Below is Kimberly Hughes’ interview/article for the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, which she created during my 2013 Japan tour. I met Kimberly in 2012 when she worked with me interpreting for me at several of my concerts, and we’ve been good friends ever since.
The photo was taken at my 2013 concert at Cacao Magic (a vegan café in Kyoto that specializes in raw organic cacao treats). I am wearing organic fiber clothes created by my friend and collaborator, fashion designer Kaorico Ago Wada for her organic fiber, fair trade clothing company, Little Eagle.
U.S. artist and author brings timeless message of natural, sustainable living to Japan
Alicia Bay Laurel was barely over twenty when her self-illustrated book “Living on the Earth” — often referred to as a “bible” among those seeking to live in harmony with nature — became a best-seller in the United States in 1971.
The book included tips on everything from canning food to making handmade soap to stitching shoes — all knowledge that was essential for outdoor living among those, like Laurel, who had joined the back-to-the-land movement of the day.
Far from being out-of-date, however, the book continues to resonate among those who crave a simpler way of living within today modern, chaotic world.
Now 64, Laurel — who is also an accomplished guitar player and singer — is presently on tour in Japan to promote her two latest CDs, sign books, and share stories of her fascinating life growing up in the U.S. during an era of collective living and large-scale social movements for peace and justice.
Laurel’s swift rise to author fame surprised herself as much as everyone else. “I had moved from Los Angeles to a hippie commune in northern California in the late ’60s, and, as a city girl with no outdoor skills, I decided to interview residents to get their advice for living in nature — which I then compiled into a hand-written notebook together with my illustrations,” she told an audience packed inside a cozy venue in Kunitachi, western Tokyo.
“At first, I didn’t even know how I would go about making a single photocopy of it — much less imagine that it would go on to be published and reach international fame.”
The Japanese translation of “Living on the Earth” was published in 1972 by Soshisha Ltd., which also went on to release her next book, “Being of the Sun” — which Laurel describes as her first work’s “spiritual sequel” — as well as her three books for children.
Laurel toured Japan for the first time in 1974, where her artistic muse found deep inspiration. “Right away,I noticed that the entire country shared an advanced sense of design that permeated even the most humble and commonplace objects,” she recalls. “I also noticed that ordinary transactions were conducted with a sense of awareness and decorum that I had not previously encountered anywhere else.”
Her connection to the country was renewed in 2005, when outdoor magazine Be-Pal sent a journalist to interview her in Hawaii, her home for some 25 years. This was followed by introductions to the environmental nonprofit organization Artist Power Bank, who invited her back to Japan to perform at its events and hold workshops — and its sister project Kurkku, a complex of environmentally sustainable businesses that organized the first of her yearly tours for Laurel in 2006.
Following the 2011 disaster in Tohoku, both organizations also helped coordinate an initiative to raise funds for survivors by selling T-shirts and other goods at their music concerts that featured Laurel’s trademark flowing line designs.
Laurel is presently on a two-month tour of the archipelago, where her itinerary includes some 30 performances across 12 prefectures, as well as an art retreat on the island of Niijima, a sacred shrine tour in Okinawa, and a performance at a farm on southern Chiba’s Boso peninsula. She is also collaborating with numerous other artists and performers, including Kaoriko Ago Wada, owner/designer of the natural clothing design company, Little Eagle, and Hawaiian reggae band, Inoue Ohana.
Laurel’s message of reconnecting with nature has found an eager audience in Japan, where people inevitably line up in their dozens for a chance to speak with her following her performances. One man told her that he and his wife had home-birthed all three of their children using advice from “Living on the Earth,” while another woman said that Alicia’s message reminded her of an earlier era in Japanese history when worship of the sun goddess Amaterasu was a common practice.
During a performance last month at Beach Muffin Café, located along the shores of Zushi in Kanagawa Prefecture, Laurel swapped her guitar for a zither and began performing a series of songs from “Being of the Sun.” She explained that the tunes were in fact chants— each of which expressed reverence for a particular natural cycle, such as a time of day or a particular season.
“Mountains, wind, ocean and sun are teachers,” reads an excerpt from the book. “Lessons abound for the observant.”
During a recent performance held at an art gallery in Tokyo’s Daikanyama district, which also hosted an exhibition featuring illustrations from “Living on the Earth” that had been framed in driftwood, Laurel told the audience, “I strongly support the ‘hydrangea revolution’ movement in Japan, where people have taken to the streets to call for an end to nuclear power. We in the United States have much to learn from the Japanese people in this regard.”
In an interview with the Mainichi, Laurel commented, “Sustainable technology has been around for a long time. We don’t need fossil fuels or nuclear power, which are used only because they are enriching the 1400 billionaires of our planet.”
Asked about any advice she had to share with those seeking to revive the passion and spirit of earlier eras, she said, “Vote with your wallet. Avoid buying products made by companies that pollute the planet and/or violate human rights, and support politicians that try to stop these companies from doing so.”
“Also, volunteer,” she concluded. “Whether it’s helping with childcare for single working mothers or organizing clean-ups of polluted places, there are thousands of necessary things to be done to make this a more sustainable and just world.”
Alicia Bay Laurel’s Japan tour will conclude on August 4th . For more information and a schedule, visit her website at https://aliciabaylaurel.com.