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from Ayabe vol. 40 2008.08.08 A new key phrase for a new age, "Half-Farmer, Half-X"

The phrase, "half-farmer, half-X" is drawing much attention as the new key phrase for a lifestyle, a way of life, for the 21st century. "Half-farmer" refers to "a lifestyle with a touch of farming," and the X in "half-X" refers to an individual's social mission or natural calling. This does not mean being a farmer half of the time and working the other half; this means that both coexist, inspiring one another. "Half-farmer, half-X" is "a healthy and sustainable lifestyle with a touch of farming, whereby you can apply your talents to and share the things that you love with the rest of the world." What is interesting is that this is not merely an endorsement of rural living; rather, this is a lifestyle that can you can enjoy even in urban areas. I went to Ayabe in Kyoto to speak to Mr. Naoki Shiomi, the father of the "half-farmer, half-X" concept, the representative of the "Half-Farmer, Half-X Research Center."

Back to Table of Contents Discovering the concept, "half-farmer, half-X"

About 1 hour north of Kyoto on a rapid train on the San'in Main Line ? I found myself in Ayabe, surrounded by lush mountains or "satoyama" and pastoral landscape, where the limpid river Yura flows from the Tanba Highlands down to the Wakasa Bay. The concept, "half-farmer, half-X" is a concept that was brought to life by Mr. Naoki Shiomi, here, in Ayabe, his birthplace.

Mr. Shiomi lived in Ayabe until he graduated high school. After university, he joined a mail-order company, Felissimo Corporation, in 1989. He worked for Felissimo for 10 years, returned to Ayabe in 1999, and 1 year later in 2000, he established the Half-Farmer, Half-X Research Center.

Mr. Shiomi says he discovered the "half-farmer half-X" concept halfway through the decade he spent working as a salary man, back around 1995. It all started when Mr. Shiomi discovered and was greatly inspired by the phrase "half-farmer, half-writer," in one of the books written by Mr. Jun Hosokawa. Mr. Hosokawa lives on Yakushima Island, which is a part of the Kagoshima Prefecture and lays approximately 60km south of the Kyushu Osumi Peninsula, and the writer had used this phrase, "half-farmer, half-writer," to describe his lifestyle. From long ago, Mr. Shiomi had a keen awareness of environmental issues, and had wondered how one should live in harmony with the environment. Well, Mr. Shiomi describes that the phrase, "half-farmer, half-writer" connected these 2 thoughts together, and made him "instinctively realize that it would serve as a paradigm for our lifestyles and for our way of life in the 21st century."

Back to Table of Contents Start farming - creating a body that generates ideas and time to get philosophical

Mr. Naoki Shiomi. Photograph taken in front of the Shiomi rice paddy before rice planting.

Mr. Shiomi began subsistent farming around the same time he discovered the concept, "half-farmer, half-X." Back when he lived in Ayabe and commuted to Kyoto, he started with an 800m2 farmland. And now he owns 3,000m2, and lends a part of his farmland to weekend farmers from the cities.

"Farming" forms the foundation of the concept, "half-farmer, half-X." But farming here doesn't refer to large-scale farming. It refers to "small scale farming" whereby you make enough to, lets say, feed your family. While the food problem spreads globally, and the awareness of or interest in self-sufficiency becomes more pronounced due to the low levels of Japan's food self-sufficiency ratio, being involved in agriculture, which is directly linked to our lives, will increasingly become an important activity in the future. And at the same time, Mr. Shiomi believes that this lifestyle with "a touch of farming" is of great significance, as it will become the basis upon which sensitivity, receptiveness, and ideas are refined.

Mr. Shiomi walks around the field to check on the rice paddies.
Photographs provided by: "Half-Farmer, Half-X Research Center"

"I want to value sensitivity, receptiveness, and the sense of wonder (the ability to be sensitive to the mysteries and the wonder of nature). A life with "farming" will help nurture such sensitivity, and give way to ideas that create a zest for life. I believe that there is a type of "body that generates ideas." If the body is too stiff or too hardened, it won't be able to generate great ideas. I believe that a place or time that will help you realize that you can have a more flexible, lithe lifestyle for your body and spirit is very important."

Mr. Shiomi's farming" is "farming" that helps you think, and the farm is not only a place where you make crops, but it is also a place where you can get philosophical. And this will help lead you to "X."

Rice planting at the Shiomi farm takes place every year at the end of May. The whole family takes part. It's been 10 years since he returned to his home, Ayabe, and 13 years since he started rice farming.
Photographs provided by: "Half-Farmer, Half-X Research Center"

Dividing his 3,000m2 into 12 blocks, Mr. Shiomi offers part of his land to people who live in the cities (in the Keihanshin area), and who want to live a lifestyle of "half-farmer, half-X." One block is approximately 170m2, and costs 10,000 yen per year to use. Families that come by twice a month to tend to their rice seem to have great fun here. With approximately 170m2 of land, 50kg of rice can be harvested. Shown in the photograph is Mr. Motoyoshi Sato, a consultant that lives in Osaka and his crew.
Photographs provided by: "Half-Farmer, Half-X Research Center"

Back to Table of Contents Finding the X - Discover the power to change society; and communicate

You don't have to go as far as Ayabe to find farmland. Nowadays, there are abandoned farmland and idle land quite near urban areas, so farmland may not be so difficult to find. You can even start farming on a small scale on your balcony. I will discuss farming in urban areas in detail later, but the most important point in living a life of "half-farmer, half-X" is discovering the X, or one's natural calling. Mr. Shiomi says, "It's harder to find X, and well, I even believe that once you find X, it will help resolve a great many things." He devotes a lot of energy to creating a forum that will help people discover their X.

One such forum is a small school, "Half-Farmer, Half-X Design School (XDS)," organized once every month. It's a 2-day, overnight class, and participants come to Ayabe to spend time thinking about X and about how they want to live their lives. The participants stay at a farmhouse hostel called "SONOMAMMA (As you are)" run by Ms. Kinue Shibahara who lives in Ayabe. And the "Half-Farmer, Half-X College Tokyo" has also launched in June 2008.

Moreover, the Natural Calling Discovery Research Center, introduces in a workshop 30 tips on discovering your natural calling. Mr. Shiomi, who believes that "thinking about your own job title is a part of discovering your 'X,'" has also established a 21st Century Job Title Research Center, where he introduces many unique job titles. All these efforts attempt to help you discover your X. This is because the "application of your talents and sharing the things that you love with the rest of the world" will become the main force that will help change society in the future.

X is a potential everyone is endowed with and is a way of facing society, which should essentially be diversified. So, what is your X? And what is your job title?

Back to Table of Contents "Half-farming, half-X" is also possible in cities

"Half-farmer, half-X" is a very flexible and open concept. There are no restrictions when it comes to "a lifestyle with a touch of farming." It doesn't "have to be" a certain way. "X" comes in all shapes and colors. And people all over Japan, who have been fascinated by this concept, have already begun their activities.

n Mr. Shiomi's book, "Spreading the Seeds of Half-Farmer, Half-X ? A Life with Work You Love and Farming," he introduces nearly 30 people who have put this concept into practice, such as the "half-farmer, half-tofu maker" who lives in Tokyo, and "half-farmer, half hemp paper artists." And in "Putting the Half-Farmer, Half-X Lifestyle into Practice" he introduces 15 people and their case examples together with hints on finding your X. This has given rise to a cycle whereby people, who have been encouraged by such lifestyle abound with ideas, have started their own "half-farmer, half-X" way of life.

Mr. Shiomi's books. From the left, we have "From Ayabe ? Half-Farmer, Half-X Way of Life 88" (U-Time Publishing Co., Ltd.), "Spreading the Seeds of Half-Farmer, Half-X ? A Life with Work You Love and Farming" (Commons), and "Putting the Half-Farmer, Half-X Lifestyle into Practice" (Sony Magazines Inc.).

If you think about it, many of us who live in the cities have neither "farming" nor "X." Living salary man lifestyles, you may sometimes wonder, "Is this really the work you're supposed to be doing?" or lament over the lack of time in our day-to-day lives to come in contact with nature. Of course it is a bit of a stretch to change jobs and become a farmer, and it may also be a long ways away to retirement, when you can finally begin enjoying your second life in "farming." All the while, your will become more aware of global environmental issues and food problems.

Mr. Shiomi says that it is possible to have a "half-farmer, half-X" lifestyle in cities as well. You can start a small farm on your balcony and create opportunities to carry on a dialogue with nature. This will help you find your X. He recommends that you ease your self gently into it.
Mr. Shiomi explained that "You should start by touching soil for, lets say, even 1% of your time. And to plant something, anything be it vegetables or beans even if it's in a flower pot." He helps convince us into thinking, "I can do that!" Perhaps the strength of the "half-farmer, half-X" concept is in its flexibility.

You could also use farmland offered by the ward or the city where you live. And increasingly there are more NPOs that support city-agricultural community exchange and farmhouses that provide opportunities to experience farming. Once you begin, there are all sorts of options.

"Individuals and society have yet to make the most of their abilities, and I think of this as the '4 MOTTAINAI.' In addition to the MOTTAINAI described by Dr. Wangari Maathai, I believe that there are 'MOTTAINAI' in areas of *'Non-exercise' of the talents one has been given, *'Non-use' of the local resources, and *'Non-exchange or non-collaboration' of a wide range of human resources. By better taking advantage of these, I believe that new ways of solving problems and new cultures will be born in the cities and in less populated areas."

Back to Table of Contents Mr. Shiomi's way of putting "half-farming, half-X" into practice

By the way, perhaps what many people are most interested in about the "half-farmer, half-X" lifestyle is how to use and to make time. It seems as though the key to the coexistence of farming and X and the creation of a relationship where the 2 are inspired by one another lies in how you create time. So I asked what an ideal day for Mr. Shiomi looks like.

"There are 24 hours in a day, and I sleep about 7 of it. Of the 17 hours left, I would use 5 for X. Working very focused for 5 hours and then the rest of the 12 hours I would work on the farm or do crafts such as woodwork, meditate or take a walk. I would also cook and eat traditional Japanese food like Hijiki or brown rice and spend time with my family."

To do so, he thinks that it is ideal for the place of work and your home to be quite close or a SOHO, and if possible, a home where 3 generations of your family can live together in. I asked him what his day looks like and he told me that he wakes up at 3:00 AM!

3:00 AM : Wake up.
↓ Spend about 3 hours seeking inspiration.
↓ (Thinking, reading, writing,updating blogs, etc.)
6:00 AM : Family wakes up
↓ Mr. Shiomi is in charge of breakfast.
↓ The family sits down for breakfast.
8:00 AM : About 2 hours spent seeking inspiration.
↓ (Mowing grass, working in the fields, etc.)
10:00 AM : About 2 hours spent on X
↓ (Make self-published postcards,
↓ writing essays, volunteering, etc.)
Noon : Lunch
1:00 PM About 2 hours spent on X
↓ (Editing mail magazines)
3:00 PM : Family comes homes. Family time from here on.
6:00 PM : Dinner
8:00 - 9:00 PM : Bedtime

The time spent from 3:00 AM seeking inspiration is also the time Mr. Shiomi spends working on X, creating concepts and key phrases, and it seems as though this is where the secret lies.

A notebook full of ideas he thought of during the time spent seeking for inspiration. Mr. Shiomi carries a notebook and pen with him even when he goes out to work on the fields. "The fields are where ideas are born. It's important to try to express in words (write down) things you thought of or realized. And it is most important that you share your ideas rather than keeping it to yourself."

Back to Table of Contents Searching for new key phrases for a new age

Mr. Shiomi likes to read and holds dear many words written by great philosophers and poets of the past. Even while I interviewed him, he repeated great quotes that we probably had begun to forget, that communicate the ideas and thoughts of our predecessors. And Mr. Shiomi's ideas and thoughts that surface from such a "forest of words" are very clear and remain a long while in our hearts.

"Perhaps you could say that I am keyword oriented or keyword centric. In the age of the Internet, how can we communicate in words that are digestible, that sink deep into people's hearts. A lot of words do not remain in our heads, but keywords or phrases do. I want to search for principles and concepts that are necessary for the new age and present them as 'portable words'" says Mr. Shiomi.

Sometimes a word can dispel the murky feeling and give us the gentle push we need. Mr. Shiomi says "A new age requires new words." And "half-farmer, half-X" is indeed a new word for the new age that is flush with possibilities. Acting, rather than just vaguely "thinking" about the future of the global environment and about our lifestyles, a way of life that feels natural. Why not start by planting a few seeds in a small flowerpot?

Naoki Shiomi
Representative of Half-Farmer, Half-X Research Center, Compt For X. Born in Ayabe, Kyoto Prefecture, in 1965. After working in Felissimo Corporation, a catalogue mail-order company, he established the Half-Farmer, Half-X Research Center in 2000. His lifework is comprised of "supporting missions" and "creating concepts" that encourages "X = natural calling" at the municipal and individual level. He aspires to help create a world with "a diversity of missions." Moreover, he also helps out as a staff at "Satoyama Net Ayabe" to communicate the possibilities of Ayabe and satoyama-like lifestyle to people in Ayabe and to the rest of the world. His written works include: "From Ayabe ? Half-Farmer, Half-X Way of Life 88" (U-Time Publishing Co., Ltd.), "Spreading the Seeds of Half-Farmer, Half-X ? A Life with Work You Love and Farming" (Commons), and "Putting the Half-Farmer, Half-X Lifestyle into Practice" (Sony Magazines Inc.).

Half-Farming, Half-X Research Center Official Website
A life of half-farming, half-X, let's live at a slowly revolving pace

Report and original Japanese text written by: Tami Okano(Think the Earth Project)
Translated by: Yuri Morikawa (oxygen inc.)
Edited by Soichi Ueda(Think the Earth Project)



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