Episode-981- Lessons in Sustainable Living Japan’s Edo Period — 57 Comments

  1. awesome show. i already ordered the book! =)

    looking at the picture of the farm house.. that roof is about as thick as a straw bale on edge, most likely rice straw.. so an R30 or so level of insulation.

    in the winter you’d probably sleep upstairs, and in the summer downstairs.

    • No not rice straw they had other uses for that. Thatch for roofs was grown in land not suitable for agriculture and was mostly rushes and reeds. Roofs were re done about once every 20 years. Villages had limited numbers of rush fields so every families roof was scheduled by the village as a whole for replacement based on need. The entire village participated in the work for all of their neighbors.

      • a biodegradable locally grown roof with no embodied energy (that isn’t solar) that’s good for 20 years.

        Wikipedia says a straw version can last 45-50 years:

  2. 1 they where slaves, you owned nothing not even your own life. the lords can kill you at will.
    if you wish to give up your life for the greater good. go ahead i wish to live free.
    if you want to see how free men lived off the land. study how the vikings lived. 8th through the 11 hundreds.
    they did more with far less. each man carried his own weapons, voted for his jarls and kings.
    you want to life as a slave go ahead

    • You sir are behaving like a fool. No one, certainly not me said this was a way to live in liberty, I said over and over there is much I don’t like BUT that there was also much to learn. Your claims about being “slaves” and that “your lords can kill you are will” demonstrate and deep ignorance of the reality of this period of Japan’s history. As in a level of ignorance so profound one wonders if you get your facts from video games?

    • eaterofdead, you ARE a slave, you own nothing. We don’t need to be killed as we are doing it to ourselves by how we live. Just look around, man, everything is owned by the banks or some level of gov’t. Just don’t pay taxes or credit card bills, or utilities, and see what you own! Let’s see you carry your own weapons without a permit and see how far you get. Walk down the street with a rifle , shotgun, or machete and see how far you get! And what do you know about living off the land? Do you know what’s available during the different seasons? Have you done it? As for owning yourself, did you know your birth certificate is traded on the stock exchange? eaterofdead to earth……come in please.

      • @hillhag, good points and perhaps someone should explain further to this fool that the Edo period marked the point at which slavery was officially OUTLAWED in Japan. Official slavery was only in Japan’s very early years but it was practiced informally right up to the Edo period when it was outlawed, that was in 1603. The US didn’t become so enlightened until the 1850s and it took years of brother killing brother to make it happen.

        Oh and perhaps someone should splain to him that the Vikings took slaves when they invaded lands, etc. Never mind though facts seldom matter to people that live in a self created world when they even pick and choose which parts of history to believe.

        • I doubt he wants to know. He’d rather live in a bubble, I think. Surprised that he may be one of us on any level.

        • @Zeijandi,

          Um never heard of it till now and I think hillhag has been had on this one, there may be some tiny truth to it if you are Canadian though that even seems sketchy. I see nothing to indicate this is truth and it seems the roots go back to David Icke who while he has done some good work also thinks the world is run by and I shit you not, reptile aliens.

          In a sense we are all traded out to other nations by national debt, as are our children born and unborn, the the birth cert issue doesn’t pass the sniff test for me anyway.

        • One thing is certain: there is no stopping them; the reptiles will soon be here. And I, for one, welcome our new reptile overlords…

          Kidding aside, great show Jack. The book is in my shopping cart. I have often marveled at the depiction of Edo Japan in Zatoichi and other movies but haven’t made time to study it further. Look at the spartan lifestyle, the general grubbiness and the large number of samurai in those films! Thanks for making time to discuss it.

  3. The Japanese occupied Korea for about 40 years, so the Korean farmers practice the same or similar methods for fertilizing. Thus, when we stepped off the plane in Korea in the spring of ’61, the smell was as if we had stepped into a giant toilet. I had not expected that. The reason being that farmers used fresh nightsoil,.. not composted. As a result, all the food grown carried parasites, insuring that everybody had parasites. Just know that fresh or uncomposted human waste is a BAD idea in the garden. Personally, I use the two bucket system: one for liquid and one for solids. The solids are collected in a 96 gallon garbage can and left covered in the sun to cook. After a year or so, it is then dumped and has no odor. I cover my output with sawdust, so there is no odor even in the house. After dumping the large container to reuse, the contents continue to compost safely indefinitely. I have not used any of it for gardening, but would put it around trees, maybe. I know I don’t want me or my family to chance parasites again. They also have the dirt floor room, but the fire that in there heats the adjoining floors by way of tunnels. I so admired the Koreans for their efficiency, too. No trash anywhere, everything is used and reused. The traditional Korean farmer may not exist anymore but they lived on an acre, raising mostly rice in shared rice patties. Irrigation done by terracing and gravity. The open yard of packed dirt was the threshing floor. Rice was currency, straw became roofs, rope and rope woven into sacks for the rice. The rice husks became pillows, or shipping medium for fruit, etc. There’s much more I admire about all that we can learn from.. Thanks, Jack for sharing what might be called ‘primitive methods’, but effective ones. We just haven’t figured that out yet. Using an ox for plowing and hauling is easier to repair then a tiller or tractor, especially when you feed them the food they helped to grow. I’m all nostalgic now. P.S. they and the Japanese raised hemp for fabric and rope, also.

    • Some day I will travel to many of these places and examine these technologies up close. I don’t like the non composting methods as you say, bad news but the rest I find fascinating.

    • @ hillhag – I was in SoKor for 5 months during the winter of ’07-’08 helping to build a wooden roller coaster for Samsung’s Everland theme park near the village of Yongin (25 k SW of Seoul) and I can tell you the smell probably hasn’t improved much out in the countryside! Man, I’d hate to be there in the summer!
      There was no septic system or waste processing that I could tell or was told about, just gravity flow to huge fields, but it is composted now before use, at least in that area. Walking from the village to the next town over was quite the olfactory experience/ordeal.

      But – When you’re poor, ya gotta use what the land gives you and what you give back. There was very little trash in the streets for pickup day in comparison to the population. It’s definitely the 3 R’s in that area.

      They did have “community garden areas” that could be easily gotten to by the inhabitants but I didn’t really check those out because of the season. I didn’t get any dysentery or anything else while I lived there and I even learned to like kimchi!!

  4. Short story about recycling and making do: In Korea, I drove a Korean made Ford. One day, the carborator gasket cracked so I stopped in at a repair shop. The owner had no replacement part, so he took the carb.cap off, placed it on a dried octopus, traced the shaped and cut it out, installed it as a gasket, and I drove it for a couple more years before selling, with octopus under the hood. That’s creative thinking and making do.

  5. very cool book and I think that I try to get it as a a teacher of the survival isn’t here in Wyoming I think so the aspects of composting and stuff is a good idea as well as the barter system they’re paying in writing using is a form of income as well as production.

  6. Great episode. I look forward to getting the book and sharing with one of my Japanese colleagues who is interested in both history and gardening related subjects.

    I could go on forever about Japanese culture and history. It is majorly fascinating and complex.

    About the only thing in this episode that I would correct/modify is that the roots of the Samurai class is multi-causal, some of not so romantic. Over the centuries they developed into what is arguably the world’s finest example of an absolute warrior class, easily on par with the Spartans. It’s true though, some trace their history to farming. In fact, ironically it was Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the era immediately preceding Edo who came from a humble background to the highest level, but then effectively locked the classes down hard. The Tokugawas (Edo period) continued this restrictive policy and went much further in controlling movements and associations.

    As you hit on, Samurai where permitted to engage in farming and other tradecraft, but were prohibited from becoming merchants. There are two reasons: 1- you really want to be careful about your warrior class also being your capital class. 🙂 2 – the samurai were spiritually zen Buddhists and followed their own ethics code (Bushido). It was fairly ascetic and eschewed material possessions as noisy distractions from more pure spiritual pursuits.

    Culturally, and even to this day, the Japanese are very small intimate group related in their personal lives. Your identity is deeply (historically it was absolute, you were nothing without your family, guild, etc.) connected to your group affiliations. It can be great in that community is very very strong. The down side is you don’t just get into these kinds of groups easily if at all. Think about how standoffish West Virginians are, similar, except Japanese are still friendly or at least polite on the surface. This is changing a lot but still very different than here.

    The Japanese still recycle and have a fixation on efficiency that’s from outer space. It’s basically a sin not to be.

    The ancient word for Japan meant embedded the idea of harmony, their native religion is nature worship, and they believed life permeates everything, but have a special regard for trees.

    The idea about having time for personal reflection on the nature of life is (was) absolutely true. Note this was actually Fukuoka’s goal in the small self sufficient farm. His methods were in harmony with nature and left lots of time for travel, visiting with friends, and just contemplating things. So there is a kind of Japanese culture/history -> Permaculture link here. Fukuoka -> Mollison.

    Anyways, just some ramblings. For those interested in an easy to read tour of Japanese culture through analysis of key words, I suggest:

    The Japanese have a Word for It

    • Great stuff and thanks for the additions, I just don’t get what you modified or corrected, LOL.

    • Only clarifying that the Samurai class didn’t emerge exclusively from “gentlemen farmers”. Just a historical side note. Not particularly relevant to the main points here, other than to understand the history of that strata of that society. The Wiki entry on Samurai is pretty good.

      BTW, there is a website for the book with some video. The book has been translated into Japanese too. Way cool!

      • Okay gotcha, I didn’t realize I framed it that way, I think it is accurate to say “largely found their roots in”. Anyway what are the other trades that are rooted in this evolution?

        • It’s just how I perceived the final segment of the show.

          Many Samurai would have traced their lineage back to other “violence worker” trades before the class Samurai emerged in any formal sort of way. In fact, if memory serves, tax collection and frontier expansion/defense was really how they started “formalizing” and becoming attached to/becoming Lords.

          However, the basic point you make is correct as an idea IMO, because the Japanese people themselves have a very deep natural attachment to the land and nature, and living in harmony with it. This is fairly distinct from the west where nature has been viewed as something to be dominated and exploited for a very very long time.

          It’s just that many Samurai before they were Samurai by class (remember we’re talking about an easy 800+ years here) were other kinds of head crackers. But some did emerge from farming as defense against, you guessed it!

          Curious side note. The Japanese are NOT the native people of Japan. They’re genetically related to a Korean/Mongolian line and came after other people known as the Ainu were already there. Even more curious, the Ainu were closer to Caucasian than Asian. The “Japanese” aren’t newcomers to the islands, we’re talking many many thousands of years ago. However, the people of the Yamato plains (Japanese as we think of them) variously tangled and absored, but mostly tangled with the Ainu until the Ainu were effectively pushed into very small northern regions by the Edo period.

          Samurai has root meanings “to serve”
          Shogun has root meanings (AIR) “defender against barbarians”

          Japanese history over the last say 1,600 years was long periods of peace, and stability (some of them lasting many centuries) interspersed with unbelievable continuous warfare. The big switches were around swinging in real power between the Emperor and the Military government (effectively Samurai administration). But they never ever eliminated the Emperor or even considered it TMK, but at times he wielded real power (ancient and modern) and others only a kind of spiritual figurehead (Edo in particular, and post WWII to present).

  7. Jack, great information. We just drove our daughter to college in Santa Barbara. In the back of the apartments. the dumpster had the most humongous pile about 15 feet stretching out all around the dumpster-mattresses, furniture, household goods. I felt sick looking at it all. Your comment about recycling hit the nail on the head. I wish there were companies that refurbished old mattresses to new or sold appliances with snap out innards. Hey,Need a new refrigerator? Snap in a new insides to your frig. The old insides are recycled to be sold back again. It stops working? snap out the old cooling system, snap in a new one. Again, the old refurbished.

    Hillhag, you said ” As for owning yourself, did you know your birth certificate is traded on the stock exchange?” Some youtube videos have info, but do you or Jack have more info on how to find out where your birth certificate is being traded?

  8. Jack, if you build a pond it seems like your taxes may go up. I have a sort of stream,but it dries up in summer. For others though who this might apply to, I am not sure if beavers build a dam on you property if they will still tax you or how it could be proved/disproved that it was beavers ? How can you hire some beavers ?

    • @surfivor, if I had a dollar for everything that you worry about or let alter your life, well remember that episode where I was asked what I would do if I was given 7 million dollars free and clear, I bet I could get about half of it done. Letting the man keep you down is one thing, letting him keep you from even trying to get up is another.

      • just an idea on beavers, but I think I was told someone built a pond in Maine and they got a huge tax increase from the town on that.

      • I wasn’t saying I want to build a pond and the tax thing is preventing me, it’s just what occurred to me thinking about ponds when I listened to the show

  9. I must say i got kind of a unsettling feeling listening to this. You can call me a fool if you want. i dont like it that when someone dissagrees they are attacked. If that is how your community will work i will have no part of it.

    • First you didn’t listen to it you read it, LOL. Secondly the man wasn’t called a fool for disagreeing but for making blatantly false statements, we call those lies by the way. Disagreement is welcome, going off on a tangent with false information isn’t. Third, if you don’t want to be part of it, we will all survive without you, though in spite of my tone I do hope you reconsider. You must be new around here, people disagree all the time and are respected for their disagreements, we just have no respect for mythology and lies, specifically about well documented history. If you start dealing with a few dozen tin hatters a day and you might begin to feel the same way.

    • @Eric
      Frankly, typing sucks for conversation. No body language and no tonality. With only 7% of communication being words.. things often ‘sound’ differently in our heads than was intended.

      In @Eaters case, go back and read his comments as if he’s a first year college student. Then read Jack’s as if he’s his loving, but no nonsense uncle who wants him to pull his head out of his a**.

      Not an attack. Not harsh. And I’m sure it would be totally obvious if the three of you were sitting in a bar and they said the exact same things to each other.

      Wise opinions are based on experience and/or careful research and contemplation. Foolish opinions are based on wishful thinking or fashion. Or are simply regurgitated propaganda, devoid of critical thought or understanding.

      Personally, I like to know when I have a ‘foolish opinion’.. so I can correct it.

      IMHO 😉

      • 100% agreed Insidious! Anyone offended or shocked by my responses here hasn’t been paying attention.

  10. Jack,

    I looked forward to this episode, as I have been fascinated by East Asian history ever since I taught it for a year at the high-school level as part of the Global History course in NY State. After listening to it, I found many of the “sustainability” examples you provided to be very interesting, but I think that many of the “bigger picture” points you tried to make were lost in imposing your libertarian ideology over a society in which such an ideology simply does not exist.

    As a previous poster pointed out, the individual means little to nothing within East Asian culture. That simple fact is demonstrated by the naming practices in Japan and China — people give their family name first, and their given name second. Group affiliation is key, and the actions of an individual matter only in whether they bring honor or dishonor on the group as a whole. Obedience to authority is essential to maintaining group stability (flowing down from the divine emperor). This is all much easier in Japan due to the homogeneous population.

    The Tokugawa period, while feudal in basic structure, was one of intense centralized authority. True feudal (decentralized) periods are characterized by almost constant, low-intensity warfare as the scores of petty nobles fight to expand their various fiefdoms. This changed during the Tokugawa period not because all of the petty lords suddenly wised up — but because of the intense centralization of authority that took place. Combined with that centralization of authority was the need to rely upon a very limited resource base after the shogunate outlawed Christianity and shut themselves off from the West in the 1630s. Your examples at the end of the show — the idea of relying upon central home heat as opposed to the conditions in which the Japanese of that time lived, for instance — really cannot apply because they bear absolutely no resemblance to the circumstances of this place and time. The reason that we can heat/cool our cavernous living spaces to a comfortable temperature is precisely because we are NOT limited to relying on local resources and conserving them, as the Japanese did. If I were to instead construct a rocket mass heater in my house as the primary heat source and wear long underwear and a knit cap throughout the winter — that would be much more comparable.

    Lastly, you seem to exhibit a split personality on the subject of community and remaining in place. At one point, you started talking about the need for personal mobility and the ability to move from one place to another as being the foundation of a Republic — a point that you’ve made repeatedly on your show. Then, at the end, you talked about the need to start building houses with the intention of dying in them years down the line, like our grandparents did. You can’t have it both ways. Either you place importance on community and remaining in place — or you emphasize personal mobility at the expense of community. They are, in mathematical terms, an inversely proportional relationship, one which is pretty well borne out by the erosion in American community coincident with the rapid increase in our personal mobility.

    Quite honestly, if anyone is interested in a modern-day example that better mirrors what happened in Tokugawa Japan, I would recommend looking at Cuba during their “special period” after the collapse of the USSR. The changes they made in their agricultural system were quite amazing, moving from sugar plantations and food imports to a horticultural model forced to exist inside of a very limited resource base. This can be seen through the movie “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil,” which you can find for free online. What is interesting about both of these instances from a historical perspective is that they both depended upon a strong centralized authority as opposed to the elevation of the individual.

    In short, I think that although the source provided some great insights from a past society, your conclusions are very clouded by your libertarian ideology. I also don’t think that what happened in Tokugawa Japan is possible within a system that is built entirely around the idea of “individual liberty.” If you take my objections as mere arguing over minor details, then I simply challenge you to cite one instance of a society that successfully addressed severe social or environmental challenges without a strong central authority. I’m not saying any of this as a defense of “big government” — rather, I think it’s more important to place these kinds of things in the proper historical context than to try an impose our own personal ideologies on them as a framework.

    In spite of my criticisms of this episode, I still love the show and appreciate all your hard work. I listen almost every day during my 3-hour RT commute to work in NYC.

    • @Chris Harrison, you sound like a progressive socialist, are you? If so I expect a progressive socialist to sound like one when discussing his view of history, just as I would expect a statist to sound like a statist and a libertarian to sound like a libertarian.

      Frankly I covered what happened and what we learn from it from my world view, if this disturbs you I doubt you have listened to many of my shows, either that or you like to listen to what you disagree with.

      Much of what was done in this period sickens me, midwifes “sending back” a baby at FULL TERM, that is infanticide. As you say an individual being worth nothing, sickens me as well, that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from what worked. If you want someone to romanticize this period it won’t be me, ever.

      For example your redicilous claim that I sound like I

      “exhibit a split personality on the subject of community and remaining in place. At one point, you started talking about the need for personal mobility and the ability to move from one place to another as being the foundation of a Republic — a point that you’ve made repeatedly on your show. Then, at the end, you talked about the need to start building houses with the intention of dying in them years down the line, like our grandparents did. You can’t have it both ways. ”

      Let me respond to that with one word, BULLSHIT, our grandparents indeed had both the ability to move at will in a republic and choose mostly to build a home to live in for life. Yes you can have it both ways, it is about values, that is what we have lost in this nation, our core values. Communities should have to compete for the absolute HONOR of having a family choose to live there their entire lives. Quite a libertarian ideal don’t you think?

      So you hold your view and I will hold mine, you can take my show for what it is or tune into say NPR if you want someone to idealize a socialistic existence. The Nazi scientists were great to learn how to build rockets from but not so much in how to run a nation or treat people. Just because I disagree with much of what a society does, doesn’t mean I have nothing to learn from them. That said in such situations I learn much about what not to do as well as what to do from such societies, if you can’t handle that balanced view though the accurate lens of historical record, it is your issue not mine.

    • Jack has already covered this, but..

      There is an obvious and fundamental difference between freely choosing to permanently settle in an area -vs- being forced to stay (or settle) in an area.

      The only thing I’ve heard listening to the show, is comments on how states try to mildly coerce professionals (valuable tax payers) to remain in their state through licensing mechanisms. And how part of the original genius of the states was that if the one you were in was passing some law you didn’t like, you could pack up and move to another one.. with the rise of a strong national state obviously reducing how profound such a move could be (example: slavery to freedom pre-civil war).

      on a different thread.. you could state the problem as ‘people despoiling an area and moving on’ with Edo Period Japan implementing a ‘top down’ solution (you can’t move, so if you mess up your area, you have to sit in your own mess and starve, or fix it). That’s one way to go about it.

      Bottom up is the other.. individuals taking responsibility for themselves and the land around them, and then joining together with other like minded people to form communities that share the same values.

      A community, state or nations quality is determined by the quality of its individual members.

      Its laws, leaders and even rulers are simply ‘symptoms’ of that quality.

      • Wow, Jack — I didn’t take anything you said in your show or even in your response to me personally. However, it seems that you’ve taken my viewpoint VERY personally — to the point that you’re projecting attributes to me in order to support your arguments.

        Whatever. I gave an honest criticism of your most recent show. I’ll categorize this most recent exchange as the 5% that we probably won’t see eye-to-eye on instead of the 95% that we probably will.

        • There was NOTHING honest in your claim that you can’t have it both ways, as I demonstration in my response. It also isn’t a personal attack to say you sound like a progressive socialist, you do, if you are not say so. You seemed to expect me to present this period of history as being something 100% positive or to do so with out also adding my opinions to it. If that is what you expected IT DOESN’T happen here, I always say what I think it is what most tune in for even if they disagree. I don’t care that you don’t agree that is your right, I would defend it as such. My issue is your contention that apparently you feel I shouldn’t have expressed it, like I said there is always NPR. If you find any of this “personal” that is your problem not mine. I would still have a beer with you man, I would also still tell you to your face that your contention that I have a split personality and you can’t have it “both ways” is bullshit, not only that based on US history you know it is bullshit.

        • RESPONSE to Modern Survival’s post below, since I can’t click on reply….


          Where on earth did I ever imply that you should not have expressed your point of view? Seriously. Go through my previous post and point out where I am trying in any way, shape or form to censor you. I am saying that I disagree with it, that I do not find it compatible with the historical evidence that I have studied, both on my own time and while pursuing degrees in history. There is a big difference between the two.

          Second, I freely admit that I USED to believe in socialism, that I come from a left-wing perspective, and that perspective DOES influence my interpretation of things. As everyone’s perspective does for them. I currently do not consider myself to be one — I’m more of an anarchist who tends more toward the “communitarian” than “libertarian” end of the spectrum. The main difference between the two being that libertarianism, at least as I see it, places primary importance on the individual — while communitarianism places greater importance on the community (not “society”) over the individual. My study of early American history has helped to inform this view, as pretty much nobody was an island unto themselves, but maintained their existence via an extensive network of mutually shared obligations among kin and community. Of course, all of this has grey and fuzzy lines and is open to discussion and debate. Nevertheless, both share a distrust of large-scale, centralized institutions that take power away from the local scale.

          As for NPR… please! The best description I’ve heard of NPR comes from KMO of the C-Realm Podcast. It’s basically government/corporate propaganda for people with longer attention spans. I haven’t listened to it for longer than 5 consecutive minutes in at least a couple of years.

          As for the idea of moving vs. adopting to a place, I stand completely by what I said before. While our grandparents may have had the CHOICE of moving to another state, if they did they gave up the benefits of being part of a community. Since the latter 20th century in the USA we have consistently chosen mobility — both physical and financial — over remaining in place, and the result has been the disintegration of community life across the country. Our grandparents, on the other hand, often chose to remain in place — even with the reduced economic opportunities that often accompanied that staying in place — because they valued family and community more.

          However, it’s pretty clear that I’m not going to convince you to my point of view and you’re not going to convince me to yours, and I’d still happily tell you as much over a beer before we moved on to other topics of conversation.

          Speaking of which, HOW ABOUT THOSE STEELERS!!!

        • Read the response by Insidious to Eric below and rock on with life. You are still full of shit about not having it both ways, completely and totally full of shit. That ain’t personal it is just my opinion and one quite factual as well. The communities that acted stupid lost their very best people. That is a republic! Yes you can have it both ways. Further I also say “if you are not happy where you are, move, find a place you want to live for good and build your future there”.

  11. You link to pronunciation but did you listen to it? Japanese vowels are really simple to pronounce.

    Also, wow, that is a really childish response to Chris. I’m not a libertarian either, but I still get something out of your show. Buck up and take criticism, dude.

    • @James, there is nothing childish in responding to bullshit with FACT. He stated you can’t have it both ways, I proved based on HISTORICAL FACT that you can. As for the pronunciation, I pronounced it the way I heard it, if that isn’t good enough find something you prefer. Seriously and along with that, criticism isn’t the problem it is expecting that I would not be who I am when presenting history. Listen to today’s show were I follow up on this and after that if it isn’t good enough for you, too bad.

  12. Is it just me or has jack found an oddball pocket with this subject. While many of us have disagreed with him in the past about … well… a large group of subjects, what is it about the history of Japan that has found such an interesting response? Of all the things he talks about, why this?

  13. I can picture my (late) Japanese mom nodding her head while listening to this podcast and saying “That Jackie, he’s a smart boy” (her highest compliment!)
    She grew up on a farm in Japan, pre WWII and was all about reusing/recycling. Not to be all “green” but because you should respect your materials. If you waste stuff then you lead a sloppy life in general. (according to her) And when she reused stuff, she’d try her best to make it look really good too. There’s a great tradition of “shashiko embroidery” which was used to mend fabrics. The resulting mend ended up more beautiful than the original item.
    Thanks for a great podcast, I look forward to hearing more based on this book.
    (Eriko on the forums)

  14. Jack,
    When I first saw the topic of the show I was excited to actually listen in as I have been interested in Japan since I was a kid. The title of the book made me think the author was definitely a greenie-weenie, as you said, but I was confident that you would ‘cut through the crap’ and deliver on the interesting and useful bits, as you so often do. Reading the comments – before I listened – gave me a little concern as I thought a couple of commenters raised some valid points as to the advisability of applying some Edo (A-doe, kinda rhymes with Playdo, except a shorter ay sound, like eh) Period social constructs to life in a free society, but my suspicions were confirmed – upon actually listening to the show – that some of the commenters had failed to hear what you were saying. I haven’t listened to all 980-someodd shows but I think enough to know a bit about where you are coming from.

    I grew up on a steady diet of jidaigeki – the Japanese television and movie period dramas that idolize the samurai and ninja, usually of the Edo Period – and therefore had a somewhat rosy picture of Edo Period life. Some of the scales were removed from my eyes when I studied Japanese history and culture as an undergrad (my degree being in Japanese Studies and Japanese). I haven’t done any original scholarly or even graduate level research on this topic, but, in line with what other commenters said about Korea, I distinctly remember reading about and hearing lectures on the use of nightsoil (uncomposted) for fertilizer and that the run-off of it was thought to lead to disease and contribute to the high infant mortality rate. A quick resort to the interwebs now doesn’t appear to back that up and unfortunately I don’t have access to my school books at the moment – which isn’t to say that the school books are necessarily to be treated as gospel on the question, given the frequency of new scholarly research debunking old widely held notions. But, you were very clear in the program (at least) that you weren’t advocating the approach to human waste fertilizer apparently demanded in the book.

    You definitely touched on some of the ‘sins’ of the culture of that period so that I don’t know where any commenter might have thought you were advocating the wholesale adoption of feudal Japanese culture. In addition to the infanticide you mentioned there was also patri/fratricide, where the old and infirm would be exposed-to-death on a hill-side, etc. (called obasuteyama in Japanese or ‘throw-away-the-old-lady-mountain’). But, the proof of the basic soundness of Edo Period society is in the obvious success of it in raising the standard of living of just about all levels of the society, isn’t it? The flourishing of the arts during the period pound this fact home for me. And, so much of what is good and sound about Japan today on a foundational level – if anything – seems to stem from that period. Was there waste and corruption? Undoubtedly. But where has there not been in human endeavor? Moreover, a kind of freedom can be found or felt in belonging to an organization or adhering to a set of rules. The Ten Commandments? Islam? (Heaven forbid.) For me personally, in the end, I found Japan to be kind of stifling.

    It’s hard sometimes to distinguish between the wasteful and helpful too. The sankin-kotai system, for example, where the ‘feudal lords’ (the daimyo) would have to spend a significant amount of time in Edo every three years serving the Shogun, was incredibly wasteful in some respects. It served the Shogunate’s interests in keeping the daimyo too busy and cash-strapped to challenge the Tokugawa overlordship. But, on the other hand, I believe that many scholars credit that system (together with the general peace) with helping to drive some of the economic development that made Edo so successful. The daimyo spent a lot of money maintaining estates both at home and at Edo and they spent a lot of money traveling between their own domains and Edo as well. It ‘spread the wealth around,’ as it were. Heh.

    Might some of the ‘sins’ of the period, though, have lead to some of the problems of Meiji, Taisho, and Showa eras (social strife, militarism/fascism, the historic and current environmental degradation, and war)? There were poor areas. It was low-class samurai from ‘outlaw’ domains (Satsuma, Choshu) for example, who lead the ‘Meiji Restoration’ which brought Edo to an end and set Japan on the course of rapid industrialization, militarization, and so on and so forth. (Of course, the perceived threat from Europe and America played a role, as well.) A large number of Japanese emigrated to work as labor in Hawaii and California right after the end of the period, especially from these poorer areas. ‘Edo’ hadn’t really worked for them.

    All of which is not meant as correction or criticism, but merely to kinda join in the discussion, express how I share your interest, weigh-in (though not necessary) on the controversial comments, and express my appreciation for your continually great show.

    • Thanks! Man, that really didn’t seem to ramble on that much to me when I wrote it. Sorry…

      That being said, let me take up a bit more bandwidth… 😉 In talking about picking out the good stuff… There was obviously a lot of coercion in that society, power flowed from the edge of a sword, barrel of a blunderbuss. A lot of what we would likely consider undesirable stemmed from that aspect. But, couldn’t many of the good things be done today and in a relatively free society by persuasion, using contract principles? A community of people could be persuaded by mutual benefit to adopt the desirable aspects without the other baggage. I’m no utopian, but I think that might work under the right circumstances. On a national level? I don’t know about that. Thanks again!

    • Oh sweet God I wished I had more time to be in this thread!

      << It’s hard sometimes to distinguish between the wasteful and helpful too. The sankin-kotai system, for example, where the ‘feudal lords’ (the daimyo) would have to spend a significant amount of time in Edo every three years serving the Shogun, was incredibly wasteful in some respects.

      It was very very helpful . . . to the Shogunate. The system was effectively a continuous hostage rotation! Frankly, it was sorta of insidiously genius, and quintessentially Japanese.

      Setting my libertarian hat aside and thinking like a utilitarian, it was also pretty effective in keeping other rivalries under wraps. This was a period of relative peace and flourishing arts.

    • << (Of course, the perceived threat from Europe and America played a role, as well.)

      One of the key observations, and they were damn right, was on English involvement in China. They were determined to keep Japan Japanese, but realized the Feudal system wasn't going to cut it. They have always been keen ovservers and adopters of what works in the world, and this very much fueled the Meiji restoration. NOTE: This is to date the most radical and rapid transformation of a society on planet earth. They went from Feudal to industrialized in well under 30 years. In a somewhat ironic twist, the Japanese were later quite confused by why the West was all that upset with their actions (kind of explicit Imperialism) because they were just emulating the Americans (Philippines) Dutch (East Indies) French (Indo China) and English (China).

  15. Great show! One of the best I’ve ever heard. I find their respect for materials and caring for their surroundings particularly inspiring. Thanks a lot for putting this one together!

  16. I find it interesting/amusing that the upper/middle class(Samurai) of that society could be chastised for living too high-on-the-hog, while in our society in many cases, you can draw criticism for not living high enough for your means.


  17. Jack,
    Thanks for the podcast. There was a lot of information in this one that was new to me.

    I’m a long term resident of Japan, and my family and I have decided to ride out the coming turmoil in this country. It has its up and down sides, but one significant factor is community.

    My family chose the area we live in because of its active, effective community group. We grow about half of our calorie needs, thanks to advice from the supportive veteran farmers in our area. (We are working toward greater self sufficiency there.)

    We have regular work and security gatherings in the area, making the neighborhood attractive and safe. This includes cutting encroaching vegetation, cleaning ditches, checking fire fighting equipment, and checking for potential traffic or crime problem spots.

    Since we live in a particularly earthquake prone area, we have “disaster prevention” gatherings that are more about preparing for the disaster everyone knows is coming. We have safe wells, locally grown food, building and rescue resources, and informed people.

    I was raised in West Virginia, and though we had neighbors that cared about each other to some extent, there was no way we could have convinced them to cooperate in the way people do here. America and the rest of the world face some tough times, I’m afraid. Even if that doesn’t materialize, I’d still rather have my family in this kind of environment.

    • I’m an American, but have a Japanese wife and work for a Japanese firm (long time. ) I can second that Japanese, once they form groups (this is important, making close connections is not so easy in Japan) are amazingly tight and lifelong.

  18. Hey Jack,
    I loved this show. If you haven’t already heard of it, there’s another book you might want to check out. It’s called “Farmers of Forty Centuries” and was written by an American agriculturist who was sent to Asia at the beginning of the 20th century to determine what made their agriculture so productive and sustainable. It’s basically an eyewitnesses account (complete with pictures) of traditional Asian agriculture, mostly in China but also in Japan and Korea.