Posted in Research and Ideas, Rewilding, The Slow Crash by adams-guild on December 2, 2009

Question: What’s the way to a more stable and sustainable Japan ?

Some people talk about neo-automobiles, robots, and florescent light bulbs, all – mixed with organic farming. Others speak of eco-goods and eco-awareness, and even “eco-life”, all, again, mixed with present norms. To me, I think it’s too late for that; trying to maintain what we’re doing at present is not going to continue into the future. I think the low-energy future is upon us, and in order for a good, wholesome stableness to be achieved, this is the way i’d like to see it go:


I call it “Japangarten”.

Interpreting this I see a place with tools that serve autonomy and diversity, windmills and waterwheels instead of an electric grid, maybe a few telescopes instead of televisions, more bicycles, rickshaws, rope-ways, water-vessels, and livestock instead of cars, robots and jet planes, all arranged in small, reasonably independent towns surrounded by small, reasonably independent orchards, vegetable patches and grain farms. And all of this, with a people living within their means, practically, and sensibly.

Please don’t let this picture allude you: this is not utopia. This place is tough: physically and materially, full of hardship and re-learning and dismantling/re-purposing stuff, but – at least – perhaps stable, or sustainable.

One problem is how to get there from here. Can we all give up the technologies that are bad for us ? In practice almost everyone will try to keep everything and we will sink like a fat elephant on a life raft.

If you think about all the physical and non-physical stuff we have to build and tear down (infrastructure/collective culture) just to be even middling sustainable, it’s going to require lots of human will, not to mention heaps of human energy. This, all on an island with vast patches of mono-crop forests that have less bio-diversity than a desert, offshore fisheries that face depletion, ever lessoning everything, and the list goes on. And all whilst the conventional ideas of “progress” are breaking like a mirror in front of our faces with the status quo of our times (two cars per family, safety nets, all-you-can-eat sushi, cheap energy from far-off lands, et al) fading away into oblivion, punctuated by localized catastrophes.

I can’t even imagine what the collective conscious will be under these continually devolutionizing circumstances.

But perhaps, given enough time and inspiration, we can build a new island through the cracks of the old ?

After all, there are many positives about Japan as well. High population density on this island is confined to about 33.3456% of the space here. Get away from the coastlines and out of the plainslands and major river valleys and you’re in the woods, and – by the way – not all the woods are mono-culture and rotting. In addition to learning some outdoor survival skills, people can learn to identify the seven herbs of spring and the seven herbs of autumn, and live well. And then there’s the abundance of fresh, drinkable water: It’s everywhere. And the infrastructure. And the scrap. And the people. And the skills that the older generation still posses. And the list goes on and on….. and I really think Japan has got a lot to offer. This all reminds me of John Michael Greer’s Betting on the Rust Belt post, where he talks about why he thinks America’s Rust Belt will be the best place to live in the deindustrial future. Japan — terrain-wise and infrastructurally — really reminds me of America’s Rust Belt (and vis-versa), and I betcha all the age-old infrastructure that Japan’s got going for it will help the regional, island economy of the future.

From JMG:

“Sussing out the geography of the future in advance is no easy task, but the constraints bearing down on what’s left of the American economy offer a few hints worth noting. Now that we’re on the downslope of Hubbert’s peak – world production of conventional petroleum peaked in 2005 – energy costs will, on average, take a larger bite out of economies around the world with each passing year. One of the implications is that transport costs will no longer be a negligible part of the cost of goods shipped over long distances. More energy-efficient transport modalities will tend to replace less efficient ones because they, and thus the goods they ship, will be more affordable; equally, diseconomies of distance will tend to outweigh economies of scale and foster the reemergence of regional economies.

Among the likely beneficiaries of these changes are the towns that thrived best in an earlier, more regional economy — those that are well served by rail and water transport, surrounded by farming regions that don’t depend on irrigation, not too far from major markets, and provided with ample and inexpensive real estate for the factories and warehouses of a downscaled and relocalizing industrial economy.”

Back to the picture above. Minus the big windmill, I’ll be darned if that isn’t what a Japanese satoyama village looked and operated like just a few decades ago. “Japangarten”, while seeming to look at the past, might be seeing the future: orcharders and scavengers and farmers and craftsmen could represent the increasing diversity of humans after – and during – the breakdown of the industrial monoculture, and perhaps, instead of trying to come up with new models for sustainability and stumbling along the way, we ought to pursue a model that stands thousands of years on our backs: the model of a real sustainability that we know – when looking back – was a hard, but good one.

3 Responses

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  1. David said, on December 5, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    Dear Ken:

    Excuse me for posting this comment, irrelevant to the above post, here. (Your email address is probably hidden somewhere in this blog, but I couldn’t find it.)

    I’m the reviews editor at Kyoto Journal, and am looking for someone to review the new edition of The One-Straw Revolution. Robert Brady suggested you might be the person to do that. If you are interested, please contact me. I think you will have my personal email address (though it says it won’t be published) but in case you don’t, you can get me at my KJ address, reviews (at) kyotojournal.org.

  2. Upageya said, on January 2, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    Hello Ken,
    just a small notice from me.
    I have just found out that have I have been banned by Gaijin Pot Forum. When I try to go there I get the following:

    You have been banned for the following reason:
    No reason was specified.
    Date the ban will be lifted: Never. ”

    So I did a little research and I found who runs that show, and not too much surprised I found that it is run by an official American Trade Council Organisation.
    Reminded me of that scene in Graham Greene’s “The Quiet American” where the equivalent turned out to be the CIA cover agency….
    And so, calling this crowd of moronic massmurderers what they are, will naturally get one banned.

    Take care of yourself and good luck with the farming and for your family the best..


    • kenelwood said, on January 2, 2010 at 8:57 pm

      Hey upageya,

      It was good arguing/debating/thinking with you there. Yeah, apparently there was a big year-end cleaning and any thread with over a thousand posts got zapped, plus at least 25 posters – me included – got banned. If you want to, just upload a different internet browser (google chrome, etc.) to yer PC and sign-up with a new name. My new handle is Blueste.

      Edit: (22:17) It seems some of the threads and posters are being unbanned.


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