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Meaningful Life Autumn 2023: Field Trip to Kameoka

Updated: Mar 8

"Meaningful Life: Art, Digital, and Field-based Learning," or “Nanairo no Jinsei,” in Japanese is a new course in the Faculty of Liberal Arts supported by Sophia University's Education Innovation Program and designed by Prof. Takeshi Ito and Prof. John Williams. The first course was launched in the Autumn Semester of 2023 and included two field trips to Sado Island and Kameoka City.

One of the central themes of this course was the exploration of food and agriculture, focusing particularly on the concept of agroecology. Agroecology integrates research, education, and action to promote sustainability across ecological, economic, and social dimensions of the food system. In the face of the climate crisis, agroecology presents an alternative approach to meeting human subsistence needs in a socially just and environmentally sustainable manner.

One place where the principles of agroecology can be observed firsthand is Kameoka, a city in Kyoto Prefecture. Nestled in a basin surrounded by lush mountains, Kameoka has historically served as an important agricultural hub in Kyoto, earning the name "kyo no daidokoro," or Kyoto's kitchen, due to its abundant produce of vegetables, rice, and other crops. In recent years, Kameoka has taken concerted action to promote food sustainability and position itself as a leading environmental city in Japan. 

In 2018, Kameoka released the Kameoka Zero Plastic Waste Declaration and became the first Japanese city to enforce a ban on plastic bags in 2021. Moreover, the local government of Kameoka has been actively promoting organic agriculture and joined the Organic Village Declaration program under the MIDORI strategy in 2023. At every level, from community activism to municipal leadership, residents of Kameoka are coming together to reimagine their city and spearhead the budding agroecology movement. To learn more about their initiatives and engage with local stakeholders, our class visited Kameoka from December 15-18, 2023.

Kameoka Organic Action Group

During our field trip, we met with members of the Kameoka Organic Action Group, a collective made up of farmers, academic researchers, and community members dedicated to advancing sustainable agriculture. A key initiative of theirs is the organic school lunch program, where they provide organic rice to Hozu Elementary School. We had the special opportunity to visit the school and facilitate a workshop for around 60 students ranging from grades 1 to 6. Dividing into six groups, we mapped out the journey of their school’s organic rice, thinking about the many different factors that play a part in growing and preparing the organic rice that reaches their cafeteria tables. The students drew colorful illustrations of elements including water and sunlight, soil and microorganisms, insects and animals, farmers, school lunch staff, and school lunches made with the organic rice. The collages below feature a few of the drawings from each group.

Local Organizations & Artists

In an effort to tackle the problem of plastic pollution in the Hozu River and promote environmental conservation, Project Hozugawa was established in 2007. This nonprofit organization carries out a wide range of activities, such as organizing monthly river cleanups, offering eco tours, facilitating educational workshops for children and adults, and raising awareness about recycling and plastic reduction efforts. We joined the river cleanup one morning, picking up trash along the river bank together with local residents. It was inspiring to see so many people gathered together, from small children to older adults, in a collaborative effort to care for the environment.

We also met artists and activists engaged in community revitalization and environmental action. Ken and Julia Yonetani are two inspiring individuals who balance their creative art practice with organic farming. We visited their farm called Rice Valley, which the Yonetanis started as an experiment in regenerative and self-sufficient living. They also gave us a tour of their Dreams Art House, an off-grid art facility that they recently built in a neighboring village. The art house is filled with their works that touch upon various themes addressing environmental, social, and political concerns. They hope to make the space a hub for art, community building, cultural exchange, and nurturing sustainable practices.

KIRI Cafe is another creative hub that was born out of the Kameoka KIRI Art Cultivation project – an initiative by local artists to foster community and facilitate artistic exploration in people’s daily lives. This project offers various events, educational workshops, and hands-on learning experiences through KIRI² Arts College. Embracing a holistic educational approach, KIRI² Arts College aims to nurture learning of the mind, heart, and hands. It offers a diverse range of courses taught by local artists, from painters to woodworkers, who provide opportunities for individuals to learn from ancient wisdom and cultivate skills and techniques that might enrich their lives.

The four-day field trip to Kameoka provided our class with rich insights into the topics of food, agriculture, and sustainability. Interactions with local organizations such as the Kameoka Organic Action Group and Project Hozugawa showcased dedicated efforts towards sustainable practices and environmental conservation, while encounters with artists like Ken and Julia Yonetani and the members of the KIRI Art Cultivation project underscored the role of creativity and art in fostering community revitalization and raising awareness about pressing social-ecological issues. Our visit to Kameoka not only deepened our understanding of agroecology and sustainable agriculture, but it also highlighted the importance of grassroots initiatives and community engagement in driving change for sustainability.

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