In this article I would like to share my 1 month volunteering experience at the Permaculture center of Japan, where I learnt about permaculture design, organic agriculture, edible forest, carpentry, sustainability, healthy mindset, transition town Fujino and social relationships. All this with great people that I had a chance to meet there. Let me tell you a little bit more.
Just before talking about my experience I would like to share something that, by my opinion, everyone should know about permaculture. I’m talking about its core tenets: Earth care, people care, fare share. The Earth and its complex ecosystem provide us water, food, and other natural resources necessary for existence of any kind of life. Then comes people that can not exist without other species of the same kind for reproduction. That’s why it’s important to understand these tenets for everyone of us and in our actions think about taking good care about our planet and people to continue the life. More we care about these two, better life we have. The third principle underlines the limited resources of our planet and the importance of its careful usage for sustainable well being of Earth and people.
To learn more about permaculture here is a nice website.
What about my experience in Permaculture center of Japan?
The Permaculture Center of Japan (PCCJ) has established in 1996 to educate and promote the concept of Permaculture in Japan and more that 1000 people has been attending different types of courses since then: permaculture design course to learn about sustainability and food security for one week; practical permaculture course allow you to hone your skills on the beautiful field full of great examples, 2 weekends per month for 10 months; and more introductive courses like permaculture introduction or yoga&permaculture that takes you only one weekend. For all courses you will discover the world of macrobiotics cuisine, that uses local seasonal ingredients, primary grains and vegetables, with a local chef who is invited to cook all the meals.
Class for permaculture design course
Practical permaculture fields
Example of macrobiotic meal
Clay oven and tools preparation workshops
After attending a permaculture course, inspired students often decide to come back to Fujino and stay there, because of great people sharing sustainable mindset and lifestyle, and beautiful nature, as well as accessibility to Tokyo in only 2 hours by train if needed, which is helpful to decrease the fear of living in the countryside for a city person in the very beginning.
What sustainable practices are used at PCCJ ?
Traditional construction techniques with natural local materials: local wood (using Kakishibu or charring method to protect wood siding from fire, insects and rot without the use of chemicals), sand, stone, clay and straw.
Trash sorting and recycling (the rest of food which hasn’t been eaten by people is fed to chickens, other organic leftover is composted and use as soil fertilizer, wood rest transformed to wood chips and used for field walking path or fertiliser, paper is burned, cans and glass are recycled by local company, plastic is collected by government, but still present a problem).
Compost toilets (liquid is filtered and sent to the rice fields as fertilizer, and solid is decomposed by natural bacterias).
Plants reading (“There is no weed on the planet”, says Kiyokazu Shidara, the founder of PCCJ. All the ‘unwanted plants’ are good indicators for human: flowers shows the soil is fertile, clover brings nutrition to the soil from the air and rain, grass means that the soil is unhealthy and needs to be improved, for example by adding fertiliser. Grass cutting is still used, but all the grass will be left on the ground as mulch to retain water, protect the soil and reduce the unwanted plant growth).
Human relationships (Contribution to the community like new farm design, providing jobs to local people, giving back the money going to local restaurants, warm welcoming to education center students, hosting volunteers, organizing open talks and picnic in a park of Tokyo about politics and philosophy, keep in touch with old students, who often come back to see the evolution of Fujino, share their own progress and volunteer for a few days).
How is it to be a volunteer at PCCJ?
I stayed in PCCJ for a whole month of April 2016 and it was a great experience for me and an opportunity to learn about permaculture, its principles and practices, farming, carpentry, and sustainable lifestyle. Volunteering everywhere in Japan is quite special. Actually working mode of Japanese people is. I mean they use to work for very long hours and have not many days off, which is considered as normal here. At PCCJ working schedule is from 8 to 17 with one hour lunch and two snack breaks for 15 minutes, one day off on Monday. But actually Japanese hospitality and especially the one of Shidara-san makes you feel not like a volunteer or like a worker, but like a privileged guest. Over standard food and shelter in exchange of labor, Kiyo brought me to many different restaurants and beautiful onsen, shared great stories, introduced me to many of his great friends and showed me inspiring Fujino transition town. He is a wonderful host.
During my stay I had a chance to attend all types of courses provided by PCCJ (see above). You better speak Japanese, because they all in Japanese and you can learn a lot. It wasn’t my case and I learnt from conversations with the host, from working together and from this book full of great examples. People who attend courses, mostly speak Japanese, even if there are many impressive exceptions and if you know Japanese it’s so much better, but even if you are only English-speaker you will still face the people who are very kind, opened, welcoming and interesting with sustainable mindset and you will certainly have some amazing conversations and make good friends. For me PCCJ was a hub of exceptional people!
Let me share some work that I made together with the Shidara-san and other volunteers.
We have done many simple carpentry work such as metallize table, make sliding doors, deck, roof for toilet, floor, curtain hanger, repair floor and doors.
It depends on the season, but for me it was weeding, mulching, planting, chicken care, eggs sale on the market.
What you can do around? In addition to restaurants, onsen and transition town initiatives, that I already mentioned, you can also go to the mountains, visit Sagamiko lake, Pleasure forest or even go to Tokyo, which is only 2 hours by train from Fujino.