Dealing with the Local Farming Community
One of the original ideals of the JOaa movement according to the philosophy of its main founder, ichiraku teruo, was to restore the ideals of the traditional agrarian Japanese village, even though everyday practices and kinship relationships varied throughout Japan. Ichiraku imagined a utopian restoration of the mutual help and cooperation among households and the ability of the agricultural village to have a diverse local agriculture that could be independent from the state and its requirements (rather than part-time farming or intensive rice farming without soybean production, for example).
It soon became clear to organic farmers in the seventies, however, that their ideas, such as not using chemical fertilizer and operating outside of the rules issued and privileges given by the agricultural cooperatives, were not popular in farming communities. Young people like Kana, going into organic farming to express their beliefs and live an alternative lifestyle in the 2000s, were under no illusions that they would receive the enthusiastic cooperation of other local farmers unless there were a community of like-minded organic farmers around. Even though farmers are aging and farming their land less, obtaining land for young farmers is difficult at first. In Kana's case, she was viewed with Suspicion because she was a young woman farming and doing it organically at that. However, it was ultimately the long-term trust among local families, concerned with their private lands, that earned her the access to farming land. It was a dilemma that seemed to blend with the darkening night sky as Kana and i drove from her rice fields into a nearby town where i could catch a train back to tokyo. She told me the story of renting several small rice paddies (located in a near yet different village from that of her other fields) that she cultivated with another woman farmer. Several years ago, they had seen the fallow rice fields on a hillside and asked a woman passing by who owned them. Boldly, they called on the owner and said they would like to rent these fields. They heard nothing for several months, but finally the owner gave his okay. He was a local government representative who knew their neighbor (also a government representative), who probably vouched for them as being
Members of an old family. “People don't trust outsiders,” she informed me. Steering along the windy, narrow country roads, Kana reflected, “the
Owner is a nice person. It is hard to get the land, but then when you do, it is good. People don't trust outsiders because if you produce well, then there is the feeling that the land should belong to the cultivator rather than the owner. If the government notices and you [the renter-cultivator] have produced well for ten years, the government will say that it belongs to you, the cultivator. Since the land reform of 1947, it is the cultivator who is actually working the land who should get ownership. But for the owner, it is a matter of taking responsibility for the land, for the ancestors. It's the household's inheritance (zaisan). So often the [landowners] just till it and weed it so they can keep it zoned as agricultural and pay lower taxes on it.”
I noticed that Kana hadn't been saying “rent the land,” so i asked, “so are you really renting this land or just using it?”
“actually i am just using it. They don't want to rent it.” She hesitated because this got into delicate ground with the tax authorities, but the cover of night seemed to give her permission to talk freely.
“i am able to use all of my fields without money.” “that's convenient,” i quipped.
“yes, but the bad part is there is no contract and so no guarantee of being able to use it over a long period of time. Do you remember that big sunny field up above my house? I am supposed to just say that i am helping the owner. Even the tax guy says it is okay to do it that way. But if government people looked at my production and profits, they would know. they'd ask, 'where are you doing your farming?' and i could get into trouble.” Kana wanted to live an alternative lifestyle outside of the capitalist bureaucratic system of the modern nation, but that was impossible. She was both endangered by the laws and trapped by them. As we bumped along the country roads, she expressed her main worry: “i am developing these organic fields and building up the quality of the soil with compost, but i have no legal right to them. The owners could take them back from me whenever they want.” In short, in the final instance, this was a system of private property, and no amount of talk about cooperation and mutual help among households in agricultural villages could change this. “the younger people around here now,” Kana said in a tone that was uncharacteristically bitter for her, “they aren't farming, and they just want the land for the money it will bring.”
Thus the JOaa ideal of cooperative relationships in farming communities devoted to local self-sufficiency, care of the land, and production of food was difficult to attain in practice. In a sense Kana was able to avoid the land market and embed her use of the land in personal relationships, but the motivation for the people renting the land was tied up with concerns for private property, family sentiments, ultimate profit from the land, and loopholes in the law. Herein lies a sense of alienation from the land that forced Kana to live in cooperation with others in her farming community but in a way that was alien to her ideals.