flowful meets... Brown's Field - Macrobiotics & Natural Farming in Japan

In this episode of flowful meets… we talk to Junko Kobayashi, a member of Brown’s Field in Japan. Brown’s Field is an organic farm, a vegan café, a shop and accommodation but also has a huge educational component.

Junko lives and works at Brown’s Field that is located just 80km from Tokyo for almost two years now. Growing up in an international environment and travelling around the world for a while, she felt like it is time for her to go back to Japan to connect with her own heritage and culture, came back to Japan and found Brown’s Field.

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Junko’s journey to Brown’s Field

Junko: After traveling I was already interested in alternative and sustainable way of living, which was inspired by my stay in Australia. Such a beautiful natural environment and I was living with families that where doing natural farming. I was really inspired by them and when I went back to Japan, when I was 25, I wanted to continue to living that way. At the same time I wanted to also learn more about Japanese culture, Japanese food and Japanese heritage, and Japanese spiritual believes as well. And how our ancestors lived. So I went to look for a place where I could learn all that, and Brown’s Field came up to be the right place, because they really focus on the way how the ancestors have lived and taken back the skills and knowledge of making things with your own hands.

flowful meets... Brown's Field Japan

Flowful: Junko was helping out a friend who bought is establishing an alternative community focusing on peace making activism and permaculture called Peace and Permaculture Dojo not far from Brown’s Field and went to Brown’s Field for lunch. And this lunch was a life changing experience for her! Brown’s Field café is plant-based and as the founder of Brown’s Field, Deco Nakajima, is a famous macrobiotic chef, they just use fruits, veggies and rice from the land and from the local farmers, and they make their own miso, soy sauce and vinegar, which are essential fermented foods in Japanese cuisine. Junko decided to stay as a staff member and fully commit to the traditional yet innovative lifestyle of Brown’s Field and its macrobiotic concept.

We were so lucky to have Junko and her friend Kana coming to Gaia Ashram to volunteer! When they told us the story of Brown’s Field Lars and me were so inspired!

Macrobiotics and organic food are Brown’s Field’s starting points

Junko: A family came from Tokyo to this place in Chiba seeking to live in the countryside. That family was a macrobiotic teacher, her husband and their five children. They were living in Tokyo in a small house and because she was following macrobiotic methods and philosophy, she and her husband Everett were seeking to live organically. They wanted to feed their children organic food but buying organic food in Tokyo was really expensive and also not fresh because Tokyo does not produce that much. So you have to buy vegetables from other places and by the time it gets to Tokyo it’s not as fresh and it’s super expensive. So she realized she cannot afford to keep feeding her children. Because of that she had to work really hard to earn the money to buy organic food, and she realized this is not sustainable.

Her and her husband went to look for a place in the countryside. They decided to move and came to this place and it was an overgrowing bamboo forest which is really common in Japan (not native by the way, imported from China and highly invasive). So they moved into this old Japanese house and little by little they started fixing it up. By doing that it started to attract travelers and people that where interested in that sort of work. Around that time Everett had an idea to start hosting wwoofers.

They started making compost toilets; they started expending in the farm, started also farming rice as well. That took them maybe about 10 years about slow evolution. 10 years later, people started to come to just look at their place, just entering their property without any permission, no appointment. And they are like oh, can I just come in and have a walk around and Deco was doing her thing but because people came in and wanted to know about the place she had to stop what she was doing and explain, or maybe give a tour, or have a tea with them. She realized that she cannot go on like this, she cannot be productive that way. And she realized if people are coming to see her place and have tea, she might as well open a café.

Flowful: And so they did! With the help of the volunteers they transformed an old chicken house into a café that, in the beginning, was actually also run by the volunteers. Deco as a macrobiotic chef helped with the menu and they used the natural farming rice, the soy beans and the wheat from the land. And of course they used the homemade miso, soy sauce, vinegar, and umeboshi, which are Japanese pickled plums. They were contributing whatever was possible to the café but in the beginning it just wasn’t enough. In 2014, they became pretty much self-sufficient in rice.

Junko: Of course it depends on the year. Some year they need to buy and some years they have enough for themselves. They were also making enough miso for the whole year and they were making enough soy sauce for the whole year, enough vinegar as well. So pretty much all we need, all we needed to buy was salt and oil and maybe sugar to make the enzyme syrup with the fruits they grow. And everything else was coming from the land.

We focus on growing our own rice soy beans and wheat so we can make our own miso and soy sauce, and we can have our own organic rice grown on the land. This ingredients are the main parts of our diet. We eat rice every day, we use miso every day, we use soy sauce every day. And also we make vinegar out of the fruits that grow on our land. The vinegar is fermented by the microorganisms and the bacteria that live in the land as well, meaning that we are taking the nature’s energy directly from the land every day.  

Harvesting bamboo shoots at Brown’s Field, Japan.

Harvesting bamboo shoots at Brown’s Field, Japan.

Eating from the land combines japanese heritage and macrobiotics.

Eating from the land combines japanese heritage and macrobiotics.

The holistic concept of macrobiotics at Brown’s Field in Japan

Flowful: How amazing is that?!? Being self-sufficient is really something that I admire so much! But hearing about the holistic concept of macrobiotics really changed my perception of self-suffiency as a whole. Not only because I am so fascinated by the magic of fermentation!

Junko: In macrobiotics there are the two big philosophies. One is whole food; so you take a potato and you eat the skin and the roots as a whole because the vegetable or the living beings have their complete energy as a whole. You’re trying to take this energy as a whole and not wasting or throwing away parts of it. Another big philosophy is that you are one with the land you live in. You cannot separate yourself from the land you live in. So you try to eat locally and you want to eat something that is in season. From that idea, growing rice, making soy sauce and miso themselves from the soybeans, and wheat, and rice that grows in their land is a big part of macrobiotics. Because you’re putting the energy to grow the soy beans and you’re harvesting that and also you are fermenting miso and soy sauce with the ingredients you grow in your land and with the help of the microbes that live in your area. You are one with this environment completely

The Sustainable School of Brown’s Field is the place to go for Tokyo’s citizens that are looking for a rural and alternative lifestyle

flowful: How to become one with the environment around you and why it is important is also the key thing you learn when taking part in Brown’s Field’s Sustainable School, one of the main programs of Brown’s Field. The Sustainable School is a year program that goes from spring to autumn where 10-15 people come 1 weekend per month to Brown’s Field. 

Junko: They usually come from the city and they learn about living with the nature. So we all do planting rice together, and weeding, and harvesting the rice. You can see the whole season. We also make enzyme syrup together from the fruits that we harvest together, and also we do natural plant dyes. We do natural farming courses and we cook together every time so they can get Deco’s cooking classes as well. We also do a lot of sharing. It is a great introduction for people who want to experience the life in the countryside and also want to experience how it is to receive nature’s blessings and natural resources and use our hands to process them the way we want to use them. And giving back to the nature by doing compost or using compost toilets.

It is great because it is not just a one time workshop. You keep coming back to Brown’s Field every month so you really see a difference each season, different plants grow, different herbs grow. That is a popular program and every year we do that. The people become part of the Brown’s Field family and even after the program finishes in autumn, they are always welcome to come back. Some of them even become Brown’s Field staff, because they really fall in love with the way we live. So they quit their jobs and come to Brown’s Field.

Protecting Japanese traditional housing while using it in a modern way.

Protecting Japanese traditional housing while using it in a modern way.

Rice plays an important role in Japanese cuisine. Being able to harvest it yourself is empowering.

Rice plays an important role in Japanese cuisine. Being able to harvest it yourself is empowering.

Embraching traditional Japanese culture at Brown’s Field

Flowful: By the way, many courses and workshops takes place at Brown’s Field event space, which is a renovated and partly modernized traditional Japanese house that carries its very own story.

Junko: This is a long story but it is another part of it. It is about 250 years old. In that house there used to be an old lady living. The old lady and the wwoofers of Brown’s Field had some nice communication. In Deco’s house there was no TV and no proper heating system, so the wwoofers used to go to that grandma’s house and they would seek a warm house and watching TV. So they had some good relationships, friendships, and communication going.

One time, after the earthquake in 2011, the children of the old lady did not want her to live in that house by herself anymore and she was getting older. They invited her to come to Tokyo so that old house became available. It ended up being sold to the real-estate and they had the plan to completely wipe that property and this 250 year old Japanese house, which was still in good shape. This property had many fruit trees, which were hundreds of years old. So Deco didn't want that to happen, but she didn't have enough money to buy off the land.

Flowful: So Deco did a crowdfunding campaign and it was successful; she was able to buy the house and the land around it with all its old trees and plants that are providing the community and the café with lemons, plums, and a lot of other things. The house now is an event or workshop space that can host up to 20 people which opened up new business for Brown’s Field. They now can have big yoga retreats or big natural farming seminar/workshops, and they have people coming from all over Japan.

Brown’s Field shows the reality of living in rural Japan

Junko: People who come to Brown’s Field see us living full-time, living and working at the same time. They see us struggling with the work-life balance as well. But this is the reality. When you decide to live in a rural area and you create your own job, you do face this reality of wanting to do your own thing and working at the same. For example doing your business, coming up with your strategies and making enough money to sustain your life at the same time. We show everything to the people that come and stay with us. We do not hide anything. People get to see all the goods and the bads, and the dilemma of our life. I think, this is a great example and gives courage to people who are considering doing the same thing. At workshops at the city, they teach you how to make Miso, they teach you how to use herbal medicinal plants but you only see to get a part of it. Everything is provided for you and then they say okay, let’s make miso, let’s make herbal tea. But because everything is provided for you, you don't see how it was grown in the land or what to do after you use them. Brown’s Field is holistic in a way that people get to see everything from beginning to the end.

Brown’s Field is like a school and Deco is like a mother to everybody

Flowful: But Brown’s Field is not only inspiring and teaching people from outside. Being a staff at Brown’s Field means learning every day.

Junko: Brown’s Field is like a school and Deco is like a mother to everybody. She shares her wisdom and experience, her knowledge with us and we learn from her and also just learn ourselves by living at Brown’s Field for 2 to 3 years, usually. We learn so much about living one with the nature. Taking nature’s resources, using our hands to process, and giving back to nature. We also learn how to cook and how to choose what to cook and also how to heal ourselves using medicinal herbs, nature’s gift. We learn all that and we leave Brown’s Field with all that experience. For example, we have people graduated from Brown’s Field and now living in Hawaii. They’re now having their own jungle retreat with natural built guest house and a permaculture garden. There is also a natural farmed vegetable food truck. The guy travels around Japan, gets connected with the natural farms and he sells the natural farmed vegetables in Tokyo. Which is quite new, it was hard to get in Tokyo back then. We have a vegan chef/ teacher who used to work as Brown’s Field and now she is quite popular in creating vegan menus for magazines. She also has her own vegan cooking classes and she publishes her vegan recipe books. Furthermore, we have a couple who used to live in Brown’s Field and now they live in the mountains in the countryside. They have their own vegan products like vegan energy balls and cookies. The husband also bakes natural yeast bread. We have a variety of people who found their own passion through living in Brown’s Field and are also meeting inspiring people through Brown’s Field. They have found their own passion and now they inspire people in their own way.

Drying fruits and preserving food.

Drying fruits and preserving food.

Fun, food, and living in community.

Fun, food, and living in community.

Brown’s Field as a creative hub for Japan’s sustainable movement

Flowful: They even published a book with interviews of Brown’s Field alumnis where you can read about their experiences at Brown’s Field and how it influenced their lives.

Junko: A couple of years ago the staff at Brown’s Field had the idea to publish a book. The book is about those graduates, the alumni. The idea was to go meet them and have interviews with them to ask what their life was like at Brown’s Field. What they do now and what they learned from living in Brown’s Field. It has a lot of funny stories, lots of pictures and it also gives a history of Brown’s Field. If you go and meet those people that were at Brown’s Field at different times you get an idea of the different stages of Brown’s Field. There also are lots of recipes in the book that they recall; their favorite recipes from Brown’s Field. The book also explains about our efforts to reduce the environmental impact in our daily lives. The book was published through crowdfunding, like a preorder system. Now that the book is out, we can send the message to many people that don't have the access to come to Brown’s Field. For example if you live far away in Japan you still can get some essence about how we live and how we try to live with nature.

Japan’s way of keeping the countryside alive

Flowful: Urbanisation in Japan is crazy. When quickly researching I found a number that in 2017 over 90% of the population are living in cities. This makes crowded cities; but also empty countrysides, even more when considering the aging population. The government actually tries to approach that topic by giving empty countryside houses away for almost no money. Maybe you read about it on social media. So I’m wondering what could make a rural life attractive for people? 

Junko: I think for rural communities to attract more people is to make it more vibrant. I think we need a few very attractive projects happening in the same area. For example in our case, we have Brown’s Field in Chiba, but we also used to have a very cool bakery which only used natural yeast taken from the air. They never added any additional yeast to make their bread; they just gathered and collected the yeast from the air. So we used to have this really cool bakery and Brown’s Field. We also have another key person in our community who runs a web media. He gathers information and articles about alternative living and sustainable living and also social change. He has loads of information and knowledge. You just need a couple of attractive key people or projects and then people start to come because they want to be around those people. And then they want to start their own business, their own coffee shop, they want to start their own recycled store. New businesses start to pop up and I think eventually the whole area becomes more vibrant. But what I see in Japan in every place is when it’s becoming more vibrant and vibrant in a rural area there are always some inspiring people or projects happening. It just takes a few of them happening together to start having more people.

Growing food is so much fun and motivating.

Growing food is so much fun and motivating.

How is Brown’s Field contributing to a vibrant countryside?

Junko: I think Brown’s Field is contributing in a way by hosting people who are interested in moving to the countryside. They stay with us and see how we live. I think there are a lot of people in the cities who are thinking or considering moving to the countryside. But they just don't have the courage to make this step to quit their job and lose that financial stability. They also just don't have the skills, for example to do farming or to take the nature’s natural resources and use that for themselves. They come to Brown’s Field to see it first hand and they get an idea of how it is done. They gain courage and encouragement by just getting connected with us.

The staff that lives at Brown’s Field; we are in our 20s or in our 30s and often people who consider to move to the countryside they live in the city and they don't find people who have the same ideas or same values. They feel like they are alone and they don't have anybody they can share their ideas or concerns of the environmental impact of living in the city. So they come to Brown’s Field and find out that there are so many people or there is just a big network of people living this way already and it is not just the grandmas and grandpas that want to live in the countryside. It is also the people in the 20s and 30s having so much fun living in the countryside, even though there is no clubs and there is not hundreds of cool cafés and restaurants.

We are living happily and at the same time we are really serious about reducing the impact on the environment. People who need this kind of encouragement and a bit of a push come to Brown’s Field and they receive that from us, from Deco, and from the bigger network. Not just from Brown’s Field but also from all the people that are connected. We can give them information about where to go next. As they start their journey they eventually just feel confident to step out of the city life or their corporate life and finally move to the countryside to start their own place.

Brown’s Field makes the transition from urban to rural living easy

Flowful: Junko says that transitioning from the city to a life at Brown’s Field was easy for her also because when she committed to stay there for a few years, they already had a salary system that allows her and the other staff members to experience a different lifestyle but still generate an income.

Junko: Brown’s field went through different phases. They used to have volunteers and whatever money they raised they would divide within themselves. This was one part of how to run this place. They then made a shift to the salary system so they can have more committed people. They want people that can stay long-term, like 2 to 3 years at least, taking more responsibilities or seeing ahead. Also the longer they stay the better they get at what they do. Eventually the community starts to run smoother, also not having to keep teaching the new staff the same thing over and over. When you have a group of people that are there for 2 to 3 years, the second year or the third year the productivity goes up so much. We have the motivation to keep contributing to this place because we are getting paid. We are getting paid the same amount, what gives you some space in your creativity to try new things as well. Because if you are only getting paid the amount that you make you might want to go the non-risky direction; the direction that you know is going to be well. We’re guaranteed to get paid the same amount every month. In some months we can be creative and try new things. Maybe we change menus at the vegan café, or we can be a little bit more relaxed in some months when we don't have that many customers. We can take more time to care for ourselves and have more fun, but we are still getting paid the same amount, even though in busy months we’re still getting paid the same amount. But this is okay because in other months we were more lazy and more relaxed, so it just balances out throughout the year.

Through that experience you gain courage and you feel empowered and you feel like you have enough knowledge or experience to leave that place and start your own business.

Food, people, and love. The members of Brown’s Field are like a family.

Food, people, and love. The members of Brown’s Field are like a family.

Brown’s Field is a school of life

Flowful: I really feel that this is an amazing opportunity and a good way of finding your own way of living, and yeah, as Junko says, get the whole picture of living in the country side with all its ups and downs.

Junko: Spending 2 to 3 years is the minimum of time that you need to get this idea. Because every year it is different, right? So you have your business for the guest house or the café or having workshops to generate money and at the same time you have your farm to compensate or to grow food. So you’re really getting an idea of how much energy you want to spend on your business and how much of your energy you want to spend farming. I think spending 2 to 3 years with having this financial security is a very great opportunity. It is really like a school a school of life.

Countryside living in Japan is also fun and relaxation at Brown’s Field.

Countryside living in Japan is also fun and relaxation at Brown’s Field.

A classic in community, wood fired pizza oven.

A classic in community, wood fired pizza oven.

The theory of change

Junko said that Deco never had a vision for the place, she just really lives with the flow, she always says it’s happening to be this way. And for me, Brown’s Field theory of change carries that spirit:

In Japan, most people live in cities what disconnects them from traditional ways of living, especially from important parts of the Japanese cuisine. But there’s a change of consciousness; people become aware of the work-life balance, they are interested in more sustainable ways of living but simply don’t know how and where to start. Furthermore, organic food and veggies are hard to get in the cities of Japan.

Based on the philosophy of macrobiotics, Brown’s Field evolved into a blue print for rural living and became a knowledge hub that is preserving wisdom, heritage and traditional Japanese culture. Brown’s Field acts as en entrance point for many people that inspires and encourages people to find their own path towards a sustainable life.

By giving the opportunity to experience rural living while having the financial security, people are able to reconnect with nature, tradition and heritage. With Deco’s wisdom and knowledge about macrobiotics, natural farming and other sustainable living practices, Brown’s Field opens doors for people, may it be visitors, staff members, or course participants. And even more than that; with the strong network of alumnis of Brown’s Field, people are able to create vibrant and vivid areas throughout Japan’s countrysides.

Get in touch with us and spread the word!

So, whenever I’ll be in Japan, which I dream of for a very long time already (mostly because of Hayao Miyazaki’s animes, I have to admit), I’ll make sure to visit Junko and Kana in Brown’s Field and experience all the beautiful and inspiring things by myself! If you wanna learn more about Brown’s Field, check out their facebook page or Instagram for daily updates and have a look at their amazing work!

Thanks so much Junko and Kana for coming to Gaia Ashram and sharing your story!

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You can find all links in the show notes below and on our website www.flowful.org.