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  • Writer's pictureMax Sinsheimer

SOLD! Kuni: A Japanese Vision for Reviving Rural Lands (by Richard McCarthy and Tsuyoshi Sekihara)

Kuni takes a holistic approach to helping fragile places thrive by, in part, delivering social services, such as food to the elderly... even through snow!

I'm pleased to announce that Kuni: A Japanese Vision for Reviving Rural Lands, a collaboration between the Japanese community organizer Tsuyoshi Sekihara and the American food movement leader Richard McCarthy, will be published by North Atlantic Books next fall.

Kuni is a testimonial to the lonely work of social change in places not trendy. It tells the story of an extraordinary experiment in citizen-led democracy, and the lessons it holds for reviving rural communities around the globe.

Kuni begins in 1995 when Sekihara, a Japanese businessman, returns home to the mountainous villages south of Joetsu. There he finds 1,000-year-old rice irrigation canals clogged with sediment, farmhouses rotting, and a nursery school left vacant. Like small places everywhere, greater Joetsu was scrambling to survive the Cult of the City. But rather than drive on, Sekihara stayed, starting a social experiment that has revitalized this once-forgotten place.

Sekihara calls his experiment “kuni,” reimagining the Japanese term for “the nation” to describe building a new sense of purpose and belonging in politically and geographically isolated villages. Kuni takes a holistic approach to helping fragile places thrive by reviving fading traditions, delivering social services, and forging new urban-rural connections through the innovative notion of “place polygamy.” Place polygamy describes how we experience globalization personally; we naturally thirst for a diversity of places. Kuni leans into that feeling by explicitly inviting urban allies to join the rural community, invest in it through voluntourism, and reap the benefits of belonging.

Locals and urban visitors work together to dry plums in Joetsu.

Richard's chapters then show how Sekihara’s ideas and experiences are applicable outside Japan—from Wilmington, OH’s loss of a major shipping employer, to Petal, MS’s loss of agricultural infrastructure. Richard is the co-founder of the Crescent City Farmers Market, an internationally recognized nonprofit mentor organization for farmers markets, and the former Executive Director of Slow Food USA, which seeks to create dramatic and lasting change in our food system. He is smart, passionate, and deeply engaged in community-building... the perfect American counterpart to Sekihara.

Ultimately, Kuni offers a compelling vision of regenerative relationships that can take root in America and elsewhere. With spare and beautiful prose and useful principles for reviving rural places, Kuni addresses our longing for a hopeful revolution of everyday life.

Kuni was acquired by Keith Donnell at North Atlantic Books, in our second deal together (Keith acquired Allison Margolin's Just Dope last winter). NAB is mission-oriented, closely aligned with Richard and Sekihara's values, and has strong ecology, sustainability, and society & politics lists. I know their important work has found a good home there!

Here is the Publishers Marketplace deal memo:

Congratulations to Keith, Richard, and Sekihara!

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