Location: Rural areas surrounding Toyama City and Oyabe, Toyama Prefecture
Duration: 4 days and 3 nights; April 28- May 1, 2012
Impressions of the Journey:
Dear readers: We just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for reading 47 Japanese Farms, and to solicit your thoughts on moss. In English, we have the saying, ” A rolling stone gathers no moss” . Growing up in the U.S., I always interpreted the “rolling stone” to be a good thing, symbolizing someone who was always moving, growing, and devloping. In Japan, the same saying exists, but “gathering moss” is considered a good thing. In Japan, moss symbolizes nature, history, and something that is unsullied by human hands. One often sees it in Japanese style gardens, sometimes indoors. What do you think? Is moss beautiful, or just a slippery nuisance? If you could have a moss garden like the one pictured above, would you want it?
Earlier this week, we visited Happy Moss, a farm exclusively producing moss balls and carpet squares in remote Oyabe, about an hour away from Toyama City. The moss is marketed and sold by for use in indoor and outdoor gardens, or as an eco-friendly countermeasure for reducing cooling expenses for buildings in Tokyo and other big cities. By laying a “lawn” of moss squares on the roof of a house or building, the average temperature of the area under the moss is reduced by about 14 degrees. As the moss is extremely hearty, such a roof could last about 12 years before needing to be replaced. The moss uses no dirt, so it is extremely light and fairly resilient in hot or cold weather.
We had the opportunity to meet Hiyashi-san, one of the moss producers who supplies Happy Moss, and he was kind enough to give us a tour of the moss farm. Hiyashi-san originally produced flowers that are used in Japan`s tea ceremony, but he began cultivating moss as a hobby and it soon became his primary occupation.
The moss is extremely hearty, and despite Toyama’s long and snowy winters, it does just fine outdoors. For the cold part of the year, the moss essentially hibernates, perking up again when the snow melts and the weather gets warm again. According to Hayashi, the biggest obstacle to producing moss is harsh wind, which can damage the ultra-lightweight moss quite easily.
Before heading out to Happy Moss, we started our trip with a three-day farm stay at Junko Hashimoto`s Doyuunou Farm, in the mountains outside Toyama City. Toyama is probably best known for the gorgeous Tateyama Alpine Route , but in our brief time there, we stumbled across so many hidden gems that it has emerged as one of the most interesting places we have visited in Japan to date. Hashimoto`s farm was one of these hidden gems, as it is nearly 100% energy efficient, set amidst terraced rice fields, and we got to spend an entire afternoon picking edible wildflowers (to be sold to a French restaurant in Toyama City) in a field overlooking the snow-capped mountains of the Tateyama Alpine Route.
Doyuunou Farm is primarily an egg and poultry farm, with 600 chickens, 200 aigamo ducks, 3 goats, a dog, a cat, and numerous young trainees from across Japan who live and work at the farm. A sad consequence of Japan`s demographic woes is that declining populations in rural areas of Japan have left a wake of unfarmed fields and akiya (abandoned houses) strewn across the landscape. Taking advantage of this trend, Junko Hashimoto has purchased over 60 rice fields for a pittance and, with the help of her farm trainees, she continues to farm them to preserve local farming traditions. She has also salvaged recyclable materials from many of the akiya and used them to restore a hundred year-old farmhouse, which she has converted into a dormitory for her trainees. The area`s low birth rate has rendered several local schools unnecessary, so Hashimoto and a few local non-profit organizations have taken it upon themselves to maintain the school buildings, using the facilities to teach seminars and classes, and to hold cultural events for the community.
Doyuunou Farm produces between 600-800 eggs a day, and delieveries are made to daily to local markets and restaurants using an electric vehicle. Eggs that break in the process of being gathered that are still salvageable are either consumed by the family or used to make chiffon cakes, a popular item tha tthe farm sells at several locations across Toyama. Addionally, the farm has a water wheel, a wood-burning stove, and takes advantage of several water-power and compost-driven techniques to achieve energy self-sufficiency. Located in the mountains, the farm is able to rely on clean mountain water for its needs. It is an inspiring and amazingly sustainable business model.
In our Gifu Prefecture entry, we discussed the differences between kengyou (part-time) and sengyou (full-time) farmers, but in our time with Junko Hashimoto, she also spoke with us about a related phenomenon, 半農半X (“Half-Farmer, Half-X”). The X in “Half-X” refers to an individual’s profession or natural calling, and the basic idea is that a practitioner of this sort of “lifestyle with a touch of farming,” grows food for his/her family while spending any remaining time pursuing X. Farming and pursuing the “X” at the same time allows the “Half-Farmer, Half-X”to find synergy that enhances the work product or social mission. The concept has been gaining speed in Japan, and according to Hashimoto, many of her neighbors are younger people in their 30s and 40s who left big cities and formal office settings to find a more balanced, peaceful life in Toyama. Junko Hashimoto made a similar move over 20 years ago, when she left her job as a social worker in bustling Tokyo to live a more eco-friendly and less frantic life in the mountains of Toyama. Now an expert on most matters related to agri-business and energy-sustainability, she often gives lectures on related topics at seminars and conferences. So, even while a full-time farmer with a thriving business, she still finds time to pursue “X” by sharing her knowledge and experience, working with local non-profit organizations on education and cultural programming, and training young farmers at Doyuunou Farm.
Normally, I carry around my electronic dictionary on these trips and note new words or phrases we learn in our conversations with farmers and new friends. On this trip, in several conversations, the same word kept popping up in different contexts, mentioned by different people. More than I would have expected, people we met in Toyama, not just at Happy Moss or at Doyuunou Farm, but in other contexts as well, discussed how Toyama, its farmers, and its people, are trying to adapt their lifestyles and work styles to a more environmentally-friendly, balanced, and fulfilling model. A good example of this is Toyama City’s efforts to become a model for tourism and industry by creating a clean energy monorail and a free bicycle rental system, so that city dwellers do not have to depend on cars to get around. Hayashi-san mentioned that he constantly experiments with moss so that he can adapt his farming to meet Toyama’s ever-changing weather patterns. Junko Hashimoto also talked frequently about adapting aspects of her farm and business to take better advantage of changes in her community and the mountain environment where she lives. So, to celebrate the small tweaks and changes that folks across Toyama are making to promote positive change, this trip’s kanji is [馴染む] najimu, which means “to adapt oneself and grow used to”.