Ahoy Japonese ! Ye making fine gartens ?!,

said the young Korean sailor.

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 present norms and perhaps some organic farming. 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.

The idea is that the archipelago known as Japan can become a garden, and the place can survive as such. And by “place” I mean everything that makes up this land – us, the trees, the furry and feathered, everything. Like an epic Satoyama. I’m talking about the length of this place – lowland and high, urban and not – as a garden.

Interpreting this I see a place with tools that serve autonomy and diversity, windmills and waterwheels as independent electric and processing stations instead of a centrally controlled nuclear 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. Can we all have the time to do it ? Before it’ll work on a large scale (us and Japangarten), perhaps we need a deep transformation of the wage labor system, so we work 10-23 hours a week, instead of either 60 or zero ?

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 (stewarding a landbase), 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.