People often ask me how many ecovillages do you have in Japan? It really depends on how you define an Ecovillage. Many traditional villages in Japan are ecovillages in their sense of living in harmony with nature. However, many of them lost this sense in the modern living style. There are some families who shift their lifestyle more sustainably, but they do not take a form of community. There are some intentional communities, but they are not ecologically sound. As a result, I must say that there are not many ecovillages in Japan.
The Konohana family is located two and half hours drive southwest of Tokyo at the foot of Mt Fuji. It was established in 1994 with 20 members; now, it grows to 72 members including 20 children. Konohana is name of“Goddess Konohana Sakuya” who guards the Mt. Fuji-region.
The 16 hector of land is spread around the local area and members live in six buildings within 5 minutes drive distance each other. They are ovo-lacto-vegetarian, and almost all of the food that they eat is grown here except for vegetable oil, salt, sugar and some seasonings, which are purchased. The vegetables they produce are consumed by themselves and also sold to customers locally and across Japan. The proceeds provide them a steady income. Therefore, their self-sufficiency of food is more than 800%.
The 8 hector are used to produce 260 kinds of vegetable, grains, cereals and fruits, and another 8 hectors is used to produce 13 kinds of rice, the staple food of the Japanese. More than 90% of land is rent free from local landowners since the owners have become too old and there is no one to take care of the land. Average age of Konohana members are 35, therefore, they are expected as a bearer to lead the local agriculture.
All of these fresh produce are grown completely organically with the Carbon Circulation Method (CCM). In the CCM, they do not add any manure, but rather keep adding high C/N (Carbon/Nitrogen) ratio materials such as used-mushroom-beds, wooden chips, and half-raw grasses.
Besides of these vegetable and rice, we also have 720 of Free-range Chickens for eggs, 6 goats for milk, and 13 beehives for honey. All of these animals have very strong immune system and hardly ever get sick, also their coops have little odor because they drink water and get fed with Konohana-kin, a micro-organism mixture. Humans also drink it. It is the base of our ecosystem's health.
As a result of this life, the Ecological Footprint of Konohana needs 0.8 earth whereas average Japanese life needs 2.3 earths. In terms of CO2 emission, Konohana is about 50% of its national average. These results indicate environmentally ecovillage life can create sustainable society. Let’s look at other aspects to keep this community sustainable.
The majority of Konohana members are without a specific religion even though each member has a faith; some are Christians and others are Buddhists. They do not enforce or follow particular religious principles or religious services. However, it does not mean that they have no faith. Their faith appears to be much stronger than many people in Japan. By observing the ways of Nature as well as what we see in our daily life, they learn and understand the order and principles of the world. In other words, they see everything around them is a true reflection of our mind.
If you come to Konohana, you will find their children are very open-minded and expressive. The Family does not judge the children’s performance by their academic achievement alone. The family values more on their humanity such as honesty, kindness, and sincerity. After dinner, the Family has its meeting for children at the main premises. This meeting is held for the children to share, in front of the adult members, what happened to them in the day, how they felt about it, what made them feel happy or what they think that they need to reflect on. Naturally, the Family provides practical training for each one of the children to look within and to resolve any inner difficulties he/she has found. At the same time, they learn how to look at other people’s issues and problems objectively and to give helpful advice.
The children live together happily, and older children take care of younger ones as brothers and sisters beyond blood ties.
The meeting every evening is the most ultimate and most important activity of the Family; it serves as the backbone of their life. It has taken place every day for more than sixteen consecutive years since the foundation of the Family.
After sharing information about the guests for the next day, they have a time to share conflicts, troubles, issues, or psychological struggles that occurred or were raised in their daily life. We place the most importance on observing our own mind objectively rather than putting blame on circumstances or other people when a problem or issue challenges us. At the same time, we always keep our eyes open to invite those who are not aware of their problematic points or who are unable to share them with others, to look within and communicate what they find. Family members are positive about problems and issues, because they are opportunities for spiritual growth once brought to the surface. This fundamental attitude of constant self-reflection through every aspect of daily life is key to the harmony that exists in the Family. Moreover, such an environment works very well for troubled people who are staying with the Family to overcome their mental problems or issues. They learn how to open their minds to others by observing the psychology of the members.
Since the year 2000 part of the service at Konohana has been to provide care for people who have mental issues such as depression, and associated physical symptoms. Many people have shown dramatic improvement after staying at Konohana and have managed to return to their daily life. Many of them were told by their medical institutions that their conditions were incurable, they have left Konohana well and in good state of mind and health.
Special-care guests are always dealt with compassionately, with a stable positive and caring attitude, and with sincere intention for their recovery. These special-care guests work with the family members. Symptoms of progress have been observed in some after ten days, felt by Konohana to be due to living by routine and eating organic vegetarian meals which are cooked with love.
Patterns or habitual behaviors that may have led to the mental issues are brought to awareness through reflection in a caring and safe environment. This self-awareness can lead to changes in patterns.
This kind of life gets attracted national and international attention. Konohana members believe the current global conflict is only an expansion of our egoism and if people’s minds are filled with harmony, this world will become peaceful. It is the intention of the community to share this practice in harmonizing the spirit, and in opening their doors to visitor and education programs they hope to further expand this circle of light.
They are very open to any visitors including local residents. That attitude has been able to lighten the doubts and anxieties that local residents may have towards community or ‘new age’ lifestyles. As a result, they gradually have built good relationship with local residents, and the local government agencies trust them.
The municipal government subsidized a 15-month-course of ‘Practical Organic Farming in Konohana Family’ in 2008. The course gives local residents guidance on the organic agricultural methods to enhance sustainable food production.
The Konohana members are often invite universities in Tokyo and local public schools as a lector to talk about sustainable life style and environmental issues.
The Family members aspire to live a life filled with love and their faith in the divine.
This world is built on the relationship between all living beings. Even though every living being is unique in its’ own way, nothing can exist alone. Human beings are no exception to this rule. Now is the time for each individual to overcome their notion of self and connect with every other living being to create a new society based on this sense of interconnectedness. This new model is discovered in ancient learning and the harmony that exists in nature can provide a blueprint for today’s society. This is what I am learning through life at Konohana Family.
Konohana Family has taken unique steps for the last 17 years without any specific ideology or model. Recently, it received high recognition as an ecovillage in various aspects for its initiatives such as the environmentally friendly lifestyle that achieved high self-sufficiency of food based on organic agriculture, harmonious community building based on high-level of spirituality, a mutually-supported system based on common economy, and spirituality that is deeply rooted in the daily life without depending on a specific religion or denomination. These aspects have attracted attention domestically and internationally. (424 words)
Michiyo Furuhashi is the president of GENOA and also the GENOA & GEN ambassador of Japan. She leads the Ecovillage Japan Network (EJN) which networks organizations in ecovillage movement and supports promotion of the ecovillage movement in Japan as a co-leader. She has lived in Konohana Family, the most established ecovillage in Japan, located at the foot of Mt. Fuji since January 2007. She organized the first Japanese EDE.