Making an ant's Forehead of Difference
Organic agriculture as an alternative Lifestyle in Japan
My first glimpse of Kana was at a discussion of organic agriculture techniques in tokyo. In a roomful of male panelists and mostly male audience, she was the only woman who offered a technical suggestion. Standing against the wall, her long hair pulled back from her narrow face, she said, “My friends and i are doing a rice paddy on a hill, and we thought that the water coming from the hills above was polluted from fertilizers. We built a filter of stones and some purifying plants that the water has to flow through before it gets to our paddies.” People nodded in the hot, stuffy room, but no one responded.
I was beginning a study of farmers connected with the Japan Organic agricultural association (JOaa) and cornered Kana in the lobby afterward. Hesitant at first, she broke into a smile when we found that friends of mine, a young couple who are organic farmers in northeast Japan, are also good friends of hers. Yes, it would be fine to visit her farm several hours south of tokyo.
On a cool but sunny December morning in 2008, i climbed off of a lumbering bus to find her and her father drinking tea outside the barn, nestled in a small valley among the Hakone Hills not far from Mt. Fuji in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of tokyo. Kana trilled a warm welcome and offered me an apple crate to sit on. “My father always says we have to take our tea breaks in
105 The morning, even though i want to keep on working. I'm not really a farmer because i like to stay up late and don't get started until later!” She laughed. She introduced her father as her helper, and he agreed, “this is my second career after being a salaryman. She's the one who knows about organic agriculture, but doing farming is a lot easier with two people.”
Our trip to the outhouse gave Kana and me a chance to talk a bit more. “you're strange for an american. You're thin,” she commented. She said that she had spent a year abroad in the United states and had been an english major at a national university near tokyo. Not a word of english passed her lips, however. Rather, at thirty-three, her memories of the United states were of obese people, of people who did not care about Japan, and of wasteful habits like central heating in big houses—the last of which of course i was completely guilty.
Kana's american experience motivated her odyssey to live her life differently from both americans and Japanese. “after i graduated from college, i looked for jobs in Japan, and i was attacked by doubts [about what to do in the future] because of the way americans, Japanese, and the Japanese economy have ended up sacrificing nature. I took a job crunching data at the asian rural institute (asia Gakuin).” There Kana met people from asia and africa who were learning organic agriculture in order to allow their countries to gain some measure of food self-sufficiency, growing their own food rather than importing most of it. “Mornings and evenings i was out in the fields learning about the cycle of land and plants and animals, of how you could live in one place and be self-sufficient. These people were helping their own countries to be self-sufficient, and i realized that Japan also needs to be self-sufficient! The most important thing about organic agriculture is that it lets Japan be independent,” she said with an emphatic wave of her hand.
I nodded my understanding as we made our way along the narrow path between rice fields. Japan is less self-sufficient in food than any other developed nation—39 percent in 2010 (“Food self-sufficiency rate Fell below 40% in 2010” 2011). The country imports almost all of the wheat for bread and noodles, soybeans for soy sauce and miso, corn for livestock, and oil for fertilizer and farm machinery. Such low self-sufficiency is the result not only of Japan's lack of natural resources and limited agricultural land, but also of the country's postwar economic policy, encouraged by the United states, which invested highly in industrial growth for export but did not support diverse agriculture (Mulgan 2006). Rather, Japan has imported U.s. Agricultural goods at the behest of the U.s. Government.1
But this dissatisfaction with the status quo was not the only factor that Motivated Kana to become an organic farmer. Environmental concerns were also on her mind. As we jumped into her small truck to ride up the hill to her fields, she said, “i'm showing a film next week about rokkasho-mura, where they want to build a factory that makes plutonium out of reused nuclear fuel. Rokkasho is up in the very north of Honshu, and if it ever leaks, radioactivity will be carried right down the coast. I'll put an announcement about it in my newsletter this week when i deliver my food to my consumers.” She was already part of a protest movement against nuclear power that supplies about a third of Japan's electricity needs. She knew that not all of her consumers agreed with her anti-nuclear beliefs, and indeed the movie itself revealed a debate among the rokkasho villagers about whether to support the nuclear power plant; some of them wanted jobs in the nuclear industry, and some feared the threat of radiation.2
Little did Kana know at the time how prescient her concern was for radioactivity pollution in Japan, for the tragedies of the earthquake, tsunami, and explosion at the Fukushima nuclear energy plant were still to come. When i interviewed her again in 2012, however, she was dealing with the direct effects of the radioactive fallout, as we will see below. In 2008 it was a hard sell to stir up consumers' interests in radioactivity, but by 2012 she said that at least her consumers “realized the dangers,” though they were not ready to accompany her to anti-nuclear demonstrations.
In my field notes after this first visit to Kana's farm, i described Kana as “clear-thinking, warm, passionate about her ideals and easy to get along with but at the same time firm about certain things that need to happen.” My subsequent dealings with her bore out these words. Kana was also an independent thinker, having taken up organic farming against the wishes of her parents and her employers at a shop where she worked.