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, September 29, 2013

Permaculture in Japan (resources and sites to see)

Updated 2016 updated elements highlighted
Updated after April 10, 2014 updated elements highlighted
Updated Dec 19, 2013 updated elements highlighted. Descriptions about blogs added.
Updated Oct 29, 2013 updated elements highlighted




Hey, so I get an inquiry once in a while about where to check out for permaculture in Japan. I decided I'd try to organise what I've found so far. It's not comprehensive but its a start. Feel free to comment with additional info that you have, or if you found it helpful! (that'll motivate me to keep doing this stuff).

Basically, the Permaculture movement in Japan is still young and very little info is available in English. Not a lot of people seem to be doing permaculture (as a design method) beyond organic gardening, herb spiral making, and reskilling in the arts of miso making or natural clothes dying. It's not that impressive if you just look for capital "P" Permaculture. I also question whether importing Western-style permaculture elements really makes sense in the Japanese context. There is a difference between looking permaculture and being permaculture.

I would say permaculture has been practiced in Japan for hundreds of years (if not longer). The best practitioners alive often seem to be the really old rural farmers, carpenters, artists, etc who are dying without having a chance to pass on their wisdom. Many of these people have never heard of Permaculture, but they live it. You can find elderly villagers that are more than happy to share with you their amazing skills and knowledge, which are quite ordinary for them. In older districts of Tokyo, there are areas where cramped old wooden houses stand with impressive vertical gardens, rainwater catchment systems, and elaborate fire prevention strategies which are some examples of urban permaculture.

The natural farming movement is perhaps one of the most impressive things, permaculture-wise, happening in Japan. There are a lot of different people and styles involved. My favorite is Yoshikazu Kawaguchi in Nara prefecture who is an amazing natural farmer and human being. He founded a natural farming school in Mie called Akamejuku where several hundred people every year learn to do natural farming by doing it. The general idea is no fertilizer, no pesticides, no weeding, and no digging (in practice these are not strictly followed and the principles are quite nuanced). So, don't miss out on doing some natural farming with experienced masters spread all over Japan.

Key words to look into: Edo, satoyama, shizenno (natural farming)

A few resources you can start with
Blogs by foreign permies in Japan and a few extras
  • Dion Workman: Kiwi permy living in Izu with an excellent understanding of plants, food forests, and low-income living in Japan
  • Kyle Holzhueter: Young straw-bale home builder with a PhD in the subject. Offers workshops in various countries but resides in Japan
  • Ken Elwood: Permy in Nagoya area with a very well-done website and lots of projects
  • Phil Cashman (website is more updated): Cool Irish-Japanese former carpenter who is a hub for permaculture action in Japan
  • Cecilia Macaulay (mix of Japan and Australia articles): The most beauty conscious permy I have ever met. Cecilia specialises on balcony gardening and share-houses.
  • Cecilia's website that includes some projects she did in Japan
  • Article on permy artist duo Namaiki. All I know is that they do cool stuff.
  • Tokyo DIY Gardening: just found this an it is awesome!!! Must check out.
  • Edoble: through the site above I found a Tokyo food foraging group. How cool!
  • Byron Nagy: up-and-coming permy starting a permaculture village empire
  • Tokyo Green Space

Below are a few recommended places for sustainable living and permaculture interest. Most places don't have English information yet, and the hosts probably don't speak English either. But, with enough enthusiasm and resourcefulness, I'm sure you can make a visit work.
** means I haven't been there yet.

Sumida ward, Tokyo (North of Skytree) 墨田区
  • Mukojima
  • Kyojima
Walk around the neighborhoods and get lost on narrow meandering paths sandwiched by old wooden houses. You'll find impressive vertical gardens, rainwater harvesting systems, and other interesting features of old urban Japan. The less straighter paths leads to more interesting finds. The meandering narrow roads are former rice paddy paths. This area was saved from the US fire bombing and incinerated Tokyo during WWII.

Shitamachi Museum, Ueno 
Good place to get a sense of Edo period permaculture. Very resource efficient living designed with almost no waste. It's small museum but there is a lot you can learn.

Commune 246, Omotesando
Mini-Portland. Its consumption based but creative and the company runs a farmers market at the United Nations University nearby.

Ginza Bee Project, Ginza
English article:

Dion and Asako's Shikigami homestead CLOSED
For Permaculture in rural Japan, this is my number one pick so far. Traditional homestead slowly enhanced by their edible forest gardening. They are well-versed in permaculture and knowledgeable about traditional Japanese farm-life.

Check out

Fujino station 藤野
Fujino is a hotspot for alternative culture in Japan. They host the Permaculture Center Japan (PCCJ) which is probably the first permaculture hub in Japan. Many of their graduates have started interesting projects in Fujino, like Transition Town Fujino (TF) that was featured in the documentary In Transition 2.0. The PCCJ site hasn't impressed me yet, but graduates have done some cool housing designs such as the Satoyama Nagaya.

The vibrant TF movement is worth checking out.  They've developed a solid local currency called yorozuya, a forestry group, a young farmer group, and an energy group called Fujino denryoku. Fujino denryoku has been working on creating alternatives to centralized energy systems after the Fukushima nuclear disaster (still continuing). They have developed a solar electric scooter station, they are trying to provide 100% solar energy for a school building, and are looking into community scale micro-hydro systems.

There is also a guy I hear often about named Bryan Whitehead who makes kimonos starting from silkworm eggs. Check out the article below, it's quite amazing.

My friend Byron Nagy is starting a permaculture homestead in Fujino. He might have an internship program in the not so distant future, and probably could use skilled help. Another friend Shiori (21) built herself a mobile home (hut on wheels) and is starting to practice permaculture on Byron's land.

The project is called Umbrella Pine Permaculture

Nihon University: Center for Natural Environmental Sciences, Koji Itonaga Laboratory

Cafe De La Terra (Totsuka) カフェデラテラ
A hub for the slow movement in Japan. Really cool straw-bale temple.

Gokan no Mori Permaculture Preschool (by Phil Cashman and co.)

Sansu Asuke Yashiki 足助屋敷
This is a educational "theme village" that recreates an old artisan village. The buildings are made in the traditional manner and various artisans inhabit the village during the day making charcoal, wooden bowls, baskets, water buckets, metal tools, silk kimonos, etc. The crafts-wo/men are very friendly and will gladly teach you their skills. It is a business that allows for crafts-wo/men to make a living in modern day Japan. It feels like a romantic recreation of traditional rural Japan. Located in a very beautiful area where you can venture deeper into the mountain for a more "authentic" experience if you please.


Tokurinji Temple (Aioiyama) 徳林寺
This is a zen temple with a radical abbot who is always starting up new projects. He has a strong connection to Nepalese culture and has built two naan ovens. Other projects I've seen are a giant water tank, PV array, cob oven, organic garden, and a minna no ie (a place to demonstrate sustainable living).  They also have meditation practitioners from around the world and a donation based dorm.
Blog (more update):

Time to get lazy for now.....

Adams Guild**

Misumi Ecovillage Saihate 三角エコビレッジ

Annapurna farm** アンナプルナ農園

Ureshipa farm** ウレシパモシリ自然農園

Shimosato farm 霜里農園
This is a legendary farm, known to be one of the original CSAs, and is a comprehensive organic farm. They are a central driver of the agroecology movement in Japan.

Miracle Apple **(naturally farmed apple orchard) 木村あきのりの奇跡の林檎

Yoshikazu Kawaguchi (natural farmer) 自然農の川口由一

Akamejuku (natural farming school he started) 赤目塾
I have an article I'll post soon

Toyouke no Mori

Phil Cashman's site

Kamogawa Yoshiki Hayashi's home and Earth Living School

Kamogawa Okoku** 鴨川王国
Article: (look toward the end)

Permaculture Azumino パーマカルチャー安曇野

Hotaka Youjouen 穂高養生園
Holistic resort with magnificent green buildings

Asian Rural Institute** アジア学園

Fuji Ecopark**

Misumi Ecovillage
English profile:

Bunch of others but too tired now. I'll keep updating when I can.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Life Update and TEDxTodai talk on STOPPING

I’m back!
Photo from Burning Man

Quick Life Update 

I’ve been on a healing and exploratory trip to the US which is slowly coming to an end. Currently, I’m back at my “home”, the Bullocks Permaculture Homestead, relaxing and being a healthy human again. I’ve missed that so much.

Clinical Depression 2012~ 

This trip has been nourishing in many ways, an extremely welcomed break from the Tokyo life that I’ve struggled with so much. I fell into the deep hole of clinical depression after losing my best-friend in a very unpleasant and unfortunate divorce. That in itself was devastating, but the March 11th Tohoku earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster also added to the confusion and instability that continues to haunt me. Moving from the Bullocks where I was intimately connected to nature and people, to a cluttery house in Tokyo with very little nature, sunlight, and space has taken a serious toll too. I just felt like I had to get out of there, heal my mind, reconnect with my power, and figure out how I can live in Tokyo without being crushed.

US Trip 2013 
Photo from Bullocks (the Japanese Permaculture Tour)

So, here I am, at the Bullocks after a series of stimulating adventures, transitioning from relaxing and healing, to preparing for my next session in Tokyo. Since I came to the US, I’ve gone to Burning Man for the first time and lead a two-week Pacific North West permaculture tour for 10 Japanese people. Both have been transformative experiences that inspired me to continue my work in Japan. I’ll hopefully have a chance to share pictures and write about those experiences more in-depth soon, but for the moment I wanted to share something I did during the peak of my depression (it was a long peak).

Pre-TEDx Talk

Fellow students in the Graduate Program in Sustianability suggested that I apply for the pre-TEDx Todai speech contest (Todai = University of Tokyo). Since I always have a message that I want to spread, and have an addiction to forcing myself to face my fear of public speaking, I applied and passed the interview. For as long as I remember, I’ve had stage fright. My symptoms include intense heart beating, difficulty in temperature regulation, involuntary shaking, tense facial expressions, and my mind blanking out. It’s super unpleasant! So, there I was in Tokyo with a busy schedule of grad school and activism, battling depression, and taking on an extra dose of fear and stress. Somehow, I managed to come up with a talk that wasn’t terrible in content and execution.

The speech contest consisted of eight University of Tokyo students who passed the initial interview. These eight, including myself, each made a speech to about 150 people (primarily undergraduates) and four judges. Two would be selected to participate at the TEDxTodai event a month later. I had a week to come up with a coherent idea that I’m passionate about, and memorize the script as no notes were allowed. My goal for the talk was to present an alternative way of thinking and living to the heavily sheltered elite students of Todai, and to critique the Japanese university education. It was a call to shed their identities as consumers of products and education, and evolve into producers of a new culture. The underlying theme was youth empowerment. Below is the video of me giving that talk in super nervous mode.

After the talk, I was immersed in a mixed sense of 1. relief that I was done and 2. regret that I didn’t do as good of a job as I wanted (but of course). During the reception after the event, the judges announced the two TEDx Todai speakers. I was hoping it wasn’t me because I had an immensely stressful experience but there was also a tiny sprout of desire for a bigger challenge and more exposure. I was picked to go onto the TEDx Todai stage.


I wanted to come up with a more powerful talk in both content and delivery. I decided to focus on my mindfulness activities and share some of the teachings of Zen master Thich Naht Hanh that have positively impacted me. I wanted a provocative message for my fellow Tokyo dwellers and more importantly for myself. What could be the most valuable thing I could share/remind myself? Permaculture, guerrilla gardening, sustainability and democracy activism, youth empowerment, compassionate communication (NVC), Vipassana, and mindfulness practice are all things that I want to spread in the world. But, when it comes down to it, I feel stopping and breathing is perhaps the most valuable thing I know and practice (sometimes). It’s a radical notion in a culture where speed and efficiency are the worshipped.

Of course I did not do this alone. I had loving support from the Plum Village monastics, fellow Wake Up youth meditators, TEDxTodai staff, my housemate Cynthia, my wonderful family, and my afro, that helped greatly improve my content and performance. I'm quite impressed that this is my second speech ever in my life, under the influence of stage fright and sometimes debilitating depression.

Hope you enjoy it and start stopping.

Meditation Flash Mob at Todai

After the talk, there was a reception of over 60 people consisting of students, faculty, business people, and university staff. An undergraduate TEDx staff member also by the name of Kai suggested that we try a meditation flash mob during the reception party. What an awesome idea! So, after a few hours of eating fancy appetizers and getting tipsy, a bell of mindfulness rang and I sat down in meditation. A few others who knew the plan sat down in different parts of the hall and slowly others started to join us. It was a beautiful shift in energy, from a loud and chaotic party atmosphere to an ever-increasing ocean of silence. My eyes were closed so I just heard the rapidly increasing quiet that permeated the party until none of the 60 or so people were talking. Wow! The power of silence.

I wonder if that was the first meditation flash mob in a party where everyone participated. What impressed me was that most of those at this reception had never consciously meditated and had no idea about the flash mob. What an experience for them!

I wanted to share this with you all because it was a major accomplishment for me. A celebration. It is a powerful light shining into my cave of disempowerment and helplessness. A reminder that I’m not hopeless.

Meditation Flash Mob Resources

The Wake Up movement: Young Buddhists and non-Buddhist for a healthy and compassionate society

There were two other performances at TEDxTodai that I really enjoyed so I wanted to share that with you. One is a dance group I really like called World Order and the other is by a young poet-taiko drummer, Chris.

1. World Order. They don't have the video of their performance at TEDx but they did the dance from this music video live. Click here for their dance in NYC.

2. Chris Holland: Is it worth sacrificing cultural identity
*at 5:24 he starts his spoken word and at 13:00 he starts taiko drumming