An island with a remarkably wide sky, surrounded by the sea to the east, where you can see the glittering cities, and the calm sea to the west, where the tranquility seems to continue forever. This is how Doi Chinatsu describes Awaji Island in Hyogo Prefecture, right in the center of Japan.
On this island, she grows plants, makes herb distillates and tea, etc. under the name of "Wind for Mind” founded with her partner, and hosts cooking classes that explore the field with people from various regions.
It was 10 years ago that she returned to the island where she was born and raised after more than 20 years. While living a fulfilling life as a cooking author in Tokyo, she had always imagined a life in nature, so what was it that prompted her to move back?
"I never planned to return to my hometown," she reminisces in a gentle tone. However, now firmly rooted on the island, she is always at the center of a large dining table that transcends the boundaries of family, with people all over Japan who come to resonate with her Home.
Q. What was it that brought your family back to Awaji Island from Tokyo?
I truly enjoyed my job as a cooking author in Tokyo and had a supportive circle there, but at the same time, I had always dreamed of living in the country. In the process, I also learned about the problems of nuclear power plants, and the Great East Japan Earthquake happened just as I was becoming aware of environmental issues.
When I temporarily evacuated to Awaji Island, I found my daily life so peaceful that I could not believe it was the same as Japan. Also, there were already some like-minded internal migrants, and during those few weeks, I thought it would be a good idea to move back here.
Q. Did you find it easy to adjust to life on the island after [being away for] 20 years?
Actually, for the first five years, I settled in a vacant space in my parents' house, which I had no intention of returning to at all. It was a dilemma because it was very different from the country life I had envisioned. But I could see that my son, who was an early teenager back then, was mentally stable by being with my parents. Then I realized when I looked at the bigger picture, by giving up my own desire temporarily, I was able to achieve balance and create a good flow with my family. From day one, my old neighbors delivered vegetables to my front door and waved at me from the rice paddies, that has been very common in the community since my childhood, as if I had always lived there, which made me begin to feel a sense of home from their kindness of not treating me special.
Chinatsu wears the Aro Shirt in Salt
Q. What have you gleaned from the major shift you went through 10 years ago?
Immediately after the earthquake, I was so shocked as if I had been thrown down, but even if the global pandemic occurred about 10 years later, although there was of course some anxiety too, I was confident that I had created an axis that would not be shaken. Simply, I did what I could do every day by sharing the vegetables we grew and edible wild plants from the mountains with our friends in the city. It was a cycle of joy for me to see them gain energy from those foods and be delighted. It could be said that that was also an art of making a home externally. Now I can say that such a huge event could be a trigger like a "gift” from my own experience. When a tremendous flow is coming, rather than rushing to make a decision, I try to listen carefully to my internal deep voice first. Then my soul moves ahead of my will. It is like “I'm becoming my soul”.
Q. Have you changed your sense of values toward home since you started natural farming?
Since I have started to learn natural farming for more than 8 years, my resolution toward nature has increased dramatically. When I was in the city, I had the impression that everything was just so beautiful. Nowadays, however, I can tell invasive species are growing wild and environmental pollution too. Even in the midst of all these, there is an overwhelming sense of grandeur in the way birds glow and sing, the whispering sound of the wind, and the depth of color in plants.
For me, my “ Home” is to accept both the sense of natural harmony and unnaturalness in nature caused by humans being. It's not only the beautiful things. Thanks to having become aware of these, I can take action to make a world right for us with my community together. That is also a part of the process of finding a home, I believe.
Q. What you learn from nature and how you coexist with it seems to be essential for the foundation of your home too. So, how do you deepen your connections with nature?
The plants in my fields exceed the expectations of human beings who think in terms of efficiency. Even if I make rows and plant them, the next year they will move to a place that suits them and start sprouting again. They are rather more lively that way. My role is to support the plants so that they do not become part of an artificial plan. I believe that we should remember that we are allowed to be part of the natural cycle of life, and not be driven by humans as I work in the fields and with food. I'm not interested in things that work only for human convenience. I feel that somewhere along the line, we will get tired and there will be problems.
The way plants find their home by sensing their comfortable environment brings me the greatest joy and life lessons. So, whenever I feel lost or disoriented, I try to get away from anything artificial, even if only slightly.
Q. From the perspective of your true self, are there any rituals that you do to return to your Home?
Being alone as much as possible and going about my daily tasks mindlessly in silence; gazing at the boundary between the sky and the sea at my favorite beach, or mowing the grass, or just chopping vegetables in the kitchen. Of course, my thoughts are layered, and sometimes anger and self-loathing come up, but I take it all in, and the buzz begins to quiet down. At the same time, I am reminded by the creatures and scenery of the natural world playing in front of me that ”I want to keep myself in this world, and be a part of this side of the world”. I can seriously wonder if I am in heaven just by seeing the morning sun shining on Clover and our beloved dog "Gen-chan". The students of my cooking class call me a “happiness expert” because just a tiny phenomenon gives me a huge grace. “Less is more”. I don't need anything special. Small happiness is what keeps me going.
“For me, my 'Home' is to accept both the sense of natural harmony and unnaturalness in nature caused by human beings. It's not only the beautiful things.”
Q. [How] do you value your cooking class, which is held with the same members throughout the year?
Many of them commute from the bigger cities. My class is a place where we can go to the fields, observe and harvest the plants and cook, but ultimately we don't have to do anything, we can just “be” there, which has been our core value of my class from the beginning. Of course, there are discussions about cooking tips, but we also share what was hard every day, and someone else answers or listens. There are also moments when our thoughts and feelings cascade together, then each of us reflects on what to value in our daily life.
Q. It seems that the classroom is not only your home but also an extended home for your students.
I would be very happy if they felt that way. In the long term, I am also looking at creating a Home for a community where people can voluntarily take care of each other and self-sustain by all of our compassions.
A Note on Natural Farming
The natural farming method that originated from Japan is to make compost from dead grass and straw and return it to the field without using any pesticides or fertilizers, regardless of whether they are chemical or organic, in order to regenerate a soil full of vibrancy and harmony with the natural ecosystem.