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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 become.

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 a goal.

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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