As we grow older we tend to forget what we used to do more than 20 years
ago. Life in Japan has changed so drastically all these years that we can
no longer set the dependable standard by which we can go on living throughout
our lives; we are being swept away. Material affluence by no means guarantees
happiness, nor does it eternal prosperity. But this much we can say； the
present situation of being filled with luxuries has never been the universal
phenomenon, still less the paradise on earth once we look back on the whole
history of mankind. The salvation of man is yet to come. What is worse,
it is moving rapidly away from us.
If we want to be free in real sense of the word, first of all, we have
to get rid of influences of advertisement, reject the temptation for more
luxurious life ,and oppose the exploitation of the developing countries.
In order to do so, individual life style must be altered, and there is
no other way to avoid the catastrophe of the century, or, say, . If we
should fail, we will surely lead our way to a biblical plight. Those who
want to board the Ark of Noah will have to realize the plain truth; we
are at the crossroads.
Practically speaking, we cannot construct a society where everybody seeks
a single ideal, as many revolutionaries have dreamt. History teach us all
the political attempts to realize a utopian society have ended in failure
or half-success or, worse, in despair. Only a tiny accumulation of people's
power has made it, no matter how small its extent of the impact was. Only
an individual effort enables the society to steer in another direction.
No central government, to say nothing of totalitarian system can save our
society from chaos and destruction, because all the evils have sprung from
greed of the individuals. To counter it, we have no other way but to concentrate
the energy of the enlightened people on creating a new way of living.
We do have several policies. Some are contradictory, but they are not religious
beliefs, nor dogmatic rules. And it is up to us to decide what is right.
The most important principle is to reduce the distance between producers
and consumers. Take, for example, foods. We are now being more and more
dependent on imported products for what we eat and drink. We have been
made to believe that international labor division is the most efficient
for a nation's economic growth. But as we are keenly aware that it is not,
this makes the transportation and processing unnecessarily important, nay,
indispensable and overburdened. To import and export, we need more warehouses,
trucks, ships and expressways, and fresh foods must be canned, refrigerated,
or get preserving chemicals added. All this spend, or waste a lot of energy
and labor. We don't want any more pollution, any more than we want danger
of suffering cancer by some unknown chemicals no matter how affluent we
Why not lead our life self-sufficient way? Instead of getting vegetables
grown in oil-consuming greenhouses or having them transported by long-distance
truck drivers, why not content with ones grown in the neighboring crop
field? Food is destined to go bad. Something that is sure to be spoiled
deserves the name of food. And we should have it still in a fresh condition.
Isn't it a natural way of taking food? We don't want any additives.
Thanks to the advances of preserved food, most of our food, for example,
tetra-packed milk does not go sour. People are gradually getting accustomed
to it and indifferent to what a unnatural and unhealthy condition they
are in. We should look back on what we were doing thirty years ago. We
ate only products that were made in the neighboring district. The wives
of peasants and fishermen used to bring a basketful of fresh vegetables
in a cart or the first train. They were inexpensive, chemical-free, and
most of all, we knew by whom and where they were grown.
We should resume this way of food production, not in a nostalgic but an
enlightened, modern way. We should reject irresponsibly anonymous and artificial
products and try to find natural, humanistic and pollution-free way of
living; in a word to eliminate mass production. This is especially true
of foodstuff, not to mention artifacts, education; they are different from
automobiles and other industrial products in this respect.
The second principle is to reduce the amount of material impute and output.
To put it simply, what we can dispense with what is not necessary. When
we categorize our consuming tendency, there are five levels of spending
money. First, necessities of life such as food, clothes and living space.
They are indispensable in that we cannot go on living without them. Second,
instruments and equipment, such as hammers, plows and personal computers.
Third, knowledge and information such as one acquired by listening to the
radio and watching television. In the modern world we have to pay for some
of them. Fourth, spending for transportation, traveling, hobbies and sports.
We pay for all these activities, and they are firmly connected with our
inner contentment. Fifth, furniture, decorations and accessories, and other
typical examples of possession.
All of five are in themselves the sources of daily life, but whether one
is luxurious or not largely depends on the 'added values', which he attached
to them. For example, some people work hard to buy a luxurious dwelling
in the suburbs of Tokyo, when they can barely afford to buy an ordinary
apartment houses. If they are so eager to get one, they will sacrifice
the other aspect of life. Extremely speaking, he can manage to go on with
a supper of only milk and bread in order to get a luxurious sportscast.
As Shuck Terayama, a dramatist, said, this is called 'one point luxury'.
But this is not enough in the long run. As the society gets more prosperous,
not a few of the members come to realize that acquiring material pleasure
will never end our thirst for added values, such as costly products and
good things to eat. As Andre Morois, a French novelist, used to say, we
cannot be happy unless we perform what we have in mind. Merely possessing
something will not make man happy, but rather reduce him to chronic state
of discontentment. As we plainly know that how tasty and refreshing a glass
of beer we drink after a hard exercise. It is not the price or quality
of the beer that makes us happy but the very sense of accomplishment that
we have endured long physical or mental hardship. The sense of happiness
is relatively determined by the extent of effort one has made to achieve
The combination of 'one point luxury' and 'activism' surely leads to the
well balanced life style. But if that balance is lost we lose our will
to achieve something and escape into materialism and our life will be stalemated.
Take, for example, automobiles owned by individuals. They used to be useful
instrument, but now they are merely a part of furniture or decorative goods
or a status symbol in the urban area owing to the heavy traffic and have
lost practical values they used to be so proud of. Of course, I would be
glad to to get one if I were to live in a desert in the state of Colorado.
On the other hand, if I want to have a cup of fresh milk, I 'don't mind
having the milk poured in a plastic or paper cup instead of a glass. I
t doesn't matter whether the container is good-looking or not so long as
it holds liquid. I want to do away with snobbery and vanity. This seems
to be extreme examples of rationalistic attitude, but the actual situation
goes to the other extreme opposite, so we should rather swing of the pendulum.
The amount of materials I believe we are allowed to possess is determined
by the average living standard of the whole human beings. We should abstain
from wasteful consumption of natural resources, not to mention depriving
a nation of developing countries of the staple food. We should bear in
mind that if we enjoy 100 g of juicy beef, we consume 1 kg of cereals for
feeding a herd of cattle. I don't have to own such luxuries as original
paintings, decorative furniture and jewels, let alone for speculative purposes.
They should be kept in museums or be rented out if necessary. The idea
of possession should be given up when it comes to luxuries.
The idea of simple life is based on the assessment of what modern civilization
has done for us. Since whether wealth is distributed evenly or not, whether
material affluence and the possession of things have brought to us happiness
or not is now being seriously questioned, individual attitude toward simplistic
way of life may redefine the humanity itself.
First Written March 1987
Revised June 1999
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