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The Tokko Session
Yamagishi Association
Ichiro Kasai

The Tokko Session, Yamagishi Association
Thesis statement:
Yamagishi association is a village with full of communitarian aspects.
  1. Yamagishi Association
  2. The Tokko Session
  3. Epilogue

1,Yamagishi Association

This report is about the Tokko session, Yamagishi association. I attended the session from 15 to 22 of May 1992. The Yamagishi association is the biggest and the most thriving commune in Japan. I here report the session and observe the Yamagishism, or Yamagishi's philosophy.

Agriculture is a fundamental industry. We derive our wealth from it as a primary source. In ancient times, people obtained their provisions by hunting animals and gathering fruits. After that, they could raise vegetables and feed other people, which caused the first layer society. The Industrial Revolution, represented by steam power followed by internal combustion engines, started human history on a weird track. It consumes a lot of irreversible fossil fuel. People have chosen liberal capitalism combined with free market: let them go and lean on the flow system. The inherent value of fossil fuel is neglected. In reality, dig and suck and supply and demand decide the price. We are abusing our heritage. After all, massive debt is passed onto our descendants.

A few idealists tried to escape from the brazen society and establish utopias, or often the cases were communes. The word "utopia" somehow implies the reverse face of reality. No one can tell what is ideal. Although intervention often works in this man's world, their endeavor ought to be still respected. A definition of communes is:

The most common pattern of communes includes communal ownership of land. Produce is marketed through cooperatives, and income goes into a communal treasury. Food is preserved on the site and stored for later use. Ecology is usually considered of high importance, as is minimum consumption of nonsolar energy. The communities are usually based on a value system requiring a moral existence with a precise pattern of ideology. This means that a high degree of social conformity is imposed which may be fundamentally unappealing to people who place great emphasis on individualism (Carlson 107).

Kibbutz in Israel, or Hutterites in North America, and Yamagishi association have a lot in common. They have communal nurseries and dining halls, share materials such as clothes or any necessities in everyday life. Yamagishi association was formed in 1953 by Yamagishi Miyozo (1901-61) in order to build a utopia. It is a commune. Approximately ten Yamagishi villages held 2,000 in 1992 while they held 300 in 1966 in Plath's report. Their goals are:

  1. To become a person incapable of anger under any and every situation.
  2. To stand at the Zero Point.*1
    • Not to be trapped by subjectivity or stereotypes - such as knowledge, experience, ideology, custom, morality, faith, common sense, emotion (including anger), position, fame, family, education, etc. - but to understand all things by observing, reflecting, and practicing kensan.*2
  3. To know that kensan is the way to bring happiness and to practice it.
  4. To know the truth that self and others are one, and to understand that this is the fundamental principle of the true society filled with happiness and love.
  5. To vow to prosper together with all men. To examine whether or not our thoughts and deeds will finally contribute to the eternal happiness and prosperity of that community which includes all of us, and not to be trapped by results valid only for our age and our circumstances. (Plath 103)
    • *1:Rei'i: another association neologism difficult to translate. Yamagists, like many revitalizers, have a fondness for naming many aspects of life anew (Plath 103).
    • *2:Kensan: the peculiar collective decision making, e.g. when they want to go on an outing such as watching baseball games or musicals, they just need money. They go and hold a meeting. The decision is made quite democratically as they call "kensan." When it is approved, they are given money, and can go on an outing (by author).
    • **:The sentences, 1 to 5, are the same as in May,1992 (by author).

"Enjoyable village with no money needed" is a catchphrase. The villagers work for no pay. Clothing, provisions, shelter, medical treatment, education, welfare, and other necessities for life, so to speak, cradle to grave, can be obtained inside the village free. There is a clothes department where all villagers can select clothes as they like. Most of them are, of course, second-hand. Small closets are set at the clothes department, not at their living place, so they do not have to have their own closets. Laundry is done as a whole. There is a big common dining hall. The villagers take two meals a day, but not three, which is considered good for health. Each villager or each couple of villagers has a living room. "Living room" means the room where they can have their privacy, but it has no lock. A couple has a six Tatami area, 170 sq.ft., with little furniture. Children are reared in a nursery all day long and at night. Children who grow up in this collective manner call the people who are their parents' age "Dad" or "Mam." I once asked a villager, "Isn't this the dispersal of parental authority?" He did not answer to me. A decent hospital, high school, and college have been built recently.

Yamagishi association is a company controlled by Japan's Constitution and Law. Although villagers are not paid, they are certainly paid on an account book; otherwise it violates the Law. Also, they are obliged to pay their Income Tax, Resident Tax, National Pension, and National Health Insurance according to the Laws. Moreover, they should submit their whole fortune when they become villagers. If they have Real Estate, then, they should sell it or submit it to the association. When the villagers resign themselves from being villagers, they are not given the wealth they once have submitted before.

Yamagishi members tell of one instance in which a man resigned, then returned with an attorney to threaten suit. But when the attorney was shown the man's statement, signed at the time of joining the association, relinquishing all claims to its property, he advised his client not to proceed (Plath 1156).

In this report, the biggest Yamagishi village in Toyosato Nagoya Japan, population one thousand five hundred, is introduced focusing on the eight day session from May 15 to 22 in 1992. Session attendance costs four hundred dollars (computed as 130 yen to a dollar) including two meals a day and lodging. "The Tokko session is aimed at winning nonmembers over to the views and goals of the movements (Plath 96)" twice each month there.

2,The Tokko Session

Surprisingly, right after arrival, all of our belongings were seized except a few clothes and tooth brushes. When we took a bath, we shared towels. Two persons of the same sex took one bed at night. Furthermore, they required us to move our sleeping places, and change our partners every night. There were two meals a day which were served around ten o'clock in the morning and five o'clock in the evening. We could eat as much as we liked. Every morning soon after getting up, we did gymnastics and sweeping. We cleaned even the bottom ceramic caps of male urinals so clean that we could lick them. About each one and half hours, we took about twenty minute break. We were allowed to smoke at break time. We could not drink alcohol during the session. We are not allowed to have our watches and to take notes; therefore, some sequences may be remembered incorrectly.

Then they set the stage for the eight day brainwashing. During the session, we had eighteen participants including me, three coordinators, and one leader. We made one circle centered by two persons, either one leader or three coordinators, as directors. The two directors suggested some theme as the discussion proceeded such as, "What do you think about this? Throw your idea promptly to the center of the circle as you feel. Do not talk with each other." The proceeding was like brainstorming, but it was different because we were directed to certain goals of which they had previously scheduled.

The first theme was to raise any experiences which had angered us. Simple and concrete examples were preferable. They asked, "Why did you get angry?" The consequent argument was, "What angered you? Only your subjectivity just made you get angry. The event itself never affected you because it was just a phenomenon, or reality." The second theme was to name our most disliked food. Then they brought the food in front of us. They asked, "Is this your most disliked food?" We were expected to answer, "This is AN apple," or they continued, "The apple in front of you might not be the apple you disliked. Have you tasted THE apple before? What made you say that it was your most disliked apple was your subjectivity. The one in front of you is just AN apple." The third theme was to place our bags in front of us. They asked, "Is this your bag?" We answered, "Yes, it is." They asked again, "When did this bag become yours?" We should have answered, "This is just a bag," because the bag itself had no attribute of being owned by any person. Our subjectivity allowed us to have a concept of ownership. The fourth theme was, "This Tokko session is going to end on May 22. Can you still stay here after that day?" We were expected to answer, "Yes, I can," because no event could bar us from staying there by any means. They said that answers like, "Yes, I will," or "No, I can not," implies our subjectivity.

The participants and I were so tired of answering such tricky questions the first four days from seven o'clock in the morning till sometimes eleven o'clock at night. From the second day, I began to doubt if they were using collective hypnotism. The way they talk was like that, especially the leader's talk. He often refrained from using a full sentence. He had several key words. Actually, the fourth theme was sneaky. One of the participants made a loud voice angrily against the fourth theme, "This is trickery. We must be careful. Now I get it. Everyone was cheated, so they became villagers." It was the second to last day I noticed that they tried to remove our subjectivity to accomplish their scheme.

Another theme was how we could divide three oranges for eight people equally. Someone might want to eat them. Someone might want to paint with them. Or some might not care to have any. They said that being informed is important. Even if he might not care for them, and if he had not been informed before, then he felt discriminated. Another theme was that we were born into this world with definitely minute chances of uniting a sperm and ovum. Another theme was that we altogether are to be considered relatives of each other while they showed family tree diagrams. Another theme was that we could hardly divide things with each other properly. They brought strawberries. One participant ate one of them. They continued, "From what stage shall the strawberry, eaten by him, be a part of him? Is it at the moment he holds the strawberry? Is it at the time he swallowed the strawberry, and it reaches his stomach? Is it at the stage the strawberry goes through his body, is digested and excreted? We might distinguish a strawberry with a person if we use a physical, medical, or chemical definition. As we have been talking, such manner of distinguishing did not make sense. We inhale air and absorb oxygen. There is no boundary from body to air. Then we find that humans and plants are the unity of nature. You and I are parts of the unity of nature."

From the fifth day, we began to use a textbook written by Yamagishi Miyozo, the founder, titled "Actual Conditions of Yamagishism society (Yamagisizumu Shakai no Jittai)," written in 1955 as first edition when he was fifty year old. We read it and talked altogether about what was written in it. It implied his psychology of attachment toward materials which probably was influenced by the time of lack of materials soon after the World War 2. Basic statements were, "Let's built a utopia. Yamagishism is very good. Believe it! Propagate it to the world!" It was very hard to read. Most of the sentences were very long. The misplaced modifiers often confused me. After all, I needed a lot of time to understand what he wanted to say, or various understandings would be obtained. Words were lined up redundantly as if he tried to show his intelligence. Those words sometimes were inappropriate, then they were funny. His presumable character was narcissistic, megalomaniac, and charismatic: a common and good case for a cult leader. I hated to read it because it was like a diary written by someone who just consoled himself.

On the seventh day, they suggested a theme as Today's theme, "What are you going to do after you go back home? " We answered it very honestly. However, they expected us to answer, "I feel I am completely refreshed. From tomorrow on, I will realize what I have studied here. I want to let my friends know what I have experienced. I recommend this Tokko to any acquaintances and hope they will come." A while after, four villagers came to the meeting. One was a thirty five year old woman. She talked with childish lax tongue adding a suffix "Ne, ne" very much; it was a child language in Japanese. I noticed one woman coordinator talking in the same manner, not so badly though. One was the eldest, more than eighty years old. He could not hear very well, so his voice was very loud. This old man suddenly began to talk, "All the villagers are happy. When someone becomes a villager, he is happy. You ought to recommend this Tokko to your friends using any techniques, even cheating him or whatever." One was more than forty years old, and a tough guy. He followed the old man's talk, "In fact, the way of enticement is not like that, much more rigorous and pushy." I doubted my ears, and I could not close my mouth for a while, but I needed to believe my ears.

The first four days, they tried to remove our individual subjectivity. The latter half, they tried to implant the Yamagishism, or the Yamagishi's Subjectivity. They enticed us to join it using various ways such as hypnotic talks and jail-like session proceedings. As a catchphrase written in the pamphlet, "You can encounter your real self;" or "When you change yourself, your world is going to change." The eighteen participants could be categorized two parties. One third of them was right wing: passive and suggestible; the other party was left wing: more liberal and individualistic. The right wing might have lost their confidence in their life. They were likely to follow others' opinion. They impressed the Tokko session and could encounter their selves. The left wing people expressed, "I have enjoyed it very much. It was an unusual and unique experience, and useful to some extent. But! I am going to live as before with MY subjectivity." The left and right wing showed distinct opposition. It was a really enjoyable session just like riding a most thrilling, eight day un-get-off-able jet coaster.

Why did they do such brainwashing or collective hypnotism? I guess they think to seize the whole fortune of newcomers, and make newcomers work with no pay. If one loses one's ownership, they can seize one's property easily. I asked them, "Why should newcomers submit all of their money?" They answered me, "We talk about it in kensan school." Kensan school is a 15 day session with field work for no pay. It costs two hundred thirty dollars (computed as 130 yen to a dollar). I plan to attend it. I will be really mad if they answer me, "Your money isn't yours." In this world, a company can make a profit even when paying a salary. No wage insures a big profit for a company. After one's fortune is seized, and he has no income, then he can not go back to a society outside the village. Interestingly, they refer to a nonvillager or society as "A man outside" or "Society outside." In fact, it is impossible to go outside of the village. They are very afraid of being ostracized. They are afraid of expressing anger, irritation, opposition, and confrontation. Those emotions set up even a fatal problem for the village existence itself. When I remind the people, villagers have always tried to show smiles. It was artificial and even weird, when they changed faces between a smile and a non-smile suddenly and reciprocally. This report might have been focused on the bad face of Yamagishi association. To suppress individual subjectivity and to unify human traits are a kind of totalitarianism, or a total institution in this case. It sounds formidable. The textbook implied racism and an ambition of world conquest from between the lines. It was just in a cartoon world of Yamagishi Miyozo's subjectivity. He was megalomaniac.


World population and the consumption of natural resources are increasing exponentially since the Industrial Revolution, the late eighteenth century. Not only are humans not able to solve the coming depletion of natural resources, but also they are not capable of suppressing the exponential increase rates of world population and the consumption of natural resources. Industrialized countries have achieved zero-sum population growth and China's harsh only-one-child policy is effectively working; however, at current rate, the population will increase during the 1990s at an annual rate of 90 to 100 million people (Rourke 553). At 1987 use and proven reserve levels, the world supply of petroleum will be exhausted in the year 2031 and the reserves of natural gas will be depleted by 2057 (Rourke 563). Petroleum and natural gas are two major energy sources of humans while other resources e.g. nuclear power and coal are controversial, and other solar, geothermal, tidal, wind power are minimal.

Haviland states that the world biggest food manufacturer, the United States, is running toward the dead end.

Intensive agriculture on the U.S. model requires enormous inputs of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, not to mention fossil fuels needed to run all the mechanized equipment. ... For every calorie that is produced, at least 8 - some say as many as 20 - calories go into its production and distribution. By contrast, an Asian wet rice farmer using traditional methods produces 300 calories for each one expended. North American agriculture is wasteful of other resources as well: about 30 pounds of fertile topsoil are ruined for every pound of food. Meanwhile, toxic substances from chemical nutrients and pesticides pile up in unexpected places, ... (Haviland 455).

Humans are facing the crisis of population explosion and the depletion of natural resources. Today's politico-economic system shall not solve these problems. Rourke predicts that:

... Many resources (for example, minerals) are not renewable, and even those (forests, fish) are being used faster than they can reproduce. Some analysts reacted to these projections with true alarm. They see the potential for human suffering caused by economic deprivation. They predict an increase in international violence ... as countries clash over scarce resources. Still other analysts predict the end of democracy as authoritarian regimes are required to control the resource-hungry masses (Rourke 568).

President Clinton announced in his inaugural address, "To renew America, we must be bold." I may summarize his address, "Our ideology of democracy and freedom is supreme. When our interests are challenged, we will act with our supreme ideology and power. To renew America, we must be bold and brazen." I observe the connotation, "Reconfirm our imperialism and our hegemony in the world." No jingoistic Americans may not interpret his address like this, but did. The police state of the world, internally, seeks maximized utilitarianism; America's greedy individualism can not stop the increasing rate of consumption. Exclusive deterrence is externally mighty either by overt or covert measures with sophisticated intelligence and diplomacy. Armageddon without nuclear detonations might be achieved. Friedman observed and connotes the future that:

The United States ordered political relations throughout the Pacific Basin, ... the U.S. ordered the relations among these nations, determining the hierarchy and prosperity. ... But it must never be forgotten that there has been a great Pacific empire ruled by the U.S. and that no matter how much others might have benefitted as well, the ultimate beneficiary of this empire was the U.S (Friedman 401).

Revitalizing and renovating ideas may first be found in grass-roots activities, but Donohue refuted communes as:

... Communes, for example, have often been launched with the noblest of ambitious, but before too long they usually descend into authoritarian and exploitative arrangements, just the opposite of the free and equal provisions they were supposed to be (Donohue 148).

Triandis suggested communitarian aspects:

... narcissistic individualism ... are detrimental to societal development; on the other hand, communitarian individualism should be most desirable if the criterion is economic development. If the criteria we wish to maximize are physical and mental health and those we wish to minimize are divorce rates, criminal rates, then, communitarian collectivism has much to recommend it. As societies evolve and become affluent, mobile, a shift from collectivism to individualism is inevitable. However, by emphasizing the communitarian aspects of these constructs we can maintain healthy cultural change (Triandis 106).

Communitarian aspects may be: in the case of Japan, it may be relatively small farm business but several times bigger than that of average size which is often managed by one family, and that is less controlled by the Agricultural Cooperative Association, or Nokyo. In the case of the Philippines, it may be a village that farmers are relatively free from the inherited administration of colonial times. In the case of the United States, it may be a psychiatric community to provide the place to review real society and global future through agricultural labor work as a citizen of the united States which is presumed as a world leader.

Yamagishi association is a village with full of communitarian aspects. I have not mentioned their commitment to healthful environments in this paper. Their villages adopt almost fully recycling and self-sufficient systems in terms of their provisions, as well as production of agriproducts. There is a danger that the illusion to possess the one only truth, and the endeavor to impose the truth on everybody, in the total institution. However, they have their decent villages, norms, and economics. Who can accuse that they are *cult, having less freedom, crazy people? Nothing is wrong. Living in stressful society, working at desks all day long, competing, exhausted in vein, are we happy? Humans are imprinted in the genes that they feel happy working under the sun, sleeping at night, being hugged by mother nature. Aren't we?

*Cults are small, voluntary, and exclusive religious groups that have created new religious systems. With no previous organizational attachment to an existing religious body, they represent a new religious tradition all together. Because they introduce new religious beliefs or practices that may be completely alien to an established religious tradition; founders of cults are religious radicals (Kammeyer 557).

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