Yesterday I packed up my bags, said my many emotional goodbyes, and left the Konohana Family, purple umbrella in hand.
I returned to Tokyo a day earlier than initially planned, hoping to avoid a second typhoon that is currently sweeping through Japan (one more reminder of the extreme weather patterns that are currently effecting communities around the world). This departure was full of both deep sadness and overwhelming gratitude. A sadness that comes from knowing it will be many months, years, maybe even decades, until I will be living in such a loving, radical, and selfless community again. Gratitude for the existence of such a refuge, gratitude for the uniqueness of each individual I had the privilege of getting to know, and gratitude for actualized collectivism.
So I am sure you are wonder, why the title ‘Anarchism and the Konohana Family’?
Well throughout the last few years, and particularly in the last six months, I, along side an incredible group of allies and collaborators, have been exploring the practice of relationship anarchy. This ideology strives to create networks of non-hierarchical relationship, relationships without rules or scripts, free relationships. This has been an immensely fruitful and personally meaningful exploration, that is inextricably linked to my understanding of effective collectivism. More recently, during my month in Tokyo, as I dove into understanding freeganism and street art, this passion for relationship anarchy expanded into an exploration of anarchism in general.
There is a lot that can be said about anarchism that I won’t get into in this post, but for our collective reference, “anarchism is a social movement that seeks liberation from oppressive systems of control including but not limited to the state, capitalism, racism, sexism, speciesism, and religion.” I personally have resonated much more strongly with certain aspects of anarchist ideology than others. I would like to highlight a few of these ideological elements that I see to be related to the Konohana Family.
1) The creation of ‘organic collectives’, based on shared values and desires, rather than manufactured and imposed collectives.
2) The leveling of structures of hierarchical power to pursue equality and social justice.
3) The encouragement of individuality and free self expression.
An Organically Formed Collective
In 1994 the Konohana Farm was created by 20 individuals who shared a common vision for the future. They believed in the power of collective living, in the value of sustainable organic farming and self sufficiency, and sought to create a ‘heaven on earth’ where people could live in harmony with each other and the natural world. Since then the Konohana Farm became the Konohana Family, and the community grew to include 89 members and around 15 care guests, long term guests, and long term helpers. In total they are around ‘100 non blood-related people living as one big family’.
This is an organically formed collective. The Konohana Family members have formed and maintained this community not through coercion, but based on shared values and visions for the future.
A Non-Hierarchical Society
The Konohana Family has no leader, no governing team, and no political structure. Each member of the community is encouraged to participate in and shape the community as they see fit, in the ways they so desire. Community wide changes are decided upon collectively. Community meetings are held every night, and all those who wish to participate are given space to voice their opinions, concerns, and ideas.
There is division of labor, however, the Konohana do not see certain roles or positions as superior to others. Instead, they understand the uniqueness of each individual as essential to the functioning and cohesion of the group as a whole. These interlocking parts are spread horizontally rather than vertically. There is no top or bottom, superior or inferior, simply unique personalities and abilities.
Free Self Expression and Determination
Through my time with the community I was particularly struck by the extent to which the children of the Konohana Family live as free self-determining individuals. They are given immense room to grow, freely express, and live as they so desire. There is no pressure to remain within the community once they have reached adulthood. There is no expectation to attend university or pursue certain careers. The adults within the community, who are considered the parents of all the children, advise, guide, and provide support. However, inevitably each child is free to pursue whatever life path they so wish.
Individualism versus Collectivism
So is the Konohana Family an anarchist collective?
The short answer is no.
There is one fundamental difference between anarchism and the ideology of the Konohana Family. Anarchism is built on the understanding that the individual exists and can make autonomous self determining decisions. In an anarchist utopia individuals act in accordance with their own personal desires. If they wish to join a collective, they do so in the name of self-determination. The individual is always the central motivator of any decision made, even if this decision is about the well being of the collective.
In the Konohana Family, on the other hand, the shared spiritual belief and practice is based on the existence of a universal ‘oneness’. We are all intertwined elements of the universe and the natural world. The spirituality of this community is incredibly complex and multi-faceted, including karma readings, Katakamuna teachings, and many many other elements. So I won’t get into all of that here. However, I will say that the Konohana belief in a divine ‘oneness’ radically changes the way individuals act and see self-determination. The phrase ‘moving with the flow of the universe’ is one that I heard constantly throughout my stay. This means that when individuals act they act not as individuals, but as elements of a greater whole.
A Touch of Nuance
I want to end by addressing my obvious subjectivity with regards to this whole analysis. I am very much an outsider shaped by the many structures and societies that I have lived and currently live within. Anarchism was in the forefront of my mind prior to me entering the community, and we should all be particularly aware of the extent to which I may be imposing ideology. The Konohana Family has never used the term anarchist when describing themselves. However, I did speak to a few Konohana members about my thoughts surrounding anarchism, and they echoed a similar sentiment to what I have expressed here. There are clear similarities, however, the belief in a universal ‘oneness’ distinguishes the Konohana Family as something fundamentally different.
As I finish writing all of this, I am struck again by a feeling of immense love and gratitude for these people and all they stand for. They give me hope and energy to keep fighting and most importantly to keep loving.