Could Japan Return to an Edo Period Lifestyle by 2050?

Once again, UN University’s Our World 2.0 web magazine has published an outstanding essay well worth re-posting. The Future of Food in Japan, authored by the site’s editors in their usual clear-eyed fashion, touches on a host of daunting issues and challenges facing the country’s food self-sufficiency, energy security, and lifestyle in coming decades.

The writer’s compelling analysis aside, the links alone make the piece worthwhile (see, for example, Antony Boys’ pioneering and thorough analysis of the relationship between agricultural productivity and energy scarcity written in 2000 – a paper that long ago helped shape this blog’s theses).

But what is especially interesting – vis-á-vis Satoyama Spirit’s notion of Japan’s eventual return to a resilient lifestyle based on harmony with nature – are the as-yet-unread-by-me views of Eisuke Ishikawa, a prominent author who writes about the Edo Period. The Our World 2.0 article says:

Under present trends, the food supply problem will evolve and significant difficulties will emerge. Boys himself refers to the work of Eisuke Ishikawa, a writer on the Edo Period economy, who talks about the state of Japan in 2050 (“2050 is the Edo Period”, Kodansha, 1998) and essentially describes something like a “slow crash” — dwindling imports, falling exports, economic and population decline. (While there is no English translation of this book, you can read similar works by Ishikawa on the Japan for Sustainability website.)

Ishikawa’s work (at least those translated into English, care of JFS’s above link) are undoubtedly on my short-list of anticipated readings. Hopefully, they will provide the impetus for a future post (or posts!).




2 responses to this post.

  1. I think I’ve been captivated by some of the same literature as you have regarding sustainability and Japanese culture, although I haven’t been as thorough as you. When I find my mind wandering undisciplined, I’m creating a whole world of sustainability around a traditional Japanese esthetic. The writings of Eisuke Ishikawa and Azby Brown just feed that creation as they take us on a kind of eco-tour of the Edo period. I’m just wondering if there is any movement anywhere to create this place for real, not just a sustainable community or an eco-village, but one that looks, feels, and runs like an Edo-period town, minus the class structure, infanticide, and other distasteful elements of those days. I know there are places like Edo Mura near Nikko that recreate Edo for tourists, but they function as a theme park, not as a community. What if there were something like Edo Mura where people who were willing to give it a go just live there. They could have modern things and modern practices, but only at a distance and only if they could be had sustainably, sort of like how the Amish might have a phone in their barn (i.e., their place of work), but not in their house, except that the phone would have to be powered with renewable energy. People could come and go by bus or train or bicycle, but they couldn’t have cars. Since we’re all going to have live something like this someday anyway after the oil runs out, this community could show the outside world an option that is elegant, even if challenging. I teach Japanese and English for a living and if such a place like this existed, I’d try to set up a program there where foreigners come in to learn both the language and the way of life. What if we just took one of these countless dying Japanese villages and just went in there and did an Edo makeover? Do you know if anyone else is thinking anything along these lines? Or is it hopelessly unrealistic?


    • Hi Tim, thank you for taking the time to post your thoughts. I love the idea of “recycling” one of the many dying Japanese villages and making it a real proof-of-concept for an Edo-period sensibility and aesthetic (minus, as you say, the less tasteful and attractive parts of the original). I don’t know of anyone doing something like this, but I do know things are gradually moving in a more positive direction in many areas of Japan. A couple of weeks ago I visited Kagoshima, as I do most years to visit family, and found a burgeoning number of amazingly good restaurants (and even a hot springs resort in Kamou) dedicated to using only organic local sustainably sourced food. Young people there are increasingly waking up. In fact, just this afternoon I was speaking to a Nihonjin who told me about a town in Tokushima (too bad he couldn’t recall the name) where a high-tech company from Tokyo moved to one of these dying villages on Shikoku, to live more simply, and because they can work via internet they’re able to thrive economically, and draw toward them a whole ecosystem of young people and organic farmers and others interested in simpler living. I think these kinds of hybrid approaches, while not “pure”, bode well for reinvigorating traditional lifestyles and satoyama. Of course, the sobering reality is that the net trends just about everywhere are generally getting worse, and these kinds of hopeful interventions are few and far between, but at least they provide some potentially bright little candles in the gathering darkness. I’m pleased to know that you’re thinking carefully along these lines!


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