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Learnin' Experience


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!


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.


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).


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.



When i was younger i would have loved to come to japan and experiance the One Life way. It sounds like you guys have got a good thing going and i really enjoy your in depth Articles on people that stay with you.

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