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Japanese Catholic monastery practices an ecological way of life

August 16, 2012

MIURA, Japan

From the style of their buildings to the method of their gardening, the residents of the Roman Catholic Miura Monastery near Tokyo practice an ecological way of life they call “living in the grace of creation.”

“The biblical verse in Genesis, ‘God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good,’ means so much to this monastery,” said Sr. Yoshiko Watanabe, of the Catholic Sisters of Visitation. She told ENInews that the nine nuns and novices there believe the 21st century has cut the connections between humans and nature. “I think we are playing a humble role to restore the connections,” she added.

The buildings, located near a beach, are made mostly of Japanese wood rather than imported wood or reinforced concrete. Since the monastery’s establishment in November 2005, more than 3,000 people have visited.

Matched with the surrounding woods and the sea viewed through its large windows, the sanctuary has forty-two Japanese traditional tatami straw mats on the floor. It is filled with quietness and a sense of awe in the calmness of Japanese culture.

“Every day, our community prays together at seven o’clock in the morning and six in the evening,” Watanabe explained. “And after evening prayers on every Friday, we pray for environmental conservation for thirty minutes,” she said.

The sisters use a unique phrase: “living the grace of creation and atonement ecologically.” The phrase means that their lifestyle includes the grace of God’s creation as well as Jesus’ atonement for human sin, including the sins of environmental destruction and pollution.

The monastery buildings have 25 unique Japanese-style roof tiles called “angel roof tiles,” as opposed to “onigawara,” a type of roof ornamentation found in Japanese architecture, roof tiles or statues depicting an ogre known as “oni” or a fearsome beast or gargoyle.

The buildings have solar power generators and solar water heating systems on the roofs, along with a stove and boilers that burn wood pellets as biomass fuel for heating. An earth oven is used outdoors and a rain water tank supplies the bathrooms and irrigation for the fields.

Another practice includes improving their diet. “Basically, we eat food produced in season and locally as much as possible to save energy consumption, refraining from artificial flavoring, food additives, instant food, and processed food. We eat rice as the staple food,” explained Sr. Yoko Nagasawa, who is in charge of food.

“We have been made aware that we are led to the encounter with God in Mass being ‘God’s table’ through our ‘daily table’ in our walk to try to improve our diet,” she said.

The other aspect of their ecological lifestyle is sustainable farming, according to Sr. Mitsu Kato, who is in charge of farming.

“Its basic ideas include that we turn upward to the heaven, not down to the ground, by making furrows and sowing in high places,” she explained. “We do not go against the power of nature, but we care for the blessings of nature.”

Their farming includes improving the soil, making furrows, companion planting, not killing creatures unduly to protect crops from their natural enemies, seasonal vegetable planting, respecting the rhythm of nature and mastering the art of waiting patiently.

“We don’t use machines, chemical fertilizers or agricultural pesticides,” Kato noted. “Our wish is that all forms of life on earth may have healthy lives,” Watanabe said.

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