Beyond the Concrete Mountains: Permaculture in Japan

Beyond the Concrete Mountains: Permaculture in

‘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.
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