Thursday 5 February 2015

Book review: ‘One day the shadow passed’ by Jonathan Reggio

A work of fiction dedicated to Masanobu Fukuoka

Masanobu Fukuoka’s influence on my own gardening philosophy
I was given a book in 1963 - I can date it precisely - written by a strange Japanese rice farmer. I now know he was to achieve worldwide renown as a great prophet of natural farming, organic horticulture and minimum cultivation. In later years he would travel the globe participating in tree establishment projects in arid places and sharing his knowledge and wisdom.
My book disappeared and I was unable to retrace it. Masanobu’s classic description of his work and his philosophy is ‘The One Straw Revolution’ first published in English in 1978.  Despite much effort I cannot find any reference whatsoever to my much earlier book of inspiration.

I do have very clear memory of some of his insights. Not least, not disturbing the ground by harmful cultivation! Strangely, I remember his ways with rice! He did not grow it in traditional flooded paddy fields but in better aerated, very wet but drainable soil. He did occasionally flood the fields to kill the weeds. He duel cropped his land with Winter barley and Summer rice. One crop could be sown before harvesting the other. He scattered his seed in tiny capsules of natural clay. He called it ‘do nothing farming’.
His vegetable garden, in light shade under fruit and nut trees, was home to his hens. He grew a wide range of traditional vegetables in a glorious but intimately managed jumble.
On the hillside his citrus trees were minimally pruned. I vividly remember his description of how the drainage in the rocky terrain was improved by burying woody debris.
He refused to use any chemicals whatsoever, he never sprayed and completely relied on natural control. He had no need for fertilisers as everything was recycled. It took several years to achieve but his rice yields were the highest in his district.

You might not recognise me, a dedicated glyphosate sprayer in much of the above. You might be surprised that with regard to my gardening philosophy Fukuoka has been a huge inspiration!

Now I ‘do’ Cathi’s garden, I share with the hens

I sometimes bury wood and last year I blogged about starting my hugelkultur raised bed

My own vegetable jumble (jungle?)

Some Bolton Percy residents regard this as my ‘do nothing’ garden.
Others think I do nothing at all!

In my cemetery gardens I use no manures, fertilisers, insecticides, fungicides or slug killer and of course I never dig. But I do use glyphosate!

An uplifting book

Jonathan Reggio’s book claims to be a work of fiction. Only thinly veiled, the main character Takeshi Fumimoto is Masanobu Fukuoka. He is so accurately and lovingly described that I think the author must have himself been one of his disciples and have personally known him.
The theme of the book is a young man, James, who feeling he is losing life’s direction goes walking on Shikoku island in Japan. He follows the trail of an ancient forty day pilgrimage, gets lost on the way and stumbles upon Takeshi’s farm. Written in the first person, the delicate understanding of the local culture, intimate descriptions of plants in the countryside and love of the people strongly suggest that James was actually Jonathan. So much for it being a work of fiction!
James leaves Japan with a new sense of life’s direction, but troubled that Takeshi is having lots of problems with his methods and is failing to achieve local acceptance.
He vows to return and seven years later goes back, not sure that the unorthodox farmer will still be there. I won’t reveal what he finds but I assure you, you won’t be disappointed.

Cathi bought me this short uplifting book just before Christmas. I had read it by the next day. Warm and sensitive it brought tears to my eyes.
Jonathan Reggio now lives with his family in the Lake District
Thank you Jonathan for your story and revelations about the life of my hero.

Masanobu Fukuoka died aged 95 in 2008. A few years earlier Masanobu had returned a grant of $10,000 to the Rockefeller brother’s fund as he felt he was too old to need it.

A beautiful and life changing story of one man’s refusal to go along with the madness of the modern world. By turns poetic, wise and entertaining... it will leave even the busiest reader with the itch to slow down, to plant something, to go on a long journey and to raise their eyes to the horizon. (Chris Cleave).

To find my previous book reviews put 'book' in the search box at the bottom of the scroll.


  1. Sorry Roger but I have never heard of Masanobu Fukuoka so I have done a bit of research and can see how various aspects of his doctrine would appeal to you. He comes across as more of a philosopher than a pragmatist and is quite heavily criticised in some quarters although I think this comes from attempts to apply his methods to full scale agriculture rather than in a garden environment where I am sure his ideas could be more pertinent.

  2. You can find some of my earlier comments about Fukuoka using the search box, Rick.
    Great that my posts can stimulate further research!
    I am not certain how successful his 'help' outside Japan was to the very worthy projects of tree planting to reclaim desert and halt the advance of desert areas.
    As to transferring his principles to large scale agricultural production it is a very hard path to tread and requires heroic dedication. Everything mitigates against the mavericks who go against the norm.

  3. Hi Roger,
    Been reading your blog for a few months now and liked the sound of this book ( lived in japan for 7 years and a keen organic/wildlife gardener). Bought it, got it a few days later and read it in a few sittings! Absolutely gorgeous little book...had only heard bits and bobs about Fukuoka but nowe reading more about him.
    So a big thank you ��

    1. I am delighted you liked it PA! What a great comment.
      The book certainly warmed my heart.


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