Name: Makiko Nakamura
ARI Name: Makiko
Year at ARI: 2008, 2009 (as Graduate Intern)
When Makiko Nakamura finished her university studies, she was eager to get involved in an NGO doing development work abroad. She secured a position at a UN agency in Nagoya as a research assistant for environmental projects but soon realized this was not what she was looking for. Their approach was “always like top down and it’s good on the paper, but not really good for the people,” she recalls. Around this time, she began volunteering at a weekend program for children. It involved kids in rice and vegetable farming and invited stone craftsmen to teach them how to do the stonework that the area has long been famous for. Eventually, she quit her UN job and started working full time with the children’s program, even assuming all responsibilities when the group’s founder became ill.
After two years, she wanted more experience in farming and decided to go to ARI. At that point, she was still weighing the pros and cons of helping people in another country or staying in Japan. She found her answer at ARI. Seeing how capable her classmates were, those rural leaders from developing countries, she realized that the future of their people is better left in their hands. “They have a lot. They know a lot. They can do a lot. Development work, really, it’s not my role,” she concluded.
She decided to stay in Japan and start a farm in a small village with her husband (an unexpected find at ARI) and their young daughter. They manage three small organic farms on land borrowed from farmers who are now too old to work it themselves. They grow green tea and vegetables which they sell to consumers through a direct market system called teikei (similar to Community Supported Agriculture), which is designed to build a meaningful relationship between consumers and farmers. They have also started a group called “Peace Constitution Café” where about 30 people come together every other month to study topics such as peace and human rights. The issues are especially relevant now since the Japanese government is attempting a re-interpretation of the ninth article of its “Peace Constitution” which forbids it from sending troops abroad. Many are worried about a potential return to the militarism of the country’s past. Most of those who attend the group are mothers with young children. Sessions are organized in collaboration with a lawyer who had a previous career as a baker – so he always brings a cake to share while he gives his lecture.
The decision of Makiko and her husband to become farmers was deliberate and carefully made based on their values. According to them, unceasing consumption of energy and material resources cannot last, a feeling that was amplified by the 2011 nuclear power plant disaster in Fukushima. Therefore, they chose to become farmers, to be producers for the world in their own small way. Living a value-based life is not easy though, and there are times when they struggle to get by. They also worry about their daughter’s options for education. There used to be four elementary schools in town; the only one now remaining has just 30 students. Makiko further reflects, “Sustainability does not just come itself, but the people really try hard, work hard; they work hard for sustainability; generation to generation they have to pass the idea.”
Postscript: As of this writing, Makiko and her husband had to close the farm they ran for four years. Each year they faced a great deal of crop loss due to wild animals – deer and wild boars. This became so significant that they were unable to continue. They still wanted to be involved in farming and rural life, Makiko’s husband took a position at Aino Agricultural High School, the only agriculture high school in Japan dedicated wholly to organic farming. He is responsible for teaching about, and caring for, the cattle. Presently, Makiko is giving her full attention to their daughter, who loves all the farm animals at the school. Establishing a new life in a rural area is not easy, which is likely the reason for so few I-turns (the phenomenon when those who were born in a city move to a rural area). Yet, despite the difficulties they have faced and the hard decisions they have had to make, Makiko and her husband remain determined to build their lives as a family in the countryside – close to nature and community. In their hearts, they know this is where they are meant to be.
(From our published book “Rural Leaders – The Work and Community Impact of Graduates of the Asian Rural Institute“)