Several years ago after arriving on the Japanese island of Okinawa I was welcomed by a small and elegant old lady, Madame Kuranari. After she presented me with a wonderful meal of local molluscs with miso and seaweed she said: ‘Hara hachi bu’. When I expressed that I didn’t understand she placed her right hand on her left arm and with two fingers took 5 steps. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Then she took one finger-step back and picked this fifth imaginary step from her arm and reached out to give it to me. Hara hachi bu.
Later I learned that hara hachi bu means: Eat until you are 80% full. Don’t eat until you can eat no more but eat until you are no longer hungry. Keep a bit of space. This simple advice for leaving 20% space led to the initiation of the HHBU, Hara Hachi Bu University. A place of study and storytelling, a place of practise, a place to collectively reflect on what it will take for the human species to take a 20% step back. HHBU is currently located in a small mobile office unit in Ppauw ecovillage, in the middle of a forrest on the outskirts of Wageningen in The Netherlands.