Location: Kochi City, Kochi
Impressions of the Trip:
Kochi is a tiny prefecture on the smallest of Japan’s main islands, Shikoku. It is one of Japan’s more remote and hard to get to prefectures. Locals say this remoteness has allowed Kochi to preserve its culture, which has matured, not dissipated, over time. Home to Ryouma Sakumoto, a famous samurai, the place is imbued with a laid-back, but slightly wild atmosphere. Kochi boasts more bars than any other prefecture, a fact that struck me as odd at first given how sparsely populated it is. Neverthess, shortly after arriving, I was invited to join a party of perfect strangers who were drinking sake and telling stories. This happened again with a different group of strangers the following night, leading me to realize that Kochi residents enjoy one another’s company, and use food and drink as a way to get to know one another and stay up to date on local gossip. Kochi leads the nation in the production of yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit), ginger, and eggplants. Thanks to its mild climate, the area not only has a thriving citrus industry, it is also known throughout Japan for its surfing, hiking, and as an outdoor sports paradise. Every single meeting I went to in Kochi was with someone who had left the Tokyo area in favor of better work-life balance and a more leisurely and light-hearted approach to life.
That said, Kochi takes its major industry, agriculture, seriously. With the recent yuzu boom overseas, prefectural authorities and businesses have their sights set on marketing yuzu abroad, especially to upscale French restaurants that can’t get enough of the stuff. Kochi is on the cutting-edge of greenhouse technology development, and in recent years the prefecture has exported its designs and techniques to maximize the efficient use of land to other prefectures focused on citrus and berries.
Kochi has a “sister state” relationship with the entire nation of the Netherlands, modeling farm technology and efficiency after greenhouse technology there. The average farm is Kochi is only .3 hectares in size, yet vertical farming techniques and advanced technology can produce as much as the average Dutch farm, which is 3 hectares, or 10 times the size. Japan leads industrialized countries in pesticide use, but Kochi has led a movement to reduce the use of chemicals in agricultural production and has become a well-known destination for farmers practicing natural cultivation.
A highlight of my journey through Kochi was motivated by this small, but thriving natural farming community. Akinori Kimura, the 80+ year old organic farmer, cult figure, and author of “Miracle Apples”, was giving talk at a local kindergarten in Kochi. Decades ago, Kimura dedicated his life to growing pesticide-free apples, something no one thought was possible. After failing countless times, blowing his life savings, and alienating himself from his community and family, Kimura was ready to kill himself. Amazingly, he had a revelation on the night he planned to hang himself that changed everything. With new resolve, he transformed his bug-ridden orchard into a thriving operation, all without any chemicals. His success story spread, first within Japan, then to the rest of the world. Despite being featured in magazines and television shows around the world, he still travels Japan spreading the gospel of natural cultivation to farming communities all over rural Japan.
I startled both Kimura and the 300 people who came to his lecture when I walked into the gymnasium. If being a foreigner in Tokyo can make one feel conspicuous, being a foreigner in the most rural nook of rural Japan can be downright awkward. I was asked to introduce myself to the entire audience before finding a place to sit on the gym floor. Kimura’s lecture made a great case for organic farming. Without giving too much away, I will mention that Yoko Ono (yep, that one) was so moved by Kimura’s book that she had it translated into English and put it on her website. It is a fantastic, quick read. It is available for free at this website:
園芸-horticulture. Kochi is focusing its efforts on greenhouse technology in order to increase the efficiency of its small fruit farms. According to prefectural authorities, Kochi is where much of Japan’s greenhouse technology was invented. This small, but mighty prefecture seems to be leading the charge not just in greenhouse cultivation techniques, but also in encouraging the rest of Japan to take a more eco-friendly, efficient approach to agriculture.