Benzo lives in a house that he built, by himself, from the wood of trees he planted forty years ago. He is 91 years old and spends at least 10 hours of every day outside, winter and summer.
“Being outside makes my bones strong,” he says. “Last month a tree branch fell and hit me on the head. If my bones weren’t so strong it would have killed me!”
He laughs. He is always laughing.
Benzo is a farmer. He eats what he grows. One of the ways to say farmer in Japanese is “hyaku-sho.” Hyaku-sho is best translated as "peasant." Most Japanese farmers would be offended if someone called them “hyaku-sho,” but not Benzo. He went to the best university in Hokkaido and lived in Tokyo for many years, so he knows the alternatives to farming. Being a "hyaku-sho" was his own choice, one he is proud of.
“Hyaku means one hundred,” he says. “A farmer should grow at least one hundred different things to eat. I grow one hundred and twenty-three!’
These are just some of the things that Benzo grows.
Rice, onions, leeks, daikons, lettuce, spinach, corn, squash, eggplant, beans (many kinds), pumpkins, zucchini, apples, cherries, tomatoes, potatoes, chestnuts, rhubarb, mushrooms (many many kinds), watercress, cabbage, carrots, green peppers, red peppers, hot peppers, burdock, bamboo shoots, buckwheat and sunflowers.
Some of these foods (like the mushrooms) grow naturally, and Benzo picks them when they are in season. Others (like the rice) require lots of care and maintenance, but Benzo doesn’t mind the work.
When the soil in Benzo’s garden goes stale, he adds a little fertilizer to make it dark and rich again. What does he use for fertilizer?
You guessed it.
Benzo would laugh to see your face right now, but he isn’t embarrassed. After all, he and the land have been living with each other for so long, they are practically the same thing by now, and there’s nothing shameful about that kind of partnership.
Benzo’s farm is part of a place called Shintotsukawa, a small town in Central Hokkaido. The people in town think Benzo is a strange old man and almost no one goes to see him. This is a shame, because Benzo loves having visitors. It’s always more fun to laugh with a friend.
These photos of Benzo were taken by Ryan Libre. To see more of Ryan’s work, please visit Idioimagers.org.