Our Relationship with our Earth

Stephanie Fukui, originally from Chicago, has lived in Japan for 30 years. After losing a stillborn daughter, she founded the SIDS Family Association Japan www.sids.gr.jp in 1992. While supporting bereaved families, she and her Japanese husband raised two sons, their finest accomplishments. Stephanie now teaches yoga as a certified Iyengar Yoga instructor www.newlifeyoga.org.

Many years ago a wild Japanese macaque came to our central Tokyo neighborhood to live (really). He was quite destructive to the trees in our garden and would splash around in our little pond outside the den window. My husband was enraged. He said “It is my pond and I have to show him its mine!” He fought the monkey off with a ski pole on more than one occasion.

We got the city of Tokyo to bring us a dog trap and my husband fiddled around with that in various set-ups. But the monkey would reach into the trap and take what food he liked without stepping inside. Oh, our monkey was so much smarter than a dog for whom the trap was designed. My heart ached for the monkey because he needed to be captured and let loose in the forest, but he was too clever for that!?  My husband and the monkey battled it out, pitted against each other, as is their nature. Hilariously, my husband lost to the monkey again and again but finally the monkey disappeared from our neighborhood after about a year.

The human species has fought, destroyed and devastated nature. But to be fair, nature has not been kind to us either (earthquakes, tsunami and other natural disasters, predators, and monkeys who randomly show up in Tokyo).

Now we are looking for a way to live in harmony and peace with our world because of global warming. This is not a new idea. Buddhism, American Indian cultures, and countless others have passed this idea on for thousands of years. Can all humans become sophisticated enough to accept our earth as the treasure that it is and live symbiotically?

We seem to be losing the knowledge that our natural environment is essential to our health and well-being. What are these crazy schedules we keep and WHAT is up with all this concrete? It would behoove us to take time regularly to appreciate and feel a real connection to our beautiful earth.  

I realized this when many years after our monkey episodes, I became sick with a very serious illness. The treatment was long and harrowing. I was clawing my way back to health when I found myself searching for the feeling of warmth of sunlight on my face, green trees to sooth my exhausted eyes, the quiet sound of a brook to relax my ears. I was craving those things that are so simple but suddenly, to me, seemed like the most treasured gifts.

My search led me to an island off of southern Japan called Yakushima.

I first became enthralled with this island when a television documentary showed that the Japanese macaques that live there feed the deer by throwing nuts down for them to eat from the top of the trees and showed films of these monkeys RIDING ON THE BACKS OF THE DEER (really).

What a magical world I witnessed when I went there to climb to the Jomonsugi (a giant cedar tree which scientists estimate to be at least 2000 years old and possibly much older).

There in the forest were the human hikers, quietly passing within several feet of the deer who wandered after their macaque friends. These animals have not been spoiled by being fed so they do not bother the tourist humans. Their expressions were as smooth as the peace of deep sleep.

My expression, however, was still a grimace. Though I knew that they understood my struggle as my weary body pulled up the trail, were they watching me with some amusement as I labored through on unpracticed feet? The impossibly twisted trail was throwing every root and rock it possessed at me (this is the forest that inspired Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke’s forest). I stumbled and lurched and swore (not always under my breath) until finally we reached the ancient Tree.

Then, I felt I was in the presence of a magnificent being.  It was mighty.  Its trunk was five meters in diameter. It was so solid and knotty after thousands of years of hard-earned growth. I sensed its patience and took a lesson from that.

I sat and let every muscle release. I noticed the air, so sweet in my nose and lungs. My body was quiet and my mind felt lifted and connected.  My craving  for earth’s simple gifts was satisfied by these gentle animals, this ancient forest. I felt better than I had for a long time.

This is the “ mind” that we must have to save our planet. We can and must value the mutually beneficial relationship to earth.

Thinking back to our monkey adventure and our harried lives in Tokyo, would we ever have been able to live in peace with our destructive monkey? Our Japanese grandmother wanted to feed him– just a few snacks. My son named the monkey “Stevie.”  And a friend suggested my husband wear a gorilla suit….

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