• Adachihara-sensei's projects
  • Recent full-length feature film based on one of Sensei's projects: Grass-Cutting Crusade
  • My personal history with Adachihara-sensei

  • Adachihara-sensei's Projects

    The Rebirth of an Abandoned Village
    Sometime in the 1970s, Adachihara-sensei along with some students of his and others came upon the idea of reviving and abandoned village and turning it into a working farm. From what I can gather, in Japan about the only way to become a farmer is to be born into a farming family. The problem with this is that, along with the general long-term trend toward land development, as some people move away from farms, the number of farms in Japan is decreasing. Someone who wants to become a farmer has no real way of doing so.
    And so, the idea here was to find an old ababndoned village and get a group of people together who wanted to farm to work the land there and start up a working, self-sufficient farm. They succeeded in doing exactly that. Since that time, other farms have been similarly brought back from the ashes.
    ADEA (Agricultural Development Engineering Association)
    The fact that ADEA expands to a phrase that has a hint of the "Japanese-English" about it should be forgiven. Its work has been remarkable. In addition to the farms mentioned above, other projects have been established. I was lucky enough to visit a working dairy processing plant near the outskirts of Toyama during my visit in 1997. Every single person I met was enthusiastic, hard-working and totally and realistically dedicated to the concept of small scale working farms and distribution of their products. Needless to say, all production is done in a natural manner with no pesticides, hormones, etc. During that trip, my son Alex said the milk was the best he had ever tasted. No small complement.
    Kusakari juu-ji-gun (Grass-Cutting Crusade)
    One summer day in 1974, while working on the first farm described above, some of the students noticed a posted warning, stating that the reforested area in the vicinity was to be sprayed by helicopter with an herbicide to keep the grass down around the young trees. This of course would have polluted the area downhill causing particular harm to the rice fields and farm land belonging to some local farmers.
    After attempts to get the lumber company and the government agencies involved in the reforestation to reconsider the planned spraying proved futile, an idea was born. What if enough individuals could be recruited to cut the grass around the trees by hand? The trees would grow but without the polluting runoff. The trees were on steep hills in an area that was not easy to get to. The accommodations for anyone who was crazy enough to volunteer were less than rustic.
    The spraying was finally held up on the condition that enough people could be recruited for the job. The story of how Sensei, his students, and colleagues were able to get enough volunteers and actually succeed in doing this incredibly arduous project completed is told in a film called Kusakari juu-ji-gun (in English Saviors of the Forest or The Grass Cutting Crusade). The synopsis of the film was translated by Simon Piggott, an Englishman now living in Japan and a friend of Sensei's. His translation is available by clicking here.
    Recent information has it that Simon Piggott is working on the translation necessary for the subtitles to the film so that those outside of Japan might benefit from seeing the film and learning the story.

    My personal history with Adachihara-sensei

    My first encounter
    In 1981, I first met a man named Adachihara Touru. I was 26 at the time, he was 50. He was the kindest person I had ever met. I was traveling by train across the main island of Japan. I had left Tokyo a couple of days earlier and had just spent the night in a lovely Japanese style hotel in Ogizawa, near the Kurobe Dam in the Japan Alps. I was planning to travel across to the Japan Sea side of the island, take in the Noto peninsula, then see Kanazawa, Eiheiji Temple and arrive a few days later in Kyoto, my ultimate destination. Near the city of Omachi, I had to change trains. A man came up to me to ask if I needed help. Between my broken Japanese and his broken English, I was able to communicate that I was on my way to the Noto peninsula, perhaps stopping in the city of Toyama for the night. He said that he was just returning home to Toyama himself and he could ride with me and let me know which train to take, where to stop, etc. Fine.

    During the train ride, we chatted, first in two languages, then in three. He enjoyed speaking Spanish too, which he had learned during a past trip to Spain. I told him about who I was and he told me about himself. He was a professor of agricultural engineering at the Toyama Prefectural Technical College. By the time we arrived in Toyama station, we had had a good time and I was about to thank him and take my leave to find somewhere to spend the night. He invited me to his home. I refused for two reasons. First, I thought he might be the type of Japanese (there are fewer now than back then) who enjoyed taking a gai-jin out for a drink just to show off the human conversation piece to friends. Secondly, being a somewhat cynical person, I couldn't imagine that anyone would do this without some ulterior motive. I was soon to be proven wrong on both counts.

    He insisted and after several more refusals and reiterations of the invitation, I finally accepted. No sooner had the words escaped my mouth, than he was on the phone to his wife to let his family know that he was picking up food for dinner and that they would have a guest. We hopped in his car at the station and about half an hour later arrived in his beautiful home in Osawano, near Toyama.

    His family, friends and colleagues were all wonderful, kind people. They took in this gai-jin despite their lack of English and my very, very limited Japanese. I was to find out later just how real these people were as I spent several months traveling and living in Japan and as I met many Japanese who for whatever reason were unable to deal with a foreigner as a human being rather than some strange alien visitor. (Luckily this attitude towards foreigners has changed since my days there).

    I wound up staying, on his family's insistence, for about three days, after which he handed me off to a couple of colleagues and friends who took me around to other areas that were interesting to see: Takayama, Toyama, Noto Peninsula, Kanazawa. When I asked why he was so kind to me, he said that when he was younger, he had traveled around Canada and Spain and had been helped by others. It was a kind of circle.

    I kept in touch with him during the several months I lived and worked in Kyoto and when things came up and I was to return to the US, I made sure that my trip back took me through Toyama so that I could see Sensei and all his wonderful friends again before leaving. Though years passed, I have kept in touch via letters and gifts with Sensei. He would send me copies of newspaper articles written about him and his projects, books that he published.

    There is more that I could tell about how Sensei helped me out during my time in Japan and later, but suffice it to say that he stayed with me ever since my first meeting him. I have thought of him often over the years and can easily say that I have met only a handful of people in my life who can approach his kindness, concern for others and interest in things that marry the ecological and economic. I have met many people who have worked with him and they all marvel at his energy (now in his mid 70s, he has always had more enthusiasm and energy than any ten 20-year olds I can think of) and kindness. Years have a way of flying by and I truly wondered if I would ever get a chance to see him again.

    In June of 1997, I got that chance. My son and I took a trip to Japan. Two weeks traveling around. We met friends and acquaintances of mine in Tokyo, stayed at the same spot in the Alps I had stayed in 16 years earlier, and then boarded a train to Toyama. He met us at the station with only a couple of gray hairs and not one iota less of the Adachihara energy. He treated us to a lovely stay at his home. Highlights of the stay included a great (for lack of a better term) Japanese barbeque, tours of the college (where he is now a Professor Emeritus), a lecture and showing of the full-length feature film about him. All in all, complete and most generous hospitality. I had, over the years, neraly forgotten that people like Sensei actually existed. I am grateful that my son had a chance to meet him and that I had a chance to relearn what I had almost forgotten.

    I regret that I have never been able to repay Adachihara-sensei for all his kindnesses. Someone once told me that there are certain favors that you can't repay to person who did them for you. You have to do the same for someone else. The circle.