REPORT ON ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION ARTICLE SERIES Article No.2
"JIMOTO-GAKU," COMMUNITY STUDIES FOR REGIONAL FOOD
The October issue of the JFS Newsletter introduced the movement of
"Jimoto-gaku," or local study, that emerged in Minamata City, Japan. In the
last few years, this new movement to "rediscover one's community" has been
growing throughout Japan, in which local people develop a new appreciation
for the many unique lifestyle, historical, cultural, and natural assets
around them, while being aware of outside influences. Another type of
"Jimoto-gaku" focusing on regional food has been emerging in Miyagi
Prefecture in the Tohoku region. This month, the article series explores
the Tohoku region in northeastern Japan, and introduces stories by one of
the advocates of "Jimoto-gaku," Mr. Tomio Yuki, an amateur ethnologist.
"No convenience store: A hopeless village?"
Miyazaki Town is a small town in Miyagi Prefecture with 6,000 people in
1,500 households. Every autumn since 1999, the town's gymnasium has been
filled with homemade dishes prepared by locals to celebrate the annual
local food festival. Participants feast on about a thousand food items,
ranging from Japanese to Western and Chinese. One can see the kinds of
foods they eat day-to-day just by coming here.
Miyazaki Town has many elderly residents. Take a 70 year-old women, for
instance. Suppose she married at the age of 20. If she prepared three meals
a day, 365 days a year, a simple calculation shows that she has cooked
50,000 meals in 50 years! Those who bring homemade dishes vary from a 12
year-old girl to a 92 year-old grandmother. One can feel the "power of
food" that resides in the region.
"This town has nothing." Until five years ago, people here used to lament
the absence of a convenience store, a family restaurant, and a large
supermarket, and looked down on their town as "backward." The residents
were looking outward, not inward toward their own town. They desired what
large cities had and they didn't have, negatively evaluating their
In psychological terms, this is called "subject at a distance." Humans have
a tendency to look for value in distant subjects rather than in near ones.
We tend to believe that the truth is not here, but out there.
But in this town that has "nothing," each house has a small field that
yields 50 to 60 kinds of vegetables throughout the year. Nearby mountains
provide wild edible plants in the spring, and mushrooms, nuts, and fruits
in the autumn. A pristine river running through the town provides local
fish including miller's-thumb, landlocked salmon, mountain trout, and sweet
fish. These fresh seasonal foods are cooked and prepared for daily meals.
Surplus harvests are preserved as jam, pickles, and other preserved food,
and passed down to the next generation with the wisdom and skill.
Through the food festival, people in Miyazaki town have rediscovered the
precious assets in their town. This town, which enjoys harmony between
nature, industry, and people's lifestyles, did not need a typical
convenience store or large supermarket in the first place.
"A town without consumer products has nothing at all?"
Kitakami town in Miyagi Prefecture has 4,000 people. The town is known for
producing just a few types of edible seaweed and freshwater clams.
Assessing this town with an economic yardstick, Kitakami town has no real
industry and no product to sell to consumers in large cities.
But a survey of 13 female residents in the town showed that they grow over
300 types of food in a year. They harvest about 90 crops in their gardens,
40 kinds of wild vegetables in "satoyama" (forests created and managed in
conjunction with human activities, as introduced in the article above), and
30 species of mushrooms. Some 20 kinds of freshwater fish, eel and
freshwater clams, are caught in the nearby Kitakami River. People there say
"delicious seasonal foods come from rice fields, farms, rivers, the ocean,
and the mountains in all seasons." Yet, an economic yardstick suggests that
this town probably has nothing to offer, just like Miyazaki Town, because
there are no convenience stores, family restaurants, and shopping malls
By working together with "people of the wind" (people from outside the
town), "people of the earth" (the locals) have realized the uniqueness of
their culture, the richness of their food, and the comfortable lifestyles.
They have begun a project to teach children about regional food and customs
on a community level. In the past, people would prepare meals and eat
together at a communal table, but today there are typically only two kinds
of table in Japan, one at home and another at the restaurant. At this third
table, local people exchange recipes and skills, teach children the
regional flavors, and bestow wonderful memories of local foods.
"From 'borrowed' vision to 'inner' vision"
Rural towns and villages often suffer from a negative self-image.
Agricultural villages in particular, are seen as being backward, with aging
populations, poor living standards and the lack of cultural facilities and
buildings, and people assume that they need to be "modernized" quickly.
City dwellers often perceive country villages with this image, and rural
people themselves have often damaged their own surroundings, with their
eyes only on modernizing to become like the big cities.
Through the study of "Jimoto-gaku" on food, I have reconfirmed the
importance of rediscovering one's community through the eyes of the local
people. A "good" place is where nature, industry, and nature coexist in
harmony, where there is a will to conserve the environment, people don't
judge everything by an economic yardstick, and a person can enjoy life
based on one's own values. Let us start living enjoyable lives, enriching
ourselves and reconnecting with the people around us, and feel the "en"
(connection) with the local region.
If someone says to you, "we have many valuable assets in our town and it's
a good place," you will want to visit the town. Destroying local assets to
attract non-locals for short-term gains is like overlooking the forest for
the trees. Why not inspire non-locals to be fond of your town so that they
will become repeat visitors instead of building a big facility to lure
tourists who will visit just once? This "Jimoto-gaku" on food has given me
a change to glimpse that sustainable development is also being sought at
the local community level.
Reference: Niigata Jimoto-gaku Forum, "Kaze-ni-kike, Tsuchi-ni-Kike"
(Staff writer Ayako Takahashi)