Mirai no Hyakusho (Ways We Work), a new podcast created by our friends, presents alternative lifestyles, bridging urban and rural, and rethinking life in community with human and nature. Each program introduces an individual working in agricultural communities throughout Japan.
To accompany their podcast episodes, we are publishing three articles in English to summarize the fascinating conversations they share in Japanese, with three innovative individuals living in rural Japan.
EPISODE 1: Making a life in the countryside
with Ryo Ogawa of Takigahara Farm
*Please note all translated quotes are paraphrased.
"I didn't like that you couldn't walk straight in the subway station in Tokyo. Or that you were forced to see, and consume so many things, like advertisements," - Ryo Ogawa.
Ryo Ogawa is one of the newest residents to move into Takigahara, Ishikawa Prefecture, located in the middle of Japan, right where the coast meets the mountains. He is one of the first new residents the little town has seen in as long as 30 years, and just one of a handful amongst the small population who is below the age of 60.
Here in Takigahara, Ryo and his team of three lead Takigahara Farm — a small cluster of spaces consisting of a small farm, cafe, guesthouse, hostel and recently, wine bar.
Since moving here four years ago, Ryo and his team have built a community around their space, with a mission to explore the concept of ‘Life with Farm’. Here they explore what it means to live an agricultural lifestyle that does not necessarily equate to being a farmer but incorporates farming as a part of their lives. Ryo explains to our podcast host Akane Bessho that Life with Farm means that his work is borne from nature, and as a result, he is not one but many things — a project manager, guesthouse host, a farmer, and more.
Born in the northern prefecture of Niigata, Ryo has spent most of his life living in nature more than in cities. Moving from Niigata to Tokyo and then to the seaside in Chiba prefecture, he realized he was best suited to living within nature. "I didn't like that you couldn't walk straight in the subway station in Tokyo. Or that you were forced to see, and consume so many things, like advertisements. When you're unconsciously consuming all this information, I believe it's bound to affect how you think and live."
After spending some time backpacking around the world, Ryo experienced the hospitality of strangers. Living in their homes, sleeping on their couches, sharing their meals. This experience left an imprint on him and is translated into his current role at Takigahara Farm. Not only as a project leader, but he is also a host to the guests who come to visit and stay, either at Takigahara House, a historic stone warehouse restored as a guesthouse, or Craft & Stay, a newly renovated hostel that sleeps up to 23 people.
Although it may be hard to imagine him elsewhere, the move to Takighara came fortuitously. It was 2016 and Ryo had just returned from his backpacking trip around the world when he met Takigahara Farm's founder, Teruo Kurosaki. Kurosaki-san had been ruminating on the idea of a self-sufficient sanctuary away from the city, where design and farming would intersect, and invited Ryo to lead the project. Despite never having heard of Takigahara, seeing the small town himself, Ryo felt like this could be his next home. "It was very instinctive but my initial feeling was that it felt good. But I also thought I could always leave if it didn't work out."
"I'm not usually the type to think into the future, I wasn't used to thinking in such long terms."
Contrary to what many would expect, although most locals farm, none of them are "farmers" in the commercial sense. "There's not a single farmer around, there's one commercial shiitake mushroom producer, but most people just grow produce for themselves. This means rather than specializing in just one kind of produce, they grow whatever they like."
Some of his neighbors produce konnyaku (konjac), some grow flowers, purely accommodating to their own interests and needs. It was through his next door neighbor, an old lady, that Ryo observed and learned how to grow things at Takigahara Farm. Starting with seeds for spring onions and onions, which he received from his neighbor, Ryo began to tend to his plot of land. "I'm not usually the type to think into the future, I wasn't used to thinking in such long terms. If something didn't work out, I had to reflect and plan and vow to do something differently the following year."
"I see things growing above the ground with my eyes, but in my head, I see what goes on underground."
Being in the field, working with the soil through trial and error, is how Ryo learned what he knows now. "Of course human connections and society teach you a lot, but really there's so much we need to learn from nature." It was this direct interaction with nature, with the soil beneath him, with touching the soil and growing vegetables in it, that he learned lessons of patience and persistence. It was when he finally tasted the fruits of his labor that he realized how amazing vegetables could taste and began to grow more and more interested.
"Just by touching the soil, not just looking, you can tell a lot about the soil, whether it's healthy or whether it needs anything. I see things growing above the ground with my eyes, but in my head, I see what goes on underground."
The size of their farm has multiplied, having received land from elderly locals who have found themselves unable to maintain them. Currently, Ryo and those who live with him share the produce, occasionally supplying the cafe, but his goal for the future is to be able to feed his guests and the local community.
While Ryo initially decided on a whim to make the move, the time spent physically in the soil has manifested in many tangible and intangible ways, including a connection to the land. "Kyodo-Ai" in Japanese refers to "a love for one's land", often associated with one's hometown or nation. Through a tactile relationship with the soil, and of course in exchanging food and knowledge with Takigahara residents, Ryo found he was able to foster his own sense of kyodo-ai with Takigahara.
"Just go to the place… just go: step on the soil, smell the smells, close your eyes, listen to the sounds, taste the air, and see if you take to it. More than thinking, just feel it firsthand.”
While the city and the country have their own pace and own merits, neither one is easier than the other to live in. Winters in Takigahara are mind-numbingly cold, yet the density of the city population can crush you like a wave. For Ryo, though he prefers the slower pace of Takighara most of the time, he sees himself inseparable from the city. He commutes to Tokyo, as often as once every month pre-COVID, spending a couple of days there for work meetings, seeing people, and going to restaurants. "It is because Tokyo exists that I can have this kind of lifestyle. It's a very important place to me still."
Ryo is not alone, some of the people who he lives and works with at Takigahara Farm also made the move from Tokyo; some are part of a growing trend of "U-Turn kids", who move to the big cities but return to the countryside.
His advice to those considering lifestyle change?
"Just go to the place… just go: step on the soil, smell the smells, close your eyes, listen to the sounds, taste the air, and see if you take to it. More than thinking, just feel it firsthand."
Ways We Work Project Staff
Akane Bessho (Host)
Bobby Adriel Moses/violin
Fukunaga Mayumi Research Lab
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