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Straw and Soil bind all of us to provide you with warmth and comfort – Straw bale House Workshop in Japan

December 15, 2011

A mom and daughter work together

With introduction of new shrine (enlightenment – Monsitou), stronger sense of all our connection to everyone and everything was recognized and embodied in Zenryoji @Totsuka (neighboring town of Yokohama) – A Buddhist temple also known as ‘Café De La Terra’, where much of sloth gatherings and events are regularly situated.

When the plan of new building was established, nobody doubted if this building should accommodate much idea of nature, connectedness, slowness and peace. Straw bale house was the very solution fitting all those conditions as an all-in-one package. Mr. Narita, master monk, in charge of Zenryoji didn’t hesitate to consult Professor Tsuji Shinichi (A director of sloth club) and his elder brother and dear comrade, Oiwa Koichi who is an architect leading slow design group in Japan. Immediately, ‘A team’ was arranged for this endeavor and Dr. Kyle holzhueter was nominated to lead the straw bale part of this project. Dr. Kyle has experienced with various Strawbale and Terra house building projects whole across the globe including Europe, North America and Asia. He’s lived in Japan more than 4 years and has been involved in major strawbale house projects here (http://holzhueter.blogspot.com/) including interior of Café Slow at Kokubunji. He’s been familiar with this charming house building technique originated from Nebraska of US where less timber but more straws are available since back in US.

“Some of key themes envisaged with this project was ‘Non-authoritativeness  – Openness to laymen’ and ‘Connectedness (Kizuna) from Karma (Goen)’ “ said Mr. Narita in his blog (http://zenryouji.blogspot.com/).   “A circular wall in the main hall of the building represents this all-roundedness and inclusivity. “

 

Rounded Inner Wall of Monsitou

“An authoritative expert excludes 99% of people and isolates oneself from all the others, which made themselves also unhappy.  Straw bale Workshop provides an opportunity to any warm-hearted volunteers to participate in this joy of connectedness. Look at this beautiful Straw bale wall built with hand by hand effort. Moreover, we wanted to stress the point that house is not only purchased by cash but built by people “  – his explanation continues.

 

After Day's work, also music and snack together

Indeed, more than 200 people‘s joint effort has been made during these 2nd rounds of workshop for a couple of months period time. Some people came more than 10 times but there are also others spent only half day as situation allowed. “I was really enjoying touching mud and straws by bare hand to apply on the wall. I felt as if I have become an innocent little kid playing at sand beach.”  said Mr. Shizuku, who came to the site almost everyday  during the 2nd round of WS.

 

Mr. Narita and kids preparing mud dough

“Electronic devices need ‘earth (Ground)’ measure to release excessive electricity to avoid any danger of shock. People can also flush out unnecessary energy and concerns to mud while they are massaging it, which gave them a certain comfort and calmness.” said Dr. Kyle. His explanation must be valid knowing that most of participants said they’d like to join again if any new project heard in town.

 

Dr. Kyle finishes the wall

“Of course, expertise can’t be excused either, we needed all nice wooden structures, robust platform and beautiful rooftops in addition to strawbale walls, by professional carpenters.  Design work from Mr. Oiwa’s team, special technical advice from Dr. Fujimura (http://www.hidenka.net/momigara/struture.htm) and Mr. Sagane  (http://tennen.org/) were also crucial. What makes this expertise special and meaningful is ‘respect and appreciation’ from us to them.”  Mr. Narita complemented his thought.

 

La Bocca della Verità - the window helps to check the condition of straw

The workshop finished to let the wall dried enough till next Spring time while carpenters continue their portion of work.  “The final round of WS will be also interesting. The work selects fitting stones to each other to make a low wall for garden. We call it this – listening to stone’s voice. All of you will be welcomed to join”  – Mr. Narita finished his explanation with upbeat mood.

 

A cat loves straw, too - Chiro, a resident of Zenryoji

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soil and Peace Festival 2011 – it would never be the same again

November 24, 2011

2011’s ‘Soil and Peace Festival’ was more special than ever to any participants since it began in 2007. The venue, facility, events and even people were familiar. But it would “never be the same again after 3.11”.

‘Soil and Peace Festival’ has been initiated by singer Yae as well as her mother, Kato Tokiko. Her father, Fujimoto Toshio (died in 2002) spent whole his life to promote localized, sustainable and eco-friendly life style based on agriculture. His last book ‘Agricultural Happiness – Toshio’s will’ led them to organize this yearly nation-wide gathering of organic farmers, environmentalists and all those like-minded.

This year’s key theme was “Support Tsunami-suffering victims Help Farmers in Tohoku area and Save Children of Fukushima !”

Under the them, the following objectives were detailed.

  1. Help the casualties of 3.11 Tsunami and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster.
  2. Remove and restore the contaminated soil. Keep the food safety and protect life.
  3. Oppose the nuclear power plant and transition to renewable energy.
  4. Build agriculture-based and sustainable life style – a city with nature or living in rural area with hybrid working model.
  5. Utilizing new law of Organic Farming promotion, perform the nationwide campaign.

It opened with dynamic performance of a Japanese drum at the main stage.

Japanese Drum – Opening performance

Then the opening talk between Tsuji Shinichi (director of the Sloth club) and Kato Tokiko followed.

Opening Talk

There were also lots of small talks and performances conducted in sub-stages in addition to main sessions.

As clearly stated in the objectives of year, what has been most highlighted was the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and people’s incessant endeavor to cope with the problem.

Indeed, the radioactivity contamination put these passionate supporters of healthy local food into a bigger dilemma. They have long stood at the forefront against Nuclear Power Plant but, paradoxically, now they were cornered into the most vulnerable position. Say, what can be done for organic food produced in Kanto area and Fukushima? Can people still genuinely defend the safety and benefit of that food and urge other people to choose them to support their fellow farmers?  Fukushima is one of the poorest region in the country living on farming and fishing and entrapped by typical rosy story of more jobs and sweetened nuclear monster by government subsidy. As a matter of fact, the earliest victim of suicidal cases in Fukushima was the frustrated organic farmer who knew his beloved land and its product got into centennial sleep and even won’t allow him and his descendants to approach to it. TEPCO’s irresponsible behavior and incompetence of Japanese Government foster anger from organic farmers and their allies. Some of them expressed the concerns that domestic food safety problem and people’s fear will help those who have claimed the decline of Japanese agriculture as a foregone conclusion proceed to declare the end of the game and to expedite the process of more globalization and more industrialized economy – which can even be a good excuse to steer into their recent favourite agenda – joining TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) which is believed to devastate agriculture in Japan by cheaper but unsafe imported food produced in industrialized mass plantation. This is the most tragic scene of this disaster – The culprit (supporter of nuclear energy and globalization) not penalized but benefited and the casualty (opposing party of nuclear energy) not rewarded by their wise anticipation but victimized.

Although situation is very tough, participants have rather cheered up each other and strengthened their solidarity in an effort come up with possible solutions – above all, many of them have agreed that the disaster of Fukushima rang the alarm bell with its highest pitch to Japan and whole world that the current system is not sustainable at all as long as this mass production and high energy consuming practice requiring self-destructive demon like nuclear power plant prevails. They have stayed optimistic while singing & dancing and sharing nice and fresh food with their friends and colleagues.

Save the children of Fukushima

Panel Discussion - Save the children of Fukushima

Photo Archive

http://www.blog-headline.jp/agriability/2011/10/2011.html

Official Website

http://www.tanemaki.jp/saiten2011/

‘Pandas’ warmly greeted by ‘Sloth’ of Japan

November 11, 2011

Among many groups or figures visiting here to ally with slow movement in Japan, perhaps guest from China has been considered to be one of the last. In the more tremendous speed, China outpaces Japan in terms of economic growth, the more doubt people may have if any grass rooted civic group from there will start benchmarking their neighborhood seeking for the other side of ‘growth’. But we have a happy surprise ! PCD (Partnership Community Development) is one of a homegrown NGO actively running multiple vital projects in mainland China. Their project sites extend from Guangxi to Guizhou Province including Sichuan and Yunnan, mostly west side of China – which are benefited by rich multi-cultural bases of racial minority groups and beautiful natures fitting to agriculture and tourism – Above all, still less pampered by strong growth of economy and development fevering entire China. The group of 20 people from each province including their staffs, allied researchers and activists visited Shiga and Nara Prefecture, Kansai area of Japan in September 2011.

Shiga and Nara, next door of Kyoto, an ancient capital of Japan has much to share with visitors from China, local’s love and pride on the nature and their millennium preserved tradition, featured with sustainable and environmentally friendly life style. However, the real catch was lessons and learned from their experience of deadly destruction of environment and an incessant effort for restoration over the last century – how regrettable it was when they found the detrimental outcome of industrialization to the nature and the community, while being indulged in economic growth, and how much effort had to be made to follow through even no where near to the full recovery.

Shiga prefecture is famous with the biggest lake of Japan – Biwako (named after Chinese Lute, Biwa, due to its shape), which is located at the center of the region and her ecological system is also centered at the People’s traditional life – rice paddies along the lake, fishes and a pre-dominant water reservoir itself for all the life activities. The itinerary has been arranged to visit various spots located along the lakeside.

The journey had been set off with an evening speech by the incumbent governor of Shiga Prefecture, Miss Yukiko KADA at Otsu city. As one of the researcher and activist who had been engaged with an environmental subject of Biwa lake since 1980es, she could deliver very comprehensive historical and even religious context of the lake in addition to the restoration projects of Biwa lake- which is not just the quality of the water but also sustainable economy and associated lifestyle. Especially, her last comment with the photo of sunset scenery conjecturing Buddhist Paradise (West Pure Land), that she wishes Shiga Prefecture to be a place where people could not only live well but also die in peace, moved many attendees.

Governor Miss KADA explains about Shiga at the first night

For the following 2 days, the group paid a visit several sites focused on agriculture and local community.

1st Day –

The morning site was an organic farming school, Hareyaka Farm (http://www.umaretateyasai.com). This is a NPO and also a government subsidized entity for helping those who want to find their new career in farming. Among trainees, there were also young people who migrated from Kanto area in the fear of radioactivity contamination from Fukushima nuclear plant.

The PCD participants try dissemination of onion seeds at Hareyakafarm

In the afternoon, the group enjoyed a boat trip to one of rarely preserved inner lake, full of reeds. Like typical mistakes of reclaiming project for wetlands along the river and the costal area, the functioning of inner lake for breeding of fish and purification of water has not been properly counted when most of them turned to rice paddies in order to increase the rice production after the world war II. Gonza (http://gonza.jp) is a small village living off rice plantation and fishing along this inner lake. The group has been invited to community centre of Gonza afterward.

Sukuyaki served at Gonza with great entertainment

Three presentations have been made in a row about history of Gonza, nationwide project of ‘rape flower’ and general introduction of PCD. Last but not the least, tasty Sukiyaki dinner followed. All ingredients produced from the region – freshness guaranteed including local Sake. Even the expensive local delicacy cuisine (Funazushi – Fermented Sushi) has been tasted. When everybody well mingled and got upbeat, entertainment couldn’t be missed. The PCD participants from Guangxi province sang a folk song of local minority group (Zhuang Tribe) and a few more from each region of China, then Gonza residents also responded with local song. The warm mood and friendly chat about Japan and China lasted till late.

2nd Day –

The schedule started from e-Mura where a local farming union shares the land and the labor to protect this small but cozy community. For that purpose, the group is exclusive to the original residents. Hourly pay for any type of effort and skill is the same and even most of elderlies over their age of 80es actively participate. The chief of the village stressed the idea is to build resilient community and to protect the common asset of the village under any circumstances, being the shelter and the last resort.

The next site was in the deep mountainous area of Ibuki. On the contrary to e-Mura, villages here are welcoming outsiders to settle to revamp the community. Several young and new settlers with various backgrounds shared their story and the dream over the delicious mountain bento lunch.

at Ibuki lifestyle museum

The last site of the day was Doppomura (http://doppo.jpn.org), a school-based community with apprenticeship of carpenters and farmers. Young people with working experience under age of 30 can apply for the 3 years course of co-work and living. Mr. Shimizu and Mr. Matsumoto, founder of the community, believe this unique combination of skills enable young people to stand on their foot for living, i.e. Housing and Food. The traditional Japanese carpentry skill is complemented by modern design and technology – composting, solar panel, maximum utilization of sun ray and natural ventilation, say ‘passive house’. A fresh vegetarian dinner was arranged with a presentation by Miss Chen, an environmental researcher from Sichuan province, Supported by PCD. Miss Chen explained the effort to protect the Jinsha River, a upstream of River Yangtze. Promotion of organic farming was the key point to reduce the usage of herbicide and pesticide flown to the river from the neighboring farms. But she also highlighted the basic principle that a natural eco system of curved river stream is the best and the most efficient water purifying mechanism never be rivaled by any man-made environmental technology.

Refreshing Vegeterian Supper at Doppomura

There was a wrap-up session of the Shiga prefecture at the accommodation of the night. The coordinator of the tour, Mr. UEDA delivered a heart-felt message about his project – folding screen drawing of heartland, Shiga. Each piece of painting on the screen is made by local kids and painters, collating the past and the present of the region. Much thought and feeling shared among PCD participants before closing of the day – then what impressed them most was all the amazing effort by local people of Shiga to preserve local culture and nature of community was not made in ‘big project’ promoted by government or large institution but made in ordinary people’s daily life based on the affection and passion for their hometown.

Fall’s Bounty From The Tsunami Stricken Kesennuma

October 31, 2011

Rice ears green in the summer turn to gold in the fall for the harvest of the year.  This would have been a common sight in Kesennuma, an area located in a coastal region of Miyagi Prefecture, if it wasn’t for the 3.11 Earthquake and the devastation brought about by the tsunami that followed it.  Like many other affected areas in the Tohoku region, rice paddies in Kesennuma were covered with debris and immersed in seawater, many of which were left unplanted and remain covered with weedy green even today.

Nonetheless, a small patch of golden field filled with bowing rice ears appeared in the Oya area of Kesennuma, and the harvest earlier this month proved to be quite bountiful.  The rice paddies here are not ordinary rice paddies.  Nearly for the past ten years, these paddies were managed under a traditional method in which water in the paddies is retained during the winter.  By doing so, soil is enriched by the activities of organisms in the paddies and seeds of weeds are buried deeper into the soil reducing the need for weeding.  This has also been a part of environmental education program at the local elementary and middle schools, where students have learned about the natural method of growing rice and actively participated in the management of the rice paddies.

After the 3.11 disaster, the Oya rice paddies were no different from other rice paddies.  They were full of mud, rocks, pieces of glass, torn parts of houses, etc., and even a car was stuck in the middle of the paddies; the nutrient-rich top layer of the paddy soil was stripped away by the tsunami; and there was also a concern about adverse effects of seawater that had filled the paddies.  Although planting seemed impossible in the face of such devastation, steps toward restoration and planting were taken driven by students’ desire to continue with the activities at the paddies and also by a strong belief in the local knowledge that a tsunami brings a rich harvest.  In the early May, over 100 people, including volunteers from various parts of Japan, manually removed the debris over a period of a week or so, and this made it possible for the students to enjoy the planting like the past years.  Along the way, the resiliency of life was evidenced in the form of various creatures that appeared in the rice paddies, surviving the tsunami.

However, many challenges followed.  For example, wastewater from a nearby temporally housing contaminated the rice paddies early in the summer, which had to be dealt with by securing a new water source.  Weeding over the summer was also a hard task since the benefit of winter-time water retention had been stripped away by the tsunami and no herbicide was used (that of course means manual weeding).  Thus, the fall’s bounty was brought about by a strong collective will, persistent effort, and cooperation of people.  While this is a small success in light of what remains to be done for the recovery of the region, what has been done in the Oya rice paddies and the joyful laughter of children that filled them this season surely go a long way as a hope for the brighter future.

Ordinary Japanese has started to express their anger on ‘Nuclear Yakuza’, as well as their wish for safer and nuke-free Japan.

May 21, 2011

Amid the unprecedented disaster of earthquake, tsunami and subsequent meltdown of crippled Nuclear Reactor at Fukushima, a social pressure of self-restraint was imposed to civil actions without exception, saying like “Be quiet till things are settled down. Everybody is mourning the dead and casualties in deep sorrow. We should collaborate with government and TEPCO first to solve the problem before criticizing each other”. As a matter of fact, such atmosphere is only favorable to the government officials, TEPCO, nuclear industry and the mainstream media and so on – namely ‘Nuclear Yakuza’ who has praised benefits and advantages of nuclear technology over the risk of it and thus turning out to be a genuine culprit for this obviously human-caused disaster. They, on the contrary, kept spreading the message that “This is so unimaginable that nothing better could have been done to avoid it”.

However, this time, Japanese public reputed to be patient decided to say something and moreover takes a solid action to resolve the root cause of the issue.

Anti-nuclear plant protest has been initiated since late March shortly after people got out of panic and try to restore their normal life. Starting was rather small-scaled and more from dedicated clans who has long raised the issue and anticipated the horrible development of the situation as today. They are group of scholars, retired engineers and those who have supported these brave dissidents. For example, CNIC (Citizens Nuclear Information Center, http://www.cnic.jp/english/) is a prominent group representing such stream. People mainly gathers in front of headquarter of TEPCO, Shimbashi, Tokyo which is also near from Kasumigaseki where Japanese Government buildings are clustered, including Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, known for its fiasco in controlling the situation.

The most promising aspect of these protests was evolution from senior citizens as majority of the group to younger generations over the times. Japanese activists and their organization which have the longest establishment among Asian countries, have long worried losing dynamics due to her aging pool, often complaining youngsters are two self-centered and weak. Young Japanese protesters who joined these events are explaining that they realized the issue is very much connected to their daily life and nothing will be changed without raising their voice.

Mainstream Japanese media has seldom reported these events whereas most of key European and US journalists in Tokyo never missed them. Some people believe that such attitude of Japanese media is resulted by pressure from their key stakeholders – again ‘Nuclear Yakuza’.

The followings are the video taken from protests at early phase.

March 27th, protest in front of TEPCO

April 3rd, protest in front of TEPCO and NISA

Recent involvement of anti-poverty activists group from Koenji, heartland of Tokyo subculture, shifted protest scene into a next phase. MATSUMOTO Hajime, one of star figure of the group has arranged the series of protests, which scaled up dramatically. They also transformed a solemn procession to be a festive parade.

Official Website of Organizer
http://57q.tumblr.com/

The first protest held at the10th of April surprisingly gathers about 8K~15K of people in Koenji, Tokyo, mainly urged to come out via SNS and notices from their friends. It fairly embarrassed the Tokyo police who expected only a few hundred or even less. Many protesters who participated in such demonstration fist time in their life agreed that they felt proud of themselves in action and very much enjoyed the hilarious mood as well. As a matter of fact, this scale of protest has been very rarely found in Japan for last 20 ~30 years except Okinawa where organized resistance of locals continues over the presence of US military base. The protest was so peaceful and in a light mood that quite a bit of families including kids and babies in strollers were safely proceeding in a parade. Again, this event was not captured by media reason being that they didn’t expect the scale of event and the corresponding news value.

Some interesting videos about this event are as follows.

On the 7th of May, the 2nd protest was held in Shibuya, shining and bustling centre of Megacity, Tokyo, also where NHK headquarter is located. No chance of being missed from media’s attention. Another 15K people flocked amid rain, with more eye caching preparation. 6 groups has been arranged for different paths with differing styles of music band at the front, to guide the people, based on their taste of music.

This time, the Tokyo police was also ready to pay back but has gone too far. They intervened each group and intentionally diced it into smaller pieces so that people can’t follow the path smoothly and get dismissed hopelessly. Such tactics incurred bigger turmoil and even confliction between police and protesters. Consequently, 4 of them taken into custody and 2 of them put on trial. In due course, police’s assault to protesters and biased treatment has been argued.

Video clips –

And an official report from organizer
http://57nonukes.tumblr.com/post/5393819373

As said, Japanese activists have found fresh hope from their emerging younger successors.

This video clip of song by young idol star, FUJINAMI Kokoro, performed in the Shibuya event, being overlapped by the speech made by 87-year old activist, SAITO Michiko in Hibiya park, strikes people that the righteous belief succeeds from one generation to another.

More information about protest across Japan is available in web magazine ‘Magazine 9’
http://www.magazine9.jp/list/demo/

Winter Solstice Is Coming, It’s Candle Night!

December 13, 2010

Voluntary blackout has become a common activity observed worldwide, mainly in the context of global warming/energy issue, as in the case of the Earth Hour. In Japan, voluntary blackout has become something of a new tradition known as “Candle Night”, which is held on the summer and winter solstices: people are encouraged to turn off lights for 2 hours between 8 and 10PM and spend time in natural lighting of candles.

This Japanese version of voluntary blackout was inspired by the 2001 Canadian voluntary blackout held in protest against the U.S. Bush Administration’s energy policy (which promoted nuclear energy), and the its first event was organized by the Sloth Club in the same year at Café Slow. With this small start, however, the movement grew, by the year 2003, into a national scale “Million People’s Candle Night” (or more simply “Candle Night”), receiving support from a wide range of individuals and organizations, including Japanese Ministry of the Environment. Now, candle night events are being organized all over Japan.

Interestingly, the Candle Night is not strictly about global warming/energy issue as expressed in a song “Candle Night” by Anja Light (also a co-founder of the Sloth Club). People are encouraged to take a step back from their daily lives to ponder about the way we live, to remember what brings true fulfillment to our lives, etc.

Addressing many of the issues of our time requires broadly rethinking about the way our societies are organized, and, to take steps in a right direction, the soft glow of candlelight may be more illuminating than the bright (sometimes even blinding) electric light.

Give Peace A Chance!

November 26, 2010

While criticism against North Korea mounts regarding the exchange of artillery fires between the divided Koreas, Hirofumi Kono, a member of a Japanese NGO Sloth Club, sent the following message to the organization’s electronic mailing list on Nov. 25.

“The day before yesterday, the news of artillery firing in the Korean Peninsula came to me as a surprise. Although it has not yet gone into an all-out war and the combat itself has calmed down, I feel very frightened as the situation, if left alone, seems to be headed right into a Second Korean War. Furthermore, I am concerned that the Korean Peninsula may become the second victim of nuclear weapons as their use is conceivable.

Despite such a situation, responses of governments of South Korea, Japan, and the United States, among others, have been inflammatory, single-mindedly accusing North Korea as “evil”. Dosing so will only help to escalate the situation, and THAT needs to be criticized. Even if the attack by the North Korean military was a “savage act”, instead of preparing for a war, what is needed now is to seek a peaceful solution through negotiations without relaying on military force.

Those who suffer first from a war are not the military leaders but soldiers who are deployed into the combat zones and the local civilians. Especially in the case of North Korea, many of the soldiers have likely joined the military out of desperation of living in poverty. I think there won’t be many who will willingly head to the battlefields.

The public opinion appears simplistic in only accusing North Korea, and many opinions I’ve heard appeared as if people want a war, saying “Squash them with force!” These people could say such a thing because they don’t even imagine what happens if their towns become battlefields or nuclear weapons are used on them. That is clearly immoral and needs to be reconsidered.

Furthermore, I hear that the Japanese government is going to impose economic sanctions against North Korea, but such a response also needs to be criticized. Economic sanctions also hurt the civilians and the poor. And, in the end of it all, North Korea may still decide to go to war, just as Japan did in the past during the World War II.

We need to continue raising our voices at every opportunity we get, and I sincerely hope that you will do so in your own ways.”

Mr. Kono was not alone in this as the Sloth Club members positively responded to his message, and here we share his message with you. How about giving peace a chance?