The global economic crisis, which began with the collapse of U.S.
securities house Lehman Brothers in 2008, also triggered a series of
business failures and job losses in Japan.
The nation was already facing a number of problems. An increasing number of young people is having trouble finding jobs. Many people are quitting their jobs early. The country's self sufficiency in energy and food is low, at 4 percent and
40 percent, respectively. Japan has a rapidly aging society, bringing
with it elderly nursing care issues, along with the aging of the farming
population, with more than two-thirds of farmers aged over 65. Moreover,
the number of people complaining of mental disorders is growing rapidly,
and more than 30,000 people commit suicide each year. Meanwhile, a new
lifestyle is quietly becoming popular. Some think this way of living,
called the "Half-Farmer/Half-X" lifestyle, has the potential to
significantly reduce or gradually solve these other problems, and to
help the nation realize a more attractive and diverse future.
A 21st-Century Lifestyle: Friendly to Planet, Friendly to People
The concept of the Half-Farmer/Half-X lifestyle was first proposed in
the mid-1990s by Naoki Shiomi, who now lives in the city of Ayabe in the
north part of Kyoto Prefecture. The basic idea is that people pursue
farming, not so much as a business but to grow food for their own family,
while being constructively involved in society by realizing their own
personal passion -- something he called their "X" factor. The "X"
represents the questions each person must answer to find out what they
really prefer to do, what they really want to do, and what they can do
for others, while discovering their personal mission, their life's work,
or their "true" calling in life.
Shiomi himself began pursuing this lifestyle years ago, and now helps
many people find their own "X." He said that through these practices, he
keenly sensed that this type of lifestyle is a way of making the most of
each person's talent and abandoning the twentieth-century style of mass
production, mass consumption, mass and long-distance transportation, and
mass disposal, while pointing the way to making happier lives and a
sustainable Earth more possible.
Environmental Problems Inspired the Half-Farmer/Half-X Lifestyle
Shiomi first came up with this idea while considering the solutions to
environmental problems, and this encouraged him to start the quest for a
better lifestyle. When he left his hometown of Ayabe and moved to
another urban area, he began to consider environmental problems from the
perspective of future generations and ponder how he should live. As a
result, he felt a strong ambition to start subsistence farming to enable
his family to grow crops at least for their own consumption.
Shiomi also believes that environmental issues are largely associated
with people's attitudes and mind-frames, an example being that some
people shop and spend money on things they don't really need just to
satisfy an emotional void. In industrialized countries, for example,
many people tend to consume goods haphazardly in order to feel fulfilled,
or buy goods on impulse after receiving prodding from various
information sources, such as commercial advertisements on television and
in newspapers, magazines, as well as flyers, and in-store
While practicing such consumption patterns, people don't have the time
to give more than a passing thought to the global environment or the
working conditions of the producers of the goods they buy. When shopping,
they often put things into their shopping basket without even
considering whether they are absolutely necessary, whether using them
matches their values, or whether the products can be used for a long
time. Shiomi believes the root causes of today's environmental problems
are linked to most people's immature ways of trying to find their own
identity, as well as their desire to simply consume, which leads to
consumption behavior that resembles an addiction.
Shiomi discovered a fundamental truth by living the Half-Farmer/Half-X
lifestyle back in his rural hometown of Ayabe. In other words, he found
contentment in making less money but being spiritually enriched. And he
is not alone. Others living the same lifestyle in Ayabe find it to be
true. Shiomi says he has heard similar comments from other practitioners
of the Half-Farmer/Half-X lifestyle, whose numbers have increased
nationwide in recent years. Basically, they are content with their lives,
in which they enjoy the practice of everyday farming, even on a small
scale, and at the same time they work on developing a satisfying
vocation, thereby not turning so easily to consumption, and in fact
finding less need for it. In addition, because agriculture -- which is
integrally affected by weather, water, soil, air, and other natural
elements -- is part of their daily lives, they cannot help but shift
their focus to the natural world and become sensitive to changes in the
environment. Naturally, they develop a "sense of wonder," as described
by Rachel Carson, author of the environmental book "Silent Spring."
Farming Complements a Person's "X" Factor
Shiomi explains that one of the reasons he recommends the
Half-Farmer/Half-X lifestyle is that through it people can enhance and
deepen both their farming life and their vocations at the same time. In
the act of growing things, people experience nature directly and begin
to harmonize with it. They also feel more closely connected in mind and
body with the cycles of life through the experience of being close to
life and death and nurturing living things. In the modern era, in which
places of production and consumption are almost completely separate,
being involved with growing things could be instrumental for many people
to regain a sensitivity to and sensibility about the natural world.
Meanwhile, almost everyone wonders from time to time who they really are
and what is the purpose of their life. According to Shiomi, the answer
to these questions is to practice the "X" each person is called to do.
When truly being engaged in their "X," he says, people might even forget
about sleeping and eating, be filled with enthusiasm, really enjoy their
life, and feel life is worth living. The experience of becoming more
sensitive by focusing on farming and deeper thoughts, while sharpening
sensibility through earnest work, often brings out the best in people
while they work on their personal calling. Not only that, people tend to
feel immeasurably more secure in this economic crisis when they know
they have enough basic food to survive, at least until next summer.
Learning about True Affluence through the Half-Farmer/Half-X Lifestyle
In the old days, having many and large possessions was considered a sign
of affluence, and people actively pursued this status, but lately some
people's values are changing slowly but steadily. Nowadays, more people
are asking themselves if they will really be that happy if they have a
lot of things.
Shiomi has conveyed the concept of the Half-Farmer/Half-X lifestyle
through lectures, books, the Internet, etc., and he says that people in
their twenties to forties, the so-called "debt generation," show
particularly strong interest in his concept. This seems to be because
they are the ones that will have to pay the debt left by the previous
generation, which over-consumed natural resources and abused the
environment. A steadily increasing number of young people are
recognizing that it's better to share benefits rather than monopolize
them, to live life commensurate with one's income level rather than
chasing after unnecessarily large things, and keeping pace with the flow
of nature rather than leading a hectic life consuming energy and
sacrificing the environment. These people are working to incorporate
this more comfortable lifestyle into their daily lives.
Many people in Ayabe are now exploring their own "X," irrespective of
their age and gender, and whether they grew up there or moved from
outside. In fact, a number of people have become successful while
exploring their "X," and have helped in activating their communities at
the same time. For example, one woman aged over 70 started to offer
accommodations at her spacious farmhouse as a green tourism business.
And one former teacher began growing roses in memory of Anne Frank to
donate as symbols of peace. There's also a married couple focusing on
their painting works of art, while also cultivating their sensitivity to
nature and engaging in farming. Once hearing stories like these, more
and more people have come to visit Ayabe to see how people there live,
from as far away as Taiwan, where one of Shiomi's books has been
translated into Chinese.
It is not only in Ayabe that this is happening but also other regions
throughout Japan, where an increasing number of people are following the
Half-Farmer/Half-X concept and leading more enriched, happy lives.
Shiomi believes a new fulfilled and happy life model can be followed in
a society consisting of people who have found their own "X." He believes
that creation of such a society is his own "X" quest.
Living in the countryside is not necessarily a prerequisite to living
the Half-Farmer/Half-X lifestyle. There are many ways to grow things--on
balconies, rooftops, weekend farm plots, community gardens, and so on. A
flexible type of thinking is necessary to live the Half-Farmer/Half-X
lifestyle, regardless of whether a person lives in the city or the
country, and nothing can be perfect from the start. Accomplishing just
one percent of a person's ideal way of farming and exploring their
personal "X" is progress in itself; there is no formula that must be
followed. People should start with what is possible right now. Sowing at
least one seed is the quickest way to start growing things and finding
one's own "X" factor.
The Half-Farmer/Half-X concept is spreading, and is seen as a ray of
light showing the way to a better lifestyle in this modern society,
which is facing various problems regarding self-sufficiency, food supply,
employment, mental issues, environmental issues, aging, energy,
education, money-centrism, and so on. Hopefully, more remedies to the
problems of our age will be revealed in the next 10 years or less and
will include new lifestyles like the one Shiomi lives.
Written by Hiroyo Hasegawa
Japan For Sustainability