Beyond the Concrete Mountains: Permaculture in Japan

| January 23, 2001

Beyond the Concrete Mountains: Permaculture in Japan

'On every corner, in every magazine, and on every entertainment-filled weekend, I am reminded of my duty to buy for no reason at all,' writes American expat Jennifer Sauer in the Japanese alternative monthly The New Observer, sharing her urge to simply buy her way into discovering the island nation. Disappointed with herself, Sauer sought out other foreigners for traveling tips, but they were bewildered by her guilt. After all, how else to experience Japan than to 'spend 10,000 yen for a night in the Roppongi bars and clubs?'

Just when Sauer had given up hope, Japanese community environmentalism saved her. She discovered the Permaculture Centre of Japan (PCCJ) nestled in a beautiful farming area in Fujino, Kanagawa. Permaculture, which began in Australia in 1978 with Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, is a way not only of farming, but of living too, that combines philosophy and action. Realizing in the '70s that environmental protests were not enough, Mollison and Holmgren created cooperative communities that have since proliferated all over the world.

Travelers can stay at the PCCJ--an old Japanese home--for a mere 1,000 yen a night (about USD$8.50), Sauer writes, and the experience of living holistically is worth much more. She details a lush and verdant garden where the green grows wild, but where a pattern of fruit, vegetables and pathways emerge. Sauer also describes in detail the progressive plumbing system at the PCCJ. 'I had the pleasure of using the indoor compost toilet while I was there,' she writes. 'The toilet uses no flush and when you are done you take a scoop of sawdust and pour it into the toilet...The sawdust is recycled from construction sites, so no waste. After all the microorganisms eat up the waste and sawdust, the compost can then be used in some of the gardens.' There is also an outdoor toilet whose water and waste are piped through a series of filters, making the water safe for the various ponds at the Centre.

And, you don't have to live on a cooperative farm to practice permaculture, writes Sauer. The possibilities, she claims, are endless. 'You can support local markets, buy organically and if you can't afford to buy organically, then grow it yourself. We don't all have the luxury of the space for a huge garden, so why not plant a lush garden in some pots or turn a decrepit car lot into a verdant children's garden.' Sauer herself used a tire to create a pond in her backyard, within which she floats lotus plants. (She's already noticed a dragonfly or two grazing at her pond.) And, she doesn't trick herself into thinking permaculture is the answer to all our problems. 'It is simply one way,' she counsels, 'we can dig our hands deep into the earth and pull out a fresh daikon to nourish the evolution of humanity.
--Anjula Razdan
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