Saori has an industrious job overseeing the 300+ events held at Pictet Asset Management Japan in Tokyo annually. In the evening, she commutes two hours to a coastal oasis of prairie land, nectar trees, and more than 400,000 bees. Welcome to Little Farmette, Saori’s rural paradise, where she works harmoniously with nature and the seasons…
Saori grew up in Okinawa, an island at the southernmost tip of Japan, a subtropical region of rainforests, caves and rock pools. A self-proclaimed wild child, she and her friends spent their time building fortresses in the forest, exploring caverns and fishing for shrimp.
She left home in 2000 after her studies in tourism and moved to Tokyo for work - first in the service industry, then on the bullet train between Tokyo and Fukuoka. Saori joined Pictet in 2007 on a temporary contract, initially in the back office, calculating NAVs for mutual funds, then from mid-2012, she was in charge of organising seminars and events for distributors, sales reps and general investors. “I had the classic urban lifestyle. Working late. Meeting my friends for dinner, going to the movies, Saturday morning yoga class, sleeping in at the weekend.” But the call of nature was never far away and about once a month Saori would escape to the countryside to learn about rice harvesting or organic farming, or else she was mountain climbing or volunteering in Tohoku.
In 2015 Saori began to reflect on her (still distant) retirement and how she might spend her time. Her ponderings brought her to take a four month reskilling course in organic agriculture where she also learned about the fascinating practice of keeping beehives high up on the roofs of skyscrapers in the city. Intrigued, she next took a speciality course in apiculture. “My professor really inspired me, he had such passion. I took private classes and was able to study his hives through the seasons”. Two years after she’d started, she set up her own hives with four classmates in the mountains of Minami-Boso city next to Kamogawa city.
In 2018, Saori bought a piece of fallow land about the size of two football fields in Kamogawa city, Chiba. Commuting from Tokyo, she spent her weekends and evenings during the next 3 years turning it into Little Farmette: a bee paradise, with different nectar trees that flower throughout the year. She uses no pesticides and relies entirely on rainwater for irrigation. “We get the occasional fox going after our chickens or a wild boar that comes through. I wouldn’t say it’s a fight but it’s a constant quest to ‘get along’ with nature!”
During the pandemic, Saori spent more and more time in Kamogawa before finally relocating for good with her partner in 2021. “Even if the two-hour commute to and from the city means I have less free time, this is where I reenergise. I feel less stressed and calmer. I hear the birds singing, smell the flowers changing with the seasons, and think about my bees’ well-being.”
Last year, she harvested 500kg of honey, which she sold online and at the local shop in town, 30 minutes’ drive away. “We only collect half the honey in a hive, leaving the rest as food for the colony during the cooler months.” With three honey harvests a year, there is a noticeable difference between seasons. “Spring honey is clear, has a fresh floral aroma and an unctuous taste. Summer honey is golden with a clean, refreshing taste while autumn honey is dark and almost creamy.” Her honey has become well-known in the region as it is also given as a thank-you-gift by the local tax authorities to anyone who makes a charitable donation to their local community.
Saori’s commitment to her day job hasn’t changed but her mindset has. “I do the best I can and that is the best I can do. I’m more comfortable asking for help and respecting my own boundaries. I have the confidence to say ‘no’. I have balance. And that is better for everyone!”
Saori’s colleagues have also benefitted from Saori’s extracurricular activities. At a recent PAMJ ESG Lounge event, Saori gave a presentation to show the importance of improving and maintaining plant biodiversity to help bees to flourish. The highlight was of course the honey-tasting session afterwards! She also recently welcomed ten colleagues to her farm for a day of weeding, tending to the soil and planting new trees. “Hopefully they’ll come back again, there’s still plenty of uncultivated land!”
If you’re looking for Saori, you’ll likely find her foraging for wild plants and berries around her plot, musing with her next business idea. “I’d like to develop a craft botanical gin using local herbs. But yeah, I need to take the class first!” We wish nature’s curious wild child all the best.