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April 30, 2008

Spring Happening

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The cherry blossoms have come and are almost gone. One interesting thing I have noticed is that people here don't pay much attention to the blossoms. I never saw anyone sitting under a tree drinking. Maybe this is because this is the time when EVERYTHING happens. It is not just the cherry trees, or the mizubasho, but also all the wild spring vegetables, and the new leaves on the trees. The snow is melting and the river is running high. The fish are out and its time for bear hunting. The fields need tilling, there is plenty of cow manure to be spread and some planting has begun. There are ditches to be cleared and gas to be bought (the price goes up 30 yen per liter tomorrow).

Who has time for cherry blossoms when there is so much spring happening?

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April 29, 2008

Adopted a Boy... or girl? I forget

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In an effort not to be out-done by my sister's recent announcement, Tomoe and I went out and adopted an orphan from China yesterday. Needles to say, it had been a busy night. We are leaving her with the neighbors for a few days while we go on our first three-day hiking trip of the season tomorrow.

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April 27, 2008

I had intended to move on and write about some of the things that happened today, but re-reading my post about my cousin's visit, I started thinking about grandma again. While Craig (the cousin) was here, he made the remark that she was "very loved". That is an understatement. I wish I had a photo of her I could scan and post. I am sure that is why I love talking to and taking photos of the old Japanese ladies of the village. Tomoe says I must have an old-lady fetish, but I know it is just because I loved grandma so much and they remind me of something I miss and don't want to forget. One of the things that makes me cringe in regret is that I was so far away for the years before she died, and that I had been so delinquent in writing to her. I had letters piled up in my drawer that I never sent. I had been planning a short video walk-through of my life in Japan that I never got around to.

I know she knew how much I loved her. I know she was happy that I was living the life I wanted to. Still, I wish I would have shared more with her, expressed more to her.

I remember the feeling of her hands on my cheeks as I tried to wriggle away in embarrassment. What a stupid reason. What a wonderful memory.

I have never wanted to just hug someone more than I want to hug her now.

April 26, 2008

Remembering

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Now we know why Craig hates cats.

Yes, it's been quite a while since posting. In the mean time, the vice-mayor won the election to became the new mayor. My cousin was here to witness the historic occasion and hear the announcement over the village-wide intercom.

In addition to local politics, he also witnessed us getting ready for our first year of farming. He witnessed us buying a wheelbarrow, some gloves and hoes, and even Tomoe trying on some very stylish old-lady gardening caps. In the end, I think she decided to get the old fashioned umbrella hat, like the one our neighbor is wearing in the photo below.

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Craig was a hit with the ladies

As always, I am stressing out about too much to do, and as always, getting nothing done. We have such big plans for the farming, the chicken keeping, and also One Life projects, not to mention tours already booked and reporters coming. While Craig (mycousin, and incidentally, the name of our new fish) was here helping us to dig out rocks from an unused patch of land in our yard, Saito-san, from the village office, stopped by with a group of reporters from a large Nagoya newspaper. We had known about it, but completely forgotten. They were happy to get some candid shots of us in our real life.

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Craig patiently waits while Tomoe picks the night's dinner from along the road-side, and not even one complaint as we put him to work "burning stuff" in the yard.


I feel a bit bad that we did not give Craig the type of service that we give customers, show him all the great little places in the village, but I am happy that he got to see our real life in all its glory (or lack there-of). He is about 7? years older than me. When we were young we used to play together at grandma's house (or so he tells me), and I remember regular trips to their home a few hours away. The trips I remember, though, were when he was a bit older and often hanging out with his school friends elsewhere. I do remember lots of ping-pong, some b-ball in their front yard, and as I write about it, the very distinct (in a good way) smell of their house. As we got older, we apparently saw each other less, only major holidays. I remember lots of board-games and some card-games - one of my favorite parts of those holiday visits. I remember staying in his room (or was it Andy's - at the end of the hall past the kitchen and bathroom)? I remember spending a lot of time playing a game on theirCommodore 64 in the basement (alone). Though I forget the name of the game, I clearly remember the line "Stay a while. Stay FOREVER..." and the sound of my guys feet as he runs down a metal corridor.

While Craig was here, helping us out, the hoe he was using (Tomoe's brand-new hoe, which she had yet to try out) got mangled on some rocks. She freaked out a bit, but Craig fixed the hoe. This, however, reminded me of the time we threw darts at a wall-sized mural of deer in a forest in his dad's basement - one of my worst memories from their house, as it is the only one I can think of when his dad got mad at us.

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We had a great ride in the morning, but Craig expresses his disappointment when I decide to turn back after climbing a big hill. Looking at the clock, I realized that to push on would have us getting home tired and late, maybe even missing the hot bath. My over-ambitiousness is one of the reasons Tomoe often declines to follow me when I say "It'll be fun!" I didn't want to make the same mistake with Craig.

Seeing him also gave me a great chance to remember grandma. Though we did not talk a whole lot about her, she came up and remembering her gave me the best feeling I had all week.

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Craig, the water-systems engineer, shows us how to (try to) put together two pipes.

Of course, all these memories are made a bit more valuable by the fact that I have gotten a chance to get to re-know Craig a bit more, and he us. It was great to hear about his family, and his job and just how he spends his days. I am a rather shy guy, and even with family, large groups shut me up. This is the first time to have so much time one-on-one with him. Though I was still nervous (I used to be tremendously nervous about meeting Craig and hisbother Andy - they were always so much cooler than we were), I was more nervous this time about making his detour (he was in Japan on business) worth his money, effort and time away from his daughter.

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Helping to create fertilize from Tomoe's secret recipe required gathering clean water and lots of mixing.

While I wish I could have shown him more, we still got in some good bike-rides, lots of hot-baths, some working in the field,fertilizer-making (photos above), lots of Tomoe's home-cooking (while I had a desire to show him "traditional" Japanese food at the restaurants, we also wanted to give him a taste of our life, so opted for eating at home). He was here on three of the most beautiful days this year - completely clear skies, the cherry blossomsliterally came into bloom as he was here, and the light-green leaves are starting to bud. Every day was different, and even today we can see anoticeable change over yesterday. I would have liked to let him try some high-class sake, but was happy that he enjoyed drinking cheap potato booze ( shochu) with me.

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As a memorial to his stay here, we have named our new fish Craig. We have been keeping a rescued gold-fish (Lil - named after Lil, whose photos I was looking at when we decided to name her), in a bottle all winter, waiting for the weather to warm and to release her into the pond. We released her when Craig was here, checking her regularly, once finding her struggling for her life as the current pressed her against a grate covering the pond out-flow. With Craig's (the cousin, not the fish) help, we fixed that problem, drank lots of potato booze, and went to bed. The next morning I went to check on Lil but could not find her. Craig (a pond-fish expert) did a search as well and caught something I had totally missed - a small trout or iwanalurking in the shadows. We had no idea he was there, nor when/how he arrived. He must have been washed down from someoneelse's pond (if it is trout), or directly from the river (if iwana), and somehow, miraculously, made its way through the narrow tube into our pond. He is big enough to have eaten Lil, so that is what we assume happened. Sorry Lil. Welcome Craig! At least Lil's last day wasrelatively free, compared to the 4-liter bottle we had been keeping her in.

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In the backyard. Craig (the fish) is in that pond somewhere.

April 22, 2008

Anybody Recognize This Guy?

Craig, Tomoe, Abe-san

April 19, 2008

The Politics of the Mizubasho

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NOTE: This post is all over the place, starting with talk about a flower, and somehow ending up with my frustrations about not having a vote here. If the flower part bores you, please skip ahead.

Last week we joined a group of people from our neighborhood on a little trip, organized by Fuminari-san author of a great blog about Sakae Mura (Japanese). The goal was to see the Mizubasho plants that are just beginning to bloom in the snow-melt marshes up the mountain.

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It was a great turnout, just over 20-some people. Everyone piled into the back of a k-truck (the little white pickups that EVERYONE has in the countryside of Japan), and drove for about 5 minutes up the road behind our house, into the mountains. Clearing of the roads had begun a few weeks ago as well, to give people access to their fields which are back there, still covered in up to a meter of snow. Eventually we came to the end of the cleared road so everyone set out on foot a few hundred meters over snow. Some of them claimed that it was the furthest they had walked in years, and the next day talked of sore legs. Considering that they appear so active, always outside working in their fields or constructing something, it was a bit surprising. On the other hand, when we consider the fact that everyone but the oldest of the old bent-over ladies drives to the bath instead of walking the five minutes, it makes sense.

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The mizubasho were just starting to pop up, but much of their habitat is still covered with snow. In a week or so the flowers will be bigger and taller, and there will be a lot more of them. Some areas in Nagano have mizubasho habitat conveniently located next to the highway. Each year thousands of people pile into buses and come from all over to see them. The bus pulls over for five minutes, people pile out, jostle their way through the crowd for a photo, and rush back so that they have enough time to figure out which of thebuses is the one they came on.

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Our mizubasho spot is a bit less popular. I have not yet seen any strangers go by our house (one of the only two roads to the mizubasho), and there was little sign that anyone had been up there other than the plow-man, a farmer or two, and some hunters who had divided amongst them their prize - a wild boar - evident only by a large greasy area in the snow, and a single leg.

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We (the villagers) have been trying to come up with ideas to get more people to come here to see the flowers, and managed recently to get a grant to start a preservation project. Of course, having busloads of camera toting passer-bys is something that nobody wants. We have to find a way to appeal to high-quality visitors. People willing to go a little bit out of the way to see the flower, and also willing to spend some time in the village getting to know it (and dropping some cash). We already have congested roads in Akiyama in fall as JTB (Japan Tourism B...?) led bus tours pass through on their way from Shiga-kogen. It's great that people enjoy the amazing scenery, but often those buses do not even stop, so in effect, they are deterring would-be customers for the local inns - people willing to chill and relax and really enjoy the beauty.

How to increase tourism is one of the "hot" topics of the upcoming local election. They look at it as a way to create jobs so young people can come here. Despite our (Tomoe and I) stake in tourism, I wish there was less emphasis on this as something to be relied on to "save" the village from the problems of aging population and jobless young people. If we focus ontourism , though, we would turn into another Disney type tourist town in Japan that has no real "self". The way I see it, working on promoting and enhancing the great things about this village will inevitably lead to more people taking an interest. And those people will not be the drive-by bus tourists - they will be the people who are interesting in seeing a real village that is open to, but not dependant on their visiting.

Yesterday, one neighbor surprised me with her idea to stop all road and utility development beyond a certain point. Anyone is welcome to go back there and build a house and live, but they have to go by foot, or else build and maintain a dirt road. They must get their water from the mountains, and their electricity from the wind or streams. I think that would great! Of course, that is just my bias towards wanting people to move here who are more like me. Another thing my biased view calls for, in order to attract young people here to do something other than tourism, is to get just a few farmers here moving over to more ecologically sustainable farming methods. If it gets out through the grapevine that Sakae Mura supports organic farmers, and that there are already people here who share that ethic and are taking up the challenge, it will only draw more people who share that ethic. I am not talking about a hippy commune. I'm talking about people who are trying to make a business to support their life, and still keep it in line with their values, finding a place that fits those values, with people who share those values.

When asked about their plans to promote young people coming here to farm, both mayoral candidates pretty much dismissed it by saying that farming in this region is too difficult to be competitive. Cheap rice from China and the US means that any farmer here has to have a second or third job to afford life.

My (dreamy?) response: Find people who share the "hippy" ethic, and living life costs less - less expensive chemical fertilizers and pesticides, less waste, less personal shopping, etc. AND... AND... build an image and a brand of Sakae Village as a producer of high-quality, organic, local foods. Japanese people are very and increasingly sensitive about where their food comes from - way more than people in the US. People do pay more for high-quality food, and yet, it is still within the reach of people as poor as Tomoe and I.

Another big issue is that as young couples move out, there are less children to fill the schools. The school in Akiyama will be closed soon as the last of the students graduate. Yet, I can not imagine that there are not high-quality teachers out there who would jump at the chance to work in this environment. What real teachers like to have 30+/1 ratio? While it may not be possible to repopulate the school so quickly, there must also be idealistic parents who feel trapped in their urban life, but want their kids to beeducated in a better way, in a better environment. We have that environment, and should be able to get great teachers. We also have capacity to house students (what better way to create jobs and income). AND AND AND... if the schools can survive, it means that native Sakae young people need not leave to attend high-school, and maybe, just maybe, they will stick around.

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Anyway, this was just supposed to be a post about the mizubasho flower, but it turned into a vent of my frustrations at not having a vote in this upcoming election (though truth be told, as is often the case, neither candidate as said anything that makes me say YES!). Still, until I moved here, having or not having voting rights where I lived meant little to me. For the first time, I feel a connection to, and pride in, my place, and for the first time I feel that my voice just might make a difference.

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April 18, 2008

Golden Week Japan Farm Volunteer

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I guess I spend too much time on jealous rants, and not enough working. Golden Week holiday has been creeping up on us and we still have not started promoting our little Japan Countryside Farming & Volunteer Project. If there is still anyone out there who has not decided what to do yet for the four-day-weekend, check out what we have planned and see if its something you or someone you know may be interested in.

Spend your Golden Week experiencing real life in the Japanese countryside. Participants in this program will not be treated like tourists. You will work along-side our neighbors as they tend to their fields and daily chores. You will eat what they eat, bath where they bath, and sleep in the same bed that they sleep in.

In addition to the farming, and volunteer project (fixing an irrigation ditch in the mountains), you will have lots of free time to explore the area on foot or by bike. Its getting greener day by day, so it should be be amazing.

We had been planning this for a few months now, but just getting our neighbors to commit takes a long time. When we first asked what people will be doing with their fields, all we got were a lot of hums and haws, and that sound Japanese people make by sucking air through clentched teeth to indicate that they are trying to avoid saying "no" or "I don't know". Finally, plans are moving and we have enough support that we feel comfortable promoting it. Another fire under our butt is that there is another magazine coming to write an article about it, so we have to find a few more participants so we don't look too lonely.

This program is open to anyone, Japanese or foreigner. No Japanese language skills needed. Hopefully there will be some other bi-lingual participants though, to help us keep communication flowing smoothly.

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Some of the photos are from this morning. I went out in hopes of finding some people working in their fields, but the place was pretty dead, with the exception of the campaign trucks promoting Shimada-san, who is running for mayor against... Shimada-san in the firsst election in over twenty years.

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April 17, 2008

Jealous Rant

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Yesterday we had some visitors from Orange Page magazine - a very popular magazine for young women in Japan. Everyone we visited during the day - from the amazing chef at the local ryokan inn, to our neighbor who helped us with some light farm work - had been a somewhat regular reader fo the magazine. It is also the magazine where Tomoe first encountered macrobiotic cooking - a discovery that changed her life.

The column they were interviewing Tomoe for is called "Watapuro", short for "watashi Program", which is about women taking charge of their life and dreams.

They wanted to do as many of the activities we offer, but only had one day - AND they wanted to have a few hours for an interview with Tomoe. Needless to say, trying ALL of the activities we offer in just a few hours is impossible, but we were able to squeeze in a trip to the local hot-spring the night before, a visit to the local geta (wooden sandal) maker, time for an interview in our living room, a traditional hand-made, macrobiotic meal with lots of goodies brought over by our neighbor, a trip to the mizubasho (a rare flower) in the mountains, sledding, biking, and a little farming.

I give them a lot of credit in that they were very polite in the way that they dismissed me, and any part I may have had in encouraging Tomoe to take charge of her life and dreams. At one point late in the interview, however, they acknowledged the fact that that the life we live now is neither something that I could do alone, nor something that Tomoe could do alone. The reason I mention this now, is that I think that if they give an image to their readers that it is somehow "easy" to do what Tomoe did, it is unfair to the reader. Making the decision to change our lives took both of us and it was (and still is) the source of a LOT of fighting. I know the idea of "doing it on her own" probably sells magazines to make individuals and women feel empowered (anadmirable goal), and it may work in some people's cases, but the truth of the matter for us, is that we rely a lot (too much?) on each other to make this life work. This is not about female empowerment, this is about working on dreams - female or male, I don't see a difference.

This tuches on another topic that I had not intended to write about, but I guess this is as good of a time as any. - Living as a foreigner, trying to make a business in this village.

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This is a very interesting topic which I hope I can do justice to in this short space. On the one hand, this is a very male-centric village in terms of official policy. People naturally assume that I am the head of the house. They refer to us as "Kevin-tachi" tachi is a plural suffix, so basically they are saying "the Kevin's". This *****really******* pisses Tomoe off when they speak as if everything we are planning or doing is based on only my ideas. Sometimes to the point that we can't even do work for a day or tow until she cools off.

On the other hand, this is also a very Japan-centric place. Although they refer to us as "Kevin-tachi", they usually choose to speak only with Tomoe. This really pissed me off. Even if we are sitting in front of them together, they will direct any conversation at Tomoe and act as if I do not exist - unless they want to practice English or have something to say related to my "gaijin-ness".

Still, this is something I am used to after ten years in Japan, and something that I am willing to accept, so long as the projects we are working on happen. It hurts my pride to have everyone around us think that I am just the "bike and hike guy", rather than someone who is activly running the business, but it is also a relief sometimes that I can just let Tomoe deal with all the crap that I don't want to deal with.

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Granted, this is not only the fault of the villagers. It takes me much longer to read any local pamphlets, or fill out any paper-work. When it comes to farming or anything else related to this area, Tomoe is BY FAR ahead of the ball. I can read all the English language books I want about farming in Maine, but there is a big difference. There are no English language books (not to mention all the magazines) with the depth of information as those written about farming in this region. It takes me two days to read what Tomoe can read in an hour or two. She is definitely the holder of all the information. Combine that with the fact that she is the one that neighbors will talk to first (where all the local information comes in), and I become nothing more than a decoration on the wall.

Still, I comfort myself with the knowledge that our main income currently comes from foreign visitors - a result of our English website and my planning from a foreign perspective combined with Tomoe's cultural knowledge and research. I am not indispensable, and all the background work and planning is a combined effort. Even when the local office folks talk to us (Tomoe) about how great it is to bring foreigners, I know they know that it would not happen without me. But it would be nice to know that the people around me know that too.

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On to a lighter topic...

Despite making sure to put away my own camera every time she had hers pointed at me, I am sure that I really annoyed the magazine photographer. I am always fascinated by the photography aspect of these increasingly recent photo shoots, and it inspired me to get my own camera out when I probably wouldn't. I tried to stay out of her way, but I can only count on my own pissed-offish-ness when I am taking an otherwise great photo ruined by one of the people in the photo holding a camera to their face.

At one point, she just gave up and took a photo of me taking a photo of the others.

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April 15, 2008

Rice Farming: Step 1

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we are gearing up for the summer. This is a photo of our rice fields. They will produce more than we can eat unless the river floods (as often happens) and wipes us out.

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Rice growing is a cooperative process here. Everyone shares the tractors and planters, as well as the rice-shoots. Yesterday we helped in the preparation. The plastic trays in the photo above will house all the baby rice plants, and wood beams in the photo below will be used to control the flow of water for growing the rice shoots. Once the shoots reach a certain stage, farmers from the area will begin transplanting them into their respective fields.

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April 13, 2008

Violinists

Violinists

April 12, 2008

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I am reluctant to post any of my own photos now after having spent hours going through the photos I found in this house. But I will anyway, because I took a bunch more today and they gotta go somewhere.

Tomoe and I joined the local haiku club again. This time I was suffering from writer's block (as I have been for the past three months). I didn't complete any poems. I think it all has to do with the pressure from having one of my last poems published in the regional newspaper. It may not sound like much, but just today, after the Haiku meeting, Tomoe and I stopped by at one of the inns where we had our guests stay in nearby Nozawa Onsen Village to say thank-you. While we did not mention that we had just come from haiku, the owner of the inn congratulated me on my poem that was in the paper. Everyone reads it. Everyone is expecting big things from me now.

Our fields are now ready to be planted. We have also borrowed a HUGE rice field. I actually want to get more, and plant rice for wara - the straw. Nowadays, finding wara to make shoes or rope or anything is hard because everyone uses the combine to harvest, which destroys the straw. In fact, it seems that some people used to plant a special kind of rice that was not so tasty, but made good straw. Often, they didn't even harvest the rice. If anyone wants to help till a rice field by hand, and plant the rice, give me a holler.

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We are also looking forward to our other adventures in farming. We have a grape tree lying flat on the ground after a winter of heavy snow. We just planted it in the fall, so are anxious to see if it will fruit. I am planning to plant some mukago (tiny potatoes) wherever Tomoe will let me, and of course we have the "regular" veggies. We have carrots that we planted last fall. They seem to have survived the snow, though are still smaller than my pinky (way smaller). The photo above shoes people picking normal sized yuki-no-shita carrots (carrots from under the snow) - having spent the winter under the snow results in them being extremely sweet. They even make jam out of them. We have nozawana, which is a winter veggie that is usually planted before the snow comes so that we people can have early spring greens.

The photos above and below are from when we had a visitor from Malaysia. It was not the best season - the snow was melting but not gone. It was in-between, but there was plenty to do. She tried her hand at making rice-straw ropes, but even with instruction from a master she (nor we) could make anything usable in the short time we had. Akiyamago was brilliant then, with a beautiful blue sky. If only all the town's people had not been out cutting wood that day...

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April 11, 2008

Found Photos

The Look

Finally, I have a new keyboard. The one I have been using with my iBook (to replace the in-board keyboard which crapped out) broke when I spilled some water on it a few weeks ago. It's harder than hang to find a cheap mac specific keyboard, so I ended up getting a keyboard that says it works with both Windows and Mac.Unfortunately , even though the symbols on the keys are in the right place, different things appear when I type, so I have to re-learn how to type. For example, the ( actually appears as an *, and where " is supposed to be, a # shows up. Does anyone know how to fix this?

Girl with BabyGirl in Kimono

Cleaning out a room in the upstairs today, I came across a box of photo albums from the previous owner of the house. I wish I was half as good at photography.

Today was a busy day visiting all the neighbors and bringing thank-you gifts for all the help they have given us - welcoming our customers into their homes for tea, helping them make snow-shoes, teaching them how to make tofu, etc. Tomorrow we have the monthly Haiku club meeting, and the day after I have my first trumpet competition with the local volunteer fire brigade. I am a trumpeter - though I can't even make it make a sound.

Two in a Boat

April 10, 2008

Learnin' Experience

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I passed out at nine last night, and have slept all afternoon. I feel great despite the pouring rain. I also feel lucky that the pouring rain started today and not yesterday or the day before when we had a family of four here for a bike trip. They were lucky enough to have two beautiful clear days, and two cloudy, yet dry.

It turned out to be a great trip (with a few points for improvement). As always, however, I had trouble sleeping some of the anxiety-filled days (weeks) leading up to the trip. Making a custom trip for a family we have never met is difficult - not knowing what the kids are into, or how far they can ride, not knowing what the weather will be like (it snowed a few days before they got here), and trying to come-up with emergency alternate plans.

One of the biggest stresses, is that we know the place we live in is amazing, and the people are amazing, and on an average day, something great and once-in-a-lifetime will happen. But that is not something that can be scheduled. This is not Disney Land. Two weeks ago, for example, we took a guest to Akiyamago only to find that all the men of the village had taken advantage of the great weather to go into the mountains and cut wood. The town was dead.

This time, we were lucky enough to have a chance to visit the local geta (wooden sandal) maker. Because he is a real man doing a real job, however, he can not be available on demand. We lucked out and got to spend an hour with him one morning. It turns out that this was the highlight of the trip for the family. The son (9 y/o) had wanted a pair of geta sandals ever since he learned he was going to Japan - one of his favorite manga characters always puts on a pair of sandals and walks to the onsen bath after every adventure. He never dreamed that he would not only get a pair of geta, but also see how they are made - start to finish - by one of the last surviving traditional geta craftsman in Japan, AND get to walk to the bath with them that night. His sister purchased a custom made pair. We had to leave before her geta were finished, but later that morning, as we rode our bikes through the village, the craftsman suddenly appeared in his car. He had been driving the streets looking for us so he could deliver them in person!

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The trip did have a rocky start. In an effort to move from "tourism" to the place-based education we have in mind, Tomoe and I had spent the last three days finishing up a small journal/booklet/game that was to be fun, informative, and encourage active participation with the place and the people, rather than just having us "guide" and "explain". We did not sleep the night before, putting on the finishing touches, preparing meals, and fighting and fighting and fighting with each other. The next day, I had to catch an early train to Nagano where I would meet them and take them by train to Obuse. This is where the trip was set to start.

We had originally planned to start from Yudanaka, where the famous "snow monkeys" live. We thought the children would love seeing them (and one of them did site that as the "high" of her day). Of course, she may have been speaking literally, as that was the "highest" point of the day in terms ofaltitude. Getting there from Obuse involves a gradual climb. Based on previous rides, and the description we had of the family involved (athletic with biking experience), we wavered on if we should start at the top, or let them ride up - giving them a chance to see Obuse.

Previous trips have had the problem of "not enough riding", so we decided to start from Obuse, aware of, but failing to understand the full implications of their jet-lag. The first day was long and hard. Still, I am debating if it should be put into the "oops"category , or the "awesome!" category. The "Oops", is because they were not expecting so much riding (elevation) on the first day. The "awesome!" is because the kid did it! He had no complaints, took it in stride, rode most of the way, enjoyed himself, and accomplished something outstanding. I know this is not an Outward Bound course, with a complete focus on challenge, but my "high" of the day was seeing him do something he and his parents would have thought he couldn't if given the choice.

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After the first day, we adjusted the rest of the plans to allow for less riding (although dad would have liked to ride more). After a night in a great little 250 y/o inn in Nozawa, and a morning bath and walk through the town, we drove up to the village of Uchiyama to try our hand at making traditional Japanese paper, as well as drink from some of the cleanest water in Japan (the reason the paper here is famous). The children's paper postcards were works of art. From here it was a four-hour ride (mostly downhill) to our home and local bath were we brought some mountain bamboo to bend into snow-shoes (the heat from the bath allows the bamboo to be bent).

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This post is getting long, and going beyond my main point, which was that we have things to work on, but are still happy with (and think the clients were happy with) the results. One thing I feel bad about, is that they had to leave us early in order to make it to Kyoto where they had reservations at an expensive ryokan. Part of the joy of the ryokan is to put on a yukata and geta, enjoy a hot bath, eat an amazing full-course Japanese meal, and sleep in a cozy futon. I get the feeling that after their three days here, they may have had their fill of full-course meals (every night for three nights is a bit too much - something else we have learned and are working to remedy). Any bath they have at the ryokan will pale in comparison to the muddy-red bath were we spent an hour our last night in Akiyamago. While the food they eat there may be "higher-class", it will have less heart than which they were offered on the second night of their stay here, where the cooks (to of the village's best) brought out all the vegetables in their raw form in an attempt to communicate what was being served, and explained (or tried to) in great detail where the food originated - the farmer, the fisherman, the butcher. I suspect that anything served at the ryokan will have been purchased, rather than hand-picked or hunted by the owner (as was the bear-meat stew on our last night).

I hope that having experienced Sakae Mura will not diminish the rest of their trip...

The photo below shows the family communicating with a neighbor - the local bread baker - and his family. They presented us with a gift of fresh baked bread.

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