Over the weekend, I cracked open the eagerly awaited/just published “Kuni: A Japanese Vision and Practice for Urban-Rural Connection” authored by Tsuyoshi Sekihara and Richard McCarthy.
Sekihara is the founder and leader of the Japanese RMO (Regional Management Organization) Kamiechigo Yamagata Fan Club. This entity is tasked with creating kuni (community) in an estimated 25 villages in rural Japan, making its home in Nakanomota.
McCarthy is the founder of the regional organization Market Umbrella in New Orleans LA, and (while he and I worked there) had set its region as “Gator Alley” or “Gumbo Nation” along the Gulf Coast. In true U.S. fashion, neither description of our region was precise (or as Richard rightly describes it, “light and loose” versus Sekihara’s “grounded” region) but they came pretty close:
Food Regions of the US (Nabhan et al)
Mirror Images of Each Other
In its opening pages, McCarthy describes the opportune meeting with Sekihara that came via outside funders and leaders bringing he and others to Japan, and where the two recognized their common vision which can now be shared via this framework.
Yet kuni is not just another term for local or revitalization but is meant to create something that new.
Be compact but contain all of the elements needed for human life
Have the right scale
Balance between bridging and bonding activities
Choose pluralism over tribalism
Be close to nature
or as beautifully said in there: “To trade on assets adored by outsiders but curated by locals.”
Sekihara’s RMO is tasked with creating kuni’s preconditions and is partially funded by overseeing government projects as well as creating products that can be exported (although the raw materials must originate from within the RMO.) There are other RMOs in Japan, but none with the depth of the KYFC. (It may also be helpful to share that “fan clubs” are common in Japanese society for all types of organizations including corporations, many with their own mascots.)
By having McCarthy as the co-author, the application of Sekihara’s ideas can be shared through the hundreds of communities that McCarthy has worked or visited via his work with Market Umbrella, Slow Food US, Slow Food International, as president of the new World Farmers Market Coalition, or his own current global Think Like Pirates firm.
You’ll find the steps that Sekihara took to his own “J-Turn” to KYFC with descriptions of the conditions he found as well as the challenges, including the shocking level of disrepair, the challenge that he calls “the Beast,” and the many gatekeepers/dictators he encountered and their power hoarding — all of which any organizer should be able to recognize in their own communities and possibly even within their own organization.
The book is rich with lists of lessons and examples for any organizer including the brilliant Rice Covenant (which is more complex than you’d think), place polygamy, the concepts of equilibrium, circularity, and spirals, the 2 Loops theory, Richard’s pirate ship framework, examples of kuni-style organizing from around the world, and (a personal favorite of mine), explanations from both leaders as to why holding onto single proxies such as “local” or relying on national or global certifications can be entirely too limiting.
It is available everywhere with a U.S. tour by McCarthy imminent (email him through his site which is linked above) if you think you can create an event with him) to invite these visionary ideas into your work.