To help transition Japan to a peace promoting post-carbon country while enjoying every step of the process.
僕のビジョンは、祖国日本で、平和文化を育みポストカーボン(Post-Carbon) 社会を促進してゆく事です。

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Trip to Japan 2010: exploring Japanese permaculture Part 3

YAMANASHI: hippies, artists, and natural farmers
山梨県 おおえまさのりと若子さん

I visited Masanori and Wakako Oe (Oes) who my wonderful friend Andy had persistently encouraged me to meet over the last two years. I knew very little about the Oes, but I trust Andy's recommendations. The Japanese I met through his recommendations in the past have been very impressive people, who shared my vision and values. (click here for that story A Different Kind of Luxury)

The Oes are very grounded old school Japanese hippies living in an alternative culture hotspot full of artists and farmers. They are impressive elders from whom I hope to learn more from in the near future. Andy writes poetically about the Oes so I invite you to at least read the online article to learn more about them. As a teaser here are some interesting highlights, Masanori Oe survived a B-29 machine gun attack as a child, translated The Tibetan Book of the Dead into Japanese, met Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (aka Ram Daas) when he moved to New York to study film, and was one of the main organisers for the Festival of Life (8/8/88), which has numerous parallels to the original Woodstock Festival.

Our life connections: During the 70s he started the "Hobbit Village" in Nishi Ogikubo (Tokyo), a unique venue with one of the first organic vegetable markets, a restaurant, bookstore, and a free school where my parents attended lamaze lessons in the months before my birth. Coincidence?

Andy's book A Different Kind of Luxury is a great resource to learn more about the Oes philosophy and life, in addition to other exceptional Japanese who live elegantly.

You can read more about the Oes on Andy's blog too

and here are articles on the internet Andy wrote on Masanori and Wakako

Wakako Oe, with whom my interaction was unfortunately brief, is not only a very experienced farmer but also an artist in all sorts of media including traditional wooden puppets. The Oes' house is decorated with natural art and artful pieces of nature, and their lives are truly fascinating works of art.

The weekend I visited them coincided with the quarterly Yatsugatake Natural Farming Gathering. Above, the instructor, Mr. Mitsui, is using the kama to cut the soil in order to plant a piece of potato. I was told that the kama is the only tool you need in natural farming, sort of like the machete in parts of Latin America.

Natural farming schools can be found all over Japan now. Chinese medicine practitioner and natural farmer Yoshikazu Kawaguchi has been central to the evolution of the natural farming movement and the increase in localised schools hosted by motivated natural farmers.

The Oes also host students to study natural farming, both rice paddy and gardening, on their land. Masanori started organic farming in the 90s, and after an inspiring encounter with Yoshikazu he transitioned to natural farming. He told me that they bought land recently because it takes years to develop the soil for natural farming and as a renter you might be kicked off the land by the time you finally develop a balanced ecology. I'm still trying to appreciate the fundamental differences between organic farming that I'm familiar with, and natural farming which I'm just starting to understand.
Natural farming is deep and really challenging!

I find it extremely exciting to meet people like the Oes, and it fuels my motivation to leave the alternative West Coast scene in the US that I thrive in, and prepare to return and settle in Japan. Teachers and community makes all the difference, and conscious farmers have been fundamental influences in my life.

OSAKA: Quick stop at school-days home
大阪 自然と母のアーバン・フォレスト・ガーデン

My family home in Osaka.
Its a typical prefab modern house that looks like its made of plastic.
The house is quite small by American standards, but a good size for Japanese.
Very little front yard space that is dedicated to bicycle parking, laundry hanging, and a mini garden.

Above is the garden in all its entirety.
A mini food forest co-created by my mom and nature.
The beds are about two feet wide and about three yards long,
with a mix of fill and store bought soil.

The cast are dwarf cherry, raspberry, goji berry (volunteer), rosemary, climbing rose, ferns (adopted), and a bunch of perennial volunteers including the tree to the left, probably a keyaki (Zelkova serrata). I added an apple tree this year, and we will probably remove the keyaki as it is entangled in the power lines and dropping unsolicited organic matter on our neighbors' concrete. The challenge of urban food forests in extra tiny spaces.

Big trees are uncommon in Japanese cities in comparison to the US, and are more likely to be a source of conflict with neighbors. An American PhD student at University of Tokyo studying urban forests pointed out that Japanese cities have hardly any forests. A key factor might be density. Japanese cities are super dense!

Hey thats a permaculture principle: Small Intensive Systems.

An urban community garden sandwiched in between apartment complexes.
Despite the density and limited community space, I was able to spot numerous community gardens in Osaka and Tokyo.

The average age of those tending the community gardens appeared quite high.
Probably only people over 60, and most likely a great source of stories and knowledge. What an awesome resource.

I included my stop in Osaka in this entry because I want to acknowledge the potential that exists in urban areas, and stimulate my desire to engage with that world that I have yet to appreciate.

Next will be the final entry of this series,
and perhaps the most exciting potential project that I've come across.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Trip to Japan 2010: exploring Japanese permaculture Part 2


SAITAMA: Farming experience for city dwellers
埼玉 ビーチャレと金子さんの霜里農場

Jan. 15th
This picture is from an event I went to called "Beer Challenge",
a program for city dwellers who want to get a taste of farm work/life,
with the final goal of making beer.There are three events per year related to barely growing and processing. The organisers offer another version called "Rice Challenge". I think there is a trend both in the US and Japan where urban folks are interested in reconnecting with the source of their food and beverages.

For this particular event, we stepped on the young shoots of barley to encourage root growth and strong stems. I was told that this is a strategy in response to tsuyu, the Japanese early summer rainy season. If the stems are tall and thin, the barley will bend from the weight of the water from the rain, and the barley will mold.

The irony of this picture is that the tractor had already done the "stomping" for us. I think very few farmers actually step on the barely with their feet these days. It's also ironic that I paid about $25 to go do (fake) farm work after living on a homestead-farm the past 7 months. And I don't even drink alcohol!
I love irony.

I went barefoot.
Living in Tokyo really makes me long for connection with the earth.
What a pleasant sensation of feeling cold dry soft soil and young barely shoots beneath my skin. That's the good life.

A big reason I attended the Beer Challenge was to meet kindred souls in Japan.
The host farm, called Shimosato or Frostpia Farm, was featured on a TV special that I saw,
and I learned about Yoshinori Kaneko, the owner, who has been practicing organic farming since the 70s.

He uses a CSA model, and unique features of his farm include veggie oil for fuel, biogas production, biochar production, solar electricity and water heating, ducks in his rice paddies, free-range cows and chickens, shiitake production, and interdependence with the satoyama. He hosts interns too.
The website of his farm is:

The bonus irony is that Yoshinori was away that day to do a lecture at an agricultural university. The other person I was hoping to meet, the organiser of the event, was not able to be there either. In Hawaii we would call this "ah big bummah".

Well insulated compost.
I love the practical artfulness of rural Japan.
Bamboo posts and leaves are from the adjacent satoyama forest, and the rest of the material are from the rice fields and gardens.

For the second half of the beer challenge event,

we helped thin bamboo in the satoyama forest.

One of the most needed work in satoyamas are thinning and containing bamboo.

The task is quite challenging because the bamboo has grown densely throughout the steep hill sides. Its hard to get a good footing and find an unobstructed angle to push the saw through.

Bamboo can snap and not only whack you hard but cut you pretty bad too. Luckily no attendees got hurt. The event host had a chipper and the bamboo pieces were spread in the satoyama forest as mulch to speed up decomposition. Bamboo posts accumulate quickly blocking access and becoming a fire hazard. Management is crucial to maintain a harmonious balance in this ethnoecological system.

Pictured above is one of Yoshinori's interns, a father of two, joyfully carrying bamboo leaves back to the farm for mulch and compost. The basket is made of bamboo too. Bamboo is an amazing plant with an impressive amount of uses. The shoots are tasty, great material for charcoal, flooring, scaffolding, construction material, fence, etc. I recommend "The Book of Bamboo" for those of you curious about all things bamboo.

SHIZUOKA: Izu peninsula to meet up with the Bullocks
静岡 南伊豆でブロックスに会いに

Jan. 16th

I ventured to the Southern tip of the Izu peninsula to visit the Bullocks, and their Japanese counterparts. During one of our walks, I saw this tree with daikon radishes hanging from it. Looks pretty bizarre. I think these are being dried out to make crunchy "takuan" pickles.

I heard that there was an onsen (hotspring) nearby with a green house enclosure in this area where they grow tropical fruits (e.g. bananas and papayas). I also passed by an onsen-powered greenhouse producing melons. The idea of having land with access to onsen water got me really excited. Maybe I can grow avocados, mangos, and coconut palms...... well, probably more realistic for me to grow bananas, papayas, and passion fruit.

KANAGAWA: Fujino a hotspot for alternative culture right by Tokyo
神奈川 藤野の里山長家プロジェクト

Feb. 12th

In Fujino, I attended an open house event for a project called "Satoyama Nagaya Living - Fujino Project", led by permaculture design course graduates and one of the main instructors, an architect passionate about eco-communities. "Nagaya" literally means long-house, somewhat similar to what Bristish people call row house. The "nagaya" theme embodies their desire to explore the disappearing co-housing model of Japan, where sharing responsibilities and resources was a regular practice while respecting private space too.

The land is 200 tsubo (about 660 square meters) and each unit is about 66~70 square meters. There are four units total plus a community area for events. Each house including the land came out to be about 25 million yen. They sourced their materials locally (e.g. wood and clay) and the structure was designed to maximise passive solar energy. Energy consuming appliances like bath, washing machine, refrigerator, and oven are shared and located in the communal space to reduce energy use and associated costs.

They have a communal blog to share their experiences and encourage similar projects around Japan. They will be doing additional workshops and classes on satoyama living and other sustainability related topics.

Fujino city (pop: 11,000) is a hotspot for alternative culture, hosting a vibrant Transition Town movement and the Permaculture Center Japan. I read that during WWII many artists evacuated to Fujino, and ever since there has been a strong presence of art, like a huge love letter nestled into the forest. Fujino is also one of the closest satoyamas to Tokyo, that supports farmers whose lives are connected to the managed forest ecosystems. They also host one of the two Monbusho* approved Steiner schools of Japan.

*Japanese equivalent to Ministry of Education

Part three will be about concrete projects that I'm thinking about plugging into,
and some really interesting artist farmer elders that I came across.

Ojizo sama.
Stone bodhisattvas that can be found all over Japan,

Trip to Japan 2010: exploring Japanese permaculture Part 1

An overview of my trip to Japan this past winter.

One of my desired outcomes for the trip was to survey the alternative scene of Japan and network with like-minded people. There are a number of things I need to figure out as I move back to my birth country, like communities ripe for joining, financial opportunities to support my research and projects with, and innovative projects to channel my passion into. I also want to continue my function as a bridge between the English speaking world and Japanese speaking world of alternative sustainability-centered cultures. Cross pollination. What a joy!

Three points before you read
1. This entry, part 1, will be about Tokyo, and things that I thought might be interesting to share. Sort of like a cultural exchange. The latter entries will cover some of my research into sustainability related projects and places in Japan.

2. I am searching for similar minded people for potential projects in Japan that are explained in the second half of the entry. Lets find each other....eventually. I'm going to be in Japan from mid-Aug (2011) until mid-Sept (2011) or up to my death depending on various known and unknown situations. If not from this winter, by next spring I am planning to settle in Japan.

3. This entry is a sliver of my experience and perspective from my winter trip in Japan, so please take it with a grain of salt. I have strong ideas and feelings about urban and rural Japan. Don't be misled by my extremist mind:) In fact, this is a good warning for my whole blog!

TOKYO: the tripout

Seico gearing up for experiments about how environmental toxins (e.g. dioxin) affect our neural and endocrine systems. She works almost all day every day, collecting data and devising experiments. Its a fascinating life-style and the intensive lab community experience is quite a unique phenomena. I've heard of stories where students will work non-stop, forgetting to eat, and sleep on the floor of the lab when their bodies force them to. That is dedication.
What a trippy world.

Its interesting to hear her stories about taking care of mice, going to campus just to feed them and clean their cages on weekends (like a farmer there are no days off), and sharing about how cute they are or how they behave. Similarly, I am here on a farm taking care of hissing ducks, feeding them, collecting eggs, and keeping an eye out for "their well-being". Seico and her colleagues do their absolute best to keep the mice stress-free, so they do not contaminate their data which focuses on environmental stressors. They go through rigorous ethical training, something that most consumers of creatures and vegetables could benefit from.

I am not a conscious supporter of animal experimentation, and it feels inherently "wrong", but then again I'm sure I've benefited in many ways from research based on animal (including yeasts and fruit flies) testing. And who am I to judge, when I raise creatures for eggs, meat, and slug control?

I also want to mention as a related tangent the crazy industrial agricultural scene, like the soy industry, that is replacing whole ecosystems, wiping out whole populations of diverse organisms.
Check out the short article below

Train station in Tokyo during rush hour.
Pretty intense.
It's not always like this but the peak hours often look like this.
Employees will literally push people into the trains so the doors can close.
Like cans of sardines on a unstoppable schedule.
As the doors open, the train unleashes a flood of bodies.
Its hard not to be swept away in the current.

Exposed garbage in Tokyo.
I wonder if the visual impact of this pile of trash serves as a negative feedback loop.
Perhaps its just part of the Tokyo urban decor.
The giant plastic bins I've seen in the US are more pleasant and neat,
but conceals the evidence of our large volumes of consumption waste.
Most of this garbage here is probably plastic (lots and lots of wrapping) and will all be incinerated, releasing complex environmental toxins, some of which my partner is studying.

The roasted piping hot sweet potato truck!
These are common during the cold winter days.
The creamy yellow steaming sweet flesh warms you up from the inside.
I heard that some of these sweet potato vendors are actually run by the yakuza (Japanese mafia).

Other common food vending trucks are the late-nite ramen trucks.
I highly recommend a movie called "Tanpopo" which is a very creative and well-made Japanese film that explores the bizarre food culture of Japan, but primarily focused on ramen.
Very entertaining and will make you hungry.
Ramen is a very serious food, and people will spend decades perfecting a bowl of noodles.
Not to be mistaken with Top Ramen!

Typical lunch for 1000yen (about $13 at the moment),
we do not tip so 1000 yen means 1000 yen.
The food experience is excellent in Japan!
Flavour, presentation, ambience, and customer appreciation.
I remember being followed from the restaurant to the elevator by a waitress from a soba store, and she bowed deeply to me as the door of the elevators slowly shut.
In Japan we say, "the customer is god".

Rice (the soul of Japanese food), main dish (whole grilled fish, this one is Pacific saury), light soup, salad (unfortunately macaroni in this instance), pickled veggies, veggies with vinegar,
followed by dessert with tea or coffee, is a common lunch set.

The Japanese fruit scene is bizarre in so many ways.
1. Wrapping: each fruit is wrapped either in plastic, paper,
or Styrofoam baskets in the case of peaches.

2. Cost: About $7 per Mutsu apple on the left and $80 for the Musk melon.
I've even seen melons for $200! They are not always so expensive though.
You can get melons as cheap as $7.

3. No organic fruits: I have never seen an organic fruit from Japan in stores. Natural food stores will often indicate how much less their fruits were sprayed with chemical pesticides. Like six sprays on watermelons, which might be a third of the average spraying dose. I'm surprised that for people who obsess with mastery, and with a long history of chemical-free agriculture, nobody seems to have successfully produced organic fruits on a commercial scale in Japan. I wonder if this is primarily a result of our rainy hot humid summers and requirement for perfectly formed fruit. I must say, I'm always impressed with the uniformity of fruits that are often amazingly delicious and plump
with fantastic juicy texture.

Actually, I do know of one apple farmer in Japan who recovered from a suicide attempt in the forest and now successfully sells apples that are known as the miracle apple. I heard his apples sell out a year or two in advance. Supposedly, unlike chemical and organically grown apples, his natural farming apples do not rot and simply shrivle. He sells them for cheap too,
as he wants everyone to have access to good apples.
I'll write more about this "miracle apple" soon.

My favorite cake, Mont Blanc.
An adapted treat from Paris, made with chestnut cream.
For a chestnut lover like me, this cake is exquisitely delightful.
It requires skill to stew the chestnut (on the very top) without tearing the soft bitter skin,
which gives the chestnut a dark brown look.
Nothing like Mont Blanc with a proper cup of afternoon milk tea.

This is truly revolutionary.
Japan is extremely conservative about recreational drugs,
but I have always felt that cigarettes and alcohol consumption were encouraged.
Both were readily available in vending machines along the sidewalks and and my middle school friends would even go buy them at the convenience stores.
Students would find places to smoke at school,
and teachers would congragate in their designated smoking areas.
Most of my high school friends in Japan still smoke cigarettes regularly,
and that has been a major barrier in our friendship, as hangout spots tend to be enclosed areas hot-boxed with cigarette smoke.

Now, there are whole streets in Tokyo that prohibit smoking,
and most cigarette vending machines require a card only issued to those over 19 year old.
Some restaurants have smoke-free hours which is super nice since smoke masks the aroma of food, a crucial element in the experience of eating. There are more and more designated smoking areas in airports and cities too, some of which are small boxes that contain the smoke and look like a very unhealthy place to be. I can't imagine being on a flight from Japan to the US
when it was still ok to smoke in the plane.

Hundreds of pots on the sidewalk.
My mom told me that potted plants have been part of Edo culture.
Space is extremely limited in Tokyo,
and this is probably a barely legal way to indefinitely utilise "public" space.
Since my partner has no "land", I filled the apartment with pots of store bought plants and cuttings I collected. Gardening in pots is a very different experience from doing it in earth,
but I'll take what I get......for now.

The day I got to Tokyo coming back from the Bullocks Permaculture Homestead via Hawaii,
I noticed this papaya tree on the side of an office building.
It was a nice treat to bridge the gap between the tropics and freezing cold Japan.
The employee who planted it just spread seeds from a papaya he ate.
Thats the spirit!
A mango seedling is also in the mix here.
Neither will probably produce edible fruit,
but many people will benefit from a stimulated sense of wonder.
Definitely got me excited.

Next entry will go into the juicy projects ripe with opportunities that I came across in Japan.
Stay tuned.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Figs for Fun イチジクマニア

Here's a website permaculture instructor
and fruit loving super nerd Johnny V., shared with me.
His international fruit show is not to be missed!
If you love figs or are interested in plant nerdyness, check it out.
You can enjoy a fig picture marathon if you click on "Variety".
Click on each alphabet to fully experience the diversity of figs.




Manufactured Landscapes いまここにある風景

I mentioned this documentary in the May in pictures article.
This is the preview.
I wonder if any permaculture designers would jump on this
"the problem is the solution" mega project.
Anybody up for this opportunity?


Sunday, July 10, 2011

May in Pictures Part 2

The Magical Marsh of May

The fine ladies trellising peas in the main garden

Preparing a hoop house for tomatoes in the main garden

mmm....baking bread.
I love the intimacy of kneading.
It fascinates me that this process is about managing an ecology,
creating the right environment for a living culture.

Siobhan wheel-barreling with style.
Michael is in the back peering into the depths of the woodchips
after spraying plants with some suspicious liquid.

Your average meeting.
Standing, sitting, stretching and yoga.
The Bullocks are not known for their ability to sit still.

Cute little fig babies


Wednesday (the duck) eating our compost.

Josta babies

Cherry flowers
What better place to have tea in the Spring than under cherry blossoms.
I like to do informal Japanese tea ceremonies,
with maccha tea and wagashi (Japanese tea snack that is usually mochi and azuki based).

So tasty and plump.
I hope they will grow wherever I end up settling in Japan.

Pizza party
Remember, when you plan your permaculture dreamstead,
design in enticements like a woodfired pizza oven, solar boom box with rims (spinning kind is best), and pizza dough. And, if you want to take it to the next level, sauna or hottub.
I think it'd be pretty likely you'll get a good amount of willing volunteers if you had those things. Thats how you build a barn or something for cheap.

Post-breakfast 5 minute dance party,
following a group tooth brushing and flossing session.
Adele is on heavy rotation.

Main path in bloom.
I wonder what it does to you psychologically and physiologically when you walk on a path like this as opposed to a sidewalk along a busy road surrounded by concrete buildings and neon lights.
Thats one of my fears of Tokyo living.
I imagine that the landscape you are surrounded with has a profound impact on our lives.
Speaking of which......

Manufactured Landscapes
Sam recommended a documentary called Manufactured Landscapes and I just watched it. What a overwhelmingly disturbing and fascinating reality. I highly highly recommend it. It was mind blowing. How can we apply permaculture to these landscapes?
for more info on that (click on film)

Newly grafted tree nursery
This is a way to save space and allow the tree to size-up.
Its amazing that these strange-looking sticks with tacky rubber bands wrapped around them,
are going to be a fruit tree with tasty fruits we chose.


Man, what an awesome berry.

Nature's beauty
A madrone expressing its naked beauty.
They grow in very peculiar shapes.

Homemade fruit wine.
Its alive!!!!!!

What a trippy world we live in.
This is a ceanothus flower just as it starts to bloom.
Makes me want to give the little blossoms a kiss.

Sam presents the dense entry way planting.
He's pointing to the Italian Stone Pine which is a cold hardy pine nut producer,
to the right in the shadows is an Incense Cedar known for its fragrant wood
and the tall tree with spreading branches is an European Beech that also produces edible nuts.
The grayish cone shaped tree behind Sam's left hand is an Atlas Cedar, native to the Atlas mountains of Algeria. Most of these are large trees so perhaps a few of them will be removed at some point.

Here is a relatively young chinampa bank/path way.
Its quite springy and occasionally your foot might puncture through and dip into the marsh.
What a cool pattern and use of resources.

Our ferrocement water tank half full.
The roof is a new addition from last year.
Pretty heavy duty roof capable of a snow load. the post was custom welded by a welder on the island.
Pretty important to live close to skilled crafts people.
There most likely be a day when cheap Chinese products will no longer be available.
Then where will you get your tools, materials, and products?

Jane, Simon, and Siobhan working on the plumbing for the ferrocement tank.

When you call Dave, this is the other end.
Its a fun image of someone calling from the concrete jungle of some city,
to Dave standing in the midst of an edible forest garden.
I'm so glad I don't have a cell phone....but Tokyo (aka Babylon) awaits.

The attack of the tent caterpillars.
We removed them semi-swiftly.
Looks like a party up there.

The beautiful bachlor's button.

Onion loving.
Our onions this year are really struggling.
It seems like birds are picking them out,
weathers been cool, and probably other factors.
But we love onions so much!
Next door, are garlics which also had some problems,
and it seems like a significant amount has molded.
I need a distraction.....

Ooo, the Sizzling Bliss Rangers in action.
If you're lonely, and need someone to fix your hoop house,
why not hire these guys.
The Bliss Rangers can stack some functions, if you know what i mean.

Looks like a futuristic plastic farm operation.
Plastic tarp, plastic liquid receptacles fashioned into hot caps, and plastic drip tape.
Such a unfortunately useful product.
Imagine a world without plastic.......
That will be a challenging transition for the human race.

Three little squashlings in a rich pocket of soil surrounded by black plastic
for weed suppression and heat.

The main garden.
Isn't this what life is about.....a garden of joy.

Canoe meeting with Nico on the marsh.
Nico and I have done some co-facilitating/teaching this year and it has been amazing.
We are both really interested in teaching and exploring social permaculture.
I think here, we are doing positives and improvables from our last session.

Professional permaculture designers at work.
The green house also serves as an office,
in addition to sauna, wood-fired shower, winter kitchen, etc.

Preview for my nextish entry about the Village Building Convergence in Portland.
This Singing Alive event that we landed on at Tryon Farm was a beautiful experience.
What an enchanting event, younger and older people sharing songs and everyone singing along.
I hope to live in a community that sings and dances regularly.
It nourishes my soul.