Moe Koyama

Name: Moe Koyama
ARI Name: Moe
Year at ARI: 2009, 2010 (as Graduate Intern)
Country: Japan 

Moe was born and raised in Osaka, Japan’s second largest city. As a college student, she began to feel something “not comfortable in my heart” but did not know its cause. On a visit to Thailand, she witnessed for the first time the extremes of city and country life. The darker side of Bangkok revealed “go-go bars,” where young women, usually from rural backgrounds, sold their bodies. She met children with HIV and saw how people lived in urban slums. After this, she went to a Karen village in the mountains near the Myanmar border. The lives these villagers led as farmers were hard, but Moe was moved by the way they held together as a commuity and lived so closely to nature. It was in this village life that she began to find her “not comfortable” feeling changing. She decided, “I want to involve [in] that kind of small community, and I want to do farming for self-sufficiency; especially I want to support each other – neighbors. Then I decided to go to ARI.”

At ARI she began to equip herself for the new life she sought, learning about organic farming and living in community. As a person of very gentle character, she even learned that, at times, it is good to argue – so that her soft voice could be heard. One of her proudest achievements at ARI was to organize an event called Dan Dan no Kai. This was a lunch party to which she invited landowners from whom ARI rents land. The purpose was simply to say “thank you.” Everyone did mochi tsuki (the traditional way of pounding rice into dough, often done at fall festivals), and there was a tour of the campus. As Moe watched the lively conversations of farmers and ARI staff, she felt it was a tiny step toward her dream of building community in Japan.

After ARI, she moved to the village of Iga Tanao where she farms with her husband, growing rice and vegetables for their household. No matter how much she scrubs, you will always find dirt under her fingernails. Some weekends friends come from Osaka, Kobe, or Kyoto to help her weed the paddy and do other tasks. After they spend a few days outdoors and it’s time for them to head back home, she notices, “They feel comfortable and happy.” Moe has also started to collect the stories of residents who are over 80 years old (there are a good number of them), which she is forming into a book. They tell her their lives were just normal – nothing special – but she responds that it is their “normal” lives that people are yearning to hear about. They start slowly and with much hesitation, but as they get into their narration, their voices fill with animation. When these grandmas and grandpas see their stories unfold on paper, they feel a new sense of value in the lives they have led.

One of Moe’s neighbors is an elderly farmer whose wife “went to heaven first.” He often comes over when Moe and her husband are working in the fields, bringing tools for them to use and snacks. He enjoys giving them tips on farming and tells them, “It’s good for us that you come and live here to do farming.” Each time, he concludes his visit by talking about the end of his life, yet always leaves with a smile. Moe finds his company, and especially that big smile, a great encouragement. “I realize that I cannot survive only by myself,” she says. “Sharing food, sharing work, sharing feelings, helping each other, this is the joy of my life. I feel this is why I am here.”

(From our published book “Rural Leaders – The Work and Community Impact of Graduates of the Asian Rural Institute“)