Monday, September 10, 2007


Yesterday being a fine Sunday with weekend work mostly done, we took the afternoon off and drove around the mountain into the beautiful steep-sided valley on the other side, that I've posted about here (Monkey Soup) and here (Sparrow's Inn), it is all as beautiful as always, knocks me out every time. We have to do some serious exploring there, along those streams, up those narrow side roads…

We were heading for the village of Kutsukimura, site of Yamauto, an annual campout eco-event that has a long and growing history under various names, all organized - moreso now than before - by our good friend from way back, Sogyu,

former monk, world-scale zen gardener, stone wall builder (he built our front-back stone wall) and now caretaker of Yoshida mountain in Kyoto. (That's Sogyu with Allan Ginsberg.)

Back in the days when the kids were here we used to take them every year and camp, or just drive out to Sogyu's house in a remote valley accessed only by a narrow winding road that partly travels along along the edge of a deep gorge, beneath steep mountain faces. Many small hamlets along the way, beautiful sights amidst the now lush rice paddies surrounded by forested mountains, a clear fast river running, you want to stop at a dozen places along the way and just get out and walk around, maybe take a swim…

After a long ride we arrived at the village, where Yamauto was being held for two weeks straight, all-night performance music on the weekends, spontaneous music breaking out all the time otherwise,what with craftsmen selling drums, flutes, didgeridoos and all manner of soundmakers; there was a glass blower, folks selling jewelry, clothing, all kinds of natural breads, baked goods and honey, juices, lots of natural food restaurants and cafes there among the trees, and what amazed me was that it was all centered around Sogyu's house! I didn't even recognize the place.

We hadn't bought a festival ticket because we weren't going to camp, only wanted to visit a couple of hours just to see old friends and reconnect, see what the event was like these days, but there were no one-day tickets, so we were thinking maybe if Sogyu was there we could get in for a while just to walk around (we've known Sogyu pretty much from the time we moved to Kyoto in 1980). Turned out he wasn't there, he was finishing up a Tibetan shrine in Taiwan! But just mentioning his name as our old friend got us first class treatment. It was a great and musical couple of hours walking around, talking to friends, eating fine food and looking at all the beautiful stuff. We're going back next weekend again for the final days. Maybe Sogyu will be there.

And then of course there's next year...


KenElwood said...

Hello Mr. Brady,

I'm Ken. I have been reading your blog for a few years now. Very enjoyable. My appologies for never commenting. I'm not a commenter. Just a reader.. and sometimes a writer. But I would like to comment on this post 'yamauto 2007' with a short essay I have written.

In a nutshell, it is my 'best cast scenario' countryside of the future. Maybe some of the guys at Yamauto can relate. Hope you like the essay. Reading time: 4 minutes


"Prophesying catastrophe is incredibly banal. The more original move is to assume that it has already happened"
- Jean Baudrillard

Our Return to the Satoyama: To live without money, oil, superfluous industry, and politicians.

It’s the year Two Thousand and Seven. Because of globanomics and other factors the current model of country living is not going to make it. People will die, businesses will close down, train routes will be abandoned, roads that lead to nowhere will stop being taken care of, most of those waffle looking things that line mountain roadsides will eventually crumble, farms will gradually be reclaimed by nature, and the old, unattended forest farms will exhaust themselves, rot, and eventually re-wild. But in general, peoples who are into a different, simpler life-way are almost certain to persist in the country. In the following sections, let’s take a look at what may happen in the coming years and how the new countryside can be kept stable, instead of suffering repeated rises and falls. Stable does not mean static -- nature itself is stable without being static. The future of the country, like its past, will be dynamic, but it need not be disastrous and difficult.

The Slow Countryside Economic Crash and Peak Oil. (スロー田舎の経済恐慌・

Let’s not assume that the economic crash of the countryside will be sudden. Population in the countryside has been falling for years. Those over 65 account for two out of five people in rural communities, and three-fifths of all farmers. Domestic crop yields have plummeted and the Japan Agriculture Cooperatives with it. The days of lavish governmental spending on country public works are nearly over. The country has been spent. The coming age of all numbers getting smaller in the countryside has begun; energy production, energy consumption, GCP (gross country product), etc. The mega-cities have been saving themselves with their profiteering schema and ‘progress’ based ‘sentimental economics’ by starving the farms at home to feed themselves with food and corporate techno-fix utopia ideas from abroad. Because there is no hope of restoring profitable business in the country, the country has been lost and will be abandoned.

Exposure kills people much faster than lack of convenience, decreasing job wages and even starvation, so when oil starts getting scarce and more expensive people will want to stay in the place they know. For the most part, city folk will stay in the city and country folk will stay in the country. Those few who do leave the city will be headed for a particular place like their countryside birthplaces or a friend's house, not roaming the countryside looking for land to live on or even to steal food from a field. Peak oil will further cut off the urban from the rural.

Population. (人口)

The slow reduction of peoples in the country these days will be more likely to lead to stability in the future. A small ripple of homesteaders and slow-lifers who abandon the dreams of urban technoutopia hope will migrate to the country, get on some land, and will be part of a new slow and steady increase in country population after peak oil. People who farm even on the smallest of plots will have children. Because children will be farm workers and they will take care of their kinfolk when they’re old. Also, children will be the future.

Road and Rail. (道・鉄道)

Possibly the most enduring legacy of the Japanese countryside mega-project industrial age will be its roadbeds. Even if the road surfaces turn to crumbled asphalt and weeds, they follow relatively easy paths through gaps blasted in slopes and over land-bridged gullies. Rail beds are even better than roads, because they're built with gentler slopes, and get first priority in the best passes. Because of decades-long rural depopulation and the consolidation of the rural rail routes, trains will basically stop running from the mega-cities to rural areas and eventually the rails themselves are likely to be taken for scrap, similar to how steel guard rails alongside country roads are being stolen now. Ideally, old rail beds will be converted to trails and roadways with low-maintenance surfaces and used for trading goods and perishables from small community to small community.

Food and Water. (食料・お水)

Without energy-intensive machinery, farming needs the hands and eyes of internally motivated skilled workers, and with that kind of attention, we can get much better yields with a variety of plants and animals in symbiosis. With a lower population density, people can be closer to nature; hunting and foraging from the habitats that are carefully maintained to maximize human food and general abundance. Country folk can use and enjoy the handiwork of farmers going back hundreds of years into Japanese history; the generations of Japanese who had done field leveling and dug irrigation tunnel and ditch. Put simply, food and water will come by way of traditional satoyama style communities.

Nature. (自然)

With fewer people and no frivolous industry the wild biological life in the country will flourish. If people hope for environmentalism capable of explaining why people abuse the earth as they do, then the nature they study must become less natural and more cultural and spiritual. (Or maybe a good mix of all three.) People know that they used to be not only physically a part of the natural world around them but spiritually connected as well. Also, members of a community will rely on their natural surroundings for their long-term livelihood and thus have a direct interest in protecting it.

Energy. (エネルギ)

A stable satoyama needs a stable source of energy -- one that tends toward a certain level, and gets pulled back toward that level with more force, the farther we get from it. The safest energy source is the old-fashioned one: solar energy gathered by plants. This will get people planting swaths of mixed woodland and practicing sustainable silviculture. Of course there will be other options for energy with our left-over technology, but those options must be used sparingly and responsibly.

Money or lack thereof. (通貨無し)

Bullion and Yen will lose their might. However, foods and hides will not. To shift from an economy of`progress` to an economy of stability people will shift to or revert back to the `old way` of being. With a bartering system in place people will move from an ethic of more-and-more to an ethic of less-and-less. This also means working less and needing less. Things like foods free of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, sound stewardship of the land base, and preserving bartering and cultural farming traditions can be part of a lax bartering system. Barter and trade can be commonplace.

Trace said...

Robert, I adore the photos! Glad a good time was had by all...