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January 26, 2009


"Half-Farmer and Half-X" to Create Rich Relationship between Community and People

shiomisan.jpg Copyright JFS

Lecturer: Naoki Shiomi, Representative of Half-Farmer and Half-X Institute

I believe that the two major issues of the 21st Century are the environmental issues and what I call "calling issues," in which we search for our mission and role. I have been exploring a lifestyle that can solve both of these challenges, and now I live as "Half-Farmer and Half-X" and advocate this lifestyle in my hometown, Ayabe City, Kyoto Prefecture. "Half-Farmer and Half-X" is a concept to solve social problems by utilizing small-scale sustainable agriculture and our own natural abilities "X."

Farming and Doing What We Love for Job

I came up with this concept of "Half-Farmer and Half-X" at the age of 30 around the time of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995. Originally I got a hint from Jun Hoshikawa, a writer and a translator who then was living in Yakushima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture. He described his lifestyle of writing and farming as "Half-Farmer and Half-Writer." I learned about this lifestyle when I was in my late 20s and I was convinced this would be the lifestyle for the future. At that time, I did not know what my "X" was because I wasn't sure about my capabilities, passions and special skills. Still yet, I was certain that "Half-Farmer and Half-X" was the right direction.

Initially I shared this concept only with my friends and it never got any public attention, but around 2000 when I launched my website, maybe the time had changed and the media sometimes covered this topic. I can think of two factors behind this change: a genuine concern for the environment and questioning about lifestyles especially among the young people around 30. It seems many people who worked at a company for several years are reconsidering what they want to do next and what their dreams were.

8 Keywords of "Half-Farmer and Half-X"

Now I will introduce eight keywords emphasized in "Half-Farmer and Half-X."

Sending out information
(journalist, output, sharing)
Calling, mission, roles
(self-definition, platform for contribution)
Hand work, art
(artist, expression)
Meditation, walking, thinking
(idea, inspiration)
"Half-Farmer and Half-X" Small-scale farming, food gathering
(body, exercising)
Community, acting locally
(settling down, place for training)
Global environment, sustainability
(ecologist, sensibility, living things)
(get-together, human relationship)

The bottom three boxes represent place or roots. First comes the "global environment and sustainability." For example, Japan had a shogunate system in Edo Period (1615-1868) and it was OK to only think about one's own clans. Then after the arrival of black ships of Commodore Perry in 1853, we started to have a foreign perspective and a framework of the country "Japan." When the Apollo landed the moon, we were able to see the Earth from the outside for the first time. In this modern world, we need a totally different perspective from the people in the past, a global environmental point of view.

On the other hand, a viewpoint of community and acting locally is also indispensable. Location is critical. Some say, "We can find our mission if we can find the right location." There is a famous story about some Japanese people who admire Mother Theresa and visited India. She told them to go back to Japan because there should be many more things to do there. It is quite important to know where our platform for activity and expression is.

Another place is family. I think family is like a base camp for mountain climbing. In other words, each of us take a break and restore our energy to fulfill our mission on the way to the summits, each of our goals. At home, we can share the wisdom to climb to the summits and sometimes comfort each other.

These three are at the base as roots, and the three above them are about mind and body. I go to bed with my fifth grade daughter at 9 pm and get up at 3 am every day. I use the three hours before my family get up to think about new concepts, write essays, read books and organize my thoughts. When you get married and become busy with raising children in the future, I hope you will make quiet time to reflect on yourselves alone even if you have to get up so early to do so.

I always bring a memo pad when I go out to work in the vegetable garden and rice fields so I can write down about the inspirations I received there. They bring me to plan projects and to write, in other words, to fulfill my "X." I believe the time we spend working in the rice fields as well as meditating, thinking and walking is beneficial for our mind.

Another important aspect is body. Nowadays so many people feel disconnected from their bodies. Reconnecting mind and body is a very important keyword. Yoga has been very popular among young women, which also reflect the desire to reconnect our mind and body.

In my case, I always go into the rice fields with bare feet, without wearing any shoes such as rubber boots. I think being barefoot helps me to gain inspiration and feel connected with the heaven and earth. By stimulating feet, I get some unexpected ideas in my brain. I can also be sensible and sensitive.

These two aspects of mind and body are very important keywords. We can bring them back by practicing the lifestyle of "Half-Farmer and Half-X." When our mind and body are fulfilled, I think we can build a rich relationship with community (its people and nature).

The category above these mind and body is "expression." There are three keywords in this category: "hand work, art," "calling" and "sending out information." Art is not only for professional artists. I believe human beings are born to be artists. In the village of Ayabe, there is an old man who farm on sunny days and carves Buddha statues on rainy days. If we look closely around us, there are many great artists in satoyama woodlands (areas of rich biodiversity near human settlements in the countryside).

Next is the calling. We can call it as lifework, role, mission, heaven's will or whatever. Anyway it is very important to discover and realize what we were born for. It doesn't mean that we are unhappy if we don't find it but those who do is probably happy.

I hope that especially the young generation will work on the last keyword, "sending out information" because I think there are many issues that can be solved by sending out information. When I talk with college students, I realize that they know very well about the new development in environmental issues and what topics have been discussed. But when it comes to passing the information to others, surprisingly not many people do so. I think it is wasteful. About 20 percent of people send out information but the rest of 80 percent mainly receive information. We have information within ourselves that can be sent out. I have been thinking about "Half-Farmer and Half-X" for a long time, and now I recognize the importance of sending out information. I think people in my community probably had a hard time understanding me, but as I sent out information and appeared in newspaper, many people in my village began to tell me, "I now understand what kind of society and future you are aiming at."

Self-sufficiency rate is often used for food and energy, but I think the self-sufficiency of information is also critical. I hope people will send out more local information and bring out the capability of "X" each of us has. When we have a rich expression of ourselves, we will have a rich community.

How to Find Calling

The "X" in "Half-Farmer and Half-X" means a calling or divine vocation. Many young people who say they don't know their X come up to me and ask, "How can I know what I like?" and "How can I find a hint for 'X'?." One hint I can give them would be to look back on something you continue for a long time, something you have devoted money and time or something you often think about without knowing why. A hint could be something you really enjoyed in your childhood. Or it could be your current job or part-time job, or even your hobbies.

As for the farming, some may wonder "how much is enough?" but I don't think the scale matters. You can do it large-scale, or you can grow foods in the community gardens, in the yard, on the rooftop or balcony. Time allocation is the same. You don't need to devote exactly four hours everyday to farming because you are a "Half-Farmer." You can be a farmer only during the weekends or for just one day a month. It doesn't matter how much time or area you do farming. What matters is to get back in touch with natural plants in our lives as much as possible.

You probably know Rachel Carson, who wrote Silent Spring. She left us the words, "Sense of Wonder" about 40 years ago. This set of words indicate the sensitivity to rediscovering the excitement and mystery, and I think if I express "Half-Farmer" differently, it may be quite correct to use the words "Sense of Wonder."

Act Now

I published my first book, Lifestyle of Half-Farmer and Half-X, in 2003. I am happy to hear that mainly young generation in their 20s and 30s read it. I think my mission is to communicate the idea of "Half-Farmer and Half-X" to young generation because it is too late to enjoy their lives after retirement. By then the climate of Tokyo could be the same as that of current Okinawa, and we have no idea what else would be happening. I am feeling that many drastic changes of the environment in my bones.

I strongly recommend young generation to act as soon as possible, hopefully within five years. I think it will bring a better outcome than acting ten years later.

For example, the main workers in agriculture are aging to their early and mid 70s. If nothing is done, Japanese agriculture will collapse in about five years. That is another reason why I think young generation's action within five years is essential. If any of your grandparents or relatives is engaged in farming, I hope you will learn from them soon.

To survive the difficult times of more serious environmental issues, we will need to grow our own foods as much as possible. Instead of asking the government to increase Japan's food self-sufficiency rate, we can plant a seed by ourselves, step into a rice field or go out into a vegetable garden. I believe that is particularly important.

Naoki Shiomi, worked at a mail-order company and established the Half-Farmer and Half-X Institute in April 2000. He advocates a concept of "Half-Farmer and Half-X (=calling)" as a way of life or a lifestyle of the 21st Century. His lifework is supporting missions and making concepts that encourage community and individuals to find and fulfill "X (calling)" through the Half-Farmer and Half-X Design School. Author of Planting a Seed for Half-Farmer and Half-X, etc. He lives in Ayabe City in Kyoto Prefecture.