RSO Students at Summer school at Kyoto University in Japan

20150914_144117On the fifth day of our program of the 2015 Kyoto Graduate Seminar on Economic Development and Sustainability Studies we went on a field trip excursion on food, agriculture and environment. The bus from Kyoto University brought us into the beautiful foresty hills just outside of Kyoto, where we visited Yamaguni Sakikage Center and Tagayashiuta Farm. The Yamaguni Sakikage Center makes, grows and develops various typical Japanese products such as the basic ingredient for the well known miso soup. The miso is made by fermented ecologically produced soybeans and said to have many health benefits to it. The center is a reaction to the increasing depopulation of Kyoto’s rural backyard, mainly populated by elderly  part-time farmers, and dependency on overseas import of genetically modified soybeans.

The center is a community project and tries to bring the attention and appreciation back for locally produced typical japanese food products. During our visit we get to try out these products and they were all truly delicious! It was very interesting to see how the center reinforced the notion of community gardening, producing and selling. Hopefully centers like these will grow more and more and their products will find their way back into the Japanese supermarkets and restaurants. It also might be a way to attract young entrepreneurs back into Japan’s backcountry, to start their own business and farms.

This development has already reached the two young farmers we visited at their Tagayashiuta Farm. This couple comes from the city of Kyoto, he initially started as an lawyer and she finished her studies at the Institute of Social Studies in the Hague, the Netherlands. They garden their ecological fields in the middle of other fields that are being farmed by elderly Japanese farmers. As both don’t have a background in farming, they seek for ways to combine the traditional knowledge of their neighbouring farmers with more innovative ways of ecological farming fresh from the textbooks. They are doing relatively well but they also experience a difficult time in their village, as most neighbours are elderly people and their 3 years old son has no other children to play with in the village. Step by step they improve their farming skills and find meaning in this beautiful area.

The days that left us after this field trip offered us a variety of interesting lectures on East Asian Economy and Development and brought us a view right into the futuristic production line of the famous Toyota car factory. We ended our seminar with a wonderful buffet of Japanese dishes, were the last contacts were established and contact cards were exchanged. Besides all the inspiring lectures and amazing excursions, it was most interesting to speak with fellow students, graduates and professors from abroad to exchange thoughts on theory and practice from our different fields of study. It has been a very enriching week for all of us, and we’re looking forward on exchanging more of our ideas and knowledge in the future.

Susanne Maenen