How NY Collective Aerthship Found A Creative Escape in Rural Japan

Y+L Projects
8 min readFeb 26, 2024

Sowing connections and finding power from the land

On the Western Coast of Japan, facing out to the Sea of Japan, is Ishikawa Prefecture, a region rich with natural abundance, deep waters for fishing, and rolling hills for cultivating produce. It’s a special place, a part of Japan away from the typical tourist paths, where you can feel a more unfiltered, lesser-known facet of the country.

It’s also home to Takigahara Farm, a facility that combines boutique accommodations, arts, crafts, and food experiences and hosts an annual music festival. It’s a place that combines modern living with the down-to-earth ethos of the farming community in which the property is located. Takigahara Farm is also a client of Y+L Projects, and we’ve been working behind the scenes on their upcoming new website.

We also introduced our friends from the New York-born, multidisciplinary eco-collective Aerthship to Takigahara, where they hosted an artist retreat late last year.

Designed in collaboration with local communities in Ishikawa, Aerthship’s “PASSENGER PROGRAM” was a pop-up artist residency in symbiosis with the Earth that ran in November 2023. For five days, 15 selected QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color) artists partook in mindfulness walks, engaged in writing workshops, made washi paper, and at the end of each day, enjoyed a delicious communal dinner.

Juri from YL also participated in the residency and spoke with some of the people who made it happen; below is the result of those chats.

  • Tin Mai, Founder of Aerthship
  • Mimi Zhu, Organizer and Author
  • Milo Lawson, Program Coordinator of Takigahara Farm
  • Ako Ihara, Artist at Takigahara Farm

Aerthship is an artistic collective of chefs, designers, art directors, and more, growing an earth-centric subculture. Since 2021, they have been creating ethical and community-centered dining experiences, organizing dinners exploring urban farming in New York, and collaborating with indigenous Canadian fishermen as part of Gucci’s circular collection, Gucci Off The Grid. Juri first asked Tin, the Founder of Aerthship, what Aerthship means.

Tin: It’s whatever you call it. We don’t operate culture in that way. It doesn’t mean anything — it may call upon images of the earth, of course. The idea of the Earth being one ship is one.

Juri had read that Aerthship was born out of listening to farmers and wondered what that meant, and what attracted Aerthship to Takigahara Farm in particular.

Tin: Farmers are everything. They are, in a way, interpreters of the land because we’ve eradicated most indigenous populations. It’s kind of the mainstream way to understand our connection to the Earth which we believe is directly through food. I think the most truthful thing to follow is the wisdom of farmers who do this work and keep our people alive.

A big part of this program was indeed about food. Aerthship as a collective creates culinary experiences that are intentional, accessible, and welcoming, and we got to taste a big bite of that during this residency. Each dinner we were blessed with ingredients that were locally and freshly sourced, enhanced by Aerthship’s chef Edmond Hong, and beautifully set on the table by set designer, Liz Mydlowski. Aerthship members had also spent three days before the residency to understand Takigahara’s food system.

Dinner table — crabs, fish, potatoes, fresh vegetables, and more!

Tin: With Takigahara Farm we were able to work with the food director, Anna. She has done such a great job of integrating people around the farm and the rest of the food system. During our time there, we were blessed to meet an eighth generation koji maker, knife makers that have descended from making samurai swords, and an MMA fighter turned park ranger turned boar hunter.

Takihagara Farm is indeed a place that integrates closely with its surroundings — it exists in unity with nature and its neighboring communities. Takigahara members would come back with freshly picked persimmons, and an elderly couple from three doors down would stop by for a casual “how are you all doing?” Juri asked Milo, the Program Coordinator of Takigahara Farm, on how the farm built its presence and connections with the local community.

Milo: I don’t think we wouldn’t have been able to host something like this residency in my first year of being in Takigahara. To do this, I needed to know all the different moving parts of the program from whether that’s the accommodation side, the food, the workshops.

It took several years to build relationships with the community here. I came to Takigahara in 2020 because I wanted to spend some time in the countryside. I started to walk around the area, explore, and talk with people. Then I started to dream this dream of like, what if we did a music festival here? The first year we invited friends of friends and had 100 people. We called the festival “ishinoko”. I think the locals weren’t into it in the first year. We made so much noise. So we went around and apologized after that, like, “sorry, we didn’t realize the impact and we don’t want to make a problem for the village.” But we wanted to keep doing it, so we said let’s talk about it and we want to find a way forward.

From the second year, the locals have made food, helped run the shuttle bus around the village, and this year they did a Shishimai lion dance performance that they would traditionally do at their Matsuri festival in the village. The Matsuri doesn’t happen anymore because there’s fewer young people here.

With the relationships he built, Milo worked with members at Takigahara Farm and beyond to coordinate many of the activities during the residency. One of the key people he worked closely with was Ako, an artist based at Takigahara Farm. Ako shared her experience of living in Takigahara and how it shifted her perspective towards being resourceful and adopting a circular mindset in her art.

Ako: It has become natural for everyone in my community to cooperate. There’s a sake brewery nearby, and several years ago, I asked for sake lees as food for the chicken that we raise. Lately, they just bring it over, saying they have extra. Being able to connect to such actions was a significant achievement for me. Involving people in my cycle reduces waste and benefits the chickens; even the chicken manure goes back to soil, which is also a great thing. It’s all connected.

In trying to make art amid this interconnectedness, I stumbled upon washi paper. It’s like this real connection to the Earth and surroundings, you know? Using the sun to dry, the river water to form and cleanse — just finding that sweet spot by checking out the weather. No special skills are needed to make washi paper.

Ako also led the washi-making workshop during the residency. Participants made washi paper from scratch, from gampi shrubs.

Ako and participants stripping the bark

On the last day, participants sat together in a moss garden and wrote freely on the paper. Mimi, who led in writing activities, shared their intentions on building the program based on tending to the Earth, but also tending to ourselves.

Handmade washi paper

Mimi: As I get older, I realize the impact of everything because our bodies are changing. How can I research wellness and write about wellness when I don’t even have access to wellness myself?

Another thing to mention is that wellness and care looks different for everyone. One thing I noticed is that onsens and sentos are an everyday practice with people in Japan. I remember going to sentos every day in Tokyo and seeing all the women there relaxing, grounding, and just closing their eyes. This is a form of care.

Participants who wished to also took a dip into the rejuvenating hot spring waters of Takigahara. A new experience for some and a familiar embrace for others, we found peace in the shared ritual of soaking in the waters surrounded by the flow of the natural world. The downpour was also an enchanting partner in our onsen experience (it was a very rainy day).

Headed to the hot springs

Tin: We try to insert a slowness. When the equation gets simplified down to ethically cooked, small-scale community, free, and shared — whatever happens after that is typically a sense of just this intimate deep connection to the Earth and really understanding and empathizing. We see that pattern every time we do something as Aerthship. It’s so obvious and all around us but our access to it is removed, and we are abstracted from it on a daily level. It’s like, yeah. This isn’t that complicated.

Mimi: Earth is really our greatest teacher and I feel the teacher is constantly silenced by and overpowered by the disciplines and the traditional ways of thinking.

As participants, we were able to feel the gradual embrace of slowness in routines and observe its impact on our bodies and minds. It was liberating not being expected to produce anything and just exist fully; to enjoy what the Earth has to offer with people who had the same intentions. When that happened, friendships blossomed organically. Community and connection, especially for QTPOC artists, are what grounds and sustains creative endeavors — and it was special to come together in a nurturing place like this, from all disciplines, across the globe.

Walks in nature

Lastly, Juri asked Tin about Aerthship’s future and what they are excited about next.

Tin: We’re thinking of maybe functioning as a musical entity for a year and see what that brings. We will still do a lot of the food and continue the artist residencies, but the music element will be interesting to explore.

We know what it’s like to have your favorite artist, right? How interesting would it be if there is this pathway to your most favorite things in culture — if all this energy and money behind these things can be inherently ecological or helpful. Something to get you to think more deeply about what your personal connection to the Earth might be.

How do we infuse every part of life with truths about the Earth?

Tin works with 88rising as a Creative Director, but he is also a musician himself and the way he speaks about music is very personal and specific. You can tell he is very passionate about sound. As Aerthship creates music as a collective, each member will embark on a new voyage to explore their relationships with the Earth.

The residency and the land of Takigahara has inspired us to listen with intention — to our bodies, minds, each other, and the Earth. And we are very excited to listen to Aerthship’s new sounds.

We express our heartfelt condolences in response to the news of the recent Noto Peninsula earthquake. Our thoughts are with those affected, and hope that the region may recover as soon as possible.

Writer: Juri Ito
Editor: Lucy Dayman