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AFARI SAFARI III Highlights from Skip Dickinson

posted May 3, 2012, 11:28 AM by Craig D. Rice

AFARI SAFARI III Highlights from Skip Dickinson

Skip Dickinson, AFARI SAFARI III participant, shared the following reflections on his trip to the Asian Rural Institute.

With a grateful heart I give many, many thanks for your support toward my travel to Japan in October to participate in the 36th Annual Harvest Thanksgiving Celebration of the Asian Rural Institute (ARI). Located near the city of Nasushiobara in northern Japan, ARI is an international training center on an 8 hectare integrated organic farm that invites 25 to 30 grass roots rural leaders from Asia, Africa and the Pacific to study for nine months every year in sustainable organic agricultural techniques, leadership and community development.

Highlights of my 17 day journey included:
  • The reunion with ARI’s founder, the Rev. Dr. Toshihiro Takami, a Yale Divinity School classmate, and his lovely wife, Shinko Takami.
  • Assembling for 6:30 AM exercises to a Japanese radio program, before chores;
  • At ARI my personal morning and evening chores included feeding and caring for chickens, alongside a Muslim woman from Bangladesh and an Episcopal volunteer from Texas.
  • The community meal times with grace sung in Japanese or English followed by a spoken prayer by a participant in his or her native tongue.
  • Participating in worship and assembly by the community led by one of the participants.
  • the offering of first fruits of the harvest at the outdoor amphitheatre gathering with the Ambassador and his wife from Maui as invited guests.
  • Receiving the blessing by Takami sen sei raising his hand in benediction from his wheel chair.
  • Observing with anticipation the early morning food preparation of indigenous dishes over open fires by participants and volunteers for the two day Celebration.
  • Joining with over 2,000 visitors at the Harvest Thanksgiving Celebration.
Other highlights included:
  • Visiting the famous Toshogu Shrine in Nikko where one sees carved on a lintel of the Sacred Stable the three “See no evil, Say no evil, Hear no evil” monkeys.
  • Riding in a “Nursery Van” given to ARI by a nearby Nursery School. With brightly painted animal faces on its sides, the van evoked smiles from adults and often peals of laughter from children.
  • A heartwarming visit with UCC missionary the Rev. Jeffrey Mensendiek at the Sendai Christian Center. Jeff and staff reach out to students at Sendai University and have led them in work camps as far away as India and Africa.
  • Two overnight ferry rides to and from the northern island of Hokkaido, complete with my introduction to the welcome tradition of Japanese hot baths, and a Pacific Ocean sunrise.
  • Visiting Menno Village, an organic farm on the Island of Hokkaido. Raymond Epp, born and raised in Nebraska runs the farm with his Japanese wife and helpers. With roots in the Mennonite faith, Menno Village provides food shares for eighty area families.
  • Ray actively works with others to keep farmland free of GMO seeds on the island. His father-in-law, a retired Agricultural University professor, has pioneered the science of building insulation, and the farm is capable of storing the potato harvest through to the following June. With greenhouses, chickens, vegetable, rice and wheat cultivation, grains are harvested and processed on site, and wheat is milled for their own bakery.
  • Visiting Rakuno Gakuin, an Agricultural University in Hokkaido which pioneered dairy science with a herd of Holstein cattle imported from Holland to Japan.
  • Visiting the methane bio gas processing unit, and the Veterinary Science Teaching Hospital, premier in Japan and Asia.
  • Learning of the Three Love Movement: Love of God, Love of Neighbor, and Love of the Earth (i.e. the Soil/ Land).
Personal overnight stays with two clergy and their families:
  • with the chaplain of the Agricultural University in Sapporo.
  • with a local United Church of Japan pastor in northern Japan, author of a book on the church, its beginnings with German Reformed Missionaries (UCC), its history and present challenges. As the clergy person in the American visitors, I was presented with a copy, which fortunately for me has English summaries added to the Japanese text.
  • Worship at a Japanese church where my inability to read Japanese characters did not diminish my experience of the vitality of prayer, singing and sharing in God’s love.
  • A delightful Sunday afternoon visit to a model Jersey Farm in the highlands which processes its milk and ice cream and was crowded with visitors on a sunny fall day.
  • Learning about the Rainbow Plan that has organized an entire town and surrounding rural community in the recycling of wastes and renewal of soil.
    * An afternoon of sight seeing in Tokyo that included a visit to the oldest Buddhist Temple in Tokyo and a river boat ride back to the harbor.
  • International plane flights that went well, with my first Rutland - Boston Cape Air flights offering wonderful views over the Green Mountains.
This has been a wonderful experience of a diverse and vital community working for food and earth sustainability and community leadership. I wholeheartedly join with the Asian Rural Institute in their motto, “That We May Live Together.”

Jordan "Skip" Dickinson


posted by Craig D. Rice @ Saturday, November 29, 2008 - 8:39 AM