Farmers of Forty Centuries: Organic Farming in China, Korea, and Japan

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How did Asian farmers work the same fields for 40,000 years without destroying the land's fertility and without applying artificial fertilizer? At the turn of the 20th century, a former official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture travelled to Asia to learn the answer. This landmark book chronicles his travels and observations on waste-free methods of cultivation that conserve natural resources. "One of the richest sources of information about peasant agriculture . . . one of the pioneer books on organic...
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Farmers of Forty Centuries: Organic Farming in China, Korea, and Japan

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Overview

How did Asian farmers work the same fields for 40,000 years without destroying the land's fertility and without applying artificial fertilizer? At the turn of the 20th century, a former official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture travelled to Asia to learn the answer. This landmark book chronicles his travels and observations on waste-free methods of cultivation that conserve natural resources. "One of the richest sources of information about peasant agriculture . . . one of the pioneer books on organic farming." — The Last Whole Earth Catalog.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780486436098
  • Publisher: Dover Publications
  • Publication date: 3/19/2004
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 629,813
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

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Farmers of Forty Centuries

Organic Farming in China, Korea, and Japan


By F. H. King

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2004 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-31562-1



CHAPTER 1

FIRST GLIMPSES OF JAPAN

* * *

We left the United States from Seattle for Shanghai, China, sailing by the northern route, at one P. M. February second, reaching Yokohama February 19th and Shanghai, March 1st. It was our aim throughout the journey to keep in close contact with the field and crop problems and to converse personally, through interpreters or otherwise, with the farmers, gardeners and fruit growers themselves; and we have taken pains in many cases to visit the same fields or the same region two, three or more times at different intervals during the season in order to observe different phases of the same cultural or fertilization methods as these changed or varied with the season.

Our first near view of Japan came in the early morning of February 19th when passing some three miles off the point where the Pacific passenger steamer Dakota was beached and wrecked in broad daylight without loss of life two years ago. The high rounded hills were clothed neither in the dense dark forest green of Washington and Vancouver, left sixteen days before, nor yet in the brilliant emerald such as Ireland's hills in June fling in unparalleled greeting to passengers surfeited with the dull grey of the rolling ocean. This lack of strong forest growth and even of shrubs and heavy herbage on hills covered with deep soil, neither cultivated nor suffering from serious erosion, yet surrounded by favorable climatic conditions, was our first great surprise.

To the southward around the point, after turning northward into the deep bay, similar conditions prevailed, and at ten o'clock we stood off Uraga where Commodore Perry anchored on July 8th, 1853, bearing to the Shogun President Fillmore's letter which opened the doors of Japan to the commerce of the world and, it is to be hoped brought to her people, with their habits of frugality and industry so indelibly fixed by centuries of inheritance, better opportunities for development along those higher lines destined to make life still more worth living.

As the Tosa Mara drew alongside the pier at Yokohama it was raining hard and this had attired an army after the manner of Robinson Crusoe, dressed as seen in Fig. 1, ready to carry you and yours to the Customs house and beyond for one, two, three or five cents. Strong was the contrast when the journey was reversed and we descended the gang plank at Seattle, where no one sought the opportunity of moving baggage.

Through the kindness of Captain Harrison of the Tosa Maru in calling an interpreter by wireless to meet the steamer, it was possible to utilize the entire interval of stop in Yokohama to the best advantage in the fields and gardens spread over the eighteen miles of plain extending to Tokyo, traversed by both electric tram and railway lines, each running many trains making frequent stops; so that this wonderfully fertile and highly tilled district could be readily and easily reached at almost any point.

We had left home in a memorable storm of snow, sleet and rain which cut out of service telegraph and telephone lines over a large part of the United States; we had sighted the Aleutian Islands, seeing and feeling nothing on the way which could suggest a warm soil and green fields, hence our surprise was great to find the jinricksha men with bare feet and legs naked to the thighs, and greater still when we found, before we were outside the city limits, that the electric tram was running between fields and gardens green with wheat, barley, onions, carrots, cabbage and other vegetables. We were rushing through the Orient with everything outside the car so strange and different from home that the shock came like a bolt of lightning out of a clear sky.

In the car every man except myself and one other was smoking tobacco and that other was inhaling camphor through an ivory mouthpiece resembling a cigar holder closed at the end. Several women, tiring of sitting foreign style, slipped off—I cannot say out of—their shoes and sat facing the windows, with toes crossed behind them on the seat. The streets were muddy from the rain and everybody Japanese was on rainy-day wooden shoes, the soles carried three to four inches above the ground by two cross blocks, in the manner seen in Fig. 2. A mother, with baby on her back and a daughter of sixteen years came into the car. Notwithstanding her high shoes the mother had dipped one toe into the mud. Seated, she slipped her foot off. Without evident instructions the pretty black-eyed, glossy-haired, red-lipped lass, with cheeks made rosy, picked up the shoe, withdrew a piece of white tissue paper from the great pocket in her sleeve, deftly cleaned the otherwise spotless white cloth sock and then the shoe, threw the paper on the floor, looked to see that her fingers were not soiled, then set the shoe at her mother's foot, which found its place without effort or glance.

Everything here was strange and the scenes shifted with the speed of the wildest dream. Now it was driving piles for the foundation of a bridge. A tripod of poles was erected above the pile and from it hung a pulley. Over the pulley passed a rope from the driving weight and from its end at the pulley ten cords extended to the ground. In a circle at the foot of the tripod stood ten agile Japanese women. They were the hoisting engine. They chanted in perfect rhythm, hauled and stepped, dropped the weight and hoisted again, making up for heavier hammer and higher drop by more blows per minute. When we reached Shanghai we saw the pile driver being worked from above. Fourteen Chinese men stood upon a raised staging, each with a separate cord passing direct from the hand to the weight below. A concerted, half-musical chant, modulated to relieve monotony, kept all hands together. What did the operation of this machine cost? Thirteen cents, gold, per man per day, which covered fuel and lubricant, both automatically served. Two additional men managed the piles, two directed the hammer, eighteen manned the outfit. Two dollars and thirty-four cents per day covered fuel, superintendence and repairs, There was almost no capital invested in machinery. Men were plenty and to spare. Eice was the fuel, cooked without salt, boiled stiff, reenforced with a bit of pork or fish, appetized with salted cabbage or turnip and perhaps two or three of forty and more other vegetable relishes. And are these men strong and happy? They certainly were strong. They are steadily increasing their millions, and as one stood and watched them at their work their faces were often wreathed in smiles and wore what seemed a look of satisfaction and contentment.

Among the most common sights on our rides from Yokohama to Tokyo, both within the city and along the roads leading to the fields, starting early in the morning, were the loads of night soil carried on the shoulders of men and on the backs of animals, but most commonly on strong carts drawn by men, bearing six to ten tightly covered wooden containers holding forty, sixty or more pounds each. Strange as it may seem, there are not today and apparently never have been, even in the largest and oldest cities of Japan, China or Korea, anything corresponding to the hydraulic systems of sewage disposal used now by western nations. Provision is made for the removal of storm waters but when I asked my interpreter if it was not the custom of the city during the winter months to discharge its night soil into the sea, as a quicker and cheaper mode of disposal, his reply came quick and sharp, "No, that would be waste. We throw nothing away. It is worth too much money." In such public places as railway stations provision is made for saving, not for wasting, and even along the country roads screens invite the traveler to stop, primarily for profit to the owner, more than for personal convenience.

Between Yokohama and Tokyo, along the electric car line and not far distant from the seashore, there were to be seen in February very many long, fence-high screens extending east and west, strongly inclined to the north, and built out of rice straw, closely tied together and supported on bamboo poles carried upon posts of wood set in the ground. These screens, set in parallel series of five to ten or more in number and several hundred feet long, were used for the purpose of drying varieties of delicate seaweed, these being spread out in the manner shown in Fig. 3.

The seaweed is first spread upon separate ten by twelve inch straw mats, forming a thin layer seven by eight inches. These mats are held by means of wooden skewers forced through the body of the screen, exposing the seaweed to the direct sunshine. After becoming dry the rectangles of seaweed are piled in bundles an inch thick, cut once in two, forming packages four by seven inches, which are neatly tied and thus exposed for sale as soup stock and for other purposes.

To obtain this seaweed from the ocean small shrubs and the limbs of trees are set up in the bottom of shallow water, as seen in Fig. 4. To these limbs the seaweeds become attached, grow to maturity and are then gathered by hand. By this method of culture large amounts of important food stuff are grown for the support of the people on areas otherwise wholly unproductive.

Another rural feature, best shown by photograph taken in February, is the method of training pear orchards in Japan, with their limbs tied down upon horizontal overhead trellises at a hight under which a man can readily walk erect and easily reach the fruit with the hand while standing upon the ground. Pear orchards thus form arbors of greater or less size, the trees being set in quincunx order about twelve feet apart in and between the rows. Bamboo poles are used overhead and these carried on posts of the same material 1.5 to 2.5 inches in diameter, to which they are tied. Such a pear orchard is shown in Fig. 5.

The limbs of the pear trees are trained strictly in one plane, tying them down and pruning out those not desired. As a result the ground beneath is completely shaded and every pear is within reach, which is a great convenience when it becomes desirable to protect the fruit from insects, by tying paper bags over every pear as seen in Figs. 6 and 7. The orchard ground is kept free from weeds and not infrequently is covered with a layer of rice or other straw, extensively used in Japan as a ground cover with various crops and when so used is carefully laid in handfuls from bundles, the straws being kept parallel as when harvested.

To one from a country of 160-acre farms, with roads four rods wide; of cities with broad streets and residences with green lawns and ample back yards; and where the cemeteries are large and beautiful parks, the first days of travel in these old countries force the overcrowding upon the attention as nothing else can. One feels that the cities are greatly overcrowded with houses and shops, and these with people and wares; that the country is over-crowded with fields and the fields with crops; and that in Japan the over-crowding is greatest of all in the cemeteries, gravestones almost touching and markers for families literally in bundles at a grave, while round about there may be no free country whatever, dwellings, gardens or rice paddies contesting the tiny allotted areas too closely to leave even foot-paths between.

Unless recently modified through foreign influence the streets of villages and cities are narrow, as seen in Fig. 8, where however the street is unusually broad. This is a village in the Hakone district on a beautiful lake of the same name, where stands an Imperial summer palace, seen near the center of the view on a hill across the lake. The roofs of the houses here are typical of the neat, careful thatching with rice straw, very generally adopted in place of tile for the country villages throughout much of Japan. The shops and stores, open full width directly upon the street, are filled to overflowing, as seen in Fig. 9 and in Fig. 22.

In the canalized regions of China the country villages crowd both banks of a canal, as is the case in Fig. 10. Here, too, often is a single street and it very narrow, very crowded and very busy. Stone steps lead from the houses down into the water where clothing, vegetables, rice and what not are conveniently washed. In this particular village two rows of houses stand on one side of the canal separated by a very narrow street, and a single row on the other. Between the bridge where the camera was exposed and one barely discernible in the background, crossing the canal a third of a mile distant, we counted upon one side, walking along the narrow street, eighty houses each with its family, usually of three generations and often of four. Thus in the narrow strip, 154 feet broad, including 16 feet of street and 30 feet of canal, with its three lines of houses, lived no less than 240 families and more than 1200 and probably nearer 2000 people.

When we turn to the crowding of fields in the country nothing except seeing can tell so forcibly the fact as such landscapes as those of Figs. 11, 12 and 13, one in Japan, one in Korea and one in China, not far from Nanking, looking from the hills across the fields to the broad Yangtse kiang, barely discernible as a band of light along the horizon.

The average area of the rice field in Japan is less than five square rods and that of her upland fields only about twenty. In the case of the rice fields the small size is necessitated partly by the requirement of holding water on the sloping sides of the valley, as seen in Fig. 11. These small areas do not represent the amount of land worked by one family, the average for Japan being more nearly 2.5 acres. But the lands worked by one family are seldom contiguous, they may even be widely scattered and very often rented.

The people generally live in villages, going often considerable distances to their work. Recognizing the great disadvantage of scattered holdings broken into such small areas, the Japanese Government has passed laws for the adjustment of farm lands which have been in force since 1900. It provides for the exchange of lands; for changing boundaries; for changing or abolishing roads, embankments, ridges or canals and for alterations in irrigation and drainage which would ensure larger areas with channels and roads straightened, made less numerous and less wasteful of time, labor and land. Up to 1907 Japan had issued permits for the readjustment of over 240,000 acres, and Fig. 14 is a landscape in one of these readjusted districts. To provide capable experts for planning and supervising these changes the Government in 1905 intrusted the training of men to the higher agricultural school belonging to the Dai Nippon Agricultural Association and since 1906 the Agricultural College and the Kogyokusha have undertaken the same task and now there are men sufficient to push the work as rapidly as desired.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Farmers of Forty Centuries by F. H. King. Copyright © 2004 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
I. First Glimpses of Japan 14
II. Grave Lands of China 48
III. To Hongkong and Canton 60
IV. Up the Si-kiang, West River 81
V. Extent of Canalization and Surface Fitting of Fields 97
VI. Some Customs of the Common People 118
VII. The Fuel Problem, Building and Textile Materials 137
VIII. Tramps Afield 167
IX. The Utilization of Waste 193
X. In the Shantung Province 216
XI. Orientals Crowd Both Time and Space 261
XII. Rice Culture in the Orient 271
XIII. Silk Culture 311
XIV. The Tea Industry 323
XV. About Tientsin 330
XVI. Manchuria and Korea 345
XVII. Return to Japan 376
Message of China and Japan to the World
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Introduction

For more than 40,000 years, Asian farmers worked the same fields repeatedly without sapping the land's fertility and without applying artificial fertilizer! How they accomplished this miraculous feat is described by author Franklin Hiram King, a former official of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. King traveled to Asia in the early 1900s to learn how farmers in China, Korea, and Japan were able to achieve successful harvests century after century without exhausting the soil-one of their most valuable natural resources. This book is the result of his extraordinary mission. A fascinating study of waste-free methods of cultivation, Farmers of Forty Centuries reveals the secrets of ancient farming methods and, at the same time, chronicles the travels and observations of a remarkable man. A well-trained observer who studied the actual conditions of life among agricultural peoples, King provides intriguing glimpses of Japan, China, Manchuria, and Korea; customs of the common people; the utilization of waste; methods of irrigation, reforestation, and land reclamation; the cultivation of rice, silk and tea; and related topics. Enhanced with more than 240 illustrations (most of them photographs), this book represents an invaluable resource for organic gardeners, farmers, and conservationists. It remains "one of the richest sources of information about peasant agriculture [and] one of the pioneer books on organic farming."-The Last Whole Earth Catalog
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