Shunji Ono, 71, and his wife Mitsuyo, 70, are farmers in Yamagata Prefecture’s Sagae City. Besides taking care of the rice paddies their ancestors have tended for hundreds of years, the Onos are famous for growing Sato Nishiki, the sweetest and most expensive Japanese cherries. Developed about 90 years ago by local farmer Eisuke Sato, and only grown in Japan, Sato Nishiki are considered perfect for ochugen (summer gifts), with 500 grams of the highest grade selling for ｴ10,000 in Tokyo. Since their arranged marriage 50 years ago, Shunji and Mitsuyo have worked side by side, sharing three meals at home and sleeping on futons next to one another. The two believe that a marriage with plenty of jokes and gaman (endurance) bears the sweetest fruit.
Shunji: Marry the person you feel relaxed with. I had another omiai (arranged meeting), and that girl really wanted to marry me because my family is quite rich as we have lots of land. But I felt that if I’d married her, I’d lose out to her. Like I would pull out all my hair because of the stress. But with Mitsuyo, there is none of that. With her I laugh so much that my face is filled with wrinkles — and look at all the hair still on my head! We work together every day, and we sleep beside each other every night.
Mitsuyo: That was our parents’ order! I lived with my parents-in-law for 35 years. Most of that time there were 11 of us in the house: grandparents, parents, my husband’s sister, her family and us. It has been so natural and easy for me. I think once you decide to listen to your elders and be obedient, life is easy.
S: Everything is a matter of attitude. If you think you are having fun, you are. No job is hard, or every job is hard depending on how you feel about it. I always enjoy my work because I never do the same thing twice. During dinner, our son, daughter-in-law and grandson and us plan what we will do the next day and how to maximize our efficiency and fun.
M: Little arguments give spice to life.He gets upset over silly things, such as when I put too much sugar in the food. So what? Life needs more sweetness. I won’t change, but he has never raised his hand, no matter what happened.
S: Being satisfied and happy is a question of having feelings for others. It begins every morning when I light some incense and pray in front of the altar of my ancestors.
M: The land doesn’t belong to us. Our ancestors worked here, and now it is our turn to take care of it. Property and other assets must be kept for the next generation.
S: Even if you are rich, keep working, just as if you were poor. Don’t spend money, because tomorrow some disaster — such as an earthquake — may come, and you’ll lose it all. Especially refrain from wasting money on your kids.
M: Nature is the greatest. Trees bear so much fruit that they should be proud of their achievement — but they do it naturally, and we simply lend a helping hand.
S: Logic alone won’t teach you anything. Experiencing things with your body is the way to learn your limits. Winters are very harsh here. We get about 1.5 meters of snow, and we have to keep brushing it off the branches so they won’t break off under its weight. I wear old-style Japanese snowshoes called kanjiki that keep me from sinking into the deep snow. It’s dangerous to do this alone — my friend died last year when he fell and could not get back up on his feet. I know that I could end up like that one day.
M: Farmers always have to find new solutions. Cherries are the hardest to grow because rain can destroy them, and we have way too much of it during the rainy season in June, exactly when the cherries ripen. So we build a roof over the trees and cover it with plastic that lets the sun come through but keeps the rain and birds out.
S: Even if a price is high, it doesn’t mean the producer is making a profit. Our son is a salaried worker because farming alone isn’t enough to support a family. Our costs are staggering, whether it’s wages, the price of plastic sheeting or the sprays that protect the trees from diseases.
M: Grandkids are the glue between the elderly and the parents.Our grandson, Masanori, is the focus of attention for our family. He is so cute; he feels responsible to continue our farm, and he is already working with us every day after school. I feel free. It’s like we all face the same direction.
S: A business must be responsible for its products. Cherries are sensitive: We pick them by hand and put every cluster of two or three into a bamboo basket very gently, because if two cherries touch each other in one’s palm, the next day they get speckled and we can’t sell them. Instead, we have to make jam and pickles out of them.
M: Loyalty to our customers is more valuable than making a profit. Financially, cherry tourism is better business because the busloads of visitors eat from the trees for a set price for 20 minutes, and as they leave, each one buys a few boxes. But we can’t just follow that money. If we did, our long-time customers who have been ordering cherries as gifts for years would be in trouble.
S: Never embarrass anyone! Always hold your tongue in front of others, and only criticize family members’ behavior at home.
M: Make many friends.Those without friends can do bad things, even unforgivable acts, such as the guy who killed seven people in Akihabara recently. But people who love others and are loved in return don’t hurt plants, animals or humans.
S: Shop and eat locally.It makes more sense to buy products from nearby areas because it matches our bodies and it uses less energy to transport it. People are realizing this, and the demand for our healthy, high-quality products is increasing. The future of Japanese agriculture is bright.
M: Have your own way of thinking, but don’t say too much. Don’t tell others what to do. Everything works well if we let everyone be free. It’s natural.
Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “Out & About.” Learn more at: juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/