Sophians Talk about Japan and the World

Protecting and Nurturing Sustainable Primary Industries:
Introducing a Japanese Social Business to China and Other Asian Countries

Kazuyoshi Fujita
(President of Daichi wo Mamoru Kai Co., Ltd.)

Behind the Scenes of the Student Revolt

Kazuyoshi Fujita President of Daichi wo Mamoru Kai Co., Ltd.

When I entered the Faculty of Law at Sophia University as a freshman, many universities were in the midst of a storm of student protests. It was an era in which no one–and especially no college student–could remain indifferent to issues, such as the revision of the US–Japan Security Treaty, the Vietnam War, and the return of Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty. At Sophia as well, the ranks of the student movement gradually swelled. I had joined the student newspaper, and in my sophomore year became its editor in chief, writing many articles taking the side of the student protestors. And then, even at Sophia, things escalated to the incident in which students affiliated with Zenkyoto (Zengaku Kyoto Kaigi: All­Campus Joint Struggle League) barricaded the campus and went on strike.

I later had a conversation about the events of that time with Father Joseph Pittau, who passed away recently. Back then, Father Pittau was chancellor of Sophia University, and I studied political science with him. We were on friendly terms, but in the newspaper I ran articles critical of him as one of the university administrators.

Repeated negotiations with the students over the removal of the barricades went nowhere, and finally Father Pittau and the other representatives of the university decided to allow the riot police onto the campus. He was determined not to let academic freedom be undermined by violent methods, no matter what the rationale.

That night, Father Pittau went in person to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department and filed a request for the mobilization of the riot police. The officers in charge opposed the idea, he later told me, saying that it was likely to incite greater student resistance and turn the situation into a quagmire.

But Father Pittau was adamant about restoring academic freedom at Sophia, and would not back down, though he also insisted, “I do not want you to do anything that would spill the blood of my students.”

The police were impressed by Father Pittau's fervor and organized a special unit, comprised of officers over the age of 35 with children of their own, to enter the campus. In the end, after a violent clash, the barricades were removed.

Father Pittau wrote a letter of apology to the Pope concerning this incident. The Pope's response was to summon Father Pittau to Rome, where he personally thanked him for his efforts. As Father Pittau later told me, the Pope then prayed that “the grace of Our Lord also be given unto the Zenkyoto students.” I found it quite moving that he could, from this higher perspective, pray for the happiness of the students who were fighting from their own, narrower point of view.

Skill with foreign languages and an international perspective are often said to be the characteristics of an education at Sophia University, but I feel that even more important than this are the humility and gentleness I discovered. I am not myself a Christian, but many of my teachers were priests, who bore with them a sense of awe and reverence for a higher existence that surpasses human understanding. And I think gradually, without even being aware of it, I was influenced by this. I sense that it lives on in the work I do today.

Able to Continue Meaningful Work Precisely Because It Is a Business

Kazuyoshi Fujita President of Daichi wo Mamoru Kai Co., Ltd.

I have no interest in becoming a politician, but I'd like to leave my children and grandchildren a society in which they will not go hungry or be dragged into warfare. Daichi wo Mamoru Kai (Association to Preserve the Earth) has developed from such a perspective.

When asked about how I got into this line of work, I always cite two books. The first is Sawako Ariyoshi's Fukugo osen (Compound pollution), a novel that depicts the ways in which pesticides, chemical fertilizers, food additives, and other chemicals are degrading our bodies, our farmland, and the environment. The other is economist E. F. Schumacher's collection of essays, Small Is Beautiful, in which he sounds the alarm that a society which seeks only economic growth in a context of mass consumption and blind faith in science will lead to inequality and spiritual ruin, and proposes the employment of “intermediate” technologies that are not dependent on cutting-–edge science and technology.

In order to create a society in which there is no hunger–in other words, one with secure food supplies–it goes without saying that primary industries are essential. And here we must replace the "science and technology" of pesticides and agricultural chemicals with the sustainable methods using ancient but wonderful "technologies" such as use of natural predators to control harmful insects, crop rotation, and the like. In order to protect this kind of agriculture, which is expensive, it is also essential to create strong relationships with consumers, convincing them to purchase food products at a fair and reasonable price.

This is our line of work–in other words, we have developed these ideas in the form of a business that makes enough profit to sustain itself. And this, I believe, is what has allowed us to succeed and to develop to the extent that we have.

We started this business over 40 years ago. At that time, farmers who stopped using pesticides ran the risk of being ostracized by their neighbors as antisocial elements. Consumers had little concern for the healthiness of their food; men in particular tended to be of the attitude that worrying about such trivia would only be an obstacle to success.

But environmental issues began to receive much greater media attention, there were various well-publicized incidents of fraudulent labeling of food products, and as a result there has been a significant shift in people's consciousness. In 2006, legislation was passed to promote organic farming methods, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries finally awakened from its inaction.

Yet we still live in a capitalist society that prioritizes efficiency and productivity. And globalism has brought with it an intensification of competition. Even if they understand intellectually what is really important, business executives prioritize profit, and consumers tend to reach for the cheaper product. There are still many challenges to be faced.

Ambitious Dreams: From China to the Rest of Asia

Kazuyoshi Fujita President of Daichi wo Mamoru Kai Co., Ltd.

Japan has a hot and humid climate and is an island nation in which 67 percent of the land area is forested. In the midst of these geographical conditions, it has created a culture centered around the cultivation of rice, the staple food source. Rice cultivation is a sustainable form of agriculture in which repeated consecutive plantings do not damage the soil. This has allowed us to live together in harmony, helping one another in the context of a system of values that permitted us to think about the fate of future generations, even after we ourselves have gone to the next world.

This system of values is quite different from that shaped, for instance, by growing wheat in drier climates where crop failures due to soil exhaustion are predictable events and taking joy in the present moment is prioritized. No food culture is inherently superior or inferior to any other, but as a Japanese, I would like to do my best to preserve ours.

With the advance of globalization, however, politically things are moving in the direction of more open markets in agriculture as in other sectors. In the process, it is likely that at least temporarily, some producers will be unable to withstand the price competition this brings with it. Our job is to support these producers in forms other than politics. And in this regard, figuring out how to join hands with our neighboring countries is another important challenge.

Two years ago, in July, we began expanding our business activities to China. If environmentally concerned and sustainable agriculture can be disseminated in China, it could change world agriculture. And if the bonds of trust and mutual assistance we have been able to create between producers and consumers can also be established there, this could also contribute to world peace. This is what I have continued to say everywhere I go in China.

Contemporary China is following the road Japan traveled during the era of high economic growth, but has yet to deal with the problems, such as pollution, that Japan experienced as the underside of that growth. Nor are the Chinese people able to freely criticize what is happening.

Moreover, since land is not privately owned, it is difficult for people to develop the mentality of passing on good land and good agricultural practices to future generations, and poverty makes it difficult to maintain good business ethics. There is a need to develop standards and contractual forms specifically suited to China. Last December I was invited to Peking University, where I had the opportunity to engage in a dialogue with Dr. Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his research and practical work in the field of microfinance. The consciousness of the Chinese appears to be beginning to shift, too.

Once we see a good response in Beijing, we will expand our business activities to Chengdu and Shanghai. In future I hope to extend our business to Singapore and the other countries of Southeast Asia. Our dreams are ambitious.

Kazuyoshi Fujita President of Daichi wo Mamoru Kai Co., Ltd.
Kazuyoshi Fujita
President of Daichi wo Mamoru Kai Co., Ltd.

Born 1947 in Iwate Prefecture. After graduating from the Faculty of Law at Sophia University, Kazuyoshi Fujita worked for an architectural publishing company. In 1975, he founded Daichi wo Mamoru Kai as a nongovernmental organization devoted to the promotion of organic agriculture. In 1977, this organization was converted into a joint-stock company and began to market organic vegetables. Mr. Fujita is currently president of the company, working concurrently as representative director of Social Business Network. He is the author of Yuki nogyo de sekai o kaeru (Changing the world with organic agriculture; [Tokyo: Kosakusha, 2010]) and other books.

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