Shikigami

March 22, 2011

The following post was mostly written before disaster struck Japan on March 11. The situation at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant continues to be extremely dangerous and we are greatly concerned with developments at the plant and in the region. We are not so concerned for our own safety as we believe, given the way things have gone so far, we are a safe distance from the effected areas but, we are gravely concerned for those living in the Tōhoku and Kantō regions (which includes Tōkyō). When we say those living, we mean all life forms. The relief that the winds have continued to send radioactive plumes away from the land and out to sea is mixed with a great sadness for what we are doing to the wider environment. (As I write I am listening to an Al Jazeera report that abnormally high levels of radioactivity have been detected in the ocean near Fukushima. Maybe this answers the question many of us have been asking: What has TEPCO been doing with all the radioactive runoff water created by ground and aerial spraying of the reactors?). The best sources of information about the nuclear disaster at Fukushima are the Fukushima Update administered by Green Action Japan and the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, Tōkyō.

Our wind blown piece of cloth has snagged on the Izu peninsula, south west of Tōkyō on Japan’s pacific coast. We have been caught by an isolated mountain farm surrounded by forest and cool streams springing from the earth. We are occupying a 30 year old farm house, a small log cabin and about 2 acres of tanada (terraced land). From our small clearing in the mountains forest extends in every direction providing abundant foraging and sanctuary for the wild and feral. (See Where Are We At? for a description of our first visit to this land.)

In light of this change and in recognition of entering this new phase in our adventure we are renaming our blog Shikigami, the name we have given to our farm.

Shikigami are invisible spirits that, according to Japanese folk traditions, can be summoned to serve practitioners of onmyōdō, an esoteric practice influenced by Daoism, Buddhism and Shintōism. In western folklore familiars could be considered as roughly equivalent to shikigami and like familiars, according to the mythology, shikigami may be used to serve the onmyōdō for benevolent or malevolent purposes.

We moved on to the land during the winter as we wanted to get a sense of what the winters were like here. We had previously spent time on the property and in the general area in the middle of summer only. What we came to was the coldest winter in a very long time so rather than having a sense of what a normal winter may be like we’re getting a good idea of one extreme end of the spectrum. Useful information in these days of climate change weather weirdness. When we first looked at the property last summer we were shown a photograph of the property blanketed in snow because this was such an unusual occurrence. It has snowed twice in the past month.

The unusually cold weather has confirmed our suspicions that the house would be cold in the winter. Lots of windows, no insulation, large roof overhangs to keep the sun out of the house…Like traditional Japanese houses this house was obviously built with summer comfort in mind.

We have no running water but there is a spring only 30 or so metres from the house so fetching drinking water is no real hardship. There is also a stream that runs within a couple of metres of the house from which we can take water for washing. Gravity feeding spring water down to the house is one of many jobs on a rather long list.

Snowy and rainy days have given us time to slap together a rudimentary composting toilet system, clean mould from the walls, remove the discarded snake skins from the kitchen shelves and pickle some of the wild vegetables we have foraged. On fairer days we are on the land preparing garden beds, planting potatoes, sowing seeds and foraging.

There is a wonderful array of delectable wild foods announcing the arrival of spring. The haru no nanakusa (seven herbs of spring) and a whole host of others, offering timely replenishment and vitality. “[I]t is the wild food that our cells recognize as that which optimally nourishes.” [Pam Montgomery] The abundance of the wild foods here offering assurance to the course of wu wei farming that we are embarking on. That is, an approach to farming where we do not impose our will on the land but rather work co-creatively with Nature to restore the natural abundance of the land. Farming plants with appropriate eco-functions for the land and  appropriate nourishment for us. The farming of non-farming, “do-nothing” farming, natural farming.

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