A Path for Challenging the Status Quo— with Compromises and Contradictions
Through organic farming, Kana has found a way to exist according to her ideals and receive respect yet live in a way that is extremely oppositional to the status quo in Japan. The beliefs and practices of the JOaa by which Kana has tried to live are quite radical and, if followed, would disrupt international trade. The organic ideals spurn the capitalist industrialized market system on which modern Japan is based and harken back to a person-to-person local economy of self-sufficiency lived in concert with the land. JOaa ideas argue against assumptions of distant trade within the global food system and even the import of foreign organics into Japan. Indeed, if taken to their limits, the JOaa ideals refuse high technology, industrialization, and consumer culture. The JOaa ideals give opportunities to people like Kana to live accord-
Ing to their beliefs and to establish an alternative identity within Japan, but these ideals are also extremely challenging to live by. The JOaa urges member-farmers not only to grow food without agricultural chemicals, but also to raise chickens or cows whose manure could furnish the basis for compost fertilizer. They should live off of their land—that is, be self-sufficient through the food that they grow and through money they receive through the consumer organizations.
Kana believes in these ideals and tries to live up to them because she is dedicated to improving the environment, making healthy and safe vegetables, and helping to make Japan self-sufficient in food. Unlike most Japanese women her age, she is totally uninterested in consumer luxuries that make her life easier or enhance her appearance (rosenberger 2001). She is not interested in Accruing wealth. She uses an older computer and printer to do her newsletters, but she does not buy the latest electronics, wear makeup, and worry about fashion (she usually buys used clothing).
Nonetheless, Kana realizes that she is not able to live up to all of the JOaa ideals for organic farmers and finds her identity as an organic farmer filled with compromises and contradictions. Her living situation has been one of these. In 2008 she was living with her parents, as this is the area in which she has the best chance of renting land because her father's family is an old farming family in the area. Her father did not inherit any property, only a house (the elder son inherited the property), but he remained in the community working in the local agricultural cooperative. It was very difficult for Kana to give up her wish in her late twenties to live by herself, independent from her parents. “For a while, i wanted to move out from my parents' house in the worst way!” She grimaced. But at thirty-three she said, “i realized it was better to live together. We save on energy for the environment by using the same refrigerator and stove.” She had a room of her own on one end of the small house, built in the early sixties, with a squat, non-flush toilet and older, wood-frame sliding windows that leave cracks for the cold to enter. Jokingly she called herself a “parasite single,” the label for single people who live with and sponge off of their parents, but in fact she was supplying the house with its vegetables and part of its rice.
Despite her wish to live her life differently, Kana was unable to live entirely according to the ideal of self-sufficiency outside of the market economy. For one thing, she had to compromise because she lives with her parents, who have certain preferences for what they want to eat. They bought meat, for example, which she shared, and they purchased white rice, while she liked her own brown, unpolished rice (genmai). Kana showed me the big ceramic pot of rice bran that sat in their kitchen and that builds up over the years. Fresh vegetables like cucumbers and eggplants are put in there, fermented a bit, and then eaten. She said that some people, implying even her mother, do not like the smell much, but it is a good traditional way to extend the life of vegetables.
Furthermore, Kana realizes that her parents were furnishing the roof over her head, and their support had enabled her to start her farm and consumer organization gradually and still survive. At first she had only twelve members and was barely making it. When i interviewed her, she was up to thirty-five and claimed she was making a small profit, although she was still dependent on her parents and lacking benefits. It was not until the second day on her farm that she told me about a prize from a food-buying club concentrating in Organics (seikatsu Club) that she had received in 2006. Her mother had come home from her part-time job and we were having green tea and rice crackers at the low table in their small living room. Her mother urged her to show me the newspaper report that showed Kana receiving the prize and that gave some publicity to her work and philosophy. She smiled shyly, though with pride, as she handed it to me. This prize had made her locally famous and she had almost doubled the membership in her consumer group.
By early 2012, Kana had in fact just moved out of her parents' house and moved to a small, rather cold, two-room house just on the other side of the barn that she and her father used. Before the earthquake, her consumer group membership had increased to forty-five, making the move economically feasible. “it was a very important move for me psychologically too,” she said. She now could eat just as she wished and move entirely at her own pace.
Finding local friends with whom she can talk about her challenges as an organic farmer is one of the difficulties in the unique and sometimes lonely path that Kana has chosen. Although she has friends among the young mothers in the consumer group and the volunteers from tokyo, no one locally shares her particular challenges. Kana is active in the young people's section of the JOaa. It is to these other young farmers that she turns for social and moral support as they all struggle to live up to the JOaa ideals and interpret them within the Japan of the 2000s. “i could really talk sincerely with them in the second party (nijikai, or going out drinking) after our meeting,” she says. Kana's best friends are other JOaa women farmers struggling toward the same goals as she is. In our various talks, she often referred to two women in particular with whom she was close. I became aware of them because she received rice from one of them to augment her rice for a party described above. As she worked her fingers through the rice, rinsing it with cold water from the outside faucet, she said, “i love getting together with them. We are close philosophically on how we want to do organic agriculture. We just had a harvest party not long ago at the house of the one in Chiba, and we all brought food to share. After new year's i go up to the farm of the other one in nagano and spend several days. That is the only week that i take off from delivering a box. We laugh and cry together.”