My home town of Grange-over-Sands is the archetypal slow town. Its citizens, most of them being elderly, move slowly; for them the 30 mph sign isn’t a speed limit it’s an unattainable dream. Grange is almost unique in the modern world in having an abundance of independent food shops so that you can do your weekly shop without visiting a supermarket – which is handy as there isn’t one. It’s an ideal candidate for becoming a “Slow Town” under a scheme promoted by the Slow Food movement and last year, with the backing of Slow Food, I proposed this to the Town Council. Unfortunately my proposal was rejected, not on the grounds of cost (because I’d anticipated that by agreeing to underwrite the costs) but with the unassailable logic of their inherent slowness, or to put it another way, they were so slow witted and lethargic that they couldn’t be bothered.
If the idea had been proposed in Japan, I’ve no doubt it would have been welcomed enthusiastically. The barrenness of being busy, as Carla Carlisle puts it, is something well known to the Japanese, whose working hours are punishingly long. “Slow” is big in Japan, so much so that whole cities have become “Slow Cities”*, and the Slow Food movement has more members in Japan than any country except Italy.
The extraordinary thing is that whilst most Japanese opt for the city life with no access to a garden or an allotment, the possibility of living the good life is greater there than in any other developed country. This video tells the story of a young couple, Sean and Misa, who were given a farm in Shikoku rent-free on the sole condition that they cultivated the land to prevent it from being reclaimed by the forest. There are dozens of abandoned farmhouses in the same community and all over Japan, and so the opportunity taken up by Sean and Misa is available to many more.
*Here’s the ‘Slow Life’ Declaration of the Japanese city of Kakegawa, which I think is rather lovely and should be read, ever so slowly, to the Town Councillors of Grange:
The practice of the “Slow Life” involves the following eight themes:
SLOW PACE: We value the culture of walking, to be fit and to reduce traffic accidents.
SLOW WEAR: We respect and cherish our beautiful traditional costumes, including woven and dyed fabrics, Japanese kimonos and Japanese night robes (yukata).
SLOW FOOD: We enjoy Japanese food culture, such as Japanese dishes and tea ceremony, and safe local ingredients.
SLOW HOUSE: We respect houses built with wood, bamboo, and paper, lasting over one hundred or two hundred years, and are careful to make things durably and ultimately, to conserve our environment.
SLOW INDUSTRY: We take care of our forests, through our agriculture and forestry, conduct sustainable farming with human labor, and ultimately spread urban farms and green tourism.
SLOW EDUCATION: We pay less attention to academic achievement, and create a society in which people can enjoy arts, hobbies, and sports throughout our lifetimes, and where all generations can communicate well with each other.
SLOW AGING: We aim to age with grace and be self-reliant throughout our lifetimes.
SLOW LIFE: Based on the philosophy of life stated above, we live our lives with nature and the seasons, saving our resources and energy.