A Healthy Way of Life? [part 1]

Brian Covert

Tsu, Mie Prefecture — Sundown on a chilly Sunday, and while the outside world is enjoying the last few hours of the weekend, Hans Wuthrich is hurriedly driving a forklift back and forth. The middle-aged Swiss is busy loading crates of vegetables he’s helped grow onto trucks that will carry the produce to various parts of Japan. Just inside the warehouse behind Hans are a half-dozen Japanese women attired in gloves and dark-blue work duds, vigorously wrapping homegrown broccoli into plastic baggies.

It’s shipping time at
Yamagishi-kai, and by 8 p.m. all company trucks are dispersed to locations from Kyushu to Hokkaido, spreading what Yamagishi members hope will be a wholesome message to the hungry consumers of the land.

What is Yamagishi?

From an outsider’s view Yamagishi can be described as at least three entities: a company, a philosophy and a way of life (a fourth category, ‘an enigma’, will be expanded on later).

Yamagishi-kai, the company, is an independent agricultural organization that raises its own cattle, pigs and poultry, develops its own line of pantry products, and then sells the whole lot on the open market for profit. All proceeds are reportedly used to expand the company’s operations even further and in greater numbers throughout Japan.

What makes Yamagishi products so special? Members say the secret lies in the continuous farming cycle whereby animal and chicken excrement are used as crop fertilizers, which in turn make for healthy feed for the animals. But it’s more than just a matter of manure, say inhabitants of the Yamagishi collective, or ‘village’. It has more to do with the actual human feelings that go into making the products. When consumers eat Yamagishi vegetables or ice cream, for example, they are getting the proper nutrients as well as the ‘love’ that goes into producing the items.

Yamagishi-kai has an estimated 38 such ‘villages’ nationwide that develop the marketable products from start to finish — the largest being here in Kansai’s backyard — and just as many additional locations that serves as distribution outposts. The Yamagishi village here is massive. The Yamagishi-kai staff did not disclose the actual size in hectares but they did point out that there was even more ‘village-owned’ property out of sight beyond nearby hills.

About 700 people are said to live and work at the Mie training site. Most of those people are responsible for taking care of 150,000 chickens, 10,000 pigs, 2,000 beef cattle, 700 milk cows and 12 hectares of vegetables. The whole farm operation is no different from typical farms of the West. Except for one factor: resident workers receive no salary at all for their labor, though it must be said they have no bills to pay either.

Which is where Yamagishi-ism, the philosophy, comes in. This kind of no-pay, no-fee system is likely to elicit the label of ‘commune’ from the average Westerner, but Yamagishi representatives are quick to reject that stereotype. “It’s not a commune at all, but more like a village,” said Miyachi Masayuki, a public relations tour guide. “We are like one big family.” The 700 residents are referred to in Japanese as
murabito, village people. There is no need for individual family names, so only first names are used in everyday contact among the village people.

Like most other philosophic ‘isms’, Yamagishi-ism is an abstract concept. “Yamagishi-ism is not something that can be expressed in words,” says Masayuki, father of two children and a long-time resident of the village. “It’s something that has to be felt.” Other village people agree: try to explain Yamagishi-ism and the essence is instantly lost.

For discussion’s sake, however, Yamagishi-ism is synonymous with a non-religious, non-political state of perfect harmony among human beings, the ultimate state of unselfishness, an inner realization of one’s very consciousness. Wakabayashi Kimiko, a middle-aged women who served as tour guide, personally feels that Yamagishi-ism resembles Buddhism, but without the religious overtones. Whatever else it may be, Yamagishi-ism forms the foundation for the third category, Yamagishi as a ‘way of life.’

The Yamagishi way of life was created as a model society — what the rest of Planet Earth should be, but isn’t. “We are doing well on our own, but we’re still small — just one point on the globe,” says Masayuki. “We hope this will be a model for the whole world to follow. Our ultimate goal is to make the world one village, with no borders between countries.” Villagers assert that what distinguishes Yamagishi-ism from other vague ‘-isms’ is the fact that their version works.

They point out that no money means no greed; everyone takes only what they need, including free medical and dental care. Adults and children are taught social responsibility and mutual cooperation through their daily chores. There are never any arguments, villagers attest, since they form one big, happy family. Hans, the amiable Swiss, goes on to say that the Yamagishi way of life is an education in itself, especially for children: “It’s something they can use every day, not just filling their heads with a lot of facts.” Children make up about 270 of the total Yamagishi population, while adults number about 330 and foreigners, 15.

A typical day at Yamagishi differs depending on one’s sex and age. For women like Anne Marie, a young, soft-spoken Swiss mother, and Chang, a Chinese girl who has lived at Yamagishi about one year, it may mean spending the day doing typical ‘women’s jobs’ such as babysitting, cooking meals, cleaning rooms or doing laundry. High school-aged girls might be found weeding vegetable fields or other lighter work.

Adult men like Hans are put in charge of the more rugged duties such as driving trucks and tractors. High school-aged boys may spend the day milking cows and trampling through cattle manure. And younger adolescents might be assigned to jobs like feeding the chickens. Overall, the Yamagishi way of life places heavy emphasis on total cooperation and knowing one’s place in the family structure.

The workday runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. It revolves around the two daily meals — the main one being a hefty dinner and the other being a light lunch. Breakfast is skipped altogether.

As for education, the Yamagishi way of life includes elementary and high school studies; the junior high school students attend public or private schools outside the village. Kindergarten children stay with their parents each night, while the other youths stay in designated dormitories and meet their parents maybe once every two weeks. The purpose of this separated “Children’s World,” as it is called, is to allow youths a more open-minded upbringing.

“Children grow up with too many ‘don’ts’ from their parents,” explains Hans, who is a father himself and has lived in the village for 10 years. The Yamagishi way of life, on the other hand, allows youngsters to grow up without being bombarded by the unnecessary parental dogmas that children in the outside world have to suffer. The Yamagishi youths are taught to look inward to themselves regarding life’s mysteries, Hans says, rather than seeking answers from external sources.