...

As we get local, we get better connected.  Our life gets more interesting and exciting. A slow life is an exciting life. But I'm afraid it might be a busy one.
Oiwa Tsuji is a professor of international studies at Meiji Gakuin University, and the co-author (with David Suzuki) of The Japan We Never Knew: A Journey of Discovery (with David Suzuki), a groundbreaking travelogue/history/exploration of Japan's indigenous, environmentalist, peace, and nuclear-free movements.


"Japan's Heirloom Vegetable Revival" (April 6, 2012,

Sloth Club (Japanese)

Slow Japan (Sloth Club blog in English)

More great speakers from the 2013 Economics of Happiness conference on video:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Alex Kerr's beautiful old/new Japanese country houses and the movement to save traditional Japan

Great talk and breathtaking photos by author and historic preservationist Alex Kerr at TEDx in Kyoto on his mission to save Japanese country houses (minka).
Japan is so rich: the natural environment, the fantastic traditional culture, the wealth of beauty and materials and spirit of lifestyle that you find in these old places. It's there and it can be saved.
Kerr uses double-paned windows for energy conservation. If his country houses were updated for solar, renewable energy, that would be even more modernizing, given 3/11's call to shift, downsize energy usage.

The reason small towns in Japan (and elsewhere) are experiencing depopulation is because they were built around local (agricultural, fishing) economies that have been collapsing under the global food industry's drive towards ever-increasing expansion...Japan's food sufficiency is now at 39%; when Alex Kerr came to Japan as a child (1960's), the nation’s food self-sufficiency rate was around 80%.

Kerr's work to restore country houses is one facet of a larger grassroots-driven local revitalization movement that seeks to save traditional Japan's agriculturally-rooted, rural cultures.

Tragically, Tohoku, much of which was stricken by the 3/11 disasters, was the bastion of Japan's sustainable, slow life, organic and heirloom food movement.  Areas in Tohoku not affected by the catastrophes (Yamagata) continue pioneering these shifts.

Elsewhere, young Japanese people are leaving urban areas to return to their rural roots to farm and open organic retreats.  Japanese singer Yae and her mother Tokiko Kato (also a renowned singer) have a farming community in Kamogawa (near Tokyo) that opened during the 1970's.  It's a model of downsizing energy use, revitalizing traditional self-sufficiency, and cultivating simplicity.

During his youth, Alex Kerr fell in love with Japanese country houses and the traditional culture that make up their  landscapes.  He belongs to a distinguished tradition of foreign residents (Lafcadio Hearn, Ernesto Fenollosa...) who worked to preserve traditional Japanese culture because they found the passing of its richness and beauty unbearable.  One can sense this appreciation in the atmosphere of Kerr's restored and beloved country house, Chiiori, in western Tokushima, a prefecture in Shikoku, on the Inland Sea.

Kerr is now acting as an advisor to rural Japanese villages seeking to stem depopulation by building up local tourist economies through restoring country houses (for short-term stays) and revitalizing local culture.

Spurred on by different motives—profit-seeking (sometimes, but not always, mixed with sincere appreciation of Japanese architectural heritage)—foreign and Japanese investors who are renovating older homes for rental income are also part of the drive to save and restore older Japanese houses, especially in Kyoto and Kamukura.  It's great that these minka and urban traditional houses (machiya) are being preserved, however historic preservation springing from this limited motivation may lack the larger vision and quality of Kerr and others who appreciate the multidimensional contexts of traditional Japanese culture.


More about the country house that captured Kerr's imagination and heart as a teenager: "Bringing an 18th-Century Farmhouse Back to Life" (Liza Foreman, NYT, Dec. 27, 2012)

Chiiori: Alex Kerr's first Japanese country house. (Photo: Alex Kerr)

More about restoring Japanese traditional houses as a business: 

"Japan’s Forsaken Homes Restored to Historic Styles Yield 80%" (Kathleen Chu and Katsuyo Kuwako, Bloomberg, Nov. 20, 2012)

"Historic Homes in Tokyo Attract More International Buyers" (Desiree Quijalvo,,  Oct. 30, 2012)