Aquaponics in Japan

By: Tawnya Sawyer

This past Monday I returned home from a 10 day trip through Japan with my son. It was a high school graduation gift for him (in part to exercise his four years of Japanese language classes) and a birthday present for me (one of those big deal birthdays that end in a zero. Can you guess which one?). We spent three days in Tokyo, took bullet trains to Nagano and Kyoto, stayed at a Japanese style ‘ryokan’ with an ‘onsen’ mineral bath and had an incredible time. The people were unfailingly helpful and friendly; everywhere we went was clean and free from litter and the sights and experiences were fascinating. But the highlight, hands down, was the food.

kaiseki meal
First course of our kaiseki meal at the ryokan

Ryan and I are huge fans of Japanese food to begin with. Not only the familiar sushi and tempura, but also multi-course feasts of small plated delights called ‘kaiseki’. And the noodles! Everywhere you turn from every urban block in Tokyo, to the train stations and temples, there are hot noodle dishes being served (ramen, soba, udon and more). Everything was displayed, packaged and served with the utmost beauty. Even the department stores got in on the action with entire basements filled with a dizzying array of gourmet sights and smells.

One of our favorite days was the first day in Tokyo because we spent it with some incredible tour guides – Aragon St Charles who runs Japan Aquaponics and his delightful 5 year old daughter, Fumi. The two of them generously spent the day shuttling us through some of Tokyo’s highlights in a much more high speed fashion than our ‘Day 1’ tourism skills ever would have facilitated. Aragon is a British guy who says that he stopped off in Japan on his way to Canada eight years ago and never left. Now he has a Japanese wife, a daughter, and his own business matching up attorneys with multinational companies doing business in Japan. He also has a dream to bring aquaponics to Japan in a big way. He is especially inspired by the possibilities of using aquaponics in Japan as a teaching tool in schools and to employ them to grow food where the ground has become contaminated in the tsunami region of Tohoku. Click here to read more about Japan Aquaponics.

Japan aquaponics fundraiser
Aragon St. Charles, myself and Ryan

Aragon has a significant challenge ahead of him. The big factors driving the aquaponic gardening explosion here in the U.S. and in Australia are not so important in Japan. The Japanese purchase food based on freshness and appearance. They are not as driven as we are by organics and by self-sufficiency, although the possibility of food radiation caused by the Fukushima power plant is changing that. They are not as concerned about water shortages as we are. They tend to be suspicious of new technologies in areas where tradition abounds, although hydroponics is certainly beginning to take off. And, most interestingly, they are not dialed into the DIY movement. Aragon told me that there simply isn’t any place like a Home Depot in Tokyo, in part because to build your own, especially out of recycled parts, is an admittance of poverty and is shameful. The samurai warrior has not adopted the ways of the ‘weekend warrior’.

I had the opportunity on the following night to join Aragon at a fundraiser for Tohoku and we raised $300 for his project that night. In an email from Aragon later in the week he also revealed ‘Someone from the forum had spotted that we were hosting the event in Tokyo and that you were coming along.’ They had then gone to our site and had made quite a large donation to our projects! They have asked to stay anonymous and I will of course respect that, but I was really surprised, and very happy! The amount they offered will be added to the amount we raised at the event, enough for a small system for a community centre in Minami Sanriku – one of the worst affected areas.

If you are inspired by the work Aragon is doing to use aquaponics to help the victims in Tohoku, you can donate to his cause by clicking here. It feels good to take action and help!