One Day the Shadow Passed
When hope is sustainable.
Published: October 16, 2012
Meet the man who trusted nature.
There’s a train that runs a couple of times a day from New York City to Washington, D.C. A few years ago I took this train to go and visit some friends. About half way through the journey I decided to stretch my legs and I walked down to the saloon car. Being a saloon car on an American train, it was a very convivial place and everyone was striking up conversations with everyone else.
I fell into conversation with a young guy who had recently left the military. He had been in the Marine Corps and he’d served in Iraq and he was very disillusioned with the world. He had really lost all hope. I tried to change his mind but he simply wouldn’t listen and instead he said that I was a daydreamer.
He said that inequality was inherent in the way we organize our society; that our society is doomed to fail and that we behave all the time like the man who burns all his furniture in order to warm his house. But worst of all, not only is our way of life unsustainable, it is also so powerful and destructive that no other way of life can compete. Everywhere around the world traditional societies are vanishing and soon every human being on earth will have been dragged into our vortex.
We talked and talked but it was to no avail and finally the train pulled in to Union Station in Washington DC. We said our goodbyes and as I watched him go I resolved to myself that I would find a story that would change his mind. But it would have to be a true story; nothing else would work.
A couple of years later I was in Oxford, my home town, and I bumped into an old friend who had just gotten back from Japan. My friend was very excited: he had met an incredible man called Masanobu Fukuoka. Masanobu Fukuoka was a top Japanese scientist and a world expert on crop diseases that destroy rice. But despite being a trained scientist he didn’t believe that the scientific worldview could offer any real understanding of nature; he didn’t believe that nature can be taken apart and examined, like an old watch. Nature is too complicated, its patterns are too intricate to be entirely fathomed by human thought.
Eventually, the strain of practicing a discipline he no longer believed in became too much for Fukuoka to endure. One day, whilst travelling into Yokohama on a train, he spotted a healthy strong rice plant growing in the gutter, unaided by pesticide or fertilizer or any other human technology. At that moment he had an epiphany; he turned his back on scientific, technocratic farming methods and instead began to imagine a new kind of farming and a new kind of life.
Fukuoka went back to his family farm and tried to put his ideas into practice. It was to be called “do-nothing farming” because he wanted to take the land back to nature and remove all the props of human technology. At first it was a disaster: yields plummeted, his orchards and rice plantations were devastated by disease, his neighbours laughed at him and all his staff left. But Fukuoka persevered and, within seven years, he had the highest rice yields in Japan. He achieved this with his “do-nothing farming,” without ploughing and without using a single drop of pesticide or chemical fertilizer. The Japanese government sent inspectors to learn his new method and he went from being a heretic and a pariah to being a hero.
As I listened to my friend tell me Fukuoka’s story, I thought “finally, this is the true story I’ve been waiting for.” Sadly, shortly after I heard of his extraordinary work, Fukuoka passed away. However, I decided to go to Japan anyway and as I was walking through Ueno Park in Tokyo, jet-lagged and disoriented, the story came to me fully formed. I went home to where I live in the Lake District in England and I sat down and wrote One Day the Shadow Passed.
For some years Jonathan Reggio worked his way around the world. This story is based on his own experiences in Japan. Jonathan now lives with his family in the Lake District.