Thursday, July 23, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different

Greetings from Japan! Andy and I will be here for the next few weeks at the Asian Rural Institute, an organic farm and training center two hours north of Tokyo - that is, if you take the shinkansen bullet train. Below is our first report to the Episcopal Evangelical Society, which provided some of the funding for our trip.

We have been at ARI for only a few days now, but we already feel we have been accepted as part of the community. On our first morning, Sarah woke up before anyone else, convinced that it was noon when it was in fact 4 a.m. Impressed by the tranquility of the surrounding countryside in those early hours and a glorious sun shower, she took the first day head-on.

After silent prayer and calisthenics, the first task of the day was to go through the greenhouses and harvest ripe tomatoes – what a joy! Our group leader is a former ARI student from Nepal, and another coworker is a pastor from the Philippines. Cutting Chinese leeks with a Japanese volunteer led to a fascinating cultural discussion of the differences between Japanese and American expressions of emotion (or lack thereof). We gathered the last of the green beans, which are starting to thin out, and headed back to the farm shed. All of the produce needed to be sorted and weighed according to size and type. Sorting and cutting the leeks turned out to be a big task bringing several people together.

This time is known as “foodlife” at ARI, a term which emphasizes the importance of experiencing and laboring for the food which sustains our lives – an awareness that is often lost in industrialized lifestyles. “Foodlife” time involves the most memorable tasks of the day for us – the times when we feel most connected to the earth, whether this is cutting grass for a young calf to eat and watching him nuzzle for his mother’s milk – or stomping down a barrel of rice bran and tofu biproduct to make animal feed. These are the tasks that remind us of how important it is to live sustainably and how hard we have to work for it.

After touring the duck farm and livestock pens, we joined the community for lunch. For afternoon work, Phillip, a long-term volunteer from Germany, took us out to a soybean field far away from main campus for the afternoon, where we had to “earth” the young plants, which involves protecting them with soil in the places where the tiller exposed them a little too closely. Though this was done in the rain, it was in the company of a lively bunch of Japanese university students and the time went quickly. It was amazing to discuss sustainable development and the Green Movement as we worked with this group of smart, dedicated people. One begins to understand exactly what ARI means by “learning by doing.”

After evening foodlife and dinner with a newly arrived Methodist missionary, we started to feel the jetlag coming on again. We still have some settling in to do, certainly in terms of schedule adjustments; indeed, we have much to learn. The biggest message of the trip so far has been one of humbling servant leadership, expressed in aching muscles and a blissful exhaustion.


Joan said...

Great to here from you!!!! It sounds like it is wonderful - relaxing and soul fulfilling (even jetlagged!) And fresh tomatoes......that would be my favorite part! Love you!

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Michael Reading said...

Hi guys,

It's great to hear from you and I can't wait to see pictures!