In a place called Shikoku, there’s a rice farmer named Hiromu Kohno.

Not only a grower of rice, Kohno is also an ecological artist, and a passionate and unwavering supporter of what he sees as “just causes” in his area of the world. “Just causes” such as giving kids art education when it doesn’t formally exist in schools by inventing and teaching it himself in local classrooms; causes like farming in a way that he believes is good for people and the environment even if the farmers around him might not support the same thought; causes like hosting a huge art exhibition on his rice field every year and inviting the community to take part; causes like rejecting offers from international galleries and museums to collect his work as a statement, because he believes his art belongs on the rice field and not in a stuffy museum.

Rice farmer and artist, Hiromu Kohno works on an art installation in his field in Shikoku, Japan

This is the character of Kohno san.

My partner Suhee and I visit him and his family anytime we are in the area, enjoying chats about farming, philosophy, feasting on their rice and vegetables, and taking time to be in company with the kind hearts of people who feel like our own extended family.

On our latest visit, I learned about another of Kohno’s just causes, and like his other causes, this one was both local in scope, and extraordinary in principal. This latest of Kohno san’s causes has to do with a giant bird on this earth called the Oriental Stork, and “giant” is not an understatement here; its wingspan longer than I am tall.

Many decades ago, this particular bird was extinct in Japan, and was only recently spotted again in the wild a few years ago. Just this fall, a few of these birds ended up in a field near Kohno’s farm. Having a sampling of his character, you might guess Kohno’s response.

He built the birds a sanctuary.

Local rice farmer Kohno Hiromu built a sanctuary for an endangered Oriental Stork in Shikoku

In his self-appointed role of caretaker, not only did Kohno make sure people in the area were aware to leave the birds alone and give them space, he built a literal paradise for them: a fence to keep out wild pigs, a berm to hold water and create a pond, and an ample supply of fish which he personally catches and carries to them from a nearby lake.

On our visit to the Oriental Stork paradise, were treated to a flyover by a bird whose wings are so massive that you don’t just hear them flapping, you feel the vibrations through your entire body as these great wings push the stork’s body up through the air over your head.

Never have I seen such a large flying creature.

Kohno, Suhee, and I stood for a while at the Oriental Stork paradise, admiring this feat of nature in silence; only on the way back home did the three of us burst into expressions of awe at the performance we had just witnessed.

It’s times like these that I smile inside, these moments where we see what human compassion is capable of, these moments where humans see themselves in nature, and in turn realize the nature in themselves.

Endangered Oriental Stork flies above a farm in Shikoku

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December 6, 2016

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