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A Different Kind of Luxury

(article, Andy Couturier)

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When we arrive at his rice paddies, I ask him how the farming is going.


h1. About the book and author

The men and women profiled in A Different Kind of Luxury have all made the transition to sustainable, fulfilling lives. Based on a series of articles in the Japan Times, this book is made up of stories about individuals who have created an abundance of time for contemplation, connecting with the natural world, and contributing to their communities.

Andy Couturier, an essayist, poet, and writing teacher, is also the author of [%amazonProductLink asin=1569754764 "Writing Open the Mind" newpage=true]. Based in California, he currently teaches at The Opening.


"This year's pretty good," he says, "but a couple of years ago there was an illness that the rice plants got, and a lot of them died — in fact, most of them died."

"Did you find out why?" I ask.

"I can't say that there was one cause. All kinds of factors were overlapping. With farming, it's complex; you can never say, 'This is the cause of the failure.' But also I didn't take care of the rice paddies as much that year because I was so busy fighting the nuclear-waste dump."

"Do you think that you're getting better at farming, over the years?"

"Not at all. And all farmers will tell you the same thing."

When he sees my confused face, he adds, "The reason for this is that when you are a farmer, the other party is a living being. If you are a carpenter, and you build a house, and then another house, and keep doing it, even if you are unskillful at first, you get better at it. But with rice, there are some parts of it that there's just nothing you can do about. If it's not a good seed, even though it sprouts, and you take care of it well, it won't turn into a good strong plant. Or if you have good seed, and they all turn into great young plants, but then you have a typhoon tear through and blows it all out, then what? No matter how hard you struggle, in farming there's a part of it that's uncontrollable.

[%image yamashita float=right width=300 caption="Koichi Yamashita, the farmer."]

"For example, we had a typhoon come through here two weeks ago. That's 24 hours, or 48 hours of wind and rain. The flower on a rice plant only opens for three hours. Then it closes. That's it. And one year the 48 hours of wind and rain overlapped that period exactly. So the rice wasn't pollinated. It didn't matter how much time and energy and work I had put into that rice field. I thought, 'I worked so  hard, and . . ." 

He lets his sentence trail off without an ending.

"So don't you get discouraged, or lose heart?"

"Sure I do."

"And you don't think, 'I'll just get a job and go out and buy my food?'"

"No," he answers, with his usual conviction and detachment.

"Why not?"

"Every year, you think about this in advance and put away some extra in reserve for the next year. That's what we did that year. The barley did well, and we had a lot of that, and some corn."

[%image ricepaddy float=left width=300 caption="Walking through a rice paddy."]

"So you didn't eat much rice that year?"

"It's not the thing that I want to eat, but the thing that I have available to eat. What I have now: that's what's for dinner."

I think, hearing this, how utterly addicted I have gotten to choice. Ever since I was little, supermarkets have always had peaches or pineapples at any time of year. I say to him as we sit together in this humble dwelling, drinking delicious tea, that city dwellers might look down on rural folks. 

He answers, "That's true, but no matter how much money they have, they don't make food, do they? They depend on farmers."

"Do you want anything from them?"

"No, not really. I just want them to understand about us farmers, to understand that because there are people who are growing their food, there are vegetables in the supermarket. Maybe people look to see whether they're grown in Japan or in China, but nobody thinks, 'Where in China? Who is growing it?'"

Feeling a little feisty, I ask, "What if they were to say, 'It doesn't matter that I know who grows it?'"

He looks surprised for a second, and then he smiles and says, "Then I'll tell them that I won't sell it to you."

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