Life Onboard LAST UPDATE  November 11, 2008
site design imagesparkle.com
October 1, 2008 From Earth to Space and back again – Akiyama
image
Mr Akiyama’s lectures captivated his audiences
“I am the King, the conqueror of time” professed Akiyama Toyohiro, smiling playfully in the streaming bright sunlight of the 63rd Peace Boat Global Voyage. Speaking on his victory against living by other people’s watches, Mr Akiyama captivated his audiences with a wealth of technical knowledge yet deeply poetic rhetoric, acknowledging himself as a man of bold contrast. In December of 1990, Mr Akiyama became the first Japanese cosmonaut, retiring five years later to Takine, Fukushima. Swapping his space helmet for a spade, he became an organic farmer living without a cell phone or computer in self-sustained harmony with nature.
site design imagesparkle.com
image

Mr Akiyama confesses he was a little older than most cosmonauts, but believes some things can only be achieved by years of experience

Mr Akiyama's journey as a cosmonaut started in his late forties when the Tokyo Broadcast System (TBS) selected him to report from the Russian space station MIR. While undergoing extensive training in the deep Russian winter, there were many times he wanted to give up, but his stubbornness and his wife’s love of his new found notoriety meant escape was impossible. At 11:32:32 on December 2, 1990 Mr Akiyama blasted into space. “The shock is enormous. It’s so strong during lift-off it’s even difficult to use your eyelids,” he reported. Having memorized the Russian instruction manual once in space, Mr Akiyama became a fully fledged member of the crew. His days were filled with conducting experiments, reporting to TBS and most glamorously cleaning the space station's toilets. However, despite the heavy workload there was time for reflection, and Mr Akiyama revelled in the beauty that greeted him from every window. “The stars in space don’t twinkle, they are like thousands of holes in heaven. Above me the sea was shining like diamonds, a sea of stars. When we passed above Brazil, the sun was rising from a very low place and it looked like blood - a strong vivid red. Then the Caribbean Sea gleamed like an aquamarine gem. It was beautiful. I could see many hours in one moment. It was then I realised the beauty of the Earth and realised it was alive.”
image

Despite the obvious dangers, Mr Akiyama never thought about death during his space travel but now ruminates that “on my trip of life, it’s almost time to fold up the tent”

After having worked in Washington, London and Russia, space had a profound effect upon Mr Akiyama. “I thought, how can humans live on this earth? I thought hard about what kind if life I should live from then on.” After a long and happy relationship, Mr Akiyama began to fall out of love with his vocation at TBS. “I wasn’t happy working for a company I didn’t feel attached to any more. No matter how old you get, you get a good feeling when you’re in love. I wanted to feel that feeling everyday,” he explained. Coupled with a growing disdain for the commercialisation of Japanese television, Mr Akiyama decide it was time for a drastic change of direction. “I didn’t want to regret my life. I wanted to grow the food I ate.” He argued that for too long people have been happy experiencing their lives through limited senses, dominated by computer and TV screens which only offer a two dimensional existence. For him it was time to feel and live an existence through all of his senses, to be connected again to this beautiful round living planet he witnessed from space.

Mr Akiyama also believes that we need to rethink our hunger for natural resources in our never-ending strive for technological development.“We have to realise that our rich lives are based on other people’s poverty. The resources we use are borrowed from the next generation. We need a redevelopment of technology with resources in mind,” he stated. So in 1995, he retired from TBS and retreated to a life as an organic farmer in Takine, Fukushima. Specialising in rice cropping and mushroom farming, he believes there is more to organic farming than just growing produce. “Agriculture is the way to see the connection between the world that is very close and the one that is very far away. I can see the flowers and I can see the seasons.” He added, “When you’re planting, you are a medium to connect nature.”
image
During a panel discussion, Mr Akiyama explained his concern about increased commercialisation of both space and the media
This point was not lost on Peace Boat participants, many of whom felt inspired by Mr Akiyama’s sentiments. “He went to a very big space where many people wanted to go, but he also talks about some things which are very close. He connects the two worlds. I want to start with something small and close, and make it into a bigger space,” said one. “He connects with everyone in the room--you can feel the warmth. Everyone was mesmerised and in tune with what he was saying,” said another. Mr Akiyama believes all life is a trip, praising Peace Boat for its independence from the Japanese media and a society that no longer values the contribution of those who make difficult choices rather than pandering to the masses. As is his wont, his admiration was not without a pinch of salt, and with a wry smile he concluded, “You need to give up on this sea and come on land and build Peace Boat farms around the world.”