Aightowa-An Inspiration in Living Sustainably


Welcome to Aightowa

            Our first full day in Kyoto we took a trip to visit Professor Armstrong’s host parents from her time as a student in the city.  The visit to Aightowa (the name of their property) turned out to be my favorite event of our tour of Japan.  Morisan Sensei has spent over fifty years creating a sustainable lifestyle that I found truly inspiring, and has further developed theories to apply his philosophies to communities and businesses.  His wife is a master doll artist and not only sells some of the finest dolls in Japan, but runs classes and doll making groups.  Between the incredible stories this couple had to share, the beautiful property they lived on, and the stunning landscape surrounding us, I would venture so far as to say this day changed my life.

I love being in the mountains. A lot.

I love being in the mountains. A lot.

            I was first struck by the beauty of where we were on the walk from the train station to Aightowa.  Getting off the train was the first time I felt like we were actually in the mountains, and immediately I felt at home. Ahead, the earth sprawled majestically skyward, while behind us the valley revealed terraces of rooftops extending toward more mountains in the hazy distance.  The neighborhood we were passing through was a bit more suburban then the densely packed concrete and neon jungles we had previously spent much our time in, and I found myself highly appreciative of the more traditional architecture and more frequent appearances of nature. Along the way, we ventured through a small bamboo forest, and I found myself completely shocked at how tall the stalks grew!

I love being in forests. A lot.  I now know that bamboo forests are no exception

I love being in forests. A lot. I now know that bamboo forests are no exception.

            When we arrived at Aightowa I instantly felt like this was somewhere I belonged.  The seamless integration of nature with the living space was exactly what I had envisioned when I thought about sustainability in Japan and was inspired to apply for this trip.  As Morisan Sensei described to us his vision and how his property reflected that vision, I was constantly reminded of the life my Mom created for my sisters and I at home and became increasingly convinced that this was the lifestyle I wanted to return to.  The general idea is that one produces as much as possible to meet his or her own needs.  Morisan Sensei was the first Japanese citizen to purchase solar panels for his own personal use nineteen years ago (an act that first brought him into the spotlight as a pioneer of sustainability).  A moderately sized, self-tended garden provides a significant amount of the food consumed at Aightowa, some of the plants are used to shelter the car port, and other deciduous trees are used to provide shade in the summer and sunlight in the winter.  Dead or trimmed logs are used in the fungal garden or as seats, multiple compost piles allow for disposal of all wastes effectively.  Everything has a purpose.  The woodstove provides heat for the house as well as cooking, although it does not live up to Mother’s six stove top woodstove.  I wish I could list all the incredible innovations Morisan Sensei had come up with to create and reuse as many of his own resources as possible, but it would take hours (our own tour took nearly two hours, and that was with visual aids)!

A portion of the vegetables grown at Aightowa.

A portion of the vegetables grown at Aightowa.

            What I can do is relay some of the philosophy Morisan Sensei shared with us as we gathered in the house.  The key to sustainable living, he claimed, is combining older modes of living as generalists and in strong communities with modern technology.  I have always envisioned Japan as the epicenter of such blending of ancient tradition with modernization, hence my interest in traveling there, so I was taken aback to learn that Morisan Sensei is unique among the Japanese for having such views.  To demonstrate how his style of sustainable living makes sense, Morisan Sensei divided human history into three ages: Primitive, Agricultural, and Industrial.  He had a lot to say about each of these ages, but the takeaway point was that in the industrial age we had developed the technology for mass production, but no longer held regard for the finite resources provided to us by the earth that we had in earlier ages.  He posited that if we re-attained an appreciation for and cognizance of these limited resources, we could combine that with modern technology to enter a fourth age, which he dubbed the Age of Awareness.

The Shinto religion worships the myriad Gods that exist throughout the natural world

The Shinto religion worships the myriad Gods that exist throughout the natural world

            The way Morisan Sensei proposed this society shift should take place is what really changed my outlook on life.  Simply put, he suggested that if we began to draw our happiness from what we create, rather than what we consume, we can reach the age of awareness.  This seemingly simple idea seemed to sum up a philosophy I have been trying to form for years, but was unable to put into words; our standard of living has far exceeded what we need to be comfortable and happy, but we remain dissatisfied because of our need to consume more.  Of course, such a shift in perception in impeded by layers of media portrayals and corporate motivations plastered on so thick it is hard to see the other side, but I believe it can be done.  I can look up to my mom, and the happiness she draws from her small farm, even when it requires five hours of her attention after a nine hour workday.  I can take ideas and inspiration from Morisan Sensei and his wife, who use profits from selling dolls (some of which go for upward of $10,000!) to become more sustainable, because it is artistry and self-reliance that make them happy. I can make changes to my own life and share it with others and start making these societal changes.

Some Beuatiful dolls wave hello or farewell as you enter or leave Aightowa

Some Beuatiful dolls wave hello or farewell as you enter or leave Aightowa

            Ok, so maybe I am being a bit idyllic, but these ideas really gel with my life philosophies, and have helped me to solidify some of my beliefs, and I really do intend to start living by some of them.  I have already reached out to my friends Tara and Craig about their work with eating healthier and more sustainably (you can go read their awesome blog The College Greens).  I probably won’t go vegan as they have, but I can certainly start finding foods grown locally and by companies not driven by profit to the cost of the future (Craig and Tara, hold me to this).  Anyway, I wish I could convey everything I learned in my five or so hours at Aightowa, but I hope I was able to convey how cool this lifestyle is and how it has influenced me in this (somewhat) short space!

Looking down the mountain from Aightowa provides a host of stunning views!

Looking down the mountain from Aightowa provides a host of stunning views!


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