Book review: Kuni: A Japanese Vision and Practice for Urban-Rural Connection

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 RMO (Regional Management Organization) Kamiechigo Yamagata Fan Club. This entity is tasked with creating kuni (community) in an estimated 25 villages in rural Japan.

McCarthy is the founder of the regional organization Market Umbrella which is headquartered 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 were precise to the entire region where the organization worked (as Mccarthy says it was “light and loose” versus Sekihara’s “grounded” region but that regional description came close enough.

The book is clear that Kuni is not just another term for local or revitalization but it is meant:

To create something new to “trade on assets adored by outsiders but curated by locals”

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

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 illustrated in the hundreds of communities that McCarthy has worked or visited via his work with Market Umbrella, Slow Food US, Slow Food International, 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 opposition to their work which includes existing disrepair, “the Beast,” gatekeepers/dictators, and 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 concept of equilibrium, circularity, and spirals, the 2 Loops theory, Richard’s pirate ship metaphor, 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.

The book is available everywhere.

Author: DW

New Orleans resident, writer, activist. Public market consultant.

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