Dreaming Big in Japan

Saturday, April 30, 2011

First Permaculture Workshop

We've been back a few days from our first Permaculture workshop in Nagano Prefecture. It took us about 19 hours to drive there with a little nap, and 22 hours to drive home, with a little longer nap the second time!

There are some pictures below, and more here at this link. The whole page is in Japanese, but if you click on any of the thumbnails, it should produce a larger image.

Pass the Hula Hoop Icebreaker
Michie's Self Introduction with Her Homemade Rain Stick
This Year's Permaculture Group in Nagano Prefecture
This first workshop was just what I needed right now. It was great to be surrounded by a group of like-minded, creative individuals. It is a challenge to find anyone, let alone a group of twenty, in Japan willing to go against the grain, against the norm. But the fact that we had so many participants is testament to a greater revelation felt in Japan and the world over: the status quo is broken, irreparably, and it is up to each of us to create a new way forward.

Permaculture does not purport to have the answers, to be the revolution the world seems to seek right now. It does, however, suggest a few tools and ideas to help individuals and communities find the best way forward. There are three tenets that self-fulfill and self-perpetuate one another: Earth Care, People Care, Resource Share. The focus is on relationships and the interactions among everyone and everything. If we live sustainably on the Earth, the Earth takes care of the people, and we have enough to go around, which in turn helps us live more sustainably and justly, so forth and so on...

This is like a virtuous circle, but even more so like a pattern of dynamic renewal as in the flow of one season to the next. It is more a spiral through space and time, as we never really end up back at the same place we were before. It may look similar and familiar but each time around we have a new set of paths to take, with our decisions informed by an ever expanding bank of previous experiences.

I truly believe we are on the precipice of taking our greatest steps forward. Where we proceed next could have us stumble to our our greatest defeat, or ascend to our greatest achievement. The choice really is ours, be it condoning the status quo through inaction and suffering everlong, or manifesting so many individual revolutions culminating in the creation of a new and just world where we intend to thrive.

I got this inkling from more than just a two-day workshop this weekend. There is chatter of imminent change on the horizon. This could be as apocalyptic as the silver screen would have us believe, but I prefer to affect real change towards the enlightenment so many of us seek. This collective and universal shift in consciousness is ours to make and mold. I believe this change starts with each us, individually, and that it will spread like wildfire.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dream Seed

Es ist so weit!

We have finally found the inspiration for bestowing our dream with a name: 

Dream Seed 

The first of our many planned undertakings will fall under the auspices of "Dream Seed Projects" and include "Dream Seed Yoga" and "Dream Seed Farms." We added links to both sites on the right hand side of this page for your perusing pleasure.

Check out the first post on Dream Seed Yoga which details the yoga sessions Michie is holding next week as a fund raiser for those still struggling with the aftermath of the recent disasters here in Japan.

Also, we discuss our upcoming plans to attend a year-long Permaculture program on our Dream Seed Farms page. Permaculture is the umbrella idea we subscribe to for designing and building our farm, Bed & Breakfast and all the relationships that go along with it.

We will be posting whenever we get a chance and will try to keep things organized by the relevant topics on the relevant pages, so please check them all out when you get a chance.

In other breaking news, we have set a time frame to finally move to Ajishima Island. After we get back from our first PC workshop this weekend, we will be taking several trips to Ajishima while Michie hosts her yoga classes in between. We have to do it in installments because the docks in Ishnomaki City and on Ajishima were either washed away or laid to rubble by the tsunami, and there is no ramp for vehicles to board the ferry. So, we will have to hand load all our stuff box by box, then unload it on the island. Hopefully, we can borrow a truck from our friends or the hospital where Michie will work. Once we get to the island, we will have a little over an hour to drive to the other side (only a mile or so) unload the stuff into our house and drive back in time to catch the only return ferry.

The plan is to have the essentials moved in by the end of the month. On the last trip, Michie will stay on the island and start working at the hospital the first week of May. I will come back to Oshu City and stay at her mom's house for another week or so. The first week of May is called "Golden Week" in Japan, as there are three federal holidays. Most people travel to their hometown and partake in various ceremonies. It is also a time to start planting rice.

I am going to stay and help Michie's uncle plant several rice paddies. Last week they set rice in trays of dirt to sprout in an incubator the size of a garden shed. Early this week they placed several hundred trays on the ground inside long green houses. The rice will continue sprouting until it is about 20-30cm tall. When the weather is right during Golden Week, we will take the trays to the paddies and load up a planting tractor that can maneuver the flooded and muddy paddies while pinching off a half dozen rice sprouts, clumping them together and poking them in the mud. The fun part comes when we get to jump in the mud and fix all the parts the tractor messes up, especially the rounded corners of the paddies where the tractor cannot fit. We will plant a bunch of sprouts by hand. It will be hard, but fun. I have helped out before both with rice planting and harvesting, but always with Michie there to translate, so this should be a great experience if not a bit comical, what with all the gestures, miscommunications and vacant stares...

There will be a nice spread for lunch, but dinner every night will showcase the best rice grown last year, all the seasonal veggies from grandma's garden and ample supplies of beer will flow unabated into my mug!!! Nice!

Once the rice is in the mud I will head back to Ajishima and get started on our own garden. I am not sure what I will be able to plant this year, as we are about a month behind our planned schedule. But, it will be a refreshing change for me to just go with the flow. Michie will be able to jump right in and start helping the patients and residents of the island. I will have to seek out our friends help. I have asked them to invite me along and to have me help out with what ever they end up doing on the island. Our friends father is the island handyman and the son-in-law's family was born and raised on the island. This will help me introduce myself to the islanders as we help with the rebuilding of the island. About forty houses were destroyed and others were damaged, including our friends', so there will be lots of work to do for quite some time.

We had good news that the officials will test the water line next week to see if the flow from Ishinomaki is ready to resume service to the island. This would be amazing if it is up and running sooner rather than the projected six months plus! The electricity is still out, but we can live with out electricity. We just bought some water jugs at a second hand shop to fill from the well for drinking, cooking and cleaning. My mom just sent us two solar camp showers, so at least we won't stink too much!

The only other thing to contend with is the toilet situation. With no water to flush, and the thought of hauling buckets half way across the island (literally) without a vehicle just to flush it away is not appealing in the least. So, we are considering a compost toilet, where you basically do your business in a bucket and deposit it later on a compost pile. The compost, or 'humanure' in this case decomposes and cures for one to two years and can be applied to crops and trees as fertilizer. This concept is really quite something. You can read the Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins online, download it here, or buy it here.

I digress...

So, we will be living exactly the life we had envisioned ten years down the road: no mains utilities, just what we could harvest and produce ourselves. The only catch is that we will not have had the chance to build and tweak all of our systems (greywater, solar & wind power, food production) gradually over time. I am somewhat of a perfectionist and a procrastinator and have an all-or-nothing personality, so perhaps this is the best possible way to begin: start at our end goal and reverse engineer how it all works as we go along!

This dream has been the driving force that brought us to Japan and specifically to Ajishima. We are here to cultivate a brighter future for ourselves and everyone around us. There is no time like the present, and the present time is planting time! We take this seed, our dream seed, and plant it with love and intention. We nurture it while it grows and it will in turn provide all we need. This symbiotic, synergistic, virtuous circle is the ebb and flow of life, death and rebirth itself. We cannot help but be glad to be a part of it all right now.

What a time to be alive!

Seeds of Hope, Seeds of Change


Michie and I have been working out all the details of our eventual move to Ajishima Island next month. More details forthcoming...

In the meantime, here is a message Michie found on a Japanese blog encouraging everyone in the world to plant some flower seeds on May 3rd. There is an English translation interspersed amidst the original message, so be sure to read until the end.

Any flowers will do; just plant whatever you have or can find easily! We will plant sunflowers because they are of course beautiful and they also do a fairly decent job of remediating soil poisoned by radiation.

Image Source: Shutterstock



『SEEDS OF HOPE~希望の種~プロジェクト』




Dear friends of the world


Large earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, riots, influenza and diseases etc. are now happening everywhere in the world. These big changes build up anxiety in all of us.


On the 11th of March, a huge earthquake hit Japan. The earthquake and tsunami killed more than 13,000 people and more than 14,000 people are still


In such a difficult situation,


We received many prayers and warm messages from all over the world.


They have lightened our hearts.


We appreciate the warmth. Thank you very much.


Now we have set up an emergency support and relief team "MEGUMI JAPAN", and we are doing our best to reconstruct the country.


Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, the most damaged areas, are still full of debris.


They look as if they were attacked by bombs in a war.


Looking at these sites we thought,


"If there were fields of flowers instead of debris we could cheer up, forget the worries and feel happy and warm.

そこで【世界同時 花の種まきプロジェクト~SEEDS OF HOPE】を考えました。

That is why we came up with a project called "Worldwide Flower Seeding Project ~SEEDS OF HOPE".


Let's not only pray but also act!!


Acting is the most positive praying.


Yes, let's plant flower seeds.


Ask the flowers for help.


Flowers can heal our hearts.


The healed hearts can heal the earth.


So, here we would like to ask you one thing.

Would you please plant flower seeds in your garden, in your town, in your country, on the 3rd of May?


Here is the picture.


On the 3rd of May, a lot of flowers will be seeded all over the world.

 そして、SNS(ソーシャル・ネットワーキング・サービス)のFACE BOOKではこんな書き込みが。
And you will find comments like the following on Facebook.


"Today I seeded sunflowers in the flower beds at school.


What I can do is to bring smiles to people's faces; smiles like flowers."

(イラン マハメド○○○○ 大学生)

Muhammad from Iran, university student

「私はマンション に住んでいるからペットボトルに土を入れてそこにひまわりの種を植えたわ。

"I live in an apartment, so I put soil in a plastic bottle and put sunflower seeds in it.


I told my neighbors about the project and they were happy to join us too.

数ヶ月後、 外からのこのマンションを見たらお花だらけかも、

The apartment will be full of flowers in a few months time.


I feel so excited.


What I can do is to cover this apartment building with flowers."

(中国 郎平  主婦)

rouhei from China, housewife


A few weeks later…


"How is everybody in the world doing?


The sunflower seeds that I planted the other day came into bud in the flower pot in my apartment in New York today.

その双葉はまるで土 から手がニョキっと出て来てピースサインをしてるかのようだよ。

The bud coming out from the soil looks like a peace sign.


I pray for world peace."

(マイケル○○○○ 役者」

Michael, actor


A few more months later…

「世界中のみなさ ん、僕は日本のプロサッカー選手です。

"Hello everybody in the world, I am a Japanese professional football player.


The sunflowers, which I secretly seeded by the training ground 3 months ago, are now in bloom.

僕に出来ること、それはサッ カーというスポーツを使い、人に元気を与え、世界中の人と繋がり友達を増やす事です。

What I can do is to raise people's spirits through football and to make friends all over the world and bond with them."

(日本 Jリーガー 三浦カズオ」

Kazuo Miura from Japan, football player in the J league


May the areas full of debris change into flower fields.


May the front become a flower field and all the struggles come to an end.


May the cities constructed with concrete be decorated with flowers.


Let's decorate the earth with flowers.


And let's cover the world with warmth and happiness!


Originally posted by てんつくマン Tentsuku-man http://ameblo.jp/tentsuku-man/entry-10866720606.html#main

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ajishima in Pictures

So, here we have a few pictures from Ajishima, our possibly-soon-to-be-home-again. Our friends on the island took these over the past couple weeks and posted them to their blog. The first five are from the Ajihama (Aji Beach) side of the island. We have not seen any images yet from the Futawatashihama side where our place is (although we learned it survived unscathed).

        Debris on Ajihama Beach near our friends' pension.

Concrete wall in background is wharf covered in water.

Our friends' boat torn from its moorings and washed ashore.
The wharf from above, once the water receded.
Several houses destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami.

Japanese Self-Defense Force and utilities workers arriving.

Supplies loaded on an island-bound ferry in Ishinomaki City.
Elementary school kids donated these relief supplies.
A group of Canadians delivers a water filter for the well.

The filter will have to last 6 months until new water lines are laid.
A photo from years ago: a reminder of more peaceful times, but also a glimpse of what is yet to come.

Friday, April 1, 2011

It must be all over now!

Whew! Thank goodness this whole triple disaster thing is over in Japan. Well, at least that is what I gathered from the headlines, or rather, the lack of headlines about Japan. In the past four days there have been only three headlines (two on Wednesday and one yesterday) and none today on the news sites I frequent. And many have already taken down their “donate” links. So, in this 24-hour news cycle of ours, this whole triple disaster must be over now, right!?

But, three weeks to the day since all this began we are reminded to “keep in mind that disasters start suddenly and end slowly.” This means that while the media, pundits and fear mongers have moved on to the next disaster du jour an entire nation is left to fend for itself amidst a set of disasters it is ill equipped to handle. Was this Japan’s fifteen minutes of fame? If so, and if it is truly over (read: no longer newsworthy), then perhaps we have the dubious distinction of being the most callous, self-absorbed, petty and complacent bunch to ever slither over this Earth. 

This would not be the first time, nor likely will it be the last, that as a global community we turn to a local crisis for our own amusement, and on a whim discard it like a passing fad. We display a certain fetish for permitting ourselves to be scared silly by anyone with a tasty soundbite. Once the rush of that thrill fades, we move on to our next fix, forever jonesing for a bigger and bigger hit to overcome our desensitized souls. Just look at New Orleans, Haiti and New Zealand, even the Gulf of Mexico. And, whatever happened to India, Indonesia and Southeast Asia after the Sumatra Tsunami at the end of 2004?  Burma is probably next. At least we can always count on our pushers to provide us with the most innovative and stimulating smack the market has to offer.

Things are a little different in Japan. We cannot avoid the turmoil here as this is where it happened. We cannot turn the channel or click on a different link. Fukushima is our ground zero. This is what we live with now. The media, however, has played into corporate and government hands, unsurprisingly, and basically repeats what it is told by the government, which in turn is a rote reiteration of whatever faulty facts TEPCO deems we should all be privy to at that moment. It sounds disgustingly corrupt when it is put that way, but is this not the way it is everywhere else as well? With the power to reach millions, the media might do well to advise about the dangers of radiation or even how to limit exposure (as there is no preventing it now), but instead they quote TEPCO’s fudged numbers and go on to quote the government’s regurgitation that those levels pose no immediate threat to human health. This results in the general public believing that there is no threat at all. So, we have people, families, entire cities acting as if nothing has happened. The news said it was safe, so it must be.

Even our own family members here in Oshu City do not really comprehend what is happening, and we watch the news together every night and let them know what is being omitted and what is actually happening! The best we can do is limit our exposure. There obviously is not as much radiation in the air where we live compared to Fukushima, but people are wantonly going about their lives. Michie and I have sequestered ourselves and have only been out twice in the past two weeks to buy groceries. Michie had to turn down her grandmother’s request to work in the garden last night because it was raining. It was heartbreaking for her to say no to her grandmother, who played the overwhelming roll in her upbringing. Michie explained what was happening and why she would not go out in the rain (it pulls more radioactive particles out of the air and the moisture facilitates speedy absorption into the body) but her grandmother still did not understand it.

Perhaps, though, the people going about their lives know that some fallout from this disaster is inevitable, and that they do indeed have lives that need to be gone about. I just do not know what to do myself. I believe that there is no safe level of radiation exposure. It may not kill us immediately, validating those claims from above, but it will have some negative effects on us. Is it simply a calculated risk to go out and get on with our lives? Is that a risk we can afford to take? In a world of absolute relatives, we are safer than those closest to Fukushima. But are any of us really safe; safe from ourselves; safe from the faults of our own species?

In light of all this, our island paradise still awaits us on Ajishima. The dream we built up for ourselves is so enticing right now. Our dream did not include several nuclear meltdowns. This is something we live with now. We want to get to Ajishima, to move in and move on with our dream. The island has already started its recovery.

We received our first direct call from the island this morning. They secured a mobile generator that provides electricity for five hours in the morning and five at night. The phone lines are still down, and the power and water lines laid on the ocean floor from the nearest city were stripped away and washed out to sea by the tsunami. It will take over six months at the minimum to reconnect. Five hours today gave our friends enough time to charge their cells phones and find a signal. There is one small tank of water for drinking and cooking, and for all other uses water must be drawn up by rope and bucket from a well.

We also learned that forty houses were destroyed by the tsunami on the island. One elderly man died soon after, but not before rescuing his grandchildren and taking them to higher ground. He was on a constant oxygen supply, but without electricity for three weeks, he was not able to breathe. We coincidentally met his daughter on the ferry to Ajishima when we visited at the beginning of March. We were late for the ferry and almost missed it. We did not have time to call ahead to be picked up at the port, so Michie sought out the friendliest face and asked to borrow her cell phone. We tried to pay her 100 Yen (about a $1.20) and we ended up laughing over the paltry sum. Michie talked with her at length, and we even helped deliver some packages to her family once we arrived.

Long before even leaving for Japan a month or so ago, Michie and I discussed ways for us to get involved in the island community. As a nurse she would have direct contact with a majority of the islanders as most were aging and seeking treatment or home care. This was her way in. A plan we devised for me was to reach out to our neighbors and offer to do odd jobs pro bono. I had designs on helping weed gardens, cleaning out the gutters, even harvesting seaweed; but in my greatest fantasy I would help deconstruct dilapidated houses, saving the doors, windows and bent nails to straighten out later as my only fee. These were the things we planned to repurpose into our own home and eventually into our Bed and Breakfast.

We intended to build a home with the very dirt under our feet. A cob (earthen walls) or even a straw bale structure with a few locally salvaged trimmings would fit the bill nicely. We planned on a modest solar and wind power system and even simpler energy needs, as the most effective form of conservation is (gasp!) actually using less! We were fond of the idea of a greywater system that uses captured rain water several times in sinks, indoor vegetable planters and other fixtures before being flushed down the toilet or better yet filtered outside to a lush garden pond. Our permaculture fixation would have us incorporate a design mimicking nature into our need to provide our own sustenance from gardens and a food forest.

Yet, there seems to be a silver lining in all of this. And, there seems to be a pattern developing in my posts here: I get really worked up, vent it out, and then see the brighter side. Would it not be great if I could just skip all the trouble? Less headaches, less hassle in typing, less drudgery in reading all this mess...But, I digress. The fact is that Ajishima holds even more for us now. We can be of real service to the islanders. We have already seen our plans to fruition in our dreams. We have even planted fantasy trees we know will not mature until our grandchildren are old enough to clamber up their limbs and pick the choicest of the bunch.

The realtime situation on Ajishima may seem more a superimposed deficiency than a self-imposed conservancy, however, this is the situation for which we have already prepared ourselves. In our heart of hearts, we know this is where we are supposed to be. Now, we just have to get there...