Looking for a place to live in the countryside of Japan and learn/share traditional skills? Want to work and be part of a community based on subsistence living and care for seniors?
Yo’s parents are starting a “community of care” in the mountains of Nakadori island, in the Goto Archipelago off the western coast of Nagasaki. They have already lived there practicing a largely self-sufficient lifestyle for more than 30 years, and are now undertaking this big project. Utano san has had several books published on the subject of countyside and self-sufficient living, and taught a university course for years on that same topic.
Rather than me describing everything, I’ve pasted the main text below. The English version was created from Yo’s father’s text, and some areas are more of an interpretation than a word for word translation.
The original Japanese version is in a separate post.
Farm and Care
—Making an agrarian community with care and support—
The goal is to make a community. A community that centers around seniors’ care and is based on subsistent or small scale farming. It is in Hironta valley in the center of Kamigoto island, on the west end of Japan.
We are looking for these future members:
- Nursing home residents
- Independent seniors’ house residents
There are two main reasons why I started planning this. One is to have a base to pass on the skills for self-sufficiency. When we moved to this valley, the community had already been mostly abandoned, with just two families living a very quiet life. In the 30 years since then, we have learned to make our life with our hands. Each skill is nothing compared to that of professionals, such as a fully trained carpenter, a sake brewing master, or a charcoal master. But we have acquired multiple skills just enough to produce what we need. This is a very important point to me. Today, the dominant system has revealed so many holes and is on the verge of collapsing. It becomes critical that each one of us knows how to make the necessities of life, rather than money. The skills we have gained in the past 30 years might offer an alternative to living in the city and working for salaries.
Another personal reason has to do with caring for my wife’s aunt who has alzheimer’s disease at home. We had known that we would eventually have her with us and I have no problem with that, but it would also be nice to have a facility that better accommodates her condition. We also have been involved in the only hospice care home in the island, and have witnessed that seniors at the terminal stage could spend the last period happily, or even gain back some energy, in a small cozy home such as this. Communal, homy atmosphere is what I imagine for the care facility.
In addition to these personal purposes, I hope to offer a sort of breakthrough for the local economy. Fishing, the biggest industry, has been declining and the town has depended on large subsidized construction projects for employment. Whether local or national, the government’s strategies to stimulate the economy are always dirty and short-sighted, and it crushes the form of economy that is more traditional to the local area. With population decreasing and aging, a stagnant mood has been hanging like a cloud over the island for a long time. It makes us an easy target for the government to potentially invite nasty facilities with a big sum of money like a nuclear waste dumpsite. It is these times when we feel the need for a project that is rooted in the island and run by the locals. With it we can say “we don’t want such facilities, we don’t want such employment, we don’t want such money”.
For that, we need a change. We need to see the problem differently, reevaluate the local assets, and reconnect to the lifestyle that is rooted in the given environment. Aging and declining population is a difficult issue, but there should be a way to live with it. Sure, it’s a remote island with certain inconveniences, but many of its assets are underused or undiscovered. Keys to sustainability and health can be found in the lifestyle that used to be common here.
Three communities in the central part of Nakadoori island (Shinkamigoto town); Oozera, Akaigasako, and Hironta. There are currently only a few households in each, mostly seniors. Being far from the town centre, the residents have lived without much modern convenience. They obtained food from their garden, fuels from the woods, and made simple household goods out of what they could find. This culture is going to die out as the residents move to town with their children, to a care facility, or die. Together with abandoned farm fields, we hope to revive the lifestyle as much as possible.
Resources in the area
- Abandoned houses
- Abandoned fields
- Abandoned forests (cedar and cypress, planted. camellia, indigenous)
- A meat processing facility (currently used for pork, deer, and wild boar processing)
- Crop cultivation (grains, fruits and vegetables, trees that fit the land)
- Animal keeping (pigs and chickens)
- The Recycled Cotton Studio (old cotton hand spun, hand dyed and hand woven/knitted)
- Food processing (miso, soy sauce, preserves, dried food, camellia seed oil, meat products, alcohol)
- Energy (charcoal, firewood)
- Construction (log building)
Resources outside of the valley (facilities not used anymore)
- Lumber mill
- Iron/steel work facility
- Stone work tools
- Fishing boats
- Fish farming tools
Step 1: Building a nursing facility and independent seniors’ houses
The plan is to have a nursing/hospice care home (the main home) surrounded by independent seniors residences, and kitchens, gardens, and animals in the vicinity. Residents and staff teach and support each other to operate the community as a whole. In the main home, there will be an open space that is shared by seniors, people with disability, and after school kids and toddlers.
The idea is to have all sorts of basic food production happen in the community where many old people, not so old people, some young people and kids hang out.
Independent seniors’ residences (with support)
- 5~10 houses, 30~50 square meters each (1 or 2 bedrooms)
- Built with local lumber
- Residents have lifetime rights to live in the house, and move to the main home when necessary
The main home
- A multi-purpose facility including hospice care equipped for patients at the terminal stage of cancer, or with dementia/alzheimer’s
- Shared open space with a cafeteria, a kiosk, a library space, a hand craft space, etc. Also open to local seniors to hang out
- Private rooms, about 18 square meters each
- 24 hour care and support
- A visiting nursing station
Day-care/after school centre, mini free school (within the main home)
- An inexpensive daycare service for the staff or local families
- Spaces and programs for kids with autism or other mental conditions
Workplace for people with disabilities
- Work includes growing vegetables and grains, keeping animals, curing/processing meat, cooking and preserve making, all paid
- Products are consumed in the community or sold outside
- Housing is available in restored abandoned houses. Shared/group home style
- Project manager (1)
- Care workers (10)
- Nurse (1)
- Support staff for disability work place and independent seniors’ residences (2~3)
- Accountant (1)
- Cooking/cleaning staff (1 + a few part-timers)
Construction scale and costs
- Land (about 1,600 square meters)
- The main facility (about 450 square meters)
- Independent seniors’ residences (50 square meters each, average)
- Infrastructure (water filtering, irrigation/ponds, sewage facility, solar water heater, etc.)
- Furniture and other equipments
- Vehicles (2~3)
- Other (preparing lumber, etc.)
- Start-up cost (advertisement and communication)
- Reserve fund
55,700,000 ~ 69,000,000 yen in total
Organization (other than the care system)
- Operation is divided in sections: the vegetable farm, the chicken&pig farm, the meat&fish processing kitchen, the cafe and kiosk, each running independently. Possibly a non-profit organization at its centre.
- All sections welcome the public to be involved. Open social space is the basic principle.
Step 2: Building a real community and spreading the model
When the first step becomes stable, the next is to apply it to other areas in the island. Many remote communities are aging and fading out. Actions have to be taken within the next ten years or so if we want to keep them. We hope to see something like a centre for skill learning (traditional life skills and caring skills) where people can be trained to make a living with nursing while learning skills to connect the past to the future. Together, we hope to suggest a lifestyle of “half farming (and/or fishing), half caring/nursing.”
Underlying principles and concepts
Independent residences —key word: participatory
- Members are involved in the community building and running and work together.
- Members teach and support each other, using experiences and skills they have. (gardening, accounting, welding, fishing, music, whatever they might be. Skills for farm tools/vehicles maintenance are highly appreciated)
Care/nursing home facility —key words: dignity and home
- At the hospice care, the person’s will is valued the most. No unnecessary care to prolong death is given if they don’t wish so.
- The facility aims to be homy and open. Those who are often isolated in society —patients at the terminal stage, seniors with dementia, or people with disability—are surrounded by each other and community members.
- Meals are made with locally grown food. Good and fresh.
As a workplace and living space —key words: independent, autonomous, learning together, and know what is enough
- While making cash is often an issue of living in the country, nursing/caring work provides enough cash* (abandoned houses will be restored and rented to staff for a small amount of money. With their gardens supplying food, even partially, the need for cash is minimal).
- Staff can also grow crops to sell.
- For people with disabilities, it is a place where they practice self-support, discover their potentials, and live together with others.
- For children, it is where they learn about nature and how to live with it, acquire social skills to relate to diverse people (young and old, or with disabilities), and grow healthy both physically and emotionally.
- 4 shifts a day, 6 hours each (2 overnight staff), 5 days a week. 800 yen per hour, in the daytime, 1,000 yen in nighttime. 700 yen for part-timers
Community members wanted!
- Nursing home residents
- You will be in a quiet environment and close to nature
- In principle, unless you are at the terminal stage, you will take care of yourself as much as possible. We will of course support. The goal is to get better slowly while keeping your current physical & mental condition
- Fee varies depending of the level of care needed
- Independent seniors’ house residents
- These are individual small houses with a support system, not like high rise apartments that are common in the city.
- You buy the lifetime rights to rent in the beginning (for example, 4,000,000 yen for a one bedroom, 6,000,000 yen for a 2 bed room, if left within 5 years, 50% refund, within 10 years 30%. Numbers have yet to be set)
- You are not “customers” or “service users”, but community members. We will value each other’s skills and experiences, and work together so the community is sustained. Working or volunteering is possible
- For those who are drawn to a self sufficient lifestyle or living in the country and/or interested in a progressive form of care/nursing.
- For those who have interest in traditional skills, sustainable living, and community building
- Families or single parents with small children are also welcome
- People with training in nursing or with other care-related licenses are appreciated
- Housing will be arranged
This project hopes to get going without any bank loans. If you support the project, please consider investing. The plan is to return the investment within five years. No interest, but we hope to send you some local products, or host you when you visit the island. You are welcome in the community when you retire.