My Satoyama father passed away yesterday. I did a homestay at his house in a mountain village in Nagano Prefecture when I was 14 for one year, and he was the first person to teach me about Satoyama life.
I can’t go to his funeral because I have to take my mother, who happens to be the same age as my host father, to the hospital. Yes, when you reach my age, there are many people in their 80s around you.
I grew up in Tokyo and didn’t know anything about farming, so everything I experienced with the host father was new to me. We did rice planting, harvesting, worked in a tomato field where he was growing tomatoes for ketchup.
He also took me to the mountain to do Sumiyaki which means charcoal burning. We dug a big hole and put the whole bunch of branches there. We made a big bonfire there. It was so much fun. We made many bags of charcoal to last for the entire winter.
The place we did charcoal burning was actually Satoyama in the original meaning. Satoyama is a place between the mountain and the village where people cut trees to make firewood and did Sumiyaki. Today we use the word Satoyama to describe the entire bioregion including the mountain and the village, but originally it meant a much smaller area.
He taught me how to operate a cultivator, too. One day he was going down the mountain with only the clutch, which meant we ran down very fast. It was the most thrilling moment in my life as far as I can remember.
He was a short man but was very strong with a full of muscle. We did a lot of arm wrestling, but he always beat me.
He taught me how to pound rice to make rice cakes, too, using your lower back rather than arms.
It was the time when I became interested in farming, and I decided to be a farmer in the future. It was the time when I made my first life shift. However, as I grew older, I realized that I wasn’t interested in farming itself, I was interested in the romantic aspect of Satoyama lifestyle, which led me to become a life philosopher and began traveling.
So for many years after that, I didn’t have anything to do with farming or satoyama life until about 10 years ago when I read The One Straw Revolution.
But come to think of it, the year I spent with him in that mountain village in Nagano built the foundation of my Satoyama life today.
I pray that his soul may rest in peace.
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