Slammed by the economic crisis? Been laid off? Hating your job and wishing you were? Yearning for something more meaningful? Congratulations, you’re not alone. If you’ve been pounding your brain and the pavement in search of alternatives, look no further as there is something perfect for you.
Called “Half Farmer/Half X”, it’s a concept created by a rather astute Japanese man named Naoki Shiomi. The idea is simple: roughly half your time you devote to raising food and connecting with nature-- be it in a backyard garden, veggie patch, window box, or on a farm. The other half of the time, you spend developing your “X”— that is, your bigger purpose in life.
Shiomi got the idea after being a “salaryman” (Japanese corporate hack) for nearly a decade in Japan. Back in 1995, he got tired of his day job and found himself wondering how else he might spend his time. Around that same time, he also became conscious of a number of environmental issues, as well as thousands of hectares of abandon rural land in the Japanese countryside.
In exploring the issues and his own desire for change, he realized that most environmental problems are connected with people’s often misguided attempts at finding their identity. They consume to satisfy deeper emotional needs to the point it becomes addictive, an unquestioned pattern of behavior.
For Shiomi, the next step involved moving back to his hometown of Ayabe to pursue a healthier lifestyle, and to also develop a new direction in life. Giving himself sometime to develop ideas, Half Farmer/Half X came forward as a natural progression.
In Ayabe, Mr. Shiomi set about setting up a number of initiatives to rejuvenate the dilapidated agriculture community. He encouraged many other burnt out urbanites to visit the area and get involved on farms. Realizing the interest amongst Japanese, he also set up an institute to help guide and coach people seeking their “X”.
From new tourist ventures, to poetry, to growing roses, and translation—Shiomi’s new found supporters have started developing new skills and talents. When he isn’t busy with farming, Shiomi also writes and has published several books.
The Half Farmer/Half X lifestyle concept is spreading and becoming quite trendy in Japan, as well as in Taiwan, parts of China, as far away as Australia, and even Singapore. Enthusiasm is coming from all corners, and with the strangely ideal timing of the financial crisis, the popularity of Shiomi’s ideas has only increased.
Speaking via translator in a candid interview with Celsias.com, Mr. Shiomi discussed his thoughts on the economic crisis and the future.
“I have noticed an uptake in interest with “Half Farmer/Half X” since the economic downturn, however, I don’t think this is caused by the economic downturn itself,” Mr. Shiomi said. “In my personal opinion, this is rather a result of an increased awareness of the environmental problems and a search for a better lifestyle amongst people.
“Due to economic downturn, more ‘white-collar salarymen’ are taking packed lunch boxes to work in Japan. There is also an increased interest in creating one’s own vegetable garden at home,” he said. This mirrors trends in the U.S. and elsewhere with resurgence in gardening.
“I think the main reason for causing the economic downturn is the greed to have possessed everything we desired,” he said. “It is also important that we have come to realize that consumption does not bring happiness, and consumption is not all that beautiful and noble.”
“Even if you just spend time once a week or once a month on the land and looking after vegetables (or other plants), it is still considered to be Half Farmer/Half X,” Mr. Shiomi said. “Up until now, we have seen home vegetable gardening, balcony vegetable gardens or community vegetable gardens; yet recently, roof-top vegetable gardening in particular is gaining public attention.
Even specific lighter gardening soil for roof-top vegetable gardening is under development. In addition, the purchase of farming materials has been made easy through mail order.”
In sum, social shifts towards gardening have made it easier to get the space and materials to grow plants, even in urban environments. But it’s not just about growing vegetables in cities.
“As a piece of advice, I would suggest that people with interest to first visit the outskirts (close-by countryside); even just once a month, to be closer to the land and to slip bare hands into the soil will be a good starting point,” Mr. Shiomi said.
“Nowadays, there are ample opportunities for people with interest to experience [growing] opportunities. In Japan, there is a recreation farm as big as Saitama Prefecture (about 3,797 sq km); that’s how much abandoned farmland there is. In regards to making use of this farmland, now is the chance to get your foot in the door,” he said.
The important dynamic is to keep a balance between growing the plants while at the same time developing one’s own interests and talents. The fast paced corporate world seldom grants the opportunity for reflection and personal fulfillment. As the economic crisis has undone the threads, new chances emerge for a more personally satisfying life.
In the years ahead, Mr. Shiomi is dedicated to spreading the word about it Half Farmer/Half X. He has a specialist publishing company in the works, and titles planned for Chinese, Korean and English speaking markets.
“As a long-term goal,” he said, “I will work towards increasing the number of ‘Half Farmer/ Half Social-Entrepreneurs’ I think it is vital to have more ‘Half Farmer/ Half Social-Entrepreneur’ in… society.
With my maximum effort, I would like to see…the world developing into a place with diversified lifestyles…as well as diversified ‘life missions’. Furthermore, [I aim] to make Half Farmer/ Half X concept something that is natural and a norm in everyday living for everyone,” Mr. Shiomi said.
Images appear courtesy of Japan for Sustainability.
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