Japanese get down and dirty at the farm to destress

Thu May 21, 2009 3:03am EDT
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By Hyun Oh

SANBU, Japan (Reuters Life!) - Farming just got fashionable in Japan, where scores of stressed-out urbanites are spending their weekends trudging through mud to painstakingly plant rice by hand and, hopefully, find themselves.

Growing concerns over food safety and the environment, and the ideal of a laid-back rural lifestyle, are attracting more urbanites to agriculture, once the mainstay of Japan's economy.

Popular for years among retirees, part-time agriculture courses are now drawing younger professionals seeking a break from the rat-race and a space to call their own.

"More and more young people are now looking at farm life as an alternative," farming instructor Hidechika Akiba told Reuters as some 30 students and their friends squelched through a paddy field 60 km (37 miles) southeast of Tokyo.

Every year, many burned-out employees kill themselves in Japan, a country with one of the highest suicide rates in the world which even has a special term for death from overwork.

Students of the agriculture course at Tokyo's Marunouchi Morning University, so-called because it offers office workers classes before they start their jobs in the morning, pay 38,000 yen ($400) for eight lessons over eight weeks.

In addition to the field trips, the students -- all employed full-time -- also attend lectures at the city campus to learn the theories behind rice farming.

"It feels so good to walk in the mud," said 35-year-old Sahoko Kashina, who planted rice with her 4-year-old son, Yuu.   Continued...