January 16, 2024

From Eco-Friendly Villages to Auroville: A Journey into Sustainable Living and Alternative Lifestyles  

Author image

Yumi , Japan

Anthropologist. Sustainable Living. Writer.

“I found inspiration in their efforts to explore a future that harmonizes with nature and fosters human creativity, moving away from excessive capitalist industrial practices.”

Hi Yumi, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

Certainly. I'm Yumi Sakuraba, originally from Okinawa Island, Japan, renowned as one of the world's longest-living 'blue zones'.

Reflecting on my childhood, it was somewhat unconventional. My mother, having spent her twenties in the UK and Peru before my birth, didn't expect me to follow the conventional Japanese education system. Consequently, I was homeschooled for a few years and later attended an alternative school, devoid of exams or grades, emphasizing creative activities, free-thinking, and actively participating in building an eco-friendly village through self-built houses and agriculture in the mountains of my home island.  

In Japan, the norm is to go straight to university after high school at 18. However, I opted for a four-year gap before pursuing anthropology at a university in Estonia. During these gap years, I contributed to my family's raw-vegan cafe and assisted with Airbnb. I also delved into farming and horse therapy, seeking to embody the principles I learned from my alternative school.

That's fascinating! And your journey took another unique turn. What led you to the environmental experimental community, Auroville?

The introduction to Auroville came from my mother and schoolmates interested in green community creation, particularly following Japan's reaction to the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident. This incident prompted a re-evaluation of environmental and humanitarian sustainability in Japan, pushing more people to shift from urban-centric consumerism to a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

And what exactly is Auroville?

Auroville, based on the Galaxy Concept of the City, stands as the world's largest green community in Puducherry, South India. Established in 1968 by Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo and French artist Mirra Alfassa, it focuses on transcending barriers of race, religion, nationality, and culture to achieve human unity.

It sounds like a utopian society. Can you give us a glimpse into your daily life there?

As an experimental community aspiring to realize utopia and a green, spiritual life, my stay there was genuinely inspiring and unique. The town's design reflects a galaxy, with the central Matri Mandhir resembling an individual meditation temple shaped like a womb. My days commenced with meditation at this temple, and every facility and project in the town was insightful. For instance, Sadhana Forest, a district in Auroville, transformed a desert into a forest, showcasing sustainable bamboo-built accommodations and various green projects like permaculture and dynamic agriculture. People from diverse backgrounds worldwide cooperated in these endeavors.  

Every Friday, Sadhana Forest hosted a delightful vegan feast on banana leaves, accompanied by outdoor documentary cinema nights and dance meditation sessions, creating a cozy atmosphere with the night breeze and musical instruments.

Sounds like a unique experience. Who are the people living in Auroville?

Auroville attracts artists from all over the world and India, including professionals like sustainable architects, painters, and educational designers. I found inspiration in their efforts to explore a future that harmonizes with nature and fosters human creativity, moving away from excessive capitalist industrial practices. An example is Tara Books, a beautiful picture book publisher in Auroville, known for creating handcrafted picture books based on ancient Indian folk tales, celebrated for their philosophical and aesthetic nature.  

Simultaneously, my candid impression was that the individuals congregating in Auroville predominantly comprised Indian urban elites and affluent individuals, alongside people from industrially developed nations. Close to Auroville, traditional Indian villages and towns exist, showcasing a stark contrast between the idealistic aspirations of outsiders and the harsh realities faced by insiders struggling to make ends meet. It serves as a poignant reminder of the diverse socioeconomic dynamics coexisting in the same geographical area.

Auroville seems to offer a diverse experience. What inspires you the most about living there?

Auroville provides a platform to experience various global therapies and arts such as moxibustion, acupuncture, and tea ceremonies. Additionally, it offers opportunities to learn about ancient Indian medicine and lifestyle habits like Ayurveda, providing wisdom from multiple perspectives, encompassing ecology, body, and mindfulness.

Looking ahead, what do you envision for the future of Auroville and other similar communities?

While Auroville isn't the only community in the region, southern Indian villages traditionally embrace vegetarianism, evident in the easily accessible vegetarian cafes and restaurants, offering delicious rice served on banana leaves.

Green communities like Auroville deserve more recognition as a promising lifestyle choice, especially in the post-coronavirus era with the rise of remote work. Interestingly, I'm aware of several communities in Japan that have emerged, inspired by Auroville's ideals. My goal is to soon become part of a community that shares these values, aspiring to adopt a lifestyle that promotes well-being for both myself and the planet.

Finally, reflecting on your time in Auroville, how has it shaped your perspective?

Despite currently working as a marketer in Latvia, a world away from the post-capitalist lifestyle in Auroville, the experience continues to resonate. It undeniably presented an alternative and sustainable way of life, both for me and the planet. This encounter holds great significance, serving as a poignant reminder whenever the weariness of my current routine sets in. It prompts me to pause, take a deep breath, and recall that there exists an alternative way of living.

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