Ikemiya: The ragtime, sparkle-divine Peace Farm state of mind

BAR HARBOR – Masanobu Ikemiya is a concert pianist, conductor, and recording artist, a foremost exponent of American ragtime, the founder of the summertime Arcady Music Festival in Maine and of the New York Ragtime Orchestra, and a Zen Buddhist disciple.

His wife, Tomoko, is a former nurse-midwife, psychologist, and college instructor. She now manages her husband’s career.

Masanobu and Tomoko Ikemiya snip ripe elderberries at Peace Farm.

Both are ardent about bringing a message of peace, intercultural harmony, and sustainable living to the world. They have developed a largely off-the-grid lifestyle and eat mainly a diet of raw and live food, with the idea of having as little impact on the earth as possible. They’ve documented the evolution of their homestead in a slideshow that they present on their concert tours. Through their concerts, they have also become ambassadors for various charitable causes, from Maine’s Hospice of Hancock County to Japan’s survivors of the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster.

Masanobu and Tomoko are possibly the most warmly hospitable people on the planet.

In 2004, the couple moved permanently from New York City to Bar Harbor to create an off-the-grid homestead for themselves. Carved from their 3.5 acres of hillside woods and built up from granite ledge, the house and extensive gardens, which they call Peace Farm, is an evolving model for how to live comfortable, globally connected lives with as little impact as possible on the environment.

The dirt road to their house winds up a densely wooded hill, a couple of hairpin turns along the way, a small pond on the right, a fork on the left. By email, Tomoko cautions, “Go slowly, 15 or 20 miles per hour.”  The way seems long because it keeps bumping and bumping along. Eventually, after a sharp 90-degree turn, there’s a tree with an oval sign that says “Peace Farm.” The sign is framed in wrought-iron and decorated with colorful paintings of fruits and flowers.

A short driveway leads through the woods and opens up to a compound that includes a multi-story home, additional fixed and mobile structures, and a great hoopla of tiered gardens taking up almost every inch of cleared land and bursting with life.

A ring of the brass bell beside the main door brings the couple outside in a whirl of energy.

Tomoko Ikemiya, flanked by lime trees, heads off to harvest vegetables at Peace Farm.

“Well, here we are! This is it!” Masanobu declares in greeting and immediately starts on a tour of the gardens. Tomoko follows along, then doubles back to get straw hats to protect herself and her husband from the late-summer sun.

Both are slender and high-energy, and their faces are wreathed in smiles. Masanobu is a take-charge kind of guy, dominating the narrative as Tomoko goes off with a basket to pick vegetables and herbs. Vibrantly healthy and, really, kind of bouncy, he is more than happy to show off the various low-maintenance technologies that make Peace Farm a self-sustaining home, where they grow almost all of their own food, live almost completely off the grid, and maintain a life of harmony with the environment.

The house is situated at the top of the slope, overlooking what appears, on initial impression, to be fairly chaotic gardens built below in tiers, on the south and east sides. The guiding principle for creating the gardens is an environmental design approach called permaculture, a type of organic, localized, and do-no-harm culture that seeks to ensure that the human-built environment works in concert with natural systems.

Part of the permaculture process means keeping everything as maintenance-free as possible, Masanobu says. For example, they don’t till the soil. Plants come up by themselves, and they pick as needed. Soil is alive, he says, and tilling destroys the ecosystem. Although they might take a hand-scythe to keep the weeds a bit under control, weeds are considered part of the ecosystem and their root systems help rainwater seep into the soil.

“Some people say, ‘You must be working all day long,’” he says. “And we say, ‘No, we don’t.’ Let nature do the work. The plants know better than we do how to grow.”

But maybe the construction plan here was “kind of haphazard,” Masanobu says. “I wanted to just start where we could,” he says. “We tried to go a step at a time. At the beginning, there was nothing, so I gradually kept building, gathering the leaves from the forest, building the topsoil, getting seaweed from the ocean, gradually developing. It’s a slow process.”

The gardens are irrigated by rainwater collected off the roofs of the house and the storehouse, using a system of gutters and PVC pipes that lead to interconnected cisterns. Although they use well water for drinking, the rainwater has proved useful for other purposes, too, such as the household washing.

“I’d been hearing how we’re using up underground aquifers,” he says. “It’s like putting a straw in an orange and keep sucking. Now, everyone pokes straws into the aquifers.”

The extensive growing patches are defined by walking paths, stone walls, and deer- and bird-deterrent fencing. Two Adirondack chairs are set by a small, concrete-walled, vinyl-lined pond, full of lotus flowers and bullfrogs, a lovely meditative spot. Another, larger pit dug into the ground elsewhere, and lined with black vinyl, is almost ready to take runoff from the adjacent hillside, an important part of permaculture. A dense, semi-circular stick structure indicates where they plan to try out the German practice of hugelkultur, a way to make raised beds by using old twigs and branches.

Produce abounds. Young Japanese plum trees are yielding fruit.  Young walnut, hazelnut, and American chestnuts prosper, but are not yet yielding. Juicy, sweet grapes grow on a makeshift arbor made from rebar curved into half-hoops and tied with wire. Winter-hardy northern kiwi twine their way along ropes strung between two-by-fours screwed to the house posts. A small lime tree grows in a large planting pot, yielding fruit that will be orange when ripe.

Masanobu plucks an unripe green lime and pops it into his mouth.

“Sometimes I eat the whole thing,” he says. His face squinches. “Mm. Sour.”

Masanobu charges down another garden path and gets to talking about a Japanese scientist who studies the sensitivity of water to words or feelings.

“Nobody believes it, but he proved it,” he says. “He has taken photos of the water molecules and, actually, words change the molecules. So if you say really bad words such as, ‘I hate you!’ water molecules get all broken up. ‘I love you’ and all these wonderful words, it becomes beautiful crystals, like snowflakes.”

There are the usual suspects found in a Maine garden – carrots, peppers, beets, squash.

A fat kabocha.

Then there are goodies such as pawpaw, white raspberries, kabocha, daikon, and stinging nettle. Pawpaw is mostly grown in southern states and tastes like banana. The versatile daikon can be used raw, baked, boiled, and pickled. Stinging nettle is rich in iron and makes a good tea; its leaf, slapped against the skin, helps relieve joint problems. Dark-green and fat, kabocha is like a Japanese pumpkin. It keeps really well; in fact they still have one left over the from the 2011 harvest.

“It keeps us going. There are so many ways to cook it,” Masanobu says.

He picks a leaf of red shiso, an herb used mainly for coloring pickled plum, or umeboshi. This leaf, or any edible leaf, really, can also be used to wrap sushi, he says. It has a lemony pepper flavor.

A cement-built storehouse is one of the recent additions to the assemblage. Loosely tied strands of garlic hang under its rafters. Inside, Masanobu pokes through a bin of rich brown compost, uncovering “thousands of pets,” as he says of the wriggly earthworms. A cistern collects a nutrient-rich liquid extract piped from the pile.

“Look, this is compost tea,” he says. “We keep it alive, activated, bubbling with energy. When you give this to the plant, they just go wild because it’s alive energy.”

The root cellar, based on a design he learned about at the Common Ground Country Fair, consists of cement chambers lined with foam insulation. A PVC pipe vents warm air through the ceiling; another pipe lets cool air in from the outside. Natural convection cools the whole system quickly.

Shelves are full of Tomoko’s canned currants, kimchi, sauerkraut, and Japanese pickles.

“When you do raw pickling, like sauerkraut or kimchi, it’s alive, you know,” he continues. “Everything in the whole universe is alive.”

“Everything is alive” is one of Masanobu’s favorite things to say. So are variants, such as “bubbling with energy” and “harmony with the life force.”  He talks about everyone and everything as he would a particularly delightful child, someone to care for and cherish. In his world view, and Tomoko’s, everything in the universe is connected. He is lucky and grateful, he frequently says, to have experienced life’s fortunes. And they both want to help others who are less lucky.

The love of peace that he and Tomoko share, and their mutual passion for helping others and for taking care of the earth, is rooted in the horrors of war that gripped their families during their youth.

Before the Second World War, Masanobu’s father, Masayuki, had been working toward his PhD in biochemistry. When the United States launched its reprisal against Japan, Masayuki was drafted into the military and forced to train as a kamikaze pilot. He never flew his mission. The U.S. bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki and ended the war.

In a Bangor Daily News article in 2010, Ikemiya recounted his grandmother’s experience toward the end of the war. She was living in Okinawa, which “became a really horrible battleground and every night B-29s would come over and bomb the villages. And my grandmother used to just stay in the basement being bombed.

“The horror of it, everything burning, bombed, and at one point all the islanders … decided at least kids should be sent to the mainland [of] Japan to escape the danger and the American soldiers landing. So they decided to put all the kids in one boat to escape to the mainland.”

One of those children was Masanobu’s uncle, who was 11.

A section of the garden is set aside for the beginnings of a “hugelkultur” structure.

“And I think there were 1,800 kids, all their primary school kids … and it was torpedoed by an American submarine. All the kids died, and my grandmother never forgave herself for letting my uncle go.”

Masanobu’s father became a Christian missionary and went to Manchuria, in northern China, where he met and married Masanobu’s mother, Tsuneko,

also a Christian missionary from Japan. Unfortunately, the end of World War II meant the escalation of China’s long-running internal hostilities between the Chinese Nationalist Party, led by Chiang Kai-shek, and the Communist Party of China, led by Mao Tse Tung. By 1946, when Masanobu was born, the family found itself trapped by a full-scale civil war. As Japanese nationals and Christians, they were in peril.

“It was a tragic, chaotic situation. If they find out that you are Japanese, you get killed. If they find out you are Christian, that’s even worse. So finally we decided to leave, as refugees.”

Masayuki and Tsuneko, with a toddler and a baby, began a horrendous winter trek back to the coast, so they could get a boat to Japan.

“Below zero, freezing weather, whatever they can carry. My mother and father were on foot in the snow and sleet. I don’t know how they did it.”

Occasionally, they were able to sneak onto a train.

“One story was that, because it was completely full, the only place my mother could stand was in front of the steam engine. When it was moving, she is next to the hot steam, and in the front is Siberia, below zero, snow blowing in her face. And she was carrying me. She couldn’t move. She was completely frozen. They get to the next station. She thought I was dead for sure. The train stopped and she ran as fast as possible. They were coming to investigate the whole place. My father was hiding in a coal bin. They hid somewhere off to the side of the railroad, and escaped.”

Peace Farm’s extensive gardens might seem a bit chaotic on first impression.

Somehow, the family got back to Japan. Masayuki finished his PhD in biochemistry at Kyoto University, then became a professor. Tsuneko became a professor of linguistics. For all of Japan, it took a long time to recover from the trauma of war, the atomic bombs, and the U.S. occupation.

“It was chaos, you know. Japan was a mess,” he says. “It wasn’t easy. They had a very difficult time. But eventually, things got better and better, and they were very happy toward the end.”

In 1962, Masayuki received an invitation to teach from Kansas State University. Masanobu attended high school in Manhattan, Kansas, and found that he loved his new home, out in “the middle of the Kansas corn fields.”

In his senior year, his advisor recommended that he go into science.

“I was very good with math and science. I had straight A’s. I was top 2 percentile in the whole nation in science. But I was very bad with other things, such as English and history. My English wasn’t so great. So I thought, ‘Well, maybe.’”

He enrolled at Kansas State to study nuclear physics.

A bubbling brew of compost tea is full of nutrients for the garden.

“This was Cold War time. The United States was trying to beat the Russians in the nuclear arms race. They were trying to cultivate Einstein. I remember standing on campus – they had a mini-nuclear plant for students to study, which was just ridiculous – wearing all these protective garments. They were explaining how dangerous everything is. In order to produce uranium for nuclear fusion, it had to be refined many times, and you have to hire all these people who are getting all this radiation already, and as you refine it they get more radiation. Those were the days when people really weren’t paying attention. They wanted uranium quick, just to beat the Russians. Now, of course, years later, they found out the people who were digging and doing the processing had radiation sickness and cancer.”

At age 16, Masanobu was a young college student, and he wanted out of the program.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to get into this. They were explaining and I said, ‘What am I doing here?’ This was the time of the Beatles and the Vietnam War and the Kennedy assassination, and President Johnson took over and escalated the war like crazy, and young people were revolting against it, and the Beatles were saying, ‘Make love, not war.’ And I said, ‘I don’t want to create another nuclear bomb.’”

Masanobu had always enjoyed playing piano. In Kyoto, he had started taking lessons at age 6, but he had never thought about it professionally. At Kansas State, a music professor encouraged him to get out of physics and into music. He recommended Masanobu for Oberlin Conservatory, in Ohio.

“I went and auditioned, and they gave me a full scholarship on the spot,” he says. “So I said, ‘Well, I guess that’s what I want to do.’ But most students there were super-stars, they were child prodigies, they were trained ever since they were young, training in music theory, ear training, all kinds of things. I was just bottom of the pit. I didn’t know anything.”

He studied like crazy, the first student rehearsing early each morning, and the last to leave. By the time he graduated, he was chosen to be the guest soloist with the Oberlin Orchestra, a coveted spot for the conservatory’s top student, decided by the faculty. He played Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Masanobu was then given a full scholarship to Indiana University in Bloomington, where he earned a master’s degree with distinction in 1972.

That year, he married his first wife, Cheryl, decided to put music on hold, and instead pursued an interest in Zen Buddhism. He returned for a short time to Kyoto to find a Zen master.

A lotus pond, full of bullfrogs, provides a meditative spot.

“Most Zen training is really severe, so they don’t accept some little college kid coming in,” he says. “They are professional people who are committed. But I found a wonderful Zen master who was open to accepting young people and I started studying meditation with him. And he told me there is a zendo monastery in the United States, and he told me about the place in Surry, Maine.”

The place in Surry was Moonspring Hermitage (now called Morgan Bay Zendo), founded by Walter Nowick in the late 1960s. Nowick is a Julliard-trained pianist, veteran of World War II, and disciple of Zen Buddhism, which he studied in Japan for 16 years. As the first Westerner to have gone to Japan and completed the traditional Zen practice on their terms, Nowick taught Rinzai Zen in Surry until 1985. In the mid-eighties, Nowick also founded the Surry Opera Company, an amateur group that worked to strengthen ties with the Soviet Union at a personal level. The group went to the USSR a number of times and received national attention in its heyday.

When he was still a student at Oberlin, Masanobu became one of Nowick’s first disciples. Throughout his time at Oberlin and Indiana University, he traveled to Surry during his school breaks. After graduating with his master’s degree in 1972, Masanobu and Cheryl moved to Surry, where they built a house and started homesteading in conjunction with the Zen Buddhist community. They stayed at the monastery for 10 years. For much of that time, Masanobu didn’t touch piano.

That all changed one day, with the arrival at the zendo of another musician, Claude Monteux. Claude, a world-class flutist and conductor, is the son of Pierre Monteux, a prominent conductor who founded a school for conductors and orchestral musicians in the nearby town of Hancock.

Claude and Masanobu got into conversations during breaks in the meditation.

Part of the Peace Farm rainwater collection system.

“He said, ‘How about you, Masanobu? Before you came, were you something?’ I said, ‘Well, I studied piano and I was a pianist, but I haven’t touched piano for many years. So I don’t know, I’m just a monk here.’ And he said, ‘Well, we should get together and do something.’ And I said, ‘No, I can’t. I probably forget how to read music.’ But he said, ‘Oh, let’s do it.’ And he drove me to his place in Hancock. He put this music to me and I said, ‘What is this?’ I hadn’t read music for a long time. Then, all of a sudden, I noticed this incredibly beautiful music flowing. I looked up, and there he was playing. I said, ‘This angelic music, so beautiful, what is this?’ And I looked and my fingers are moving. I was playing! What!? I was completely intoxicated with this great music, and I was reading and playing without being aware of it. When I was finished, it was so beautiful that I just couldn’t say a word. Claude said, ‘Masanobu, you are a wonderful player. Let’s do more.’ I said, ‘Yes, yes, let’s do more!’ We started plowing through all the great literature. I still remember the Bach Flute Sonata in B minor. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful work. I was just in heaven and, after we finished, I just couldn’t sleep. With his encouragement I decided to go back to music. And he started taking me on tour as an accompaniment. He took me to Canada and other places, and gradually he introduced me to different people and my career slowly started. I started practicing like crazy.

From the quiet solitude of a monastery, Ikemiya found himself in the limelight, traveling all over the world.

Tomoko cans and stores kimchi and pickles in storehouse.

“It was quite a different life, because being at the monastery, you are completely excluded,” he says. “You meditate all day. It’s quite similar to a Christian monastery. You get up at 3 o’clock in the morning. You have all the schedules, the chanting. It’s a whole day. You really stay put. Basically you journey inside, not go out. You try to find peace within yourself and try to be in touch with your inner divine light, or whatever you want to call it. Try to be in tune with yourself. Try to clean out ego, hatred, anger, all the junk you have in yourself. That’s part of meditation.”

In 1978, Masanobu helped to found the Blue Hill Chamber Music Winter Series, which is now in its fourth decade and “is intended to help the community thrive and celebrate despite the hardship of a Maine winter,” says the website of the Blue Hill Concert Association, which today oversees the series.

Tomoko and Masanobu Ikemiya, in ragtime-era costume, take a bow at the end of Ikemiya’s “Classics to Ragtime” concert on a recent Saturday afternoon.

Ikemiya founded the Arcady Music Festival in 1980. The summer festival’s first concerts were held in Blue Hill. It quickly grew in popularity. Making up the festival’s Maine Quartet were Ikemiya and Monteux, along with violinist Werner Torkanowsky and cellist George Sopkin. Sopkin was a founding member of the Fine Arts Quartet, among his many illustrious activities; Torkanowky performed with and conducted many of the world’s major orchestras.
“We had these incredible, high-level musicians, just sparkle-divine, landed in the same place here in Maine,” says Ikemiya. “They became the core of the Arcady Music Festival. Because of such an incredible high level of musicianship, people started to come to hear us.”

Such connections helped to attract other first-rate musicians from across the nation and, eventually, the world, to perform in Maine. More than 50 concerts each summer drew packed houses and invitations to broadcast on television and radio. Ikemiya brought programs into local schools, as part of the festival’s mission to broaden cultural diversity.

“Many of the kids weren’t exposed to classical music, so we started bringing all this chamber music, and explaining this music. The kids were so open, and they loved it. I was so surprised. At the beginning I thought it would be difficult. But no, they were quiet. When you provide them with really high-quality music, they don’t want to miss it. They are listening and absorbing.”

While the summer festival was rising, so was Ikemiya’s renown. He and Cheryl moved to New York City in the early 1980s, where he found a wonderful manager who believed in his talent and wanted to promote him for orchestra and solo concerts.

Bar Harbor pianist Masanobu Ikemiya cuts a dignified figure as he plays Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring at a Saturday afternoon concert in Bucksport.

“So without me planning, just all of a sudden I was a crazy rising star: ‘Where did that Japanese guy come from?’” he says.

His musical interests took a curious tangent in the 1980s. It began when a friend of his, a gospel singer, asked him to volunteer at a homeless shelter started by Mother Teresa in Harlem, N.Y. Ikemiya didn’t have experience with troubled kids, and he didn’t know how he could be helpful, but he had been giving piano lessons to kids, so he gave it a shot. There was a piano at the shelter, and he tried loosening up the youths by playing some classical music.

“The kids just laughed at me. ‘Oh, I don’t want to sit and listen to this junk,’” he recalls.

But he persisted.

“Gradually, I’m finding out all the trouble they have. The father is a drug addict, the mother is alcoholic, they don’t want to go home, the house is a mess, kids are always fighting in the streets, a brother got shot in the head. And I’m thinking, Oh my gosh, the kids, the problems they have.”

One day, an old man walked into the place, sat down at the piano, and started pounding out some joyful, rhythmic tunes. The children loved it. Masanobu had never heard anything like it before.

An 1875 Steinway square grand piano.

“He just started pounding like a mad man, and all the kids went next to him. ‘Oh, wow, this is fun!’ They started clapping hands, ‘Yay yay, wow wow!’ I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, what is this music?’ They said, ‘Man, you don’t know this? This is ragtime, man. You’re missing something, man.’ I said, ‘Gosh, this is so good. Can you help me? I want to learn this stuff.’ ‘Oh, it’s so easy.’  He helped me out a little bit, teaching me a few things here and there. And gradually I got into it more and more.”

The more Ikemiya learned, the more the kids took to him.

“Gradually, I was able to work with the kids, because I got connected with them through ragtime,” he says. “Somehow the wall came down.”

Ikemiya took to the form with his usual exuberance. He founded the New York Ragtime Orchestra, which modeled itself after the “typical ‘theater orchestra’ which was popular not only in New York City, but all over America from the 1880s through 1920s,” according to an archived blurb on the internet. “Thrilling audiences from Tampa to Tokyo, The New York Ragtime Orchestra evokes the exciting sights and sounds of America at the turn of the century. With exuberance, humor and razzmatazz, the eleven-piece ensemble in period costumes performs marches, tangos, foxtrots, cakewalks, habaneras and ragtime for a delightful romp through America’s musical heritage. In an evening of cornets and clarinets, theatre and song, the rich early history of jazz, vaudeville and ragtime takes flight in the colorful melodies of Joplin, Gottschalk, Sousa, Berlin, Gershwin and many others.”

Ever since then, classical and ragtime have held equal standing on his performance schedule. He has played frequently at major ragtime festivals, and he positions his worldwide tours to bring ragtime to other cultures.

Ikemiya demonstrates the brighter sound of the spinet he uses to play ragtime.

“I travel all over the world giving concerts and, every time I play ragtime, it brings smiles to the people, to whomever I’m playing for,” he says. “I can’t talk to them with their language, but with the music, everybody’s smiling, they’re clapping hands.”

Ikemiya recalls the effect that ragtime had on one special demographic. Six years ago, he put on a free ragtime performance for children in a Cambodian AIDS orphanage.

“When we were there, they had absolutely nothing, in the middle of nowhere. So when I started playing ragtime, my gosh, the kids had such a good time. It’s such a happy music. It’s a rhythm thing, you know. It’s something earthy and very energetic.”

Ikemya has long returned to Japan annually to see his family and to perform.

During one of his jaunts home, in the 1980s, he gave a concert in Tokyo.

At the time, Tomoko was a nurse-midwife, psychologist, and instructor at a nursing college who lived in Tokyo. She had a friend who was also a friend of Masanobu’s sister. They went to the concert together.

Two or three years later, Masanobu was scheduled to play a concert in Osaka. Tomoko had moved to Osaka. She and her friend went again.

Some time later, Tomoko was teaching at a college in Hamamatsu, halfway between Tokyo and Osaka. This time, she found out on her own that Masanobu was playing a concert.

Recently, sitting at a table in the kitchen vestibule after a delicious raw-food lunch, Tomoko recalls those days, two decades ago.

The Ikemiyas’ light-filled home is designed for energy-independence.

“I went to the concert and he talked a lot,” she says.

That’s the case in general. Even at this moment, when Masanobu has been relegated to washing dishes in order to give Tomoko a chance to talk about herself, he can’t help but chime in.

“Tomoko says I talk too much. I have to control myself,” he says.

Masanobu’s recollections of their meeting came in a separate conversation, but they splice together seamlessly with Tomoko’s:

“He talked about the Arcady Music Festival, and also about Maine,” Tomoko continues. “He told us, the audience, about how beautiful Maine was, also how nice the music festival was.”

“I usually do,” he says. “’I love Maine and I love Arcady’ – I talk about the state of Maine. ‘I run this music festival in Bar Harbor, Maine, and it’s so gorgeous and beautiful and I’d love all of you to come to this festival.’ I entice them.”

“I was so fascinated by his story,” she says. So when her next summer vacation came up, she decided to go to the festival.

Tomoko scheduled a month-long tour that took her to see her best friend in Kentucky, her cousin in Los Angeles, and then to Maine.

“My sister told me somebody was coming, and I said, ‘Okay, that’s fine,’” Masanobu says. “So she showed up.”

“At last I met him in person,” she says. “He told me later he didn’t get a good impression of me. But I got a very good impression of him. So we started to get closer.”

A windowscreen is pulled into service as a drying rack, in front of shelves full of Ikemiya’s library of sheet music.

“Guy are blind because we don’t know how to see through the outer layer of the person,” he says. “She’s a very straightforward, honest person and she didn’t put on all kinds of jewelry and makeup and fancy clothing. I was a guy who wants to see a fancy girl, so how blind I was! She was the most important person in front of me, and I didn’t even see! That’s a lesson for all guys: We are all so conditioned to see the outside and not to see the beauty inside. Women are much more intuitive about seeing the truth, the person’s character.”

And the rest, as he says, is history.

Talk about a long-distance relationship. Tomoko was mostly in Japan, although she would return to Maine during her long vacations. Masanobu was mostly in Maine, but he visited Japan every year for a few months.

They had a quick civil wedding at New York City Hall, with just a few friends. Several years later, they and their relatives assembled in Nara, Japan, for a portrait session in traditional wedding clothes.

Ikemiya pours sun-brewed tea.

Breaking in again from the present, Masanobu, always informative, leaves the dishes, disappears into the living room, and returns with a coffeetable book about Nara, the most ancient capital of Japan. There are photos of its buildings, more than 1,000 years old, and the oldest wooden buildings in the world. It is home to beautiful pagodas and shrines that are well-preserved because there were no major wars to burn everything down, and to a statue of Buddha that is famous because of how big it is; the people at the bottom are tiny.

The couple stays in Nara every year.

“It’s a very beautiful city,” says Tomoko.

“And deer running around,” says Masanobu.

“Kyoto is famous,” says Tomoko, “but Nara…”

“Kyoto is like Paris, and of course it’s a beautiful place,” says Masanobu.

“Nara is a much more calm, spiritual place,” says Tomoko. “We love it.”

Masanobu heads off again and leaves Tomoko to talk about her transition to the United States, where her career took a turn. At the time, a strong economy drew many professionals from Japan to Manhattan, with the families settling in prosperous upstate communities such as Scarsdale. Tomoko worked in a large Japanese kindergarten, and also set up a counseling practice for many of the Japanese mothers.

Tomoko cuts kernels for a raw-corn chowder.

“Each mother was under pressure because of living in a foreign country and raising small children, and mostly Japanese husbands didn’t come home at the proper hour, and they have to go back to work in the morning,” Tomoko describes. “One child, when his father went to work, he said, ‘Bye, Dad, please visit again!’ He didn’t know that his father lived in the house. So the mothers had strong pressure.”

Masanobu lived in Manhattan, but Tomoko visited him on weekends. Each summer, they traveled to Maine.

Fifteen or 20 years ago, she gave up her counseling career (she never worked as a nurse-midwife in the U.S.) when Masanobu’s career became really busy. He needed Tomoko’s help with the administrative side of running a large-scale music festival and his concert tours.

“She started helping me and, of course, she started going with me everywhere,” he says. “I said, ‘Life is too short without you around. Please come with me everywhere.’ We try not to be apart at all.”

Tomoko’s counseling ways come in handy for their busy lives.

Tomoko pours corn chowder into gleaming wooden bowls.

“She’s so wonderful, because I need oftentimes counseling for sure, with this chaotic music life I was running,” he says. “She was a savior to me. I don’t dare do anything without her advice.”

“Masanobu had a lot planned,” she says. “And he had the New York Ragtime Orchestra. It had 14 or 15 people, and somebody had to organize the tour. So I did. It’s a full-time job. And also I needed to go with them everywhere they went.”

“We had a blast,” Masanobu says. “We went all over Japan, and Florida, New England, upstate New York.”

“I miss it!” Tomoko says, then laughs. “But I don’t want to do it again.”

“She was like mother hen,” Masanobu says. “Fifteen people she had to take care of. Sometimes they say, ‘Oh, gosh, my room has a funny smell.’ Or, ‘I want to fly to Japan on the aisle seat, not the window seat.’”

“And diet or health conditions; sometimes people have allergies,” Tomoko says. “I had to take care of everything.”

Nowadays, she manages his solo tours.

“Just one person, so it’s very easy,” she says.

“She just has to worry about me,” he says.

Half a cup each of walnuts and sprouted sunflower seeds go into raw corn chowder.

A great one for histrionics, with a beaming temperament, it’s no wonder Ikemiya is attracted to the bubbliness of ragtime. I had a chance to see this, and his talent for an entertaining spiel, one winter’s afternoon, when he gave a concert at a 200-year-old church in the riverside town of Bucksport. For his first set of classical music, he strode energetically down the aisle between the pews, dignified in a charcoal-gray suit, his demeanor grave. He sat silently at the piano and performed works by Bach and Haydn. After a bow, he launched into an edifying discussion of the “water pieces” by Ravel and the late Stonington composer, Kay Gardner, next on the playlist. Of Ravel’s Jeux d’eau, he said, “It’s a beautiful French impressionistic work. You can see the beautiful French impressionist color of water, the play of water,” while for Gardner’s Rhapsody in A minor, he commented on what a pleasure it was, when she was alive, to be able to discuss a piece with the composer.

After the intermission, Ikemiya’s comical alter-ego appeared, as he bounded down the aisle in a straw boater, sleeve garters, club-collared striped shirt, and jacquard vest, his face alight.

Pesto, squash chips, and kimchi salsa, all prepared as raw or live-food dishes.

“I love ragtime because it’s so full of humor and joy, and oftentimes, we classical musicians are always so serious all the time,” he said. “Ragtime really makes us smile and enjoy life and have humor. It’s such an important part of life.”

He demonstrated the marching-band pulse that anchors the syncopation, which goes like so – “da-da da-da dah dah.” He talked about some of the classical greats who were influenced by ragtime.

“You never think of someone like Stravinsky having anything to do with ragtime, but actually Stravinsky loved ragtime,” Ikemiya said. “He wrote several pieces with ragtime in it. Then we have Erik Satie and Ravel and Debussy. Debussy wrote several pieces with ragtime influence.”

Debussy’s Golliwog’s Cake Walk showed how the French impressionist composer turned away from and had some fun with the heavy influence of German Romanticism.

“He kind of laughs at it – ‘Ha ha ha!’” he said. “He decided to attack the Romantic school. Richard Wagner was the greatest one and his greatest work was Tristan and Isolde. The first time I saw and heard this opera, it was so incredibly powerful, I just couldn’t sleep all night. It was so inspiring, such a great powerful work by Richard Wagner. But Debussy decided to make fun of the Tristan theme.”

His face drooped into a mournful expression as he played a few bars of the theme, bass-heavy and ominous.

Sliced tomatoes, dried in a small dehydrator and stored for later use.

“I’d better stop now, because this goes on, like, six hours. It will put you to sleep,” he said, as the audience laughed.

George Gershwin was heavily influenced by ragtime, he said, and his Rhapsody in Blue should reflect that. But many orchestras play the climax of the piece slowly and pompously, like a straitjacket, really. He banged out several loud, ponderous measures of chords, his arms like giant machine pistons. Then he dramatically toppled onto the floor as though from the weight of the sound, eliciting an explosion of laughter from his listeners.

“It’s just so slow, you know?” he said, picking himself up. “But the conductor, you don’t fool with him – ‘Okay, whatever you say, sir’ – and that’s it.”

The ragtime sets have proven to be a great time for Tomoko to get in on the action. She became intrigued by the music through the many ragtime festivals around the country. The most fun one is the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, where Joplin spent part of his life.

“Everybody’s ragtime everywhere,” says Masanobu. “They have the main stage, and there are always washboards. She really got fascinated. At the restaurant, you wake up and go have breakfast and somebody’s already playing ragtime in the street. They have the player piano going, and people dancing.” People wear period costumes, and they have a parade. Tomoko really got into it, and she began to accompany Masanobu on washboard.

“At the beginning, she was really shy,” he says.

“Because I didn’t have any experience on the stage,” she says.

The woodstove generates heat for the household’s hot water and radiant floor.

Masonobu teases her. “She’s so humble – ‘Oh no, I can’t, I shouldn’t be onstage, oh no, no.’”

It’s hard to imagine any couple looking as happy as the Ikemiyas do when they perform together, Tomoko with her washboard strung over an elegant period gown and lightly dancing behind her husband as he pounds the keyboard.

“We have a blast,” he says.

“Proletariats of all countries, unite!” reads an honorary certificate, written in Cyrillic and English script, that was presented to Ikemiya in 1989 by the director of the Kurgan (Siberia) Philharmonic Orchestra.

The certificate, which hangs on the wall of the stairwell, thanks Ikemiya for his “excellent art” and for the concerts and meetings that promoted “friendship between the Soviet and American people” when he performed across Siberia.

Around the same time, he received an Official Recognition Award from the Maine State Senate for his “contribution to the cultural life of the state” with the creation of the Arcady Music Festival.

In 1995, he received a United Nations award for “Promoting World Peace” and, along with members of the New York Philharmonic, was invited to celebrate the United Nations 50th anniversary in a gala concert.

Wearing a straw boater and sleeve garter, pianist Masanobu Ikemiya revs up a concert with some ragtime tunes.

Over the past three decades, Ikemiya’s career as a performer has been an extension of his philosophy, as he seeks to foster cross-cultural awareness and harmony in the world. His performances have taken him to the former Soviet Union, Mexico, Argentina, Taiwan, Cambodia, Philippines, Bulgaria, El Salvador, Portugal, Brazil, Guam, Hawaii, India, Korea, Canada, the United States, and Southeast Asia.

In Japan, he performs regularly with major orchestras such as Tokyo Symphony, and appears on national TV and radio. He has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, Maine Public Broadcasting Network television and radio programs, and on classical radio stations in New York City and Boston.

He has been a guest artist with the New York Philharmonic Ensembles and joined with members of the Philharmonic in a chamber music concert in the Golden Pavilion Temple in Kyoto for its 600th anniversary, a performance which was broadcast throughout Japan. Ikemiya has appeared in solo recitals at New York’s Lincoln Center, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and other venues.

Between 1995 and 2004, he toured annually in Japan with members of the New York Philharmonic and with the New York Ragtime Orchestra.  In 2004 the ragtime orchestra gave a highly acclaimed performance before an audience of 47,000 at the Osaka Dome in Japan. He and the orchestra have recorded five ragtime CDs, and he was nominated for a Grammy Award for the album Ragtime Classics. In all, he has recorded nine CDs on various labels.

At his concerts, part of the program is dedicated to the causes the Ikemiyas are involved in. These days, they present a slide show that shows, on the one hand, how things at Peace Farm are going and, on the other, images from the earthquake and nuclear disaster that hit Japan in 2011. A series of photographs, snapped through a telephoto lens by a resident of a coastal town who was on a hill above the scene at the time, shows a neighborhood that was largely intact just after the earthquake, but was wiped out by the tsunami just 20 minutes later.

“First slide, 3:15 in the afternoon, and 20 seconds,” he said at the Bucksport concert, as Tomoko clicked through the slides. “Now the tsunami is coming. One second later, it’s like this already, and then, 40 seconds later it’s all over the place, and then a minute later the whole village was wiped out. It’s hard to imagine that in one minute everything we grew up with, our community got like this. So the strength of nature is incredible.

Old photos from Ikemiya’s family in Manchuria, Japan, and Kansas.

“This is just one of the towns. All the coastal towns – it would be like Bucksport or Bar Harbor – would be wiped out in a few minutes. Most people didn’t have a chance to escape.

“And, of course, the nuclear disaster is still continuing, the radioactivity leaking and threatening the whole island, and actually the whole world. You can’t escape because radioactivity goes all over, streams in the air and ends up here.

“I just want you to see how everything looks normal, like a regular city. What this teaches us is our normal life, what we have, is so precious because that could be taken away any moment, any time.”

“If you want to eat, you have to grow,” is the Peace Farm policy, Tomoko says, with a laugh.

“I always tell people that I’m in charge of vegetables and he’s in charge of soil and fruit trees,” she says. “But, of course, Masanobu is helping to grow vegetables, too. And also I try to preserve food, like pickling, canning, or freezing. I have to make sure we have enough food year-round.”

The back-to-the-land lifestyle, with its self-sufficient, do-no-harm practices, had long been an idea that appealed to the Ikemiyas, given their peace activism and efforts to foster cross-cultural harmony.

Masanobu had long known Maine’s back-to-the-land “gurus,” Helen and Scott Nearing, the Brooksville couple who were well known by the 1960s for their leadership in the movement. He got to know Scott Nearing before he died, in 1983, and became long-time friends with Helen, a classical violinist, when she began attending Arcady Music Festival concerts.

“She was a fan of mine. I was so lucky in that she always taught me all kinds of things, before I even made a move,” he says. “I always went to their Good Life Center in Harborside and admired their way of living. So we wanted to follow their footsteps.”

The tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, tipped the decision. At the time, the Ikemiyas were at their apartment in New York.

“We didn’t actually know what happened,” he says. “Tomoko’s sister called from Japan. ‘Are you okay?’ It was midmorning. So we turned on the TV. There was nothing, because the Twin Tower antennas all went. So we couldn’t see what was happening. Then a few radio stations were working and we were able to get other channels on TV, and finally we realized what happened.”

George Sopkin, Werner Torkanowsky, Ikemiya, and Claude Monteux formed the core of the Arcady Music Festival.

As the city began its gradual recovery, the terrible event persuaded the Ikemiyas that their idea to live a more harmonious lifestyle was a good one.

“We need to find a more sustainable, gentle, peaceful way to live with the environment, with nature, with fellow humans, and so on,” he says. “We started thinking, We can’t go on like this, because city life is completely artificial. All the food is brought in, nothing is grown there. It’s just sucking in everything from everywhere else. A typical example is Wall Street, of course. So we started thinking, You know, it’s time to move out. Because 9/11, all of a sudden, the bridges were closed. And all of a sudden, a few days later, food was getting scarce. The supermarkets were running out and everything was blocked. It shows how vulnerable this whole way of living is. This is not good. We just started sensing, We need to start living in more harmony and in a sustainable way. Also, this high-speed, modern life, typical Western civilization, materialism, chasing after money, was right there. You see this at the peak of the whole thing.”

They had their summer house in Maine, and decided to live there year-round. They would simplify their lives, and pursue a homesteading lifestyle that would least impact the earth. They would grow their own food, try to live off the land, and covert to solar energy.

For Tomoko, a “city girl,” as she says, the idea seemed a bit overwhelming.

“When he told me that he wanted to do the homestead thing, my first reaction was, ‘Whaaaa? I don’t know if I can do it!’” she says. “I didn’t have any philosophy. I was just surprised. But more and more, I learned things, and then I came to appreciate the work in the garden.”

They spent their first full year in Maine in 2004.

“The first year, the winter was very hard,” Tomoko says. “But fortunately, we have very good friends. Melita Brecher is from Finland. She loves winter and the snow. So at the beginning, nobody made me feel better when I asked, ‘How is the winter in Maine?’ ‘Oh wow, it’s very cold and not so great.’ But Masanobu and I go to the same yoga class as Melita every week. So when I asked her about Maine in the winter, she said, ‘Oh, it’s great!’ She goes to ski every morning. She told me how the winter is joyful and she goes skiing and snowshoeing. So finally, I got interested in Maine in winter.”

Melita lent Tomoko a pair of snowshoes and Tomoko went snowshoeing in the garden. They also went dogsledding.

An early Arcady Music Festival poster.

“So now I’m okay,” she says.

Since that first year, Tomoko has discovered a meditative quality to gardening.

“When you spend time in a garden, you forget about time. You just concentrate on what you are doing,” she says. “So naturally you just think of what you are watching, or this moment. You can just enjoy thinking, or smell the flowers. I just concentrate and enjoy now. That’s a very good lesson to me. Because when I went to graduate school to learn psychology, [I learned] you have to live now and concentrate now, because you have just now and not the future and not the past. But I just learn that in my head: I didn’t experience it at that time. I don’t think I understood it at that point. Now, I experience it. That’s a very good thing. Also, I like sowing seeds. From the beginning, you can see the whole process. It’s life. So I learn a lot from the process.  So the vegetables, we are able to see the whole life, and each moment, they are sharing their life. That’s a wonderful thing.”

Masanobu is hunting through the pantry shelves, which hold many home-canned goods, vegetables and fruits dried in a small dehydrator, and bunches of herbs.

He finds a jar of naturally sweet elderberry jam to mix with kombu cha, a tea.

“This is very healthy,” he tells me. “You’re going to be so healthy by the time you leave. You’ll be jumping out of your skin.”

The drink is refreshing, tasty, and slightly fermented.

“Isn’t that great?” he enthuses, and takes a drink. “Ahh, keeps us going.”

He leads me on a tour of the house. In addition to raising and storing almost all of their food, preserving precious water resources, and collecting “humanure” from their composting toilet, they seek to make the house as energy-efficient as possible. The woodstove incorporates a water-heating coil, controlled by a thermostat, that heats the household’s hot water and radiant floor. Solar panels on the roof feed into a solar collection system and radiator on the second floor; pipes feed heat to difference zones in the house.

“People say electricity is clean energy,” he says. “But how it’s produced is a tremendous amount of fossil fuels, coal burning, nuclear generation and so on. We wanted to not use that kind of electricity.”

Ceremonial items from a traditional wedding.

The living room has gone for storage of memorabilia and for gardening paraphernalia. Cardboard boxes and plastic bins are full of video and audio recordings of concerts. There are old posters from the music festival, announcing featured acts from Japan, the Philippines, and China.

“I always tries to have groups from all over the world,” Masanobu says, plucking one of the posters from a pile.

A poster from the 1985-1986 winter series, written by hand, with a hand-drawn picture of a rural church, announces concerts at the Tarratine Club in Bangor, the Somesville Union Meeting House, and the Holy Redeemer Church in Bar Harbor, featuring grade-school and high school guest soloists, tickets $7.

“I hate to throw things out and have it be forgotten,” he says.

A pamphlet from 1991 advertises a summer season that opens with a gala performance of Ravel Meets Bunraku, followed by the Arcady Festival Orchestra, with Ikemiya conducting, the Little Singers of Tokyo, Viennese Masters on Original Instruments, and Eastern and Western Strings. There were 50 concerts each summer, with acts traveling around Maine and 50 Little Singers to house.

“We were exhausted,” he says. “That was a major operation.”

Back behind some boxes are copies of the book, in Japanese, that his father wrote in recent years about his experience during World War II and its aftermath, and in Manchuria. The book was widely read in Japan.

“When he wrote the book, that was helpful. He didn’t want to talk  about it all his life,” Masanobu says. “Toward the end of his life, we urged him, Please write. He started writing about all his war experiences. That helped him be more at peace. He’s in Okinawa now. He’s really happy because that’s where he was born and, at the end of his life, he gets to be there again.”

The Ikemiyas had a quick civil wedding but rounded up family in Japan, several years later, for a traditional wedding photo session and reception.

A hall table holds traditional elements – incense, Japanese geta sandals, guestbook, and various symbolic items –  from the ceremony surrounding the making of their wedding portraits. Lining the stairway walls are photographs – his parents in Manchuria; his parents just escaped from Manchuria, holding their toddler son and baby daughter; Masanobu as a boy at the piano; his parents’ wedding right after the war; his father in uniform, standing beside the propeller of a fighter plane during the war; his parents, wrapped in overcoats, standing on the campus at Kansas State University in 1962; Masanobu as a rising musical star, grinning wildly in the company of Claude Monteux, Werner Torkanowsky and George Sopkin.

Ikemiya’s studio takes up the second floor, with large windows on three sides that overlook the gardens and distant hills, and twin triangular windows at the peak of the steeply pitched cathedral ceiling. French doors open onto a second-story deck.

The room was designed with acoustics and concerts in mind. Ikemiya sits at the Steinway and produces a lush sound. Then he plays ragtime on a spinet, which has a brighter bounce. Tucked under the eaves is an 1875 Steinway square grand piano, an earlier form that was once the piano of choice, but is rarely seen today. Ikemiya made his New York recital debut at Merkin Hall in 1993 on this perfectly kept specimen.

“This is one of the best pianos of the American 19th century,” he says. “At first, people think it’s some kind of table.”

The sound is gorgeous, softer than his other Steinway, but richly resonant.

“When I was in New York, I did quite a few concerts on this,” he says. “The Metropolitan Museum director really liked this piano, too. They have several like this on display.”

As is true of many households, the kitchen is the heart of domestic activity.

Floor-to-ceiling shelves hold part of Ikemya’s library of sheet music, right next to bins of recycled containers and cardboard. A small greenhouse off the kitchen is pungent with the aroma of humus, holy basil, and potted tomatoes. A window screen is pulled into service as a drying rack for bunches of herbs.

Today, they’re doing a demonstration of raw-food cookery. Masanobu pulls out cookbooks full of recipes for all phases of a raw-food menu, from appetizers to desserts. He’s made me a copy of a page from Gabrielle Chavez’ book, The Raw Food Gourmet, which explains that the raw and living foods lifestyle supports overall health and healing, provides more energy, avoids chemicals added and nutrients lost, and fosters harmony, peace and appreciation for one’s own body, mind, and spirit, for animals and plants, and for the earth.

Eating raw and living food “is like eating the essence of life,” he says. It provides a direct connection to cosmic energy, and increases vitality.

“We get more connected to the universe. The further you go away, you have less contact. That’s why we love to be in nature. We need to eat food straight as much as possible.”

“And it’s very economical,” says Tomoko.

Processed or cooked food lacks harmony with the life force, he says, “and you just go downhill.”

Raw food is food that’s not cooked, leaving its nutrients intact. Living food contains active enzymes. Examples of live foods are yogurt, miso, and sprouted seeds.

Originally, says Masanobu, preparation of raw-food and living-food dishes seemed complicated and time-consuming. Gradually, it became easy to figure out how to make good meals quickly, which is important to the Ikemiyas, who are always on the go.

Sun tea is brewed by pouring water over herbs and letting it sit in the sun, explains Masanobu, who made a jarful earlier in the day. Lots of people make sun tea, he says, but most just put in some mint and maybe one or two other herbs. He learned from Deb Soule – founder of Avena Botanicals Herbal Apothecary and Gardens in Rockport – to put in all kinds of herbs.

For this batch, he threw in rose petal, calendula flower, anise hyssop, mint lemon balm, nettle, lavender, and holy basil.

“Feel that, it’s still warm,” he says, proffering the jar. “Solar heat really warms it, especially if you leave it in the greenhouse.”

Photosynthesis lets you get all the nutrients in the tea.

“Usually people use dried herbs for tea. But this is just straight,” he says. “We never know how it tastes, because I just throw in whatever. But it doesn’t matter, anything that’s in season. So let’s try this.”

He pours the tea through a strainer.

“All right, cheers! Kampai!” says Masanobu, then explains, “Japanese toast.”

The tea is tasty and refreshing. The lemon and holy basil stand out.

“What I like about this is that, somehow, it makes our minds clear,” he says. “And stable energy, rather than coffee,” he mimics hyperactivity, “just bwaaaah!” He mock-slumps. “And then you’re down. But this is just steady and natural. Something grounding, and yet you’re aware of every moment. You’re clear and feel alive and grateful that you’re living on planet earth.”

For a raw corn chowder, Tomoko shucks an ear of corn while Masanobu peels garlic and drops the skins into the compost.

“I found this corn chowder recipe on the internet, and I modified it a little bit,” Tomoko says.

Raw food culture is pretty big on the internet, she says, “You just type in ‘raw food.’ So many.”

Using a chef’s knife, Tomoko cuts the raw kernels from the cob and tosses them in a blender. She adds a cup of water and half a cup of raw cashews. She prefers just cashews, but Masanobu likes walnuts and sunflower seeds, too, so she adds a quarter-cup of each. The seeds have been soaked for about an hour, and they come back alive, says Masanobu. Seeds can be soaked for as little as 20 minutes, or overnight. Flax seed is popular, too. They get their seeds and nuts from local health food stores.

Sea salt goes in the blender – Maine sea salt, naturally – and a little bit of cayenne and a very little bit of garlic.

Tomoko prefers a K-Tec Champ blender because it’s strong and consistent for their raw-food method. In about 10 seconds, the ingredients are blended to soup consistency.

“When you do raw foods, you don’t need pots and pans, but you need a really good blender and food processor,” she says.

I notice that a wok and fry pans hang on the kitchen wall.

“We do eat cooked food,” says Tomoko. “Especially in the winter time, still we eat raw food, but it gets too cold. We do eat cooked in the summertime, too. So we are not 100 percent.”

For now, they buy grains from the local co-ops, and dairy products from a local farm. They feel that vegetables, legumes, seeds, and grains provide all the protein that a person needs.

“This protein myth that we’ve got to have meat to survive is not true,” Masanobu says.

The diet works for them. One doctor told Masanobu that he was the healthiest person he’d ever examined.

The chowder is done.

“Everyone asks for this recipe quickly because they love it,” says Tomoko, as she pours chowder into polished wooden bowls. We sit down at a little round table by a sunny alcove.

“Before we eat, we always say grace. Three oms and shanti shanti shanti, and we hold hands,” Masanobu says.

There’s a quiet moment of drawn-out oms – his deep, hers higher-pitched – followed by a singsong shanti.

“Thank-you. Namaste,” he concludes.

The chowder is delicious. The corn is sweet, the garlic piquant, and the salt and cayenne balance it.

Another recipe uses a spaghetti-maker – a modified grater that allows produce to be clamped in place and cranked through the sharp sieve – to create, in this case, long strands of zucchini. The “spaghetti” is topped with pesto made from raw basil, garlic, and walnuts, crushed and mixed with olive oil. Cheese could be added, or nutriyeast, or flaxseed powder, or anything, really. They like to experiment.

Masanobu goes back to the counter to chop up a few tomatoes, then mixes that with kimchi, to make kimchi salsa. He had made the kimchi, a picked vegetable mix, earlier in the week, giving it time to ferment.

“It’s really simple,” he says. “I put all kinds of things in it – garlic, ginger, napa, cucumber, nettle, daikon, other things. Whatever vegetable, I just picked out of the garden.”

He added salt, to break down the fibers and draw out the juices, and a little cayenne to make it nice and hot.

“Then I just massage it with my hands. Of course, it’s good for your piano hands. Good exercise. I pound with a mallet, too. And gradually, juice comes out.”

The kimchi tastes pleasurably of garlic and ginger.

“This is nothing special. I just mix it and we eat it,” he says. “It’s something different, you know? And it’s so good for you. People always say, ‘Gosh, what do you eat!? You don’t cook anything!’ People are so used to meat and potato and having everything cooked. I say, ‘We don’t have to.’ And it’s simple and takes less preparation time. And it’s good for the environment because we don’t have to use gas for cooking.”

“It is so good,” says Tomoko, as we spoon kimchi onto cracker-like slices of squash that had been dried in the dehydrator.

Outside, the breeze makes a quiet shushing sound in the trees that surround the gardens. Bullfrogs croak in the lotus pond. Soon, the couple will make a push to get their produce into cold storage, or canned or dried. They will continue their multi-faceted community volunteer work, about which they are passionate. They put on free concerts for the Hancock County jail, the Emmaus Homeless Shelter and, weekly, for a local nursing home and adult day care center; they put on concerts to raise funds for charitable causes; they donate food from their farm to Emmaus and to food banks; and they volunteer for Hospice of Hancock County. Ikemiya has a lineup of concerts in Maine and beyond, including charity concerts scheduled in Japan, where they will return for a few months over the winter. Peace Farm will lie fallow until the following spring’s ventures in sustainable living.

What’s noticeable about Peace Farm is that it is as normal and comfortable as any other home. Somehow, “back to the land” conjures up an image of self-denial, constant labor, drafty farmhouses, and too many bean-centric meals. On the contrary, the Ikemiya house is warm, sunny, and modern. With a schedule that has them coming and going on concert tours, there’s nothing about the farm that ties them down. In fact, says Masanobu, the farming itself – integrated as it is into the natural ecosystem – just isn’t hard work.

“ You know, we feel any little bit we can do whatever to stop the global warming or save the environment, in our little way, whether to take a bicycle instead of using a car, or walking instead of driving, anything, growing a small plant instead of buying, it helps. That’s what we’re trying to promote. Every little bit helps,” Masanobu says. “I don’t want to think, just because I came to the earth to live, I ended up destroying, consuming all these things, and left, making a mess out of it. I want to leave as little footprint as possible. That goes to the teaching of don’t harm other living beings. The commandment says, Thou shall not kill. Most people think it means other people. I think it means all living beings.”

 

 

 

 

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Laurie Schreiber

About Laurie Schreiber

Laurie Schreiber has been writing for award-winning newspapers and magazines on the coast of Maine for more than 20 years.