Earth Day In Nasu, Tochigi 2014

Earth Day in Nasu is now an annual event for many small organizations that have hosted large symposiums on how to care for our planet over the years.

They do wonderful market events and workshops as well as art shows.

Earth Day in Nasu, Tochigi prefecture has all kinds of projects prepared for May, 2014.

Which got me to explore another rural Tochigi initiative, that has been around for over 40 years:

The Asian Rural Institute (ARI) is a training center for Rural Leaders. Founded in 1973 by Rev. Dr. Toshihiro Takami the aim of the program is to invite and train local grassroots leaders to more effectively serve in their communities as they work for the poor, the hungry, and the marginalized.

Each year from April to December we bring together about 30 leaders from countries primarily in Asia, Africa, and the Pacific to take part in our Rural Leaders Training Program. The training focuses on sustainable agriculture through integrated organic farming techniques, community building, and servant leadership. It is community based and hands-on learning is emphasized in all areas. Working together we grow and share our own food.

At the heart of the program is the concept of ‘Foodlife‘ (J) a term designed to recognize and value the interdependency between life and the food that sustains all life.

The Asian Rural Institute Rural Leaders Training Center Tsunagaru Events Report

“Tsunagaru” is a Japanese word that means “connecting”. At the Asian Rural Institute, we have many kinds of relationship building events to connect with people from the local area and Japan. We plan our Tsunagaru events to give the community a chance to discover, learn, and communicate with us. With so many different ways of thought, ways of life, and things and skills we possess, there are many kinds of opportunities available. We look forward to you joining us and building connections through flea markets and used books drives, seminars, food, music, and more!

2013 Training Report

One participant, during her Morning Gathering, shared about her learning at ARI in this way: “There is a river in front of us. The river is poverty, lack of education, laziness and selfishness. NGOs come to help us. They carry us across the river. But they do not teach us how to cross on our own. So after they go back, we cannot cross the river again. But ARI is different. What we learned at ARI is how to cross the river.” Another participant sang a song in her final oral presentation: “You gave me power! ARI gave me power!”
Surely they learned a lot. Servant leadership, knowledge and practice of organic farming, the dangers of chemicals, participatory learning and action, livestock, natural farming, agroforestry, 3-D farming, permaculture, pollution issues, development issues, localization, biogas and so on. But what we most wanted them to learn is the principal of local resources; that they can go forward by their own power, which is already present in their own communities. Rural leaders can find what they need in their community, and should encourage people and work/live together with them. Participants learn this philosophy, and how to serve each other, through class, farm work, cooking and every aspect of daily life.

More news from people that have brought about some remarkable change:

Honorary guest Mr. Tomikazu Fukuda, Governor of Tochigi Prefecture, described ARI as “pride of Tochigi” in his congratulatory message. Another honored guest, Mr. Toshio Itabashi, Board Chairman of the Rotary Yoneyama Memorial Scholarship Fund addressed the governor’s presence, saying “I believe this is a sign of recognition that the work of Asian Rural Institute, and its modest but fundamental contribution to world peace, is someting that Tochigi Prefecture can be proud of before the world.”

The special events continued in the afternoon with a graduates-centered symposium. Mr. Thomas Mathew, Indian graduate of 1988, and Ms. Judith Dhaka, Zambian graduate of 2001, delivered keynote speeches under the title “The Transformation We Have Brought About.” They talked about the culture shock they received when they arrived in Japan, and how the experience of rural leadership training at ARI shaped their personalities. ARI’s concept of servant leadership, living with people of different religions and practicing sustainable agriculture on a daily basis had a deep impact for their their work in Asia and Africa.


“Food is key to any development” says Ms. Dhaka. “I taught my community to preserve all the fresh vegetables that we eat, especially during the rainy season, and process some tuber crops like pumpkins and sweet potatoes.” About the leadership training she says: “I learned how to humble myself as a leader, to be a practical leader, especially by doing dish-washing and compulsory morning chores, when even the director (of ARI) can clean the toilet.”

Mr. Mathew was touched by the visit to the Hiroshima Peace Museum during his training and has since worked towards abolishing nuclear weapons. “My visit to Hiroshima at the time of the Western Japan Study Tour totally changed my thoughts about peace. The story of the hibakusha (victimes of the nuclear bomb) was painful for all of us gathered in Hiroshima YMCA.” After returning back to India, he invited hibakusha to speaking tours besides also promoting organic agriculture.


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