The Japanese Organic Farming Movement: Consumers and Farmers United

Moen, Darrell Gene.
“The Japanese Organic Farming Movement: Consumers and Farmers United.” (Published in:) Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars: 29 (4) 1997.


Part of a global proliferation of alternative strategies for environmental, social, and personal transformation, the Japanese organic farming movement has its roots in the social upheavals of the 1960s against war, pollution, corporatism, and sexism. A diverse cross-section of Japanese society, movement participants are transforming social relations and creating new cultural values, self-identities, redefinitions of gender, and socio-political assumptions. Previous village-bounded studies of Japanese rural society emphasized cultural continuity, the masterful blending of modernity and tradition, and the stoic acquiescence of villagers to externally-imposed change; I found organic farmers’ groups revitalizing rural economies; forming direct-marketing relations with urban consumers; linking up with farmers in the Third World; opposing Tokyo-directed golf course and resort development plans; and uniting in a variety of new social movements.

Integral to the success of the Japanese organic farming movement are the networks of grassroots organic foods distributors, retailers, and new consumer food cooperatives, many of which were established in the early 1970s. Japan’s largest consumer cooperative, the Japan Consumers’ Cooperative Union (Seikyo), was established in 1951. In 1996, the 688 primary Seikyo food cooperatives alone had a national household membership of 14 million. Including the family members of each co-op member, more than half of the Japanese population belong to a consumer cooperative, many of which have direct-marketing relations with organic farmers. In addition, with an emphasis on establishing face-to-face contact with farmers, more than 900 grassroots and localized groups of consumers have established co-partnerships, or teikei (see below) with local organic farmer groups; these entail risk-sharing, negotiated prices on amounts and varieties of crops, and numerous opportunities for social interaction between farmers and consumers.

Although the organic farming movement in Japan is extremely diverse, I will limit my analysis to actions being taken by co-partnership farmers, focusing on one group of organic farmers as they united with consumers in a movement against the construction of a golf course. With organic farmers’ groups thriving throughout Japan, neighboring farmers and non-farmers alike are being influenced by what these unconventional farmers are saying and doing. By utilizing innovative non-violent strategies in their opposition, the participants in the following case study were able to gain the respect and support of local residents as well as the public at large, support which was essential to their eventual success.


Japan Organic Agriculture Association (JOAA)

The Japan Organic Agriculture Association (JOAA), established in 1970, has a membership of about 4,000, with farmers constituting about one-quarter of the total membership. Consumers, including academics, agricultural scientists, medical doctors, journalists, and others involved in various aspects of the organic farming movement in Japan, comprise more than three-quarters of the membership. The organization publishes a monthly newsletter and holds monthly seminars on various aspects of the organic farming movement in Japan. It is critical of Japanese agricultural policies and of U.S. agricultural surplus export policies.

JOAA actively promotes the direct interaction between consumers and farmers, and believes that the significance of the concept should be impressed not only upon people involved in various grassroots movements working for social betterment, but upon national, regional, and local government bodies, and consumer and agricultural cooperatives as well. JOAA advocates the creation of ties between urban consumers and rural farmers through direct-marketing relationships that go beyond economic interests or health maintenance concerns. It emphasizes the nurturing of friendships based on trust and mutual respect.

After studying the efficacy of the co-partnership concept at pioneering co-partnerships such as the Miyoshi-Tokyo example examined in this article, JOAA members formulated “The Ten Principles of Teikei” in November 1978. The “Ten Principles” in summary form are:

(1). Produce crops in accordance with pre-negotiated agreements between farmers and consumers;

(2). Build a friendly and creative relationship between farmers and consumers, not limited to the relationship as trading partners;

(3). Accept all the produce delivered by the farmers;

(4). Negotiate prices in a mutually-beneficial manner;

(5). Build the rapport necessary to gain the mutual respect and trust required for a successful continuation of the relationship;

(6). Manage the self-distribution of produce, either by the farmers or by the consumers;

(7). Allow for participatory involvement of all members, based on democratic principles;

(8). Develop an interest in studying various social and political issues related to organic agriculture;

(9). Maintain an appropriate number of both farmers and consumers in relation to the group as a whole;

(10). Persevere with the ultimate goal of attaining a balance with nature and a relationship of equality between humans based on organic agriculture and the organic link between farmers and consumers.

The organic farming movement in Japan has been deeply influenced by the activities and publications of the Japan Organic Agriculture Association. JOAA has been instrumental in introducing the co-partnership concept to farmers and consumers throughout Japan, and with its affiliation with the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), it has been able to introduce the co-partnership concept to interested parties worldwide. One such example is the growing Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement in the United States.

When I talked with Ichiraku Teruo in the fall of 1991, the Senior Director of JOAA at the time, he offered a radical critique of capitalism and the alienating social relations it engenders:

Capitalism fosters the attitude of anything for profit, without regard for the environment or human well-being. If we look around us, we can see the toxic waste dumps, the nuclear power plants, the military-industrial complex and the waste it generates, people working themselves to death….
Teikei is about the process of creating a new culture, a culture not restricted to the profit motive, a culture outside present practice…. Starting with food and a critique of the present food system, a system that is international in scope because capitalism is international in scope, an awareness of the need to change society in all areas emerges, leading to the realization of the need to build a society based on emerging values.
In co-partnership arrangements, we consumers tell the farmers that they can set their own prices and that we will accept the delivery of all the produce grown. The farmers do not take advantage of our trust, and respecting us, they set a fair price and try to grow only the amount of produce they feel is appropriate for the number of consumer members in the co-partnership. This is proof that humans are not inherently profit-oriented and proves that new human relations based on mutual trust, respect, and understanding can be realized.
People tell me, ‘Look, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestries, and Fisheries (MAFF) has budgeted money to encourage organic farming. They’ve finally come to their senses.’ I tell those people to stop dreaming and come to their senses. MAFF has abandoned farmers and farmers still keep looking to MAFF for assistance. It doesn’t make sense. MAFF’s sympathies lie with agribusinesses and major corporations. If they’re calling for more farmers to convert to organic farming, it’s because they smell money to be made, and most of the money will be made by the corporations that control the distribution, processing, and marketing of food. That they are interested only in the economic aspect of organically-grown commodities and their potential for generating profits is made obvious by their choice to call organic farming ‘high-value added farming’ (kofuka kachigata no nogyo : _________).

Wada Hiroyuki, born in 1934 and the founding member of the Miyoshi Producers’ Group, makes the same point, that MAFF had neglected the plight of family farmers such as himself:

Miyoshi, lying in a small, secluded valley, was not conducive to the modern agricultural conversion package promoted by MAFF, which required large-scale paddy-land irrigation projects, consolidation of paddy-fields, and extensive mechanization. MAFF bypassed the village of Miyoshi for agricultural modernization because it considered Miyoshi to be inappropriate for development. We asked for advice, and they told us farmers to grow citrus fruits and ginger as cash crops.

When the price for citrus dropped and the repeated mono-cultivation of ginger led to soil depletion and falling yields, most of the farmers had to give up trying to make a living from farming and were forced to find some kind of job off the farm. Their children didn’t even give taking up farming a second thought.

Paradoxically, Miyoshi’s secluded setting was ideal for organic farming. The collectively-built and -maintained irrigation system, using clean mountain stream water to flood the rice fields, remained in place. The small-sized plots of upland fields and paddy fields encouraged crop diversity and lent themselves to complex crop rotations. The formation of the co-partnership enabled us to survive as farmers. Thinking back on the situation back then, I recall vividly the feelings of desperation and depression that accompanied it.

Mr. Wada’s generation of farmers in Miyoshi can “recall vividly” the desperate times when they felt that they had been abandoned by the government. Just when their plight seemed irreversible, the co-partnership was formed, and Mr. Wada and his wife became its first producer members. It is little wonder that Mr. Wada believes strongly in the principles espoused by the co-partnership.

Talking with Mr. Wada on one occasion when we were working in one of his fields together, I learned that he is convinced that by establishing social relationships based on equality and fairness, people can feel fulfilled and connected, leading to a true sense of community. He said that he really liked the idea of being able to bypass the conventional market and establish direct-marketing relationships based on trust and mutual respect. He stated that he was opposed to the idea of selling surplus produce on the market:

If we started involving ourselves in the conventional market, I’m afraid we’d be drawn back into the game of betting on the market, holding out for the best price. We’d become dependent on forces beyond our control again. Motivated by profit, we’d lose touch with each other and revert to the “dog eat dog” lifestyle. I enjoy the collective spirit of the co-partnership, the sense of working together for a common goal. I don’t want everyone to be out for themselves.


Formation of the Miyoshi-Tokyo Co-partnership

The thriving co-partnership of 30 farm families (most are extended family households), on the one hand, and the more than 1,000 consumer families (as of 1996) residing in the Tokyo metropolitan area on the other, came about when a group of 25 Tokyo-area housewives in their 20s and 30s interested in obtaining organically-grown food for health and ideological reasons initiated contact with a group of Miyoshi Village farmers in October 1973. These young, mostly middle-class housewives had been influenced by the Japanese-translated edition of Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) and the serialized publication starting on October 14, 1973 in Asahi Shimbun, of Ariyoshi Sawako’s Fukugo Osen (Compound Pollution, eventually published in book form in 1975). They had been politicized through involvement in citizens’ movements during the 1960s, and had been studying problems associated with chemical farming from both farmers’ and consumers’ perspectives at monthly study sessions for over a year.

Some of these women had been involved in various aspects of the women’s liberation movement, others had participated as university students in the anti-Viet Nam War movement, while several had participated in the anti-pollution struggles of the late-1960s. One woman I talked with told me that she joined the study group “… to have the chance to be with women who’d been active in various social movements and learn from their experiences so I could broaden my own horizons.”

In an interview with one of these founding members of the Tokyo-Miyoshi Co-partnership, I was impressed by the fact that these women had formed a study group not only to learn about the technical aspects of organic farming, but to learn about the international political dimensions of food and agriculture. This woman (she was 56 in 1992) stated:

The more we studied, the more we saw the connections. We saw how Japan’s military alliance with the United States was related to importing more American agricultural surpluses. We saw how increasing agricultural imports were forcing Japanese farmers off the land. We saw how migrant farmers forced to work for near-starvation wages as construction workers, truck drivers, and factory hands helped Japan achieve its “miracle” economic growth. We saw how the corporations benefitted at the expense of the common people.

We knew that something had to be done. We realized that we consumers had to form an alliance with farmers to take back the control of agricultural production, distribution, and consumption. We knew that other women were forming consumer cooperatives, but we wanted to work with the farmers directly. That’s how we decided to focus our energy into forming a direct-marketing structure between consumers and farmers.

Broader social concerns motivated these women, and they were being deliberately careful not to limit their interests to what would only benefit them directly. The more they read, studied, and discussed, the more they were able to expand beyond the narrow and exclusionary concerns which many considered the proper province of the middle classes. As another of the founding members put it, “We wanted to connect ‘safe’ foods and the support of organic farming with the survival of family farmers, with the preservation of the environment, with opposition to militarism and imperialism, with demands for social justice, and with our need to work collectively to create a better future.”

Armed with facts and figures concerning the health hazards associated with conventional farming practices using ever-increasing amounts of pesticides; aware of the “politics of food” and the increasing corporate control of food production and distribution; and determined to effect the structural changes necessary to counteract the poisoning of the environment, the people, and all living organisms, this group of women began to search for a farming village close to Tokyo where farmers might be persuaded to convert to organic farming methods. They wanted to form a direct-marketing structure with organic farmers able to supply them with a variety of agricultural products, from vegetables and fruits to grains and eggs. At the same time, they wanted to form a direct socio-cultural link with farmers in an urban-rural alliance to work for social change.

Fortuitously, the director of the Chiba Prefectural Training Center for Young Farmers with whom they had established contact introduced them to his nephew, Wada Hiroyuki, who was successfully marketing organically-grown mandarin oranges at the time and whose farm was located about two hours from Tokyo. As Mr. Wada lived in the village of Miyoshi and had some influence there, it was hoped that other Miyoshi farmers could be persuaded to convert to organic farming if they were guaranteed a market for their produce.

After six months of negotiations following the initial meeting of about 60 consumers and 40 farmers at Miyoshi Village Hall, the “Group for the Production and Consumption of Safe Foods” (Anzen-na tabemono o tsukutte taberu kai) was established in February 1974 with an initial membership of 19 farm families and 111 consumer families organized into “posts” of ten families. A “post” is a location where consumers’ group members go to pick up their weekly delivery of produce.

Both farmers and consumers in the newly-established co-partnership anticipated markedly reduced crop yields during the first years following the conversion to organic farming. It was assumed that during the transition period severe weed infestations were likely to occur, crops would be difficult to establish, and various unforseen probems would probably appear. In order to dispel the farmers’ fears and concomitant hesitancy in applying organic farming techniques to all of their fields, the consumers’ group members agreed to the following three principles:

(1). The prices of the produce is to be determined by the farmers;

(2). The whole bulk of the harvested produce is to be accepted and divided equally by the consumers; and

(3). A deposit of ¥10,000 by all new consumers’ group members is to be used in emergency aid to the farmers if needed.

With consumers agreeing to share the risks associated with farming and guaranteeing the farmers’ income in advance of planting, the incentive for farmers to convert to organic farming methods was established firmly. The farmers, in turn, agreed to form an organic farming study group and attempt to establish viable crop rotations; meet regularly with consumer members to discuss various issues related to food and farming; and take the responsibility of delivering the produce each week to the consumers.

After the third or fourth year, as the rotations became established and problems diminished, the variety of crops increased, yields began to increase, and eventually, crop yields approached and in some cases surpassed those obtained by neighboring farmers using conventional methods. The farmers then agreed to negotiate prices of produce with the consumers.


Uniting Consumers and Farmers

Miyoshi village (pop. 4,500), at the southern tip of Boso Peninsula near the resort city of Tateyama across the bay from Tokyo, enjoys a relatively mild winter so that crops can be grown year-round. Aside from vegetables for home consumption, the fields of conventional farmers in the area are barren in the winter since the temperatures are not warm enough to double-crop rice. The farmers in the Miyoshi-Tokyo Co-partnership, however, utilize all of their fields throughout the year. With more than 100 varieties of crops grown by member farmers, the crop rotations are complex, having been refined through more than 20 years of organic farming experience. Although not as busy as in the summer months, the daily schedule of farmwork is similar throughout the year with husbands and wives working side by side in the fields.

The continual contact between farmer and consumer members of the co-partnership, with their differing perspectives and varied interests, has contributed to the widening of the field of vision of all participants. As one farmer, a member of the co-partnership since its inception told me:

When that group of women from Tokyo first came to Miyoshi Village telling us farmers that we need to learn about the “politics of food,” and the relationship between the increase in agricultural imports from the U.S. and Japanese imperialism, I wanted to throw up! They sounded like a bunch of “Reds” to me! I didn’t want anything to do with them, but my wife talked me into joining because we wanted to survive economically as full-time farmers.
Well, we’ve become friends with some of those women we thought were “Reds.” I have a lot of respect for them because they stand up for what they believe is right. They probably still think I’m a diehard conservative, but I’ve changed my ideas about a lot of things. I still don’t like to talk about the “evils of imperialism or capitalism,” but I’ve been actively involved in the golf course opposition movement. So, I wouldn’t be surprised [laughing] if some of my neighbors think of me as a “Red.”

The farmer and consumer members of the co-partnership have many opportunities to interact. The farmers deliver the produce to consumers on a weekly basis, and the consumers often go to Miyoshi to help with various farm tasks, attend meetings, or just escape from the congestion of the city. The city folk relax in the peace and quiet of the rural countryside, staying in “Everyone’s House” (a two-story wooden structure built jointly by the farmers and consumers). Consumers’ children also have opportunities to stay at “Everyone’s House;” during special events such as “Camping Out,” they sleep in tents, learn how to make eating utensils from bamboo, cook their own meals, and survive “on their own.” Thus, friendships have developed among the children as well as the adult members of the co-partnership.

Although the two parties have recognized commonalities, differences in values and attitudes between urban and rural sometimes surface, as the following comments of a farm woman in her mid-30s reveal:

I get tired of hearing consumers’ group women say how they envy us farm women, saying that they envy the large houses, the clean environment, the peace and quiet, and the sense of belonging that must come with living in a farm community. Consumers who say things like that’d probably become bored with country living in a matter of months, feeling isolated and lacking the distractions of city living such as movie theaters, museums, fancy restaurants, and shopping arcades. I think many of the city women come here with an idealized picture of country living and fail to recognize the hardships associated with it. They stay for a day or two; it’s kind of a vacation for them.
Just last week, one of our neighbors sprayed pesticides on his fields and although I closed the windows facing the wind, the herbicide dust still settled in the house. I had to spend the whole day cleaning, trying to get rid of the noxious smell and hoping my children wouldn’t get poisoned! You know, we have to get along with all of our neighbors, so we can’t complain about pesticide drift, we really have no privacy because everyone knows what everyone else does, and as for the big houses, they’re difficult to keep clean and cold in the winter!

The farm women want the urban women to understand the difficulties associated with living in a rural area. The city women want the farm women to sympathize with the difficulties of living in an alienating and stressful urban environment. Such empathy requires a long-term relationship.

Although at times glaringly apparent (e.g., style of dress, language use, general demeanor), class differences have not kept co-partnership members from finding the commonalities and forging close bonds of friendship. Although class tensions do surface at times, they appear to be less important than the clearly-felt affinity among the farmers and consumers of the co-partnership. As one 50-year-old farm woman related:

When the consumers’ group women are staying at “Everyone’s House” and working in the fields with us or we’re discussing life in general together, I really feel close to them and some I consider my true friends. One day, I saw one of the consumers’ group women being interviewed on television concerning her opposition to sending Japanese troops to Cambodia and I really felt proud of her. She was dressed so smartly and talked so intelligently that I almost cried with the pride in my heart.

Having gotten to know each other over the years, many of the farmers and consumers in the co-partnership have been able to get through to real feelings. This became apparent to me over time as I listened to farmers talking with consumers about personal issues ranging from problem children and how to handle them to serious illnesses or deaths in the family.

As the years passed, the co-partnership members were exposed increasingly to new ideas, ways of looking at things, and ways of acting out their social existence; the influence upon each other was cumulative. They became involved increasingly in a variety of collective endeavors, culminating in their united struggle against the construction of a golf course within the village of Miyoshi.


Miyoshi Golf Course Resort Development Plans

Plans to build a golf course resort in the Momeiri Hills of Miyoshi had been on the drawing boards since the mid-1960s when the huge Tokyo-based developer Sobu Development Corporation started negotiations to purchase land. By 1973, Sobu had obtained from local landowners “notes of agreement to sell” for about 40% of the 115 hectares (284 acres) needed. However, the recession brought on by the oil shock of that year forced them to postpone further action. It was in March 1988 during the “bubble economy” that Sobu Development Corporation reinitiated land purchase proposals, and after obtaining “notes of agreement to sell” from local landowners for about two-thirds of the land needed for the golf course, it filed for permission with Miyoshi Village authorities to start construction.

One of the ten ward heads of Miyoshi at the time happened to be Watanabe Katsuo, a farmer member of the Miyoshi-Tokyo Co-partnership. At the meeting of ward heads when the developer’s request for village permission to begin construction of the resort complex was discussed, Mr. Watanabe raised questions about the danger of chemical use and questioned the advisability of granting immediate approval.


The Birth of the Opposition Movement

Mr. Watanabe reported the news of the proposed construction to the other farmers in the organic producers’ group, and the consumers’ group was informed immediately. Talking with the farmers in the Miyoshi Producers’ Group, I found that the majority of them had not opposed the idea of a golf course initially, and that most had been surprised at the vehement response of some of the consumers’ group members. One farmer stated:

I remember the first time the consumers in our co-partnership brought up the subject of opposing the proposed golf course in Miyoshi. We farmers called an informal meeting to talk about the issue, and most of us agreed that a golf course would be a good thing for everyone concerned. We half-jokingly said that when the consumers’ group women come out to work the fields with us, their husbands could come out to golf. That way, the family could come out here together and everyone would be happy. We couldn’t understand why the consumers’ group members were so upset. To us, it was just another golf course. After all [laughing], they don’t call Chiba Prefecture “golf course heaven” for nothing!

The Miyoshi Producers’ Group farmers, most of whom had never participated directly in any type of opposition, were hesitant initially to ally themselves with the consumers’ group women; some of the farmers saw them as overly confrontational and politically radical, unwilling to discuss compromise. Although the consumers’ group women were involved from the start in the attempt to form a national network of anti-golf course groups, the farmers in the group told me that they had taken a “wait-and-see” attitude, hoping to avoid creating unnecessary antagonism and resentment with neighboring residents.

Several of the farmers explained to me that because they needed to maintain friendly ties with neighboring farmers who are not members of the organic producers’ group, they felt that they could not afford to antagonize them. Often, these relationships have endured over several generations, and by adopting an ideological stance too much at variance with most of their neighbors, they feared alienating them and causing resentment.

Recalling one of the first meetings in 1988 between co-partnership consumers and farmers held at “Everyone’s House,” one farmer said that when the consumers had called for a joint study session to discuss and evaluate the golf course situation and how best to oppose its construction, most of the farmers in the Miyoshi Producers’ Group had attended, assuming that it would be a mutual learning experience and a chance to discuss ideological differences and available options. He then stated that this initial study meeting seemed to the farmers to be a lecture in politics by consumers’ group representatives, who had been involved in various opposition movements in the city. He remembers that at the end of the meeting many of the farmers left feeling that they would not be able to work together because the ideological differences between the two groups were too great.

One of the consumers’ group women who had attended the meeting in question suspected that some of the men resented the politically provocative language the women used to express their principled determination to fight against the construction of the proposed golf course. One of the farm women told me that some of the older farmers, born and raised with patriarchal beliefs, dislike women who “act as if they know more about politics than men do and try to order men around.” A Miyoshi Producers’ Group farmer told me that her sister, a farm wife like herself, had been involved in a local movement opposing the construction of a golf course resort complex near her village in Shizuoka Prefecture for more than three years. She said that because most of the farmers in the Miyoshi-Tokyo Co-partnership did not have relatives or know of anyone involved in struggles against resort development, their views on golf course development tended to reflect those of the mainstream media, adding:

Sure, they read the articles in the co-partnership journals and newsletters by consumers’ group women involved in anti-golf course activities. Some of the farmers even talked to anti-golf course activists about their experiences when they visited the group and stayed at “Everyone’s House.” But most of the farmers didn’t think much about golf courses, one way or the other, because the issue had never directly affected them. That’s why, when this golf course issue came up here, most of the farmers weren’t too concened at first.

In my case, my sister’s struggle against resort development had influenced me quite a lot. When the consumers’ group formed an anti-golf course action committee and asked us to form a farmers’ golf course opposition committee in March 1988, I was one of the first farmers to volunteer. I knew it was not going to be easy convincing some of the farmers of the necessity to oppose the golf course project with all our united energy, but I knew that we had to have all the farmers in the group actively involved in the opposition if we were to succeed.

As the farmers’ involvement in the movement progressed, they came to see the differences between themselves and the urban consumers (some of which they thought irreconcilable) as prejudices inculcated from childhood, part of a divide-and-rule strategy of the dominant classes. They came to see the rural-urban dichotomy and class-based divisions as an unnatural and imposed separation of people with common interests and a shared social vision who were attempting to reshape society from the grassroots. Many farmers who had previously harbored resentments against “political women” came to see the male-female split also as another aspect of the dominant culture’s divide-and-rule strategy.

One farmer in his mid-50s told me that he had never opposed the authorities in his life and that if someone had told him (before the golf course issue had come up) that he would someday be involved in activities that opposed local political decisions, he would have laughed in their face. He then admitted:

Looking back, I can see how much the consumers’ influence affected my way of looking at things. Before, I thought that protesting environmental pollution was only for people with time on their hands who needed to get involved in some kind of “hobby” (shumi ) activity. Now, I see the direct connection between water pollution, soil erosion, deforestation, golf courses, resort development, and farming. I now realize the need for each and every one of us to take a stand and fight to protect not only our livelihoods, but the health and well-being of our children and grandchildren.

The co-partnership consumers and farmers agreed to an initial strategy of obtaining signatures of village residents opposed to the construction of a golf course resort. Within six months, after a house-to-house campaign, more than 1,700 people had signed the petition demanding the cancellation of construction plans and it was delivered to the village assembly. The assembly announced its decision to reject the development proposal in March 1989.

However, the victory was short-lived. In April 1990, the then governor of Chiba Prefecture, Numata Takeshi, announced a prohibition of chemical use on golf courses in the prefecture. With this ban, he hoped that opposition activities throughout the prefecture would cease and development plans would no longer be hindered. Critics pointed out that the bill prohibiting the use of chemicals was a sham since it did not require measures for inspection or penalties for non-compliance.

Emboldened by the governor’s support, Sobu Development Corporation circulated its own petition calling for the construction of the golf course and obtained 2,100 signatures by January 1991. The previous decision to reject construction plans was overruled by the village assembly in March 1991. Mizoguchi Hitoshi, an elected JCP (Japan Communist Party) member of the village assembly and one of the Miyoshi Producers’ Group farmers, immediately distributed copies of the official announcement to build the golf course to co-partnership members, thus reactivating the opposition movement.


Golf Course Rice Paddy Purchase

Co-partnership members formed an ad hoc committee in March 1991 made up of both farmer and consumer members to formulate new strategies to stop the golf course. One effective strategy was the decision to buy 1,500 square meters (about 1/3 acre) of land determined by the committee to be of strategic importance.

One of the Miyoshi Producers’ Group farmers had been contacted by a non-group farmer who informed him that the developers had offered to buy three abandoned rice fields located in a narrow valley leading up to the proposed golf course site from him. This farmer was on good terms with the co-partnership farmers and supported their opposition to the proposed golf course. A thorough examination of the construction plans by committee members revealed that the developers intended to construct a catchment pond at that location. The three rice fields were ideally situated to act at a drainage pond to catch the surface run-off of possibly toxic chemicals. No alternative sites for a catchment pond were available, and if the developers could not acquire this land, the plans for the resort would have to be completely redrawn at an estimated cost of ¥100 million ($1 million).

In June 1991, the Miyoshi Producers’ Group farmers jointly bought the 1,500 square meters of remote upland rice paddies for ¥6 million ($60,000), twice the going rate for prime lowland rice paddies. The consumers’ group agreed to supply the labor needed to prepare the fields, transplant the seedlings, and harvest the rice crop.

The consumers and farmers worked these fields together from 1991 through the harvest of 1993. Participating in the harvest of 1993 in which about 20 consumers’ group members and 15 farmers worked together, I found everyone to be in high spirits as victory in the opposition was anticipated. Since 1994, the farmers have rented the rice paddies to Kobayashi Noriko, who ran as the opposition candidate in the mayoral election of 1991 (see below). The “rent” amounts to a “taste” of the rice crop and about a case of beer a year.


Meeting With Other Farmers Opposing Golf Courses

A number of consumers’ group members had been involved in local struggles against the construction of golf courses in Saitama and Chiba Prefectures, and many of the women who had participated in those struggles felt a need to form a network serving as an umbrella organization to bring together groups opposing specific golf courses. One of the consumers’ group women actively involved in the attempt to form a national network explained that she (along with others) felt it important for farmers to have the opportunity to meet and talk with other farmers involved in anti-golf course struggles nationwide. Through consultations with various groups, the first national forum on the issue of golf courses was held in November 1988 in Tokyo and the National Liaison Council on the Issue of Golf Course Resorts was formally established. Two nationwide organizations whose coordinating roles in organizing the national network were pivotal were the Japan Organic Agriculture Association (JOAA) and Seikyo, the Japan Consumers’ Cooperatives Union (JCCU).

Although there was less than three months for preparation, more than 200 participants from 19 prefectures attended the inaugural meeting. More than 400 people from 37 prefectures attended the second meeting in April 1989, and the third meeting, held in Kobe, attracted more than 700 participants from 43 prefectures. Miyoshi Consumers’ Group members involved in local struggles attended all the meetings. Local campaigns against golf course development were thus no longer isolated, and activists nationwide were able to meet in order to discuss strategies and encourage each other in their struggles.

The Miyoshi Producers’ Group farmers sent a delegation of four farmers to the 1990 national meetings in Kobe. One of the Miyoshi farmers offered the following comments:

The farmers we met at those meetings sounded a lot like some of the consumers in our co-partnership. They were talking about social justice, and farmers’ rights to farm, and everyone’s right to clean water, and political corruption, and the rich getting richer, and the evils of uncontrolled capitalism. At first, it was shocking for us to hear other farmers talking like that. After the study sessions, we would drink [sake and beer] with the other farmers and that’s when we knew that they were farmers, just like us. They were just trying to survive as farmers and were at the same time concerned for the health of their families. They said that they couldn’t fight alone and that they needed to build coalitions with as many different groups of people opposed to golf course construction as possible in order to win.

Another point that impressed me was made by one of the farmers from Nara Prefecture. He said that the farmers there weren’t really concerned with the proposed construction of a golf course at first. None of them golfed so they figured it had nothing to do with them. It wasn’t until they started receiving leaflets at home, stuffed into their mailboxes, and handouts passed out at train and bus stations by a local citizen’s group opposed to the golf course construction that they began to become interested. And it took a lot of time before the farmers became actively involved and actually formed a farmers’ opposition group. He said that if they hadn’t joined forces with the local citizen’s group, they wouldn’t have known where to begin, and that only by working together with as many different groups of people as possible can we hope to stop further golf course construction in Japan.

After viewing an NHK television documentary program that described the golf course opposition activities of local farmers in Yamazoe Village in Nara Prefecture in the spring of 1991, the Miyoshi Producers’ Group decided to send a delegation of four farmers to meet with the farmers there. One of the farmers who visited the opposition farmers in Yamazoe Village stated:

When they [the farmers of Yamazoe Village involved in the opposition movement] took us to the site of the golf course, I was shocked. They [the developers] were almost finished with the construction of the course, and the tops of the hills had been leveled and all the trees were gone. I could see with my own eyes what was in store for the Momeiri Hills of Miyoshi if a golf course were built there. The farmers showed us the water in their rice paddies and it was red from the chemical runoff! I recorded it all on video and showed it to everyone when we returned.

I was told by an organic farmer from Ogawa-machi in Saitama Prefecture who had just written a book about opposition to golf courses in Japan that so-called “red water” is invariably detected flowing out of surface water drainage works at all golf courses in Japan four or five years after construction. This is because during golf course construction in Japan, felled trees are buried intact, and mountain soils with a high iron and manganese content are dug to depths of up to 50 meters and used as soil fill to create level playing terrain. This procedure forms extraordinarily high levels of humic acid which when mixed with the chloride disinfectant used on golf courses, changes into trihalmethane, a known carginogen.

By the summer of 1991, the consumers and farmers of the co-partnership had put up billboards opposing the construction of the golf course in front of “Everyone’s House” and in the fields of Yamana Hamlet and the neighboring hamlets of Ebishiki, Yamashita, and Masuma, all within Miyoshi Village boundaries. They also put up billboards in Zushigaya Hamlet, Town of Maruyama, where one of the farmers’ group members lived. With volunteer labor, the co-partnership decided to publish a weekly four-page opposition movement newsletter to be inserted in the local newspaper and delivered to the 1,200 households in the village of Miyoshi. A consumers’ group contingency fund of ¥300,000 ($3,000) was drawn from to pay for the cost of paper, printing, and delivery of the newsletters. A total of 64 issues of news updates on the anti-golf course struggle were delivered to village residents before the developers gave up the plan and closed down their office in Tateyama to return to their main office in Tokyo in March 1993.

The Miyoshi Producers’ Group farmers had met with farmers in other areas of Japan fighting against the construction of golf course resorts and had fully committed themselves to defeating the proposal to build one in Miyoshi. Their enthusiastic commitment convinced many Miyoshi residents to support the farmers in their opposition.


Miyoshi Village Mayoral Election

Since the incumbent mayor supported the plans to build a golf course, the co-partnership members decided to run their own candidate. However, a local resident willing to run for the office of mayor could not be found. Wada Hiroyuki, founding member of the producers’ group and respected leader of the community, feared conflict with some of his relatives living in the village if he ran as an opposition candidate and was forced (through familial pressure) to turn down the nomination. Mizoguchi Hitoshi, a member of the producers’ group, also turned down the offer of nomination as he felt that it was important for him to continue as an elected representative on the Miyoshi Village Assembly. He was elected to his fourth four-year term as a Japan Communist Party village assembly representative in the fall of 1993.

It was not until two days before the official deadline to submit the necessary paperwork that the opposition group found a person willing to enter the contest for mayor. Her name was Kobayashi Noriko, a relative newcomer to the village who had moved to Miyoshi from Yokohama with her husband in order to pursue their interest in farming organically. Most of the farmers in the opposition group felt that her status as a “newcomer” would be an asset since, as one farmer put it, “No local toes would be stepped on.”

The farmers and consumers actively involved in the golf course oppositon hastily set up election headquarters at “Everyone’s House,” and called a press conference at Tateyama City Hall to announce the candidacy. They carefully prepared a statement that clearly stated the reasons behind the decision to oppose the incumbent mayor, and all the prefectural newspapers carried the story of the “anti-golf course mayoral candidate.”

The farmers and consumers of the co-partnership put up election posters, distributed campaign leaflets door-to-door, and drove vehicles with loud speakers throughout the village announcing the candidacy of Kobayashi Noriko for the upcoming election. The village held the election in September 1991, one week after Ms. Kobayashi announced her candidacy. Ms. Kobayashi received 812 votes against the incumbent’s 2,090. This was an amazing accomplishment, since it usually takes a year (and a prodigious amount of money) to prepare for and run an election campaign.

Both farmers’ group and consumers’ group members expressed satisfaction with the results; they had not expected more than 500 votes for the opposition candidate, with about 200 votes coming from family members of the Miyoshi Producers’ Group. With so many village residents opposed, they felt that it would be difficult for the developers to go ahead with construction plans. One farmer in her late-50s told me how gratified she felt when she heard the election results. She explained:

I was really nervous going door-to-door talking with people I didn’t even know. But I knew it was for the good of the whole village. That’s what kept me going. I feel good having stood up for my beliefs. I think a lot of people around here feel closer to each other because we ended up taking a stand together.

Despite the local opposition, approval at the prefectural level to begin construction of the golf course in Miyoshi was announced formally by the village assembly on December 15, 1991. Within two months of the announcement, the anti-golf course activists initiated a course of action that turned out to be one of their most effective opposition strategies: symbolically selling trees on privately-held forested land within the proposed golf course boundaries to supporters of the opposition movement. Since the trees held in the legally-bound trust could not be cut down for a period of seven years, this tactic proved to be the developer’s nightmare come true.


Standing Tree (Tachiki) Trust

Suzuki Akira and his wife Fumiko were former consumer members of the Miyoshi-Tokyo Co-partnership who moved to Miyoshi in 1983. As Mr. Suzuki explained:

We joined the co-partnership in 1981 and started to come to the village on weekends to help with the farmwork. At first, we both experienced culture shock. The lifestyle was so different from what we were used to in the city. After about two years of spending our weekends at ‘Everyone’s House,’ we decided that we wanted to try farming ourselves and we moved out here. We rented a house in Tateyama from one of the Miyoshi Producer Group farmer’s older brother for ¥6,000 ($60) a month and started growing our own food, getting advice from the farmers. We built our log house here in Miyoshi in 1988 on land we rent from Sugita Shoji [a Miyoshi Producers’ Group farmer] for ¥10,000 ($100) a year. He’s been very generous to us. I think [laughing] it has to do with the fact that we introduced him to the woman he married, a friend of ours from Tokyo. We’re very happy our here. The stress of life in the city was getting to us, and it’s a wonderful place for our son to grow up in. That’s why when we heard of the proposal to build a golf course here, we knew we had to get involved in the opposition. We were part of the opposition right from the start [in 1988] and we started looking into tactics used by other groups opposing golf courses in Japan.

On February 6, 1992, Mr. and Mrs. Suzuki held a meeting at their house in Yamana Hamlet to discuss the adoption and implementation of the Tachiki Trust tactic with other key participants in the opposition. Wada Hiroyuki, Mizoguchi Hitoshi, and Ishihata Noriko of the Miyoshi Producers’ Group; Kobayashi Noriko, the mayoral candidate; and several consumer members of the co-partnership, along with several local residents were present. Mr. Suzuki had visited the Tokyo office of the National Liaison Council on the Issue of Golf Course Resorts and had obtained literature explaining how the Tachiki Trust works and examples of its use in other parts of Japan. After perusing the literature together, everyone at the meeting agreed that implementing the Tachiki Trust as an opposition tactic was an excellent idea. The Miyoshi Village Mountain Trust Committee was formed at the meeting with Wada Hiroyuki as Chair and Suzuki Akira as Secretary/Treasurer.

Unlike previous trusts in which the land itself was parceled and sold to supporters opposing development schemes, with the Tachiki Trust the living trees on the land were to be held in trust. The trust prohibits the cutting down of any trees held in trust for a period of seven years, and it can then be renewed for another period of seven years. Putting trees in trust rather than the land itself was much less expensive and required much less paperwork. Minami Shuji, a farmer/musician living in the moutains of Gifu Prefecture, is given the credit for introducing the idea of the Tachiki Trust in 1989. The Miyoshi Tachiki Trust (the first in Chiba Prefecture) was modeled on the 1990 Tachiki Trust movement in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture.

Mr. and Mrs. Suzuki started going door-to-door with “hanko” (signature seal), contracts, and cash in hand. In the first week following the meeting, they managed to convince four landowners to support the golf course opposition movement by putting the trees on their land in trust. There was a frenzy of activity at “Everyone’s House” as consumer and farmer members of the co-partnership made wooden signs the size of road signs to post at the four initial trust sites, made wooden labels about six inches by twelve inches in size to attach to the trees, and wrote messages on the wooden labels that they had bought. The farmers took time off from their farmwork in turns to clear a path to the four sites located in the remote mountain forest. Mr. Suzuki contacted the members of the press in Tateyama and called the major television studios in Tokyo inviting them to attend and record the first Tachiki Trust labeling in Chiba Prefecture that was to be held on February 13, 1992. Several newspaper reporters interviewed the Suzukis at their house, and local papers carried news stories of the upcoming event.

On February 13, an NHK (national public television network) film crew taped the Tachiki Trust labeling event in the Momeiri Hills of Miyoshi. Children as well as adults took part in the first demonstration of “labeling” trees, and by the end of the day, 123 trees at four sites had wooden signs attached to them with the names and addresses of purchasers written on them. Many had messages written on them as well, such as one by a seven-year-old boy that simply stated, “Let’s grow together!” NHK broadcast the news tape twice that day during prime viewing time, at 6:15pm and again at 9:00pm. Within a week, the Miyoshi Village Mountain Trust Committee had received telephone calls from 373 people nationwide who had seen the televised broadcast, and they purchased 1,078 trees at ¥1,500 ($15) a tree.

Within six months, a total of 17 landowners with 7.53 hectares (18.6 acres) of land located at 33 sites scattered about the proposed golf course had agreed to join the Miyoshi Tachiki Trust movement. Sobu Development Corporation officials found themselves in a quandary; they could not continue negotiations with other landowners because of the pockets of resistance by the landowners associated with the Tachiki Trust movment within the proposed golf course site. The developers vacated their office in Tateyama in March 1993, and the Miyoshi Village Mountain Trust Committee stopped accepting offers to buy trees at that time. The golf course proposal was officially defeated in March 1994 when the contract to begin construction expired. Co-partnership members had bought more than 1,000 trees, and a total of 3,330 trees had been placed in trust by more than 2,000 individuals representing 1,451 families nationwide.

By 1996, the Tachiki Trust tactic to oppose development was being used at more than 100 locations throughout Japan. The strategy is now being implemented to oppose not only golf course resorts but also winter ski resorts and oceanside resorts, nuclear power plants, expressways, expansion of military facilities, and garbage dump sites.



The example of the Miyoshi-Tokyo Co-partnership clearly reveals the efficacy of urban consumers uniting with organic farmers in a long-term relationship based on equality and trust. Farmers are able to survive as full-time farmers and consumers are able to have a direct connection to the land that produces the food they consume. Both farmers and consumers are able to expand their horizons and engage in a variety of activities that they would not have the opportunity (or, in some cases, inclination) to participate in otherwise. Working together toward an alternative vision of what Japan can become, participants are engaged in concrete actions to create new cultural values and new social relationships that challenge the dominant culture’s socio-political assumptions.

As the golf course example illustrates, the Miyoshi-Tokyo Co-partnership members entered the political arena and raised the consciousnesses of other residents beyond short-term economic self-interests to encompass long-term environmental and social concerns. Both farmers’ group and consumers’ group members were able to exert an influence on each other, and after the ironing out of differences, were able to act collectively. The organizational strength and effective use of the mass media in turn encouraged others, whether in the city or the country, to become involved, either directly or indirectly. The experience strengthened the bonds between the farmers and the consumers. They fought collectively and were able to realize their collective goal: to halt the proposed golf course.