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DIARIES FROM THE FIELD | The Rural Noto Region of Japan: A mosaic of life in harmony with nature

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By JUDE BAGGO
www.nordis.net

In Noto Region of Japan, everything seems to freeze like in a dream. The autumn leaves somewhat provided a real canvas and ambiance for a utopian feeling. A beautiful poster in a Japanese anime became real and even a camera memory stick cannot afford to save all the moment.

The Satoyama (landscape) and Satoumi (seascape), their natural environment and resources speak of their rich history, culture, tradition and contributions to the world. For the Noto people, their relationship with the Satoyama and Satoumi set them afar from the rest of the world. For them, living in harmony with nature and practicing socio-ecological production practices are entrenched in their way of life. By living and sustaining the source of life – the land, sea and air, it binds and strengthens their community.

The Japanese Art

Art is inherently in their consciousness. Their houses have universal designs and colors. Everywhere from the road to the residential houses, one can observe bonsai plants in their front yards. Small pots of flowers are carefully placed in the doorsteps and other areas around the houses. Small front yard gardens with temperate vegetables are also noticeable.

Art is not for art sake. They have a concept that their products should result in a sense of feeling good when one uses or buys it. They believe that when you feel good, you can do better and contribute in the society. For them, it is way of life, passed from one generation to the present.

Move like a Japanese clock

Another observable culture in Noto is on how they move in rhythm with the clock. It is all calculated. For them, time is gold. One time, we enter the bus late and the driver murmured something to himself and kept on looking at his wrist watch.

But on the other hand, they do not rush things. Quality first and not quantity. A lacquer and woodcarving owner told us that in order to produce a product that is worth buying is that they store wood for at least 10 years or more before using it. Their process is also ecologically friendly. Nothing goes to waste. Saw dust is used for mushroom production. Small parts are stored and made for other wood products.

Family tradition through the ages

Family tradition is a big deal in Noto. Most businesses and enterprises are passed on from one generation to the next. Despite the effect of bubble economy and difficult times, families tend to do their best to keep their tradition. Businesses are now adjusting to the needs of the present generation. The wood carving and sake companies we visited are examples of family traditions passed on to the next aging from 150 to 200 years. Today, their 8th generation is manning the family businesses.

Of calling cards and bowing heads

In the government offices, meetings are calculated and less chitchat. Government officials are formal and have in-depth knowledge of their history, people, and issues. More than a shake of hands, they prefer the  exchange of calling cards and tokens at the start and end of the meeting. A good example was that when a friend when to the hotel kitchen counter to exchange her meal stub for breakfast, she accidentally gave a calling card. The kitchen staff smiled back and gave his calling card. My friend got perplexed. But when she realized, she rushed to her room then returned with a correct meal stub. She got her breakfast.

During the meeting with the Ishikawa governor which lasted for at least 30 minutes, all their staff were intently listening and no moment for selfies and using cellphone. The photo opportunity was very strict that they only allow one official camera to avoid wasting time. After the photo opportunity, the delegates then immediately led outside the office of the governor and ushered to the elevator. And at the blink of an eye, we were already at the lobby. The staff from the governor’s office run towards the bus then came back grasping for breath. He even managed to say, “I apologized for the extra minute of waiting.” We nearly said, no, its okay. We have all the time.” But the bus door opened so we had to go inside. For us, we thought that we were dragged out from the office. But this is efficiency and discipline in Noto.

Friendly roads

In Noto, walking and using bicycle is observable. Sensei Nakamura in his 70’s can even outpace most of the delegation when walking. Traffic is also nearly nonexistent. The longest time we waited is at least one minute. Buses are also on time. They are like taxis, the fare increases as the bus travel more distance. For a short span, we paid 330 Yen.

Amazing food and clean surroundings

Cooked food in bento containers are available almost in all marts. At least, we were saved from pork diet since most of their food are vegetables, fish and chicken. Using chopsticks is also a learning experience. Vending machines are almost everywhere. One can just put coins and have a cold refreshment. Tap water can be drunk in all establishments without fear of being grounded due to water-borne diseases.  Garbage is well segregated and managed. Only falling leaves can be seen on the surroundings.

Their toilets are not spared from their technological edge. The seat reams are warmed and all is press button. Urinals are equipped with sensors. It flushes when you are done with your business. It is really comforting. Another interesting thing is their public baths. If you are not used to see the naked truth, it is not advisable for you. There are separate showers to use.

Visit their rural communities and appreciate Japan

The visit to the rice farms in the Noto communities became a window to the rural Japan culture and agriculture. Their agriculture is highly mechanized. Every farmer uses agricultural machines to tend his farm. Community people are also friendly, hospitable and offer their persimmon for free taste. When borrowing a pair of rice field boots, one needs to wash before returning to the owner for courtesy. Shoes are removed at the doorsteps and use the inside slippers. They usually position their slippers with the top part facing the entrance. Shoes are also positioned with its top part facing outside to have an easy access when putting it on. Squatting while eating their sticky rice is also enjoyable. Sliding doors and windows are widely used.

Behind the picturesque rural Japan

Rural Japan is simply amazing. It is a perfect for soul searching, rejuvenation and maybe to mend a broken soul and heart.

But despite the picturesque setting of rural Japan, there is also a creeping reality. Rural Japan is aging and experiencing depopulation. Most towns are left with old population. Young people are migrating to the urban and cities. It is rare to see groups of people and children playing and roaming around. The interpreter said that, “in our communities, children are like treasures.” Indeed, even an industrialized country needs human capital. Machines cannot move without operators, rice fields cannot be sustained without people. Schools are closing due to lack of school children.

In Wajima City during the visit to the Team Maruyama, a participatory workshop for studying Noto’s Satoyama nature and culture, the son of the one of the prime movers of the project told us that most of his friends are the older ones in the village. Most of his age-mate friends are in Kanazawa City, an hour away from their place. He hopes that more of his age would come home and work in their community.

But the satoyama and satoumi are proof their resilience through times. With their satoyama meister programs, local and government initiatives, rural Japan would find its way to its former glory where nature are nurtured by its people from young and old.

Learning from these experiences in Japan, as a future meister, much has to be done to contribute in providing solutions to the shared problems in the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems. It is a long way to go, but the Noto people are proof of it.

Visit Japan and experience its endless natural and technological advancements. Just bring enough cash since life is beautiful but at the same time, expensive in Japan. See you again, Noto. Arigato Gonsaimaisu.# nordis.net

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