“That was the first time I was deep in nature and yet had to care about how I breathe. That was a really scary realisation and moment. Especially thinking of our children. I had never paid that much attention to the air we are breathing. Now I have learnt that seventy per cent of our human energy is taken from the mix of air we breathe.”
However, Koichi has a way out, as a worldly-wise traveller, he has an bolt hole in Argentina’s Patagonia but that’s very unusual in this land of Japan famed for its stereotypes, typified in the ‘the salary man”. The Japanese, like the majority of any nation’s peoples, are only familiar with a family type of circumscribed lifestyle close to home. What now for so many people in the northern-most parts of Japan suffering under the threat of nuclear radiation?
Koichi’s story starts six years after leaving university which period was spent as a cog in the wheel of Mitsubishi Trading Corporation. He then travelled far and wide before returning home, marrying, and, although not in the usual way, settling down in the northernmost island of Japan, Hokkaido.
“Hokkaido is a beautiful island, a place where nature is abundantly present,” informed Koichi. “It was in a sense a second stage of life for me, being there, after walking locally and internationally, and planting trees.”
“This year we were planning to walk once again Japan but that big earthquake hit northern Japan and the problem with the nuclear power plants arose. Alarmed, I spoke with a good friend who knows about nuclear power as he has been fighting against it for thirty years or more and he understands the dangers of the situation very well. He advised, strongly, that we should get away immediately from Japan.”
Koichi and his wife Ai had rented a dome house of the type designed by Buckminster Fuller, a geodesic dome, a house built thirty years previously. They had been in residence for three years. Beautifully situated fronting a beach, it had an ocean view, uncluttered by anything else, pure ocean. This was in a suburb of Otaru, on a hill top.
These days Ai likes to engage in learning a practical self sufficiency in food and in making clothes for the children, she also wants to build an earthbag house, to learn how to survive, to allow her children to survive, so they can be strong. She was a WWOOFer (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms or Willing Workers on Organic Farms), for a year in Australia while Koichi has been fermenting an idea about settling down as a farmer.
Then it happened.
“The Fukushima plant lies about 700 kilometres away from us. While we did not get any direct affect from the earthquake or the tsunami we began to be concerned about wind-blown radiation dust, especially after listening carefully to our good friend. Disaster loomed. We looked at our children, considering many things.”
At that time Koichi was in Skype contact with Earthwalker Paul Coleman – who was well into the project of building an earthbag house – and in fact had intended visiting him around this time though he had cancelled that trip for various reasons but after talking with Earthwalker again, reconsidered, thinking it was the moment to travel, to Patagonia.
[This interview took place in Hong Kong which was the Japanese couple’s first transit stop.]
“Something had become very clear to me when walking and planting trees and that is, when out in the countryside, among the elements of nature, I felt very comfortable and on the contrary, in the cities, walking on hot roads, on concrete, through industrialised areas, with vehicle fumes, there was physical discomfort. This was very striking, when walking, directly pointing at what is important for human beings.”
For Koichi now, he feels that people cannot live properly without nature, without the natural environment. To be able to survive, it is necessary that we all help in protecting the environment. For ourselves and for the next generation.
“Over these years I began living closer to nature and began seeing that it was good to protect and expand our activities as much as possible.”
This comes naturally to the Japanese and is a feeling integral to the indigenous religion of Shinto. Koichi believes in Shinto but that too was also a gift bestowed by his journeying, especially later, in his journeys around Japan.
“Starting out, prior to my travels, I was a serious businessman. I had no idea what Shintoism was about. I had some care for nature but I did not really pay attention to the environment. During my travels though, when people asked my nationality they would also ask my religion, Shinto or Buddhism – really, I did not know what to say because I myself had not thought of those things. I didn’t know the difference between them. Living in Japan for thirty years yet no clear idea about these things!”
Gradually Koichi began to think about his background. He read, somehow met people interested in these aspects of life. As he became more curious he studied deeper and found Shinto was a very laid-back approach to life and involved a deep appreciation of nature. He began to see that Japan itself and the way of thinking or feeling in Shinto, which is essentially how the Japanese think, was very good.
“After having worked in the commercial world I had left thinking there must be a better place than Japan, somewhere else in the world, and it took me all those years to realise that Japan had a very nice culture and the people were very nice indeed. So the more I travelled the more I began to care for Japan.”
“Before, I did not give much importance to such earthbag house but now I can see more clearly that it is an effective way, especially now in the case of Japan, when they have lost all the resources and I can see the economy is going be hard hit.”
So many people are evacuating from the Tohoku area. Having lost their homes. Definitely they need a place to stay. If you can build a house just using soil then that’s a really useful way for Japan right now. Such houses have good insulation properties. They are economical.
“This is an important thing to know right now. Also, I am looking forward to experiencing the lifestyle of Patagonia, a simple life, still using horses for daily things.”
Koichi now feels he wants to be remote from our civilisation for a while, to learn, then he hopes, together with Earthwalker Paul: “to create a project to bring back something valuable to Japan.”