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The Israeli kibbutz dream is alive and well. In Japan

TJI Pick
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Published: 25 July 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

These Japanese communities are carefully designed to imitate the traditional structures of the Israel kibbutz.

Here’s the tractor on the way to the garage, there’s the silo containing animal feed, along with granaries for storing cottonseed. Workers from the orchards are taking a midmorning tea break, resting next to the board listing work mobilisations and shifts for irrigating the field crops. One fellow is bicycling to the dairy barn for morning milking duty, another is washing a pair of communal rubber boots ahead of the next workday.

It could be a nostalgic twilight scene from a Jezreel Valley kibbutz circa 1950 but it’s a winter evening in Japan 2023, and we’re on a kibbutz.

There are 20 active kibbutzim in Japan, whose founders learned the collective way of life from the kibbutzim of Israel. Archival documents attest to rich programs that included theoretical study of the kibbutz idea and its administration, combined with practical training and experience in living and working in Israeli kibbutzim. The participants were students who were brought to Israel in the 1960s and 1970s by the “Japanese Kibbutz” organisation, whose aim was to disseminate the concept in Japan.

Agreement to the visit came with an ironclad condition: It had to begin with an eight-day preparatory course undertaken in total isolation from the outside world, with a rigid schedule and spartan living quarters. It was a combination of kibbutz work camp, ideological studies and social dynamics of the sort I went through in Givat Haviva, the educational centre of the Kibbutz Federation, as a native of a kibbutz of the Hashomer Hatzair movement.

As the days passed, I was continually astonished by the details: The customs, scents and sights, facilities and structures – all replicated the setting of the historic kibbutzim, the way every kibbutznik remembers, as though each element was copied one by one.

The Israeli kibbutz dream is alive and well. In Japan

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Photo: Kibbutz members Takashi and Hiroko Guto (Paul Miller/AFP)

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