Harvest 2012: Thoughts on Nature and Agriculture in Japan

December 4th, 2012By Category: Culture

I had lunch with a friend of mine this afternoon and she mentioned how she would be completely fine living separate from her husband.  She says he loves fishing so much that he wants to move the family closer to the ocean so he can go fishing everyday. She, would rather not. According to her he is crazy in love with the entire process from the catch to the plate – gutting, seasoning, cooking, eating and ultimately hearing his family say ‘oishi’ Japanese for ‘that’s delicious.’

Image Credit: Motoko Oshima

Just another case of a fisherman hooked on fishing. Oh, the irony.

Who is on the line, really? If we temporarily ignore the fact that people are a part of nature and assume an ‘us and them’ point of view, statements such as, “He catches fish” and “He grows rice” sound perfectly normal. Fishermen and farmers play the active role while fish and plants take on the passive role. Now let’s return to reality and remember that we too are but a thread in the intricate fabric of nature. Consider then, through millions of years of co-existence our seemingly conscious human behaviours may have been triggered or even manipulated by other lifeforms, so much so that ‘they’ may have accomplished the greatest feat of all time: an illusion of consciousness.

Think about how a flower lures in pollinating animals with its sugar-rich nectar, or how fruits wait until their seeds are mature before changing into a ripe colour which appeals to nearby animals looking for something to eat. Suddenly we see plants as key players on the field who deserve more credit for their active role in seducing our tastes and desires. (Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food,  articulates this idea quite convincingly.)

I won’t go as far as to say rice seduced me so now I am going to become a rice farmer like Yasuhiko. However, I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel the pull every time I step into that rice field. But then again rice farming is just part of the bigger picture.

Activities such as gardening, hunting, fishing and breeding, serve as valves controlling the ebb and flow of endorphins in us. A true natural high so to speak. An intricate bond between ‘us’ and ‘them’ creating a constant tension pulling both sides closer. Sometimes to the point where it interferes with family matters becoming a topic for household debate even, illustrated earlier in my friends example.

What is it about this bond that some of us find so satisfying? Having been to a fair number of places on this planet I can say with absolute confidence – nature is full of surprises. Perhaps it’s the novelty of hiking a new trail, catching a different fish, or photographing a colourful insect, no matter how far we travel and how much we see that deeply rooted appetite for nature is never fully satiated. And after living in Japan for several years now I believe these activities shed light on the true meaning of itadakimasu, a Japanese word deeply rooted in Japanese beliefs.

Thank you Yasuhiko for always giving us this chance to get closer to the real thing. Most of us are only exposed to surface level ideas when it comes to issues surrounding farming and agriculture in Japan. Experiencing first hand what happens on a local scale is amazing. It’s like taking a look under the hood and seeing how all the parts work to make something operate. This experience allows each one of us to come away with our own experience unsaturated with third party bias. We just do it, thanks to you.

Image Credit: Motoko Oshima

Author of this article

Kenji DuBois Lee

Kenji DuBois Lee is an enthusiastic videographer with an artistic view of his surroundings. This is his 5th year living in Japan as an Assistant Language Teacher. Kenji shares his various experiences through video and blogs you can find at www.usolee.com

Related articles that may interest you