Fuji Eco Park
Kawaguchiko, Yamanashi, Japan
by Rebecca Williams, Sustainable [R]evolution project correspondant
Fuji Eco Park stands as a stunningly picturesque model for the growing permaculture community in Japan. The 1.5 acre site nestled snugly at the base of Mt. Fuji is located 3 hours from Tokyo by car and has become a well-visited eco-tourism site welcoming over 1000 domestic and international visitors every year. Owner and founder Masaharu Imai sees Fuji Eco as a respite from the stresses of Japanese city life and a way to engage the public about how Japan can, and must, change from the bottom up.
“I want to grow the permaculture community by offering people the freedom to build small houses on the land and then letting them use the main house when they want,” says Imai. Realistic that it is difficult for the average Japanese family to move to the countryside for lack of work, he envisions Fuji Eco to be a city-dweller’s second home, where he will provide the land free of cost and community members can use the main house and all amenities for a small fee. He stresses that building at Fuji Eco is economical (about $10KUSD compared to $100KUSD in the city not including land) and comes ready with community. “People participate in permaculture events for the community more than anything else,” explained a recent visitor to Fuji Eco, “There are lonely people in the cities.”
The community at Fuji Eco is ever-changing hosting roughly 50 WWOOFers per year with average stays at one week to two to three months. On-going workshops and events draw young people from all over Japan and every summer Fuji Eco hosts a Permaculture English Camp where Japanese school children learn from a certified permaculture designer in an English immersion environment over 6 days. Masaharu Imai has geared Fuji Eco toward children. Local school groups often visit the site to pick and cook organically grown vegetables, feed the goats and chickens and take the 25 question on site Eco-Quiz.
Fuji Eco benefits from Imai’s electrical engineer background and features design for 100% energy self-reliance through harvesting solar and wind energy for heat, light and electricity. The main house features passive solar heating for the cold winter months and benefits from high ceilings and open-air passageways for optimum air circulation in the summer. An exhaust fan in the ceiling re-routes hot air generated from the fireplace to heat the floors. There is a wood-fired outdoor pizza oven and solar and wood-fired traditional rotenburo, or outdoor communal bath, where you can sit and gaze at the beauty of Mt. Fuji. A fleet of electric motorbikes and cars are also on site for touring the local countryside courtesy of Cosmo Wave, Imai’s green tech company that specializes in building cutting edge electric vehicles. “Permaculture is a vehicle in which we can think positively about new technology and actively integrate it into our lifestyles,” he says. Fuji Eco also holds car conversion workshops where participants can, over a few weekends, create their own electric vehicles.
Fuji Eco features a main house constructed from reclaimed wood from a Kayabukiyane traditional Japanese style house and old railroad slats. Mud-earth walls are filled out with straw, hemp, kudzu, rice husks and other local organic materials. The massive interior wood beams are coated with a traditional dyestuff known as kakishibu, or fermented persimmon, that acts as natural insect repellent. From disassembly of the original structure to completion, the house took two years to build, according to Imai, by a “community of amateurs with the occasional pro”. At present the site has three bungalows and is actively seeking community-minded families or individuals to build ‘second-homes’ on the property.
Water for the site is sourced from a well dug by Fuji Eco together with 80 local families through the area’s tough, volcanic rock. “Near Fuji there is only about one meter of soil. Under that is all rock. Most people in this area are cattle ranchers, so growing vegetables here is considered a bit strange,” says WWOOFer Kazuo Obuchi. The porous volcanic rock also posed challenges for water retention in the soil. These were addressed by building large swales to keep moisture in the veggie beds. A biotope pond design utilizes microorganisms, other animal and plant life to purify wastewater and sewage, which is then used to water the veggie beds. Another watering system for the veggie beds features use of a 1000 liter water tank that catches rainwater and is left to filter slowly through the soil in dry times. Comfrey, a dynamic accumulator of silica, nitrogen, magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron, is left to soak in the tank to create a compost tea, which is then used as a natural fertilizer.
Imai sees opportunity for permaculture ideas to solve modern problems specifically in Japan. One such idea involves the Japanese tradition of burying their dead in ohaka, usually stone tombs to mark where the deceased’s ashes have been placed. Recent years have seen traditionally outdoor ohaka sites fill up, leaving many Japanese to resort to interring their loved ones in skyscraper cemeteries. Imai envisions buying abandoned farmland and planting fruit bearing trees to mark where the dead are buried. The family of the deceased would pay a fee for the upkeep of the site and would benefit from being able to visit a beautiful outdoor location to pay their respects while enjoying the fruits of their ancestor’s metaphorical tree.
Masaharu Imai started Fuji Eco with the simple desire to focus his knowledge of energy sustainability in a house. Twelve years later Fuji Eco is a thriving permaculture community that continues to develop creative solutions for better living through technology and by simply observing nature’s patterns. Through permaculture and the growing community at Fuji Eco Park, Imai says, “I have really started to enjoy life.”