Encyclopedia of niime

Maku Team discusses their Vision: The cycles of Farming Life. 

2022 . 11 . 07

< continued from the first half >

Yanagi: The plants, bugs, fruits, and soil bacteria are the original elements for the cycle of life in the movie Big Little Farm we watched, but the animals are the most crucial element.

—— Hmm.

Yanagi: Our boss probably had that idea of such a lifestyle and way of living, even though she didn’t have a clear vision. Watching the film, Big Little Farm, that I sent, she could have the same concept in her mind and was inspired. Keeping the goats was her first step which was my suggestion to ask her to try.

—— Is that so?

Yanagi: First, we needed to start keeping animals by ourselves. It would be easier to do by understanding how to save animals. The first job for goats was removing weeds. We wanted them to help us to do it because we had a lot of hilly areas that were hard for us. That was also one of the reasons we asked her to keep goats.

—— I see.

Yanagi: What should I say…after keeping them, I don’t think we gained material wealth from them, but we felt warm and were reinvigorated by them. Living or working with them as the Maku team, I recently think it’s imperative to have such feelings for us.

—— They give you a more fullness and capacity of the heart.

Yanagi: Maku team needs to pursue making materialistic cycles. Still, we need mental processes for working with them, believing in having a good day tomorrow, which is very important to have a life of farming like Big Little Farm. I think that’s the richest lifestyle. I am unable to assemble these thoughts. (haha)

—— It’s all right; I must process what you said.

Yanagi: (laugh)

Fukumori: I understand what he thinks. (laugh)

Yanagi: Well, this winter, I mean around the beginning of the next year?

Fukumori: Yeah, from early next year.

Yanagi: We’ll finally start.

—— Oh, I’ve been waiting for that news. Please, explain.

Yanagi: Simply saying, we will have more animals.

—— You will increase the number of animals?

Yanagi: Yes, we will increase by more than double.

—— Wow.

Yanagi: As the materials for making products, many animal fibres, such as cashmere and mohair, are used. We want to try to keep them. Connecting with the stories of ‘tamaki niime’, the plan of having a farm like Big Little Farm, we want to keep cashmere goats, angora goats, alpacas…and black sheep that is the model of the movie Shaun, the sheep.

Fukumori: They are charming.

Yanagi: They are adorable and very rare kinds that nobody has kept in Japan, but they are coming here.

—— Wow! That’s incredible.

Yanagi: So a total of 24 animals are coming here. I announced it with the vision of the Maku team at an all-hands meeting because I wanted to share the news and have everyone understand it.

—— I see. You will increase by how many?

Yanagi: We’ll finally have male animals at ‘tamaki niime’.

—— You’ve had only females so far?

Fukumori: We used to have a white male sheep, but he died. The ones we have now are only female.

Yanagi: There are two males and four females in each of the six kinds of animal, which means that they have a great possibility of breeding at ‘tamaki niime’.

—— That’s great! Finally …

Yanagi: We could say it finally begins. Our place right now is too small to have them all, so we plan to put some of them in mountains next to our town, Fukuchi, in Kurodasho. In the future, we hope to get ample land with mountains. The space where animals feel comfortable and secure should also be comfortable for humans. We want to consider the life of humans, not only animals…

—— Yeah…

Yanagi: We hope to make multiple gardens for fruit cultivation, beekeeping, or other products. We are considering the challenge of growing cotton in the mountains next year.

—— Wow… that sounds interesting.

Yanagi: Yes. It really does. I am very excited to think about it.

—— Yeah.

Yanagi: I hope our animals get involved in the cycle of rice making. And I am rethinking the way of rice making.

—— Animals getting involved in rice making.

Yanagi: Yes, I think less tillage cultivation. Rice fields increase the hard layer of soil with the weight of using tractors. Also, the roots of rice plants need to spread under the deep sites to grow big. We want to avoid using tractors as much as possible to decrease complex layers, right?

Fukumori: Yeah.
Yanagi: We try to plough as few times as possible with tractors instead of just ploughing in spring and fall, coarse ploughing, or ploughing and irrigating the fields. Since I wouldn’t say I like the surface of rice fields exposed during fall and winter, we cover them with fertiliser seeds for green vegetables. Then, when spring comes, we put animals there like its grazing land. While removing weeds and making grounds, I hope to plough and irrigate the fields just once and make it to plant rice plants… I will hopefully get it done.

—— Hmmm…

Reducing the amount of ploughing the fields before transplanting rice seedlings using tractors, we can’t plant the rice well because the soil surface is too hard. Still, according to Yanagi, it’s possible for the rice fields of ‘tamaki niime’ to plant on even medium soil because they were planted with the hands of people gathered for the events.

Yanagi: It may be hard for the first few years, but it would be softer in some years if we repeat it like this. Although we are not professional farmers at all, we have the vision to be able to do well with animals altogether.

—— I see.

Yanagi: In the future, we may have cows and horses, making their roles in ploughing, which cycle works must be interesting. This is the cycle that only we can do in Japan.

—— I see. It’s the cycle centred on rice making.

Yanagi: Keeping such visions, on the other hand, education is crucially important. Do I sound like I am jumping too far?

—— No, everything is linked.

Yanagi: Yeah, everything is linked.

—— Yeah.

Yanagi: If our ideas don’t pass to the next generation, we won’t keep this place. Even though humans and animals will continually live and keep going, this place will be extinct if our desires aren’t shared. We are responsible for bringing animals that didn’t live here. If we want them to connect with the next generation, we humans must also pass our thoughts down to the next generation. I hope we can create such a place even only in one spot where people and animals work together. I want to work for education, and it would be wonderful if I could create a place for the people who spend their last time of life, such as a life cycling spot in Nishiwaki.

—— That would be a fantastic idea.

Yanagi: I had such a vision while talking with the boss. It’s not only my vision but also ‘tamaki niime’s.

—— That’s precisely the vision that you can connect with ‘the creation of niime village’.

Yanagi: At present, ‘tamaki niime’ is mainly recognised as an apparel brand company, but that’s not true because the boss and Mr Sakai have been doing many other things for ten years. We just haven’t accomplished any other jobs besides apparel. So if we could succeed in this plan, we could get out of our image, and ‘tamaki niime’ could get on a new stage.

—— I see.

Yanagi: First, by increasing the number of animals, we can show our plan of the cycle more.

—— It will become visible.

Yanagi: In a sense, I hope the next year will be an exciting year for the Maku team and ‘tamaki niime’.

—— Ms Fukumori, what do you think about the ideas he discussed?

Fukumori: It looks like we planted the seeds this year. We are feeling good about the responses to what we started doing. We are excited to see something interesting next year.

—— When I interviewed Ms Fukumori for the ‘Encyclopedia of niime’ 2 years ago, Mr Yanagi was not here yet, and it was then that you were still trying many farming methods.

Fukumori: For Cultivating plants, I tried not to add unnecessary fertiliser, but I still used some. However, using ‘Kinchan’s soil method’, the soil became like the one in the woods. Mushrooms and mosses came out and grew.

—— Wow!

Fukumori: The ones I used for making soil were weeds, rice husks, and bamboo chips, which are all natural materials. They work so well. I used to use fertiliser and compost, though. I was amazed that making good soil can be done with organic items around you. The fertilisers are sold in the stores; however, under the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s harder to import them. I am so impressed with the method that we can use things around us, and they work well. It is very reasonable. Since Japan depends on other countries for many things, we should try to make them ourselves. I found it interesting for this fact this year.

—— I see…I see.

Fukumori: That’s fun.

—— ‘Kinchan’s soil making’ doesn’t need special fertiliser, but you can make it with natural items around you.

Fukumori: At a food company in our neighbourhood, they have a large property and have a hard time cutting weeds every year because they can’t use weed-killer chemicals. We wanted their cut weeds, which they usually pay a disposal fee, and asked them if they could give us them instead. (laugh) They appreciated us. And we also cut bamboo in the forest, which had been left messy, and the neighbours were happy that we cleaned it all up. It looks like the things that people think as junk are treasures to us. (laugh)

—— That’s wonderful. It makes sense in the natural logic. You don’t spend money, and there’s no waste. In that method, you don’t use fertiliser but increase bacteria in the soil. Are you really not putting any fertiliser at all?

Yanagi: We are honestly putting no fertiliser.

—— That’s awesome. Absolutely …

Fukumori: One of our part-time workers lives in our neighbourhood and grows cotton at her house. She said her cotton doesn’t grow well but wants to try our way since she knew our cotton grew big.

—— Wow.

Fukumori: We are still unsure about many things since it’s only been a year since starting. Mr Toshimichi Yoshida is trying to spread ‘Kinchan’s soil making’. At ‘tamaki niime’ we have many people cultivate cotton for us at their places, and we buy from them. If we could suggest them to use that method, we could spread the way of ‘Kinchan’s farm’.

—— Oh, I see.

Fukumori: Then we could change farming in a better way and can make more connections.

—— I see. Mr Kobata, you have experienced farming in Hokkaido. Are they completely different from here?

Kobata: The farming area of Hokkaido is way different from other districts. The farmhouse I worked for grew burdock in a standard way using chemical fertilisers. Such places with large-scale and efficient systems have to have machinery. They are entirely different from here.

—— They are almost opposite to yours.

Kobata: I basically worked just seasons. They needed me for harvesting and selecting, but didn’t work growing vegetables.

Fukumori: I see. I understand.

Kobata: I thought about it because I wanted to work in cultivation. While looking for such opportunities, I was invited to come here. That’s how I came here. I came here because I could work starting from cultivation.

—— You and Mr Yanagi have been good friends, and you wanted to work in agriculture together, right?

Yanagi: Yes, honestly, I wanted to run farming independently after graduating from college and went to many recruitment agriculture job fairs, but I didn’t like them. Many farmers told me I couldn’t do it without much investment.

—— I see.

Yanagi: Many people advised me that I don’t have to hurry to run farming yet, but rather make money working for other jobs. I thought so, too, and worked at a company for two years. But I doubted it what I was doing was close to what I wanted to do. At that time, Mako (Kobata) was working as a seasonal worker in farming experience, wondering about his future. After I arrived at ‘tamaki niime’, I gained much knowledge, and found my direction, I thought I should better share it and ask him… because we had a shortage of workers. (laugh)

—— (laugh)

Yanagi: It was absurdly challenging to start with ‘Kinchan’s soil making’. Were we panicking?

Fukumori: Yeah, we were.

Yanagi: We needed workers. Get them quickly! I knew there was the right one! (laugh)

—— (laugh) He came here at the right time.

Yanagi: So we asked the boss about him, and he was accepted and got into the company. That’s how he came here.

Fukumori: Mako (Kobata) is compelling.

Yanagi: His arm size is massive.

—— His arm circumference is different.

Fukumori: He is suitable for the work.

—— It’s so helpful to have Mr Kobata, who is so powerful for heavy work.

Yanagi: Yes, it is. We became more stable.

Fukumori: We are balanced and more robust. We are an excellent trio.

—— You guys will have more animals than people next year.

Fukumori: That’s right!

—— Good animals will work hard for you?

Yanagi: Yes, we will be a more interesting team.

—— The product materials are cashmere and mohair, including cotton. It’s exciting to have them turn out to be the products.

Fukumori: Just like a game, in the fields, if we have bees, we can plant apples; if we keep cows, we can get milk or make cheese. We can add many possibilities and expand them. (laugh)

Yanagi: That’s right. We are challenged to have beehives not in the same area yet. We also planted fruit trees in the backyard.

—— Is that right?

Yanagi: We haven’t had bees yet because we just planted trees, but we are working on them. What we need to do is to gather them in one place. Having goats is one of the main works.

Fukumori: Yeah, that’s right.

Yanagi: With Kinchan’s soil-making, we could initially increase a kind of bacteria named filamentous fungus in the mountains.

—— A filamentous fungus?

Yanagi: They look like threads.

Fukumori: They are bacteria that look like white threads, which exist in the branches fallen on the ground; white bacteria sticking to wet, shady places.

Yanagi: There are many in the mountains. We are trying to create surroundings to increase such microorganisms in the fields. We affirmed that the filamentous fungus and cotton could go well together.

—— I see.

Yanagi: Making use of it, we want to try many things in the mountains. Linking points to points, we want to make it clear to show our Maku team visions; that is our future goal. I am so excited for the following year.

Fukumori: We could go forward because we can see now what we can do. The things we vaguely didn’t know became clear dots to link one by one, and they will be a line next year.

Many acts for ‘niime village plan’ are making a line and will create a cycle.

In the beginning, ‘niime village’ was a vague vision, but Ms Tamaki had a firm conviction about it in her mind.

Three people of the Maku team have been searching different directions from ordinary ways of living or farming and reached ‘tamaki niime’ by synchronising each thought. Finally, they are about to make it happen with their hands.

Possibly, we may live in a suffocating society today, but here ‘in the navel of Japan’, an alternative but essential farming life is about to be born.

I have felt much hope for the future from the Maku team members who continually discussed their visions.

Original Japanese text by Seiji Koshikawa.
English translation by Adam & Michiko Whipple.

Original Japanese text by Seiji Koshikawa.
English translation by Adam & Michiko Whipple.