Place where farming and food coexists. Tadayo Watanabe, an agriculturist


Place where farming and food coexists. Tadayo Watanabe, an agriculturist

Kyoto School, it is a group of intellectuals who based on Kyoto University and value on Eastern traditions as well as opening up a new horizon on them while holding against Tokyo University who goes into western culture. Mr. Watanabe is the one of those. He involved long at Kyoto University and accomplished great results there, and he has been making proposals about farming in Japan after his retirement.

Text by Hiroyuki Aino / Photo by Kyoshiro Yoda / Translated by Tomoe Watanabe

Searching for the origin of rice cultivations 

Mr. Watanabe spends lot of his time in Kyoto city, but he was originally from the Miura peninsula, Kanagawa; it was not far from Hayama. When he was at the important time to think about his future, it was a middle of wartime. He was called up to the war. Fortunately, he did not go off to the battle front, but his brother and close friends were killed on the field.

After the war ended, he graduated from faculty of agriculture at Utsunomiya University as we know it today. His passion to learn further led him to enroll Kyoto University and major agricultural department there. Since the war had just ended a previous year, school system did not made the shift to new one, Kyoto University was still called former name at the time. He spent his boyhood and early manhood in the time when there was no enough food and people just tried to fill their empty stomach. He wrote in his book, Hyakunen no syoku/Foods in a hundred years (Shogakukan), that “I do not have much appetite for good foods or any delicacies and also no addiction on my favorite dishes”. He also wrote growing up in the time of food shortage made him to learn agriculture which is to produce foods.

After a while in the postwar period, Kyoto University started to win the nickname, Exploratory University. Being against a literature-based faction, they set out huge subjects, collected funds, negotiated with the Foreign Ministry, and conducted overseas researches again and again although it was yet hard time to make it. The subject of Mr. Watanabe was an origin of rice cultivation; where rice cultivation starts, and how it spreads to whole Asia include Japan. He decided to visit places as much as possible and follow the way to substantiate it. This is really an outrageous proposition and plan, but this challenge with a huge theme were the Kyoto School spirit which had known as Exploratory University after war period.

Starting with India and other Southeast Asian countries, Mr. Watanabe visited broad range of Asian countries include Assam region which was used to be an independent country, south China, and Bhutan. What he looked for was not charred rice from relics but old ones whose shape were left as it was to find out its breed variety. That was the clue. Could it still be found? Yes it actually was. It was in bricks which were used to build temples and are still used there.

“Among Southeast Asian counties, rice was mixed with other materials to make bricks because it gives more strength. So, I was cruising around to look for those bricks although I was a rice researcher. That was fun”, and he laughed. Probably it was not such a thing like cruising. But even travel had been hard, there would be dense communications with locals as well as excitements that he was getting close to solve a big mystery. Those must have made him having a good time there.

In the meantime, he wrote a book called Ine no michi/Road of rice(NHK Publishing) after 15 years since he launched his project. And Assam region in India and Yunnan province in China were feathered in the book. He wrote upland rice cultivations in those arears are the origins of rice cultivation. And his theory has not faded even now.

“Another theory was born after that, and it says the origin was in the middle basin of the Yangtze River although I doubted it. I walked around the area, but there was no sense of nostalgia, and this is one of the reasons why I do not support it. Rice field was quite huge, and that is not sceneries of farming villages. South eastern Asia, Assam region, and Bhutan have them to make us, Japanese, feel nostalgic, and it is totally different from the one in the middle basin of the Yangtze River.

It would cause controversy if I say this, but Beijing government would not welcome my theory anyway. They would like to think not any other ethnic minorities but Han Chinese is the leading ethnic group in rice cultivations which is the most important crops to talk about histories of human being. While on the other hand, my idea is pretty popular in Yunnan province. I had a couple chances to give a speech at the University of Yunnan, I was welcomed with big applauses.”

Reached to the ideal structure, ’Sato

Mr. Watanabe retired from Kyoto University at the end of March, 1987. He had done the work, and it has been about 30 years now. He wrote many books in these times, and most of them are about proposals about food and agriculture in Japan. His proposals do not have an arrogant manner at all, he just seemed to regret drastically about himself being ineffectual about post war thoughts; Agricultural policy encouraged chemical fertilizers and agrichemicals, and farming itself was viewed as unimportant.

“Agricultural flourishes while farming falls”

This is the words from Tokiyoshi Yokoi, who established Tokyo University of Agriculture with Takeaki Enomoto and served as the first president. Mr. Enomoto also took an important role at the Meiji Restoration and served as a ministry of Agriculture and Commerce. This is a warning to those who learn agriculture. He says agriculture should be studied for prosperous in farming. 
Many words and thoughts in books Mr.Watanabe wrote after retirement from Kyoto University are reminds of those words from Mr. Yokoi.

In a book named Hyakunen no shoku/ To eat food a hundred years, to work, to connect the life, which was published when he was 82 years old, he wrote;

“I regret that I did not make my mind up seriously to live in a farming village without thinking post-retirement years twenty years ago. I could have grown vegetables or crops in a small field if it is in my 60s when I was still mobile.”

After he retired Kyoto University, Mr. Watanabe served as a professor at the Open University of Japan, a former the University of the Air. He felt awkward first because his lectures were held facing television camera with no student at site, but students were wide age-group and had passions to learn, so he took students to farming villages a couple times in a year. 

He also launched a research group with his study associate, and everyone, not just researcher, was welcomed to join the group. And he studied current conditions of farming in southeastern Asia, south Asia, islands in Oceania area and more. He still had regrets on that he did not bring himself to farming, but he listened from farmers and conveyed what he got by his literary works.

However, he has not written this eight years after Hyakunen no shoku. Social situation and our conscious towards farming and food have been quite changed. Mr. Watabe, who is 90 years old and still travels on his own sometimes, should have known those changes and must have his observations backed up with his experience. Our assumption was hit the mark.

“It has seen as a problem that self-sufficiency rate for food is quite low in Japan. It has to be raised up, but you will be bewildered if you try to solve it at a national level. We should think solutions at smaller units. I call the small unit Sato, and it is smaller community than prefectures in Japan. For example, Kyoto, 827.9 square kilometer, can be divided into three. And local production for local consumption will be encouraged at Sato, and this leads to raise the rate of self-sufficiency. Sato is the community where producers and consumers coexist.”

It is seen as a common to divide farmers into full time or part time, but it was a general idea that farmers have side jobs in Japan. It actually happens not only in Japan but in various rice producing regions in Asia too. Everyone is consumer as well as producer. Mr. Watanabe sees this is how people should be in Sato.

Sato is like desakota. In Indonesian, desa means village and kota means town. In this country, desa sometimes works like kota and kota does too like desa. And this is how people build space originally at rice producing areas includes those in Japan. Craft workers, officers, and monks help rice cultivation once it gets busy. I name the system Sato, and we should rebuild Japan with it.”

I made to listen what he have thought in these eight years from his last work, but I would like to read it as a compiled written work. I asked if there will be a chance to it, he said the draft has been ready but he cannot get texts better.

“I’m old now. It has been difficult to write texts these days.”
He seemed chagrined.
“Would you be able to wrap my thoughts up if you don’t mind? I will divide my draft into several parts and tell them all.”
“We would love to”, we replied.

The idea of Sato would not work in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka. I do not know what we can do for these cities because it seems hard to balance agriculture and foods. People there need to find ways to attain foods like getting some from other areas where agricultural products grow enough to feed their community.

Mr. Watanabe told us so. Having thoughts about how to raise the rate of self-food sufficiency in mind, His idea was expressed. Big cities rely on not only food but energy like electricity either. He has severe eyes on big cities, but there must be healthy solutions in this relationship even if one has to rely on other. This man of intelligence in Kyoto would offer an answer to this complicated question with our continuous curiosity towards it.

Profile Tadayo Watanabe
Born in Kanagawa in 1924. After graduation of former Yokosuka Junior High School, he joined two preparatory courses for college, but resigned both. Then, he entered and graduated Utsunomiya University, and he re-enrolled Kyoto University and majored agricultural department. Since then, he taught Kyoto Prefectural University, Tottori University and Kyoto University. He served as a chief at Center for Southeast Asian Studies in Kyoto University. He also wrote and edited many books.


  88 38号(2014.10.30)



Pagetop ↑