Origins of the Name 'Sasayuri-ann' and the Background of its Establishment

Until just a mere thirty years ago, the exquisitely fragrant sasayuri, our native Japanese lily, flourished in the countryside throughout Japan. The sasayuri (botanical name Lilium japonicum) is the most notable example of the nearly 1/6 of the flowers in the lily family that originate in Japan. However, due to the degradation of nature and environmental change, only those who explicitly search for it now find this once typical Japanese lily. The beautiful natural sight of blooming sasayuri flowers that we once took for granted has been lost. In much the same way, the thatched-roof style traditional Japanese house also began its rapid disappearance some fifty years ago, and it is almost impossible to come across one in today's Japan.

Before people even noticed it, the expansion of the economically oriented monoculture that we call globalization caused tragedies on many fronts. The global monoculture has destroyed the distinctive cultures and traditions of many nations and ethnic groups. It poses a threat to our self-identities, leaving the individual with a sense of loss, and is leading us along the slippery slope to social disruption.

In Japan, the landscape has become nothing but a conglomeration of suburban cities all resembling the outskirts of Tokyo. Major corporate chain stores and franchises line the main thoroughfares of these regional cities, creating a cookie-cutter world in which everywhere looks the same, possessing neither individual flavor nor tradition. Am I alone in thinking that from a certain point of view this scenery appears as a wasteland? Where did the beautiful landscape and scenery of the past go?

When the world-renowned German architect Bruno Taut visited agricultural villages during his sojourn in Japan between 1933 and 1935, he is recorded as saying "Words are not used to narrate tradition. Tradition speaks through architectural structures." If Taut is indeed correct, then the disappearance of the traditional Japanese thatched-roof house has beckoned the loss of our traditions and identity.

When I (the owner of Sasayuri-ann) was born, just a mere half century ago in 1960, as well as during my childhood, our water was spring water from the mountains, our food consisted of rice from terraced rice paddies and vegetables from our fields, eggs lain by our own chickens, milk from our goats and fish we caught at the seashore. We were self-sufficient, and our energy was from the village forest where we gathered kindling to steam rice and boil the bath water. We used a basin to wash our clothes and warmed ourselves around the hibachi charcoal brazier. With the exception of electric lights, it was a time when we were nearly 100% regionally self-sufficient, making use of local production for local consumption.

Just like this, my daily chores during my early childhood consisted of gathering kindling in the village forest, carrying it back home to heat the bath water and boil rice on the cooking stove. Even today, despite the memories of my early childhood having faded with time, how is it that I have such vivid recollections of the flickering, red and orange flames that crackled and shot out of the firewood fed into our cooking stove?

The disappearance of the firewood cooking stove, hibachi and the irori open-hearth fireplace accompanied the globalization of reliance upon fossil fuels and the appearance of electric cooking appliances. Without much ado, the kindling that had provided energy from the village forest soon became useless. This new lifestyle that freed people, including my mother, from the hardships of daily household chores enveloped Japan in one fell swoop.

Throughout the so-called "bubble period" that saw the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, 1970 Osaka World's Fair and the "Japan as No. 1" phenomenon of the latter half of the 1980s, the flip side of economic growth, development and expansion was the abandonment of rural Japan. As in the example of Awaji Island where is my native place, the natural environment of Japan was degraded, and the results this are the dismembered, chaotic landscapes that we are left with today.

I entered Kyoto Sangyo University in 1979. Fortunately for me, the university was located in the north of the city of Kyoto, where the strong influence of Kamigamo Shinto Shrine's sacred precincts was still evident in the region's character, preserving the style of old Kyoto. Even there, however, the sundering of the landscape and the disintegration of traditional culture was proceeding at a rapid pace in those days.

With regard to the social trends and flourishing economy of that time, even in the midst of prosperity I harbored some sort of doubt, or maybe I should call it an intuitive yearning, rooted in a sense that something was not quite right. This yearning motivated my quest for the meaning of true affluence. It was at that time that I came across Morimoto Tetsuro's book Journey in Search of Affluence, and on my vacations I repeatedly set out for India seeking an answer to my question, traveling the towns and villages associated with the Buddha Shakyamuni, the Indian controlled western Tibetan town of Ladakh located deep in the Himalayan mountains as well as the villages of alpine regions in Nepal. The local people of those places were certainly not affluent, but in their eyes and their smiling faces I could not find even a hint of unhappiness. Does the fact that they all looked so happy despite of their lack of affluence mean that what I saw was an illusion?

Even now, that experience still fills me with a sense of wonder. For the thirty-odd years since then I have placed myself in a world that prioritizes bottom-line capitalism, but even while doing so, with the determination of an ascetic seeker of the truth I have continued looking for an answer to the question of true affluence and happiness, rounding out the half century of my lifetime. It seemed as if I had passed nothing but time in the thirty years since my travels, tossed about in crowded commuter trains day after day and begrudgingly working long hours, but all the while I continued asking myself if there was any non-material spiritual existence to be found in all of this.

When I thought about it, however, I eventually arrived at the realization that the answer I sought was clearly and evidently in the life of the Japan of my own childhood. While we were certainly not materially affluent, we were surrounded by nature and connected to traditional forms of culture, lifestyles, family structure and communal society. It dawned on me: one does not have to journey afar to discover the key to happiness. All along, the truth of the matter was right below my very own feet!

Author and activist Helena Norberg-Hodge wrote of this based upon her years in the western Tibetan areas of Ladakh and Leh in India. "I experienced firsthand how development and progress separates people from the earth, separates people from each other, and eventually separates people from themselves. I have seen how a contented people lose the tranquility of their lives when they begin to live by following the norms of western society." Norberg-Hodge's time in Tibetan India led her to conclude that, in her own words, "Culture and tradition plays a much more important role in the shaping of human beings that I had previously thought" (Norberg-Hodge, Ancient Futures).

We are no longer able to recover an aestheticized version of the rustic life of the past. Even so, the task facing all modern peoples is the necessity to move in the direction of a sustainability that balances culture and nature, city and village, development and happiness, money economy and financial security as much as possible.

I realized that Fukano Village's project to protect and breed the disappearing sasayuri, Japan's native lily (which was registered in November 2012 as one of UNESCO's "Heritage for the Future" projects) and the movement to restore and maintain the endangered traditional Japanese house complement one another because the people involved in both have the same dream. As a newcomer to this village, I chose the name "Sasayuri-ann", literary meaning "Hermitage of the Sasayuri" so that it would come to be loved by the people of Fukano as well as to ensure that visitors understand the significance of the sasayuri flower and the traditional Japanese house.

Now, on the cusp of the restoration of its original thatched-roof, a black, corrugated metal roof seals the Sasayuri-ann in a cold and inhospitable appearance that dates back some fifty years. If the corrugated roof were left as it is for much longer, not just the roof but also the entire house would come to the end of its days, making restoration all but impossible. Fifty years is the utmost limit, the last chance to restore this traditional Japanese house.

The deteriorated western side of the metal roof that sits in the shadow of the mountain is rusted horribly; the roof framing and a portion of the columns is years past viability and about to collapse. The roof is crooked and warped, inclined too sharply on the north side, and the columns are old lumber that show much evidence of having been recycled and repaired. The house is estimated to have originally been constructed 150 years ago, but individual columns are older, and some among them are perhaps as much as 200-300 years old, and consequently, they no longer keep the house level.

Just as nobody seemed the slightest bit interested in the danger of damage to Japanese culture, no one seemed to take notice of the threat to the continued existence of the thatched-roof house that is the quintessential Japanese home. Even though market economics and capitalism has reached a period of maturity on a worldwide scale, we continue to push further and further onward in the old 20th century mindset. It is as if we are still stuck in an age where the only single virtue is pursuing the globalization of the economic orientation of growth upon growth, expansion upon expansion.

When I visit countries throughout Asia in the course of my work, I find that because of the sudden expansion of market economics in a span of time even shorter than Japan experienced, traditional houses have almost disappeared from their cities, as one might expect, but are even vanishing from rural areas too.

In rural areas of Japan the architectural style of traditional houses is still alive, but just barely. If we miss this opportunity to revive and preserve the traditional landscape of agricultural villages and farmhouses as they face the existential threat that market economics poses to civic life and culture today, we may lose our last chance to preserve even the present pitiful landscape for posterity.

As of right now in 2013, I am going against the current of the times by taking on the challenge of moving my business office for a trading venture at the forefront of the global economy, from the city of Osaka to the mountain village of Fukano. I have made a decision to begin preparations for the new world spirit and value system of the 21st century that, although we cannot yet see today, will someday arrive. Sasayuri-ann is a laboratory for harmonizing a reassuring capitalism of the forested village (the Sasayuri-ann as a restored antique home and guest house enterprise) with bottom-line capitalism (the Yamato-ann as our new corporate office)

Imagine for a moment a Japan that has completely lost its one-of-a-kind natural environment and cultural traditions at the extreme terminus of global capitalism. The beautiful archetypical scenes of Japan and the heart of the Japanese people are the gifts of nature and cultural traditions that have matured over the course of several thousands of years. Losing that heart would indeed place us "on the road to disintegration by losing ourselves," as Norberg-Hodge warns.

It just so happens that 2013 marks the renewal of the Grand Shrine of Ise, an observance performed once every twenty years called Sengu, during which the Kami is transferred to a newly constructed sanctuary. 2013 is also the year of renewal at the Grand Shrine of Izumo, which occurs once every 60 years. It may be nothing but a coincidence, but the reconstruction of the antique farmhouse Sasayuri-ann also auspiciously began in 2013.

Reconstruction will replace materials representative of the 20th century-style economy, such as steel and concrete as well as plastics, with fundamentally all-natural building materials. Lumber from giant pines will be used to set new beams, and the trunk of a broad zelkova tree (J. keyaki) will serve as the house's new main column. Planks of pine will be used to lay new floorboards, smoked bamboo will be used to re-hang the ceiling, and baked tiles will be used for the lean-to roof eaves and kaya grass thatch for the main roof. These traditional techniques are skills that will be increasingly rare and correspondingly expensive in the future. However, if someone does not support the transmission of these traditional building crafts and endeavor to preserve the natural landscape and the scenes of wooded country villages, this world of diversity will be lost. That would ensure the tragic future of a monoculture borne of prioritizing the global capitalist economy.

I'm pinning my hopes on the maturation of Japan as a society and expect that people will gradually open their hearts to concern for not just the urbanity of the central cities but also the kind of diversity and affluence found in the countryside.

"Sasayuri-ann" debuts with the dream that in twenty years when the Grand Shrine of Ise is renewed once again, we will also be able to re-thatch the roof of the Sasayuri-ann.

This is not just an issue of preserving the physical forms of nature or cultural traditions. I fully anticipate that this project will nurture a love of nature and culture within visitors' hearts, and that their heart of love would continuously give birth to new life.

The late Murayama Misao proposed the theory of "800-year cycles of civilization", a historical maxim that world civilization experiences periods of growth and decline alternating between East and West. During Western periods, material culture (the tangible) advances, while during Eastern periods there is a tendency for spiritual culture (the intangible) to advance. If his theory is accurate, then right now we are at a turning point, and the center of civilization is beginning to shift eastward. Perhaps this is why some instinct within us has begun to awaken a desire to save the rustic and important things in Japan from the threat of collapse and preserve them for posterity, almost as if we are unconsciously reaching out to that future that lies out ahead of us.

The previous peak period of Eastern civilization occurred some 1200 years ago when the culture of Tang dynasty China was at its apex, the age when Kukai and Saicho brought the most recent developments in Buddhism back to Japan. In that cycle, the focal point of development appears to have advanced eastward from Sumer, the Indus, and Ganges, then moving to Tang period China, followed by Japan.

We may have entered a turbulent period of great change when the culture of the East begins moving towards its next golden age that awaits us some four hundred years in the future.

More than anything, it is this worldwide civilizational shift that will greatly transform the values of human beings. However, this transformation of values itself will require tens if not hundreds of years during which change will take place only slowly, unseen and below the surface, so we may not be aware of it anytime soon.

Even if the coming civilization of the East inherits something of the prevailing hegemonic ideologies of the market, capitalism's zero-sum games and appropriation of resources through military conflict, we can nevertheless expect that these legacies will be significantly transformed. However, I have a hunch that the future civilization will be based on standards of sharing, respect, trust and peace of mind.

By "Share" I do not mean getting one's "share" through a competitive scramble. Instead, I feel that the time will soon come when we will turn the course of our civilization towards "share" through fellowship.

The collective consciousness of humanity will evolve from "Take & Take" ? "Give & Take" ? "Give & Give". The economic calculus, market share and profit of the capitalist seller, which is now a winner takes all, survival of the fittest fight of all against all, will instead be like the merchant values that prospered in Japan's Edo period (1603-1867). The ethic of the Edo period merchant was the "Benefit of all Three Sides", that is, to take into consideration the "benefit to the seller", "benefit to the customer", and lastly, the "benefit to society". The "Benefit of All Three Sides" was a morality that advanced the notion of "enlightened rule and succor of the people" and encouraged order in society.

Even as Japan is at the forefront of capitalism, the life expectancy of the Japanese people is longer than those of other advanced countries of the world. The advancement of medical technology and a social welfare system that includes universal medical insurance coverage are certainly contributing factors. I am convinced, however, that a more important cause is a deep and fertile historical soil of spiritual affluence that still remains, and this allows Japanese to live in security and peace of mind, particularly in the localities and areas of rural agricultural villages.

The number of applicants for listing in the compilation of "Japan's best 100 countryside villages" from across Japan reached an impressive 4,474 municipalities, demonstrating the reality that many rural villages remain in today's Japan.

Despite this fertile soil of history and customs that fosters a spiritual peace of mind, it is unfortunately only when there is material shape or form that can serve as an object to spur our awareness that we human beings can focus our minds and heighten our consciousness. Thus, when we behold this beautiful natural scenery and the nostalgic traditional Japanese house, we also experience a bountiful heart for the first time.

Wouldn't you agree that natural scenery is reflected in the hearts of people who live there?

Fukano village and this traditional thatched-roof farmhouse, Sasayuri-ann, are an inheritance worthy of recognition as World Heritage Sites, even though they possess no gorgeous reception halls like those at the famous monasteries of Nara and Kyoto and the castles of the feudal lords of old. Nor does the Sasayuri-ann they have the luxurious spaces of the fashionable resort hotels of the big cities.

Even so, in Fukano Village and at Sasayuri-ann we find a clear vision for linking archetypical Japanese natural settings and the good things of the past to our future. The doors and screens of Sasayuri-ann open up this antique farmhouse to the outside, revealing a prominent open-hearth fireplace. While enjoying the magnificent panorama, Sasayuri-ann provides a space in which anyone can feel free to loosen up and relax with a group of easy-going friends.

For us, the beautiful natural setting and the dignified scenery of the agricultural village and its farmhouses, as well as the smiles of the people who live there, are the best forms of hospitality.

During this period of worldwide transformation, it is precisely deep in the mountains at Fukano, where there is nothing to distract our contemplation, that we can take notice of the changes in the world. We can also enrich people's hearts by fulfilling the core human instincts and desires to get into direct contact with fundamental elements of fire, earth and water. When our hearts have this sensibility, in every passing moment we can savor the progression of the seasons and the beauty of sunny skies as well as the rains that makes Fukano a kind of "Japanesque" kaleidoscope.

It is my best wishes that Sasayuri-ann becomes a place where people gather and laugh together, experience an affluence of the spirit, and illuminate a corner of our world."

I heartily welcome your stay at Sasayuri-ann.

Tetsuji Matsubayashi, The villa owner
Postscript: The Owner's impressions of Fukano Village

In the past, "kuni-home" was a term that meant to "sing the praises of the country". Speaking of Fukano Village is precisely the practice of "singing the praises of the country!" This adorable village of Fukano stands at an elevation of approximately 450 meters and is located on latitude 34.59 degrees north and longitude 136.04 degrees east, right at the base of the Kii Peninsula. Heading northwards from the southern tip of the peninsula there are the religious pilgrimage sites of Kumano, Koya and Yoshino, and beyond them many nameless hills, which have sustained the people with their bounty of mountain spring water since the distant past.

Since long ago, places with mountain springs were considered holy, and all of the sacred sites of the Kii Peninsula are places under heavenly skies that are blessed with spring waters. Yet, for some reason all of them have the character "no", meaning field, in their names.

The region of Fukano is a veritable sacred land of mountain springs and also provides its own unique panoramic vista of the heavens rivaling those of Kumano, Koya and Yoshino.

Since antiquity, Asian peoples believed that the universe was composed of the basic elements of earth, water, fire, wind and space. The wooded hillside village of Fukano is a place within the phenomenal world where we can experience all of these five elements

Fukano is furnished with these basic elements for which human beings instinctively thirst. This is especially true when facing east. East is the direction from which we can see the morning star in the twilight before dawn, and with the rising sun we can also experience a world of limitless empty space and the realm of heavenly illumination. Fukano is a "field" where one can experience for oneself how the ancients intuitively connected with the cosmos.

(Special thanks to the people of Fukano.)