Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of The One-Straw Revolution

by Larry Korn

In June 2009, a celebration was held in Tokyo, Japan to honor the 30th Anniversary republication of the English language version of The One-Straw Revolution. Following are Larry Korn’s remarks presented at that event:

It is wonderful to be with all of you in spirit for this celebration of the republication of the English language version of The One-Straw Revolution. We have waited 25 years for this and finally we have our reward. Another generation will be able to read of Sensei’s inspiring philosophy and his unique farming techniques.

This book has a very special message. It arises from the insight that Fukuoka-sensei had as a young man while he was working in Yokohama. It is a message of vision and of hope. It shows the way to a brighter future for humanity and how we can get along in a much better way with nature.

I first came to Sensei’s farm in 1973. I hitch hiked and rode the train to get there. Even after farming for several years in the mountains north of Kyoto I saw rice in Sensei’s fields like I had never seen before. The stalks were shorter, the color was a much deeper green and the heads were laden with grain. Sensei greeted me in a friendly manner in spite of my beard and long hair. He said that the rice grew that way because the fields had not been plowed for more than 25 years. He welcomed me to stay with the other students in the huts on the mountain. I stayed for about two years where I learned about his philosophy and farming ways.

Wara Ippon No Kakumei came out during that time. Tsune Kurosawa arrived at the mountain then after a one year visit to organic farms in the United States. Chris Pearce, an American friend of mine who grew up in Japan, helped by giving us a direct translation, but he had not spent time at Sensei’s farm. Kurosawa-san and I had a lot of work to do if we were to achieve our goal of making Sensei’s teaching available to the world outside of Japan. First, we had to fix the typewriter. It did not have a ribbon or a key for the “e” or the “d”. It took three visits to Matsuyama City to fix the machine. Computers were not yet available. This was the first of our many challenges. After hours and hours of discussions with Fukuoka-sensei and a lot of editing, eventually Kurosawa-san and I produced a draft manuscript. It was my job to bring it to the United States and find a publisher.

When I arrived in the United States, everyone told me that it would be nearly impossible to find a publisher for an author who had never been published in English. I did not believe them for even a moment. I got the manuscript to a man named Wendell Berry who immediately saw the importance of what Fukuoka-sensei was saying. He took the book under his wing and made sure everything went well. Mr. Berry is a writer of countless novels, essays and poetry. He was raised in a farming village and to this day farms his land using horses. He has never used a computer and follows many of the techniques Sensei used. Wendell Berry is the most outspoken advocate for village-scale farming in the United States. It is largely because of his help that the book reads as well in English as it does in Sensei’s native Japanese.

The book sold well, as you know, and was translated, with Sensei’s consent, into many foreign languages. His words are now heard throughout the world. Since his philosophy is essentially spiritual, it is not surprising to me that more people are practicing natural farming in India than anywhere else.

Fukuoka-sensei was like a father to me. He was quite stern when it came to doing farming chores correctly, taking care of tools, paying attention to being in the moment and other practical things. But when it came to humanity he was warm, tolerant and understanding. It was a lot of fun to travel with him and his wife on his first six-week visit to the United States in 1982 and his next visit several years later. He was always willing to meet new people and have new experiences. Sensei always had a sparkle in his eye, and, unlike me, he never seemed to run out of energy.

So now we have the new edition of The One-Straw Revolution. It began with a telephone call from Sara Kramer, an editor from The New York Review of Books. She asked me to please give her Sensei’s address because she believed that the book is far too important to have dropped out of print. I explained the copyright situation and said that all correspondence needed to be in Japanese. A few months later I started receiving emails from Michiyo. Without Michiyo’s hard work and tact, this republication would not have been possible. She has been the person who has gently talked with Sensei and his family, with Sara, with me and many others. Everyone wanted this project to succeed. It was not easy, and Michiyo was the one that held it all together.

Sensei, as the title implies, was a great teacher, not only of farming but of life in general. He saw a way that people could live in harmony with each other and with nature. His vision is a gift to us all. I miss him dearly.

As Sensei wrote, “Natural farming is not simply a way of growing crops; it is the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”