Photos by Mirai no Hyakusho
Mirai no Hyakusho (Ways We Work) is a new podcast created by our friends, which 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, available for listening now on Apple, Spotify and Anchor.fm, we are publishing articles in English to summarize the fascinating conversations they share in Japanese, with three innovative individuals living in rural Japan.
EPISODE 4 (Part 2): Building and maintaining the network, with Kunihiko Murayama
*Please note all translated quotes are paraphrased.
In the first half of our conversation with Japanese farmer Kunihiko Murayama, ‘Building and maintaining a network’, we discussed Murayama’s first few years as a farmer working in Iga in Mie prefecture, and how he transitioned from farming into building a distribution network for vegetables.
In our second part of this interview, ‘What are the ties that bind us?’, Murayama describes the importance of building these networks, and how to strengthen them through the use of new technologies. When well-maintained, Murayama says these networks can provide a vital line of communication between farmers – empowering them both as individuals and as a collective.
"In order to reach the target, we must first examine the target"
Turning his ideas of a distribution system into a reality took a lot more groundwork than Murayama had imagined. Any ideas or plans written with pen and paper became difficult to share because his network of farmers and staff were distributed across the region, and unable to meet in one place easily or often. Murayama’s solution to this was to create an online database. He imagined it like a pool where local people could cast in product and sales information for everyone to view.
Since 2007, when Murayama started farming, the world has rapidly progressed in database creation. While easily accepted in urban offices in Japan, this development, however, has faced resistance in the countryside. In order to motivate people to move from their long-standing paper-based habits to a new digital system, Murayama realised he needed to design a system that was simple, and had obvious advantages. The most important and most time-consuming part was finding the places to simplify his system and concentrate on those – in other words, was ‘figuring out where the itch is, so we could scratch it’.
"Balancing the overall picture with specific details"
In order to determine which aspects of a distribution scheme should be digitized, and the best format for distributing information to farmers, Murayama needed to discover the big picture and tiny details, so he became a farmer himself. This allowed him to better communicate with his neighboring producers, and find tiny, vital hints towards the most valued details scattered among his conversations. Leaning towards one skill or another, such as database expertise or producer expertise, could be fine for one farmer but not on a region-wide scale. Murayama's role as a bridge between farmers required balanced knowledge of both producers and databases. Once Murayama understood this, he could create a database design acceptable by local people who had missed out on the benefits of digitization.
"The important thing is to have different perspectives"
Agriculture, like many careers and hobbies, have a tendency to confine people to be all-consuming – especially when it comes to perspectives. However, Murayama says that it is important to take a step back and take an objective look at situations.
For example, one of Murayama’s staff members came from a local high school. She didn't have any specialized knowledge of business management and, at first, would only ask for assistance to learn about particular tasks that interested her. Over time, as she widened her perspective beyond her areas of interests, she matured as well; she began shouldering more responsibilities at the company, and even became certified as a bookkeeper to handle accounting tasks.
When confronted with difficult and demanding labor, it can be easy to lose sight of the overall purpose of our work. In response, Murayama tries to change his perspective on the task at hand: ‘How can we enjoy necessary work, even when it’s laborious?’. For him, detailed work can be fun in the same way as knitting: many minute, complicated connections lead to overall meaning. This is the same with both people and organizations -- each daily task, no matter how menial it may seem, helps drives the flow of an entire organization.
"The distribution structure is just like a living thing. The structure is made up of numerous cells, and every single cell functions."
Murayama describes the roots of his philosophy as: ‘Can I trust the relationship between nature and my own daily life?’. He sees the ideal agricultural distribution system and the mechanism of the human body as possessing similar attributes. For example, a human being is a collection of countless cells – and it is only when each cell functions and is connected to each other that a human being can function. The same is true for the distribution structure: the entire structure is made possible by the smooth functioning of every detail from the producer to the grocery store.
The word ‘organic’ in English is originally an adjective meaning ‘organ’ or ‘organism’. In other words, organic is a state where individuals are functioning and connected. Murayama says this is the very reason he started organic farming.
Organic farming is not just about production, but also about the connection of the entire functioning of the surrounding distribution structure and environment.
"Information is as real as my existence.”
As words like ‘sustainability’ have become mainstream, there has been an increase of attention paid to traditional agricultural lifestyles. Murayama believes that it is not enough to simply go back to the past, but that we must also integrate technology into our livelihood. Science is essential in order to understand the feelings of a plant, and technology is a major aspect of agriculture.
Although the invisibility of some technologies and information can make these hard to believe in, the human consciousness is actually just a collection of information. There is no need to make a distinction between the visible and the invisible.
"I'm looking for ways to make life easier beyond the confines of agriculture."
Murayama says that since he started farming, he came to believe that the fundamentals of growing vegetables, people, and organizations are the same (although vegetables can't talk, so we must observe them to find out their needs). The most important lesson he learned was that treating people and organizations in the same way – as a living entity – will lead to growth.
"Balancing two contradictory things is necessary in a community"
Murayama taught us two opposing points in how to interact with the community.
The first is, 'If you are in the community, follow the community.' Rather than half-heartedly belonging to the community, you need to fully enter the community and know the details so that you can connect with it. The second point is to 'keep doing what you've been doing'. What you have been doing for a long time is still your roots, and should not be confused with erasing yourself. In the world of agriculture, many people enter into it as if they are escaping reality, but Murayama warned of the dangers of this mindset. Rather than running away, finding a way to balance the self with the community might be the basic rule that can be applied to all walks of life.
Ways We Work Project Staff
Akane Bessho (Host)
Bobby Adriel Moses/violin
Fukunaga Mayumi Research Lab