Philosophy Collage:We are all responsible for the Earth

In what follows, we have the essence of a philosophy, put into a collage, which we created by deliberately pulling apart the words of a dialogue with Tsujii Takayuki and Shigenaga Tadashi. With the two of them together in the same space, we had a natural conversation, not simply an interview. They turned out to have an unexpected personal connection—they both graduated from Harajuku Junior High School (now Harajuku Gaien Junior High School) in Tokyo, albeit in different years. Spanning the past to the present, the feelings and experiences of each man regarding nature-oriented projects are presented below, along with the pieces of wisdom and inspiration that emerged during the talk. Our discussion was full of suggestions and essential ideas about how to go about business and projects in environmentally friendly ways.

Tsujii: I really had no connection with nature before I became an adult. That was a major issue for me—I felt like I was missing something as a little kid who didn't know anything about nature. I grew up in a big city. The only sports I played were team sports like baseball and soccer. After I finished university, my life revolved around practices from Tuesday through Saturday and a match on Sunday. When I quit soccer at 26, I suddenly found myself with nothing to do—no more practices, no more matches. Right when I was wondering what to do, I came across a book about traveling by canoe. I happened to find out that an acquaintance ran a sea kayaking shop in Shinjuku. I had discovered a world I knew nothing about, and it drew me in. So now I am hyperconscious about nature.

Shigenaga: Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve loved baseball—it was my favorite thing to do. But in 6th grade I came down with a severe kidney disease. I couldn’t play any sports, and all I could do in gym class was watch. That experience of serious illness was the start of a big change for me. Indeed, I have no words to describe my frustration at being an idle spectator unable to play the sports I loved the most. But right at that point, my illness, which the doctors said was incurable, was completely cured thanks to my encounter with a practitioner of Chinese medicine and his herbal medicines. I learned early—well before my friends—about the amazing natural blessings found in plants and about the necessity of things like plants for life. Those lessons are closely linked to who I am today.

Tsujii: Many people I like are interested in the outdoors. I saw a feature on the photographer Michio Hoshino in a magazine called Switch. The title was something like "Can we sense the smell of the hunt?" ["Michio Hoshino: Wareware wa shuryō no nioi o kagu koto ga dekiru ka," Switch, vol. 12, no. 3, 1994]. The cover had a black and white photo of a Native American preparing a caribou. It was about 2 a.m., and I was with friends at Aoyama Book Center (a large bookstore in Tokyo's Roppongi district). I was transfixed by that photo. As I flipped through the magazine, I was thinking I'd never be able to do something like that because those people grew up in a different environment, but then I came to the profile on Hoshino, which said he was a graduate of Keio University. What’s more, he was born in Chiba prefecture. That's what made me think, "Hmm, maybe I'll get the chance to experience the same kinds of things." I know it's just me, but deep inside I felt a close connection to Hoshino. Seeing that piece was a big reason why I devoted myself to the outdoors.

Shigenaga:  I go to Sri Lanka several times a year in connection with my nature-themed resort projects, which I run alongside my herbal business. Now, reassessing my way of life and my basic values is really hard for me to do in an urban setting. That's the case even in Tokyo, which is my base of operations both personally and professionally. When I get out into the wild in Sri Lanka, I can think more objectively about the things I normally do. When you're surrounded by nature, you judge things by standards completely different from the ones you'd use in an urban setting. In fact, many of my really good ideas have come to me out in the wild when I wasn't really thinking about anything at all.

Tsujii: There probably really are some things you notice precisely because you're a city kid. I always had a hankering for natural surroundings and the countryside, which is an instinctive desire among humans, I think. It's commonplace for people in Okinawa to go skin diving and catch fish, but I can't do that kind of thing. When I went to Vancouver, Canada, everyone would moor their boats with bowline knots as if it were the simplest thing in the world. But that, too, was something I couldn't do. I had to learn all of these things from scratch. That's the opposite of learning something from nature. Spending my days living in the city may have made me a good example of how not to do things.

Shigenaga: What I've learn from creative work using the natural blessings found in plants as a raw material is that your creations are not always what you set out to make. That is to say, you certainly don't wind up with the product you had anticipated, and no two creations are alike. It’s clear to me—and I feel strongly about this—that humans cannot bend nature to their will. Some of the seeds we use as raw materials are from plants on the brink of extinction. Plants have only one chance to live, so you have to honor them through your creations, and the answer is to come up with ways to see the faces of the people in the communities where things are produced, and to engage in collaborations that span agriculture, commerce, and manufacturing. That's the natural and necessary thing.

Tsujii: I think the phrase "relationships through slices" best describes how cities and nature are connected today. Take something as simple as food—you buy it, you don’t produce it with your own hands. Crops, whether they are organic or not, are harvested somewhere by someone else, and they're all sliced up and put in bags arrayed at the supermarket. Before people came over from the Asian mainland and agrarian culture spread, ancient Japanese had a flesh-and-blood relationship with their food in the sense that they killed or collected it with their own hands. Nowadays, this kind of relationship is something that not only the Japanese but many people living around the world have decisively lost. Given this state of affairs, there's a divide between people: some have a subconscious awareness of nature that's expressed as a longing or yearning, and some try to control nature. Concepts such as "destroy" or "protect" spring up as soon as people separate themselves from nature and objectify it. For hunter-gatherers, because they are a part of nature, they themselves feel the pain when they chop down a tree to make a canoe. They themselves hurt when they hunt down an animal. But they understand that doing such things is absolutely essential for their livelihood. We started out living like that. Then agriculture gradually got under way, after which distribution-based economies took shape and capitalism emerged in its present form. Accompanying those shifts, the approaches to "slices" were also remarkable. I think there is a connection between these shifts and the people today who want to do things like go fishing or get involved in outdoor sports. In that sense, something like "outdoor products" might be a kind of symbol. It's a good thing if you can forge some sort of connection between humans and nature through products—for example, jackets imbued with the results of mountain climbers putting them through many tests, like making sure snow doesn't get in at the neck or cold air doesn't build up inside the jacket.

Shigenaga: My strong belief is that objects and products provide an opportunity for learning about a philosophy, and I want to develop products that will teach you the background and story behind them. That's why we go down to where our herbs are grown and report on what we see and turn it into a narrative. "Objects" are not just things that immediately satisfy a desire or take care of a need. They're for learning about history, people, and nature. In plants, you've got something for learning about the meaning behind why that kind of plant lives where it does. You empathize, and then by extension you buy the product. You pay money for a value you cannot see. I want our focus on such invisible processes to create a new era.

Tsujii: Things get incredibly complicated when you're talking about the relationship with nature and you decide to try to define what "nature" is. In Japan, nature as a concept first took shape several hundred years ago. I had in interest in this question when I was in graduate school, though I didn't really research it at a very advanced level. If I'm not mistaken, it was the 18th century Dutch studies scholar Sugita Genpaku who first came across the word "natuur" while reading documents written in that language. Japanese didn't have a word like it, so he struggled over how to translate it. He understood the word to mean everything in the world other than humans—or everything with only humans removed. He took a Chinese character compound that previously had been pronounced "ji'nen" and changed the reading to "shizen", resulting in the word that Japanese still use today to mean "nature". Before that, Japanese had seen human beings as just another part of nature, and they didn't have a word for indicating everything in the natural world with humans excluded.

Shigenaga: Whenever I arrive in Sri Lanka, on the way to the hotel, I'm always struck by the number of places for people to stop and offer prayers. The local hotel managers who pick me up at the airport, I see them take off their shoes, get out of the car, and bow down touching their heads to the ground as they pray. Naturally, they are doing this in accordance with local religious practices, but when I see them praying heedless of outward appearance with their sense of reverence toward something greater than themselves, I always get a feeling that I'm living amid nature and I'm a part of the world. It's not something taught or learned.

Tsujii: Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, has of course had a tremendous influence on me. For many of my talks, I draw inspiration from his words and actions. When I'm giving a talk, I'll think about how he said this or that, and my words will turn into his! Yvon is often asked in interviews, "Right now, what do you want to do most?" That's because he’s busy. He has a summer home in Wyoming, and a small environmentally friendly home in California where he spends his winters. But whenever he's asked that question he always answers, "I want to work in my garden." He has a small garden where he has a bunch of old-style rattraps set about. He'd say, "Hey, Taka, Check this out!" and eat the carrots the rats hadn't nibbled on. He'd make compost from raw garbage and seaweed collected from the seashore. I don’t know if I could live like that, but I always think, wow, that's a rich life.

Shigenaga: If we're going to talk about richness, I always think that it's an issue of relationships. It's not about being fine by yourself; it's about your relationships with other people and with the Earth, where you get your food and live your life. It's those relationships, and the relationships between your generation and the next, and between your generation and your parents' generation. The question isn't what immediate results those relationships do or do not produce. The relationships themselves are the greatest luxury, and you can have them simply because you are alive. Given the fact that you are alive, it’s really inexcusable to say you cannot do this or that because you don't have the money or don't have the time. Being alive and, by carrying on, finding something you like, the richness that comes from these relationships might be the starting point for all the "luxury" on this planet. On the path that I have created, I'll pass this knowledge on to someone else. And then new relationships will be formed from that. The next story in turn will spring from those relationships. For me, that's the kind of thing I really want to preserve.

Tsujii: When I was in my late 20s, I wanted to explore the best way for me to get involved with the natural world that I had adored since I was little. My first thought was my desire to travel the world and see various places with my own eyes. I went to Vancouver Island and Greenland, and then to Patagonia. I also went rowing through the oceans in my beloved sea kayak. But you can't change anything just by experiencing the sense that "nature is being lost" from seeing and feeling it for yourself. Except in exceptional circumstances, participating in extreme opposition movements was not something that really fit me, so I am afraid I am not persistent. The minute you say you are "anti" something, you end up creating an enemy. Once you've done that, even if you win, the other side will then become the "anti" element. The cycle will continue on and on, and long-term solutions to problems will be impossible. In opposition movements, more often than not, some champion of the cause emerges, but lately I've come to strongly believe that's not important. What's important is for people with a variety of different positions to reach consensus through dialogue.

Shigenaga:  If you think about time in terms of how long it's been since the Earth was created, then our lives are really short, practically nothing. This is an inescapable fact. Nevertheless, every day we are allowed to make use of nature's blessings and lead our lives. At the very least, while I'm on this planet I want to find a way to give something back to nature through my work. Altruism can be achieved after selfishly demanding "We are a part of the Earth". Using nature’s blessing and then giving something back—I want to treat that cycle with importance. I want to refashion the concept of "consumption" into a philosophy of life based on the idea of a "cycle", like the cycle of a seed that sprouts into a flower, blooms, ripens, and then eventually returns to the soil. If we can do that, then I can believe that this life given to me by the Earth was at least a little useful.

Tsujii: It would be impossible for all 7 billion people on the Earth today to engage in the same kind of economic behavior seen in advanced countries. Yet it would be hypocritical if we were to continue enjoying economic growth while rejecting the idea that others should be allowed to achieve growth as we understand it now. Considered in that light, we need to see ourselves as positioned at a crossroads where we ask what growth means. That might mean the amount of growth, and it might mean the quality of growth. It is unfortunate, but I think making any drastic changes in our approach to economic growth while I'm alive will be difficult. Even so, I think it is our duty to think about what kind of world we want to leave behind for future generations. The important thing is for us to think seriously about are approaches based not on conflict, but on the quality of life of as many people as possible with different positions. It may be because I work in the outdoors business, but I wonder about what happens in the process of making goods, about what kind of burden it imposes on the environment, and about exactly what kind of compensation is being paid to workers in the supply chain. I want to shine light on these issues while reducing our environmental impact as much as possible, showing respect for human rights, and creating a framework in which many people can live rich lives. This approach will entail tremendous effort and high costs, but I want to seek out ways that even more people can find happiness thanks to the success of our work. This is not to say that I am directly connected to each link in my supply chain, given that I do my work in Japan. However, even if the work I do is indirect, I would be satisfied knowing that I could make a small but meaningful contribution toward pointing the world in the right direction.

Tadashi Shigenaga

Tadashi Shigenaga was born in Omotesando, Tokyo.

He grew up around his grandfather's photography studio and his father's ceramic shop.

At the age of 10, he suffered from serious kidney disease which made him realize the value of a healthy mind and body.

After encountering herbal medicine, which he regards as a natural gift from plants, he has dedicated his life to learning what it means to be really healthy and to achieving happiness through the practical use of herbal remedies.

His guiding philosophy is "be natural, be healthy, live happily".

He also plays guitar in the rock band, XQ's, founded by the CEOs of socially conscious companies.