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Past and Present: Residual and Emergent Resistance

The resistance that Kana and other organic farmers associated with the JOaa practice in Japan is an interesting example of resistance that is dynamic and contradictory. On the one hand, this resistance builds on residual beliefs and practices derived from the historical past in Japan—older agricultural and processing techniques combined with the ideal relations imagined in Japanese agricultural villages of the past. On the other hand, this resistance is very much of the present and employs emergent beliefs and practices—those that are developing in the margins out of a new set of social interactions that challenge the dominant way of life (williams 1994). In the rest of this chapter, various examples will show the ways in which Kana wends her way carefully between older ways and relationships and newer lifestyles and meanings. In the following vignette, we see Kana learning old food techniques while defending her independence and alternative lifestyle.

One cloudy saturday morning in December, Kana had a mochi-pounding party at her barn; mochi is pounded sticky rice that becomes smooth and is eaten in soups with sauces or shaped into confectionaries. (Kana used brown rice, which is unusual.) She invited all of her customers and volunteers who had helped her during the year. Her mother and father, as well as one of her father's former colleagues, were also there. She was disappointed that none of her consumers came. Two young women who had volunteered on the farm in return for vegetables came from tokyo. They were both artists who were working part time in tokyo and saw organic farming as one avenue where they could express their wish for an alternative lifestyle within Japan. Borrowing the equipment to steam the rice from the local community hall, Kana worked with some help from her parents to prepare the mochi. As her father and his colleague wielded a large wooden hammer, she reached her hand into the large wooden bowl with the rice and turned it between hits. “she is getting quite good at that,” her mother commented to me. Then Kana laid the sticky rice out on a table, putting it into a shallow frame so that she could roll it out with a long rolling pin that pushed it to the even depth of the frame. Her mother advised her through this process, but Kana was insistent on doing it and not shy to tell her mother that she knew what she was doing and did not need help. She folded the edges in and then picked out the round globs that would be put into the soup that had been boiling in the big vat on an outdoor stove. When everyone was finally gathered around the long table in the area outside the barn, there was a huge itadakimasu (i receive), and everyone took up soup bowls and chopsticks and fished out the mochi to eat. Kana's face was radiant as she took her first bite. This was the first time that she had eaten mochi made from the rice grown with her own hands.

Kana's bid to live her life differently through organic agriculture linked with visions of Japan's past in order to change the present and envision a different future. Growing the rice for and making her own mochi—still a ritually significant food to eat at new year's for strength and prosperity in the year to come—is a good example of this revival of Japanese actions from the past so as to model an alternative relationship with land and food for modern consumers. The farming methods used by farmers in the JOaa take advantage of the knowledge of older farmers and of farming practices from three hundred years ago. As one of Kana's friends, a young male organic farmer in northeastern Japan, said, “i want to use farming methods like they used in the tokugawa era. Then they really used everything they had locally.” Another of her friends, a young female organic farmer several hours on the other side of tokyo, said, “i try to have conversations with the really old people around here, like in my grandparents' generation. They remember farming before all the modern conveniences. The ones in my parents' generation believe strongly in using chemical fertilizers, and they can't imagine why we would want to give up the increased productivity from fertilizers for organic farming.”

The organic methods that Kana is using are a complex combination of new and old—some methods that have been passed down from long ago, some methods learned from european and american experiments in organic farming in the twentieth century, and others that have been developed by pioneering organic farmers in the last several decades. She fretted over exactly what Methods to follow. For example, a “natural” or do-nothing method of farming was started by Fukuoka Masanobu, an internationally famous Japanese organic farmer–philosopher of the twentieth century who argued that seeds could just be sown among the grasses. This is a method without weeding, tilling, or fertilizer that claimed to sustain the natural balance of micro-organisms in the soil and thus sustain fertility in the long run. However, the yields are lower than in other forms of organic agriculture. As we walked around her fields out in the hills, she said thoughtfully, “sometimes i do part of the field of daikon without tilling and weeding and the other part with tilling and weeding.” Finding an alternative farming style that preserved the environment had to be weighed against the need to survive.

 
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