Monday, December 7, 2009

From outer space to the rice paddy

Japanese journalist and erstwhile astronaut Toyohiro Akiyama is now a rice farmer. He was interviewed recently in Danish Weekendavisen (which has a useless online site where this interview does not appear). Mr. Akiyama described his year-long training in Russia after being selected as one out of five hundred applicants. He had previously reported on the ill-fated Challenger Space Shuttle for Japanese TV, but said of the Russian rocket that was going to send him to the Mir space station:

"Most of the workers there were more than 50 years old. Bald or with gray hair. I felt I could trust them. The Russians' technology seemed solid. The space ship I was going to be on was like a car built on a twenty year old recipe, but delivered from the factory yesterday. It was not at all like the Americans' Challenger."
He reveals a little-known fact of space travel: Space sickness. "Astronauts are supposed to be heroes, and never talk about it."
After adjusting, he saw earth from above. And of course:
" I was very affected by the earth's beauty. The earth looked like.... it looked like life itself, seen from space. Seeing the atmosphere... the thin and vulnerable layer that protected all life on earth. It made me realize that humans have been allowed to live on earth together with all other living mechanisms... it is vulnerable."
After returning to Japan Mr. Akiyama made several TV shows on environmental issues, about deforestation in Indonesia and about how the travels of Christopher Columbus destroyed indigenous culture.
After being offered a job as an executive in the company, rather than as a journalist, Akiyama took stock of his options and decided to let it all go, opting instead for a spartan life as an organic rice farmer.
"I feel Homo Sapiens acts like a big elephant, running around on the surface of the earth destroying everything for ourselves and the life system. It worries me. What I felt out there in space is the reason I have chosen this life. I mean: Mankind and its' machines can go faster than light, but for what? What does it mean to us?"

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