Sam Becker-Miyadai

Digital Marketer / Food Systems Nerd / Community Developer

JAPAN FARM TOUR RECAP



Preface

The time in Japan after Cambodia, this January, was special because it had been exactly three years since I had last visited family in Japan. Three years since I overloaded with rice, fish, Japanese snacks, and tasted all my favorite Japanese food in the short span of two and a half weeks. It had been three years since I used a fancy toilet. If you've been to Japan, you know what I'm talking about with my reference to their ridiculously nice porcelain thrones.

This trip was also special in a new way because I was able to revisit and share with a couple close friends of mine, a little bit of my culture and story. I don't think they expected to watch sumo, like it's Monday Night Football. I don't think they were expecting to sit butt-naked in a hot spring surrounded by snow in the foothills of Mt. Fuji. Talk about full cultural immersion. Pun intended, as usual.     

The brief Japan visit marked the first time any of my friends had the opportunity to visit my second home. The Miyadai residence, my grandparents' house along the eastern coast of Japan, the place where I spent many a summer as a young lad - hyper (borderline ADHD), high-pitched voice, and always sweaty from catching bugs, biking, and running around imagining I was the red Power Ranger. 

In the setting of where I was shaped and made memories, I was able to explore and be inspired by new memories and experiences. I connected some new dots with my past and my future, understanding why I might love food and farming so much. Japan this time around through the time spent with family and the farmers we visited in the various regions of Japan allowed me the chance to examine deeper why I am so passionate about sustainable agriculture, community cultivation, and food.  

The time in Japan many might think was merely an excuse to visit cool spots and hangout after a demanding two months in Cambodia, but the stop in Japan was much more significant than merely a spa day in the onsen (hot springs). Japan is home. Japan is family. Japan is half of who I am, actually maybe a little bit more than half since I ate so much Japanese food.      

Central Japan: Farming with Family

Hiroyuki Miyadai, Grandpa's Mountain Garden

We spent time with my grandpa, or as we affectionately call him in Japanese, Jiji. His mountain lot and his house garden mark some fond memories of mine from childhood. I remember helping water his countless plants when I could get up early enough. I remember going to his mountain garden in oversized boots to help harvest. I remember pickling plums with my grandma to make the umeboshi, a signature Japanese rice companion. I remember my grandpa hosing down the whole garden after the local mountain monkeys ate all the plums from our plum tree. The repercussions of nature's laxative ran its course all over the yard. Let's just say Jiji was a little upset with the monkeys.  

So believe it or not, Jiji at eighty-one years old still has both growing spaces. He still wakes up at 6am everyday to water and sweep his house garden. He said he goes up in the summer every day to every other day. He still maintains his mountain garden, growing way more than he needs to of the Japanese radish, daikon. If you watch in the recap video, you will see how massive the radish are, in comparison, to my face. They were comparable in size to a small child. When I asked him why he likes to farm and garden? Jiji's answer simply was that it brings him joy to see what he plants grow and he enjoys the work. An aspiration of mine now is to be like Jiji when I am 81 years old. I want to still be growing small child-sized radish.


Southern Japan: Farming for Community

The Duck Farmer, Sustainable Lean Community Farming

Learning new farm techniques from a modern day #sustainable farming legend, Takao Furuno-san, the Michael Jordan of integrated duck and rice farming, was surreal. He supports 140 families in his local community through his super CSA program on a farm of a mere eight acres. 

A few years back, Bill Mollison, a co-founder of permaculture, respected Furuno-san so much he went and stayed for a week at the farm to learn more about his regenerative duck and rice farming. Furuno-san's work is so respected that he received an honorary PhD for documenting and publishing his farming techniques.

Something is apparent when meeting with Takao Furuno-san and other farmers in Japan. They love their work, but even more, they love their families and communities deeply. They love their work and the space it allows for them to connect with others.

Their smiles were from ear to ear when showing us around their farms. They understand something about life that seems to have been lost. Perhaps it was because he knew he was serving and loving well. Just in case you missed it, his small family farm supports and cultivates change through their support of 140 local families with his super CSA program. Inspired would be an understatement.

 


Northern Japan: Farming for Hope

General Reconstruction Association (GRA) , Warehouse Strawberry Farming  

GRA has developed an incredible state of the art organization seeking to employ and build up the recovering community in the Sendai region affected by the 2011 tsunami through #sustainable strawberry farming. Their tech background makes for a futuristic Mars-colonization type farm feel. 

The region where the warehouse farms are being built used to be fertile soil and produced a significant percentage of Japan's strawberries. However, with the tsunami everything changed.  Seeing a need in his community that he grew up in, Iwasa-san, the founder of GRA, combines his IT knowledge to make smart strawberry facilities that may be managed in a franchisee kind of way. 

Their project is so well-known that the Japanese government is partnering with them. In fact, the week we visited Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also visited the main strawberry facility. Craig and I were featured on Japanese national TV right before the Prime Minister of Japan, Abe-san. We were the token foreigners and my one-line was "mmm juicy." My mom was really proud.

GRA's goal: employ 10,000 people and start 100 strawberry businesses in the next 10 years. We think based on their strawberry samples with condensed milk they are well on their way to long lasting #community change. Thank you Katsube-san for the behind-the-scenes tour.


Hope Miyagi, Old School Subsistence Farming

The #HCinJapan farm tour wrapped up in the recovering Sendai region, where we witnessed farmers #cultivatingchange  and using their farms to plant hope and joy in the midst of still deep heartache from the tsunami that hit nearly six years ago. Entire neighborhoods were leveled and cleared. Farmers in this area lost everything from equipment to soil to family and friends.

Full-time pastor and part-time farmer, Tsuneo-san faithfully served during and after the Tsunami that devastated the region. He was our host while visiting this area, along with the ministry coordinator, Hiromi. Their faithfulness to those in the community has brought more than a few to Christ, an incredible feat typically unheard of in Japan. Him and his wife fill countless neighbors anew with hope and joy for life every day by their acts of kindness. We witnessed this as he took us around the region to see the various farmers that he serves regularly as a farm hand. He aids in strenuous labor, equipment, moral support, or anything they need.

A particular farmer friend of Tsuneo-san, Otomo-san sees farming as a way to share and love his neighbors. This farming couple inspires me to do the same, to look at work as a space to share and love neighbors.

 

Visual StorytellingAlbum Pt. III

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For more details on the Harvest Craft Farm Tour. Visit the Harvest Craft site by clicking the link below.