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The Politics of the Mizubasho


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



Re: Older folks feeling sore after a short hike. When you get old, in 30 or 40 years, you will understand that what they are talking about. It doesn’t take much stretching of unused old muscles (unused for only a few weeks) to make them sore. And it gets worse as each year goes on. Many times you don’t even remember giving them a stretch but you know it by the pain the next morning. This is some more of lifes experiences that you have ahead of you (and Tomoe).

I understrand that, but I think that the fact that they drive to the bath instead of walk (like the older folks) might have something to do with it as well.

BTW, Craig is here and pushing us to start jogging more often. We have not really gotten out to jog in a few months, but craig has been doing it regularly since he got to Japan, so we are forced to join him. I think it will be us that has sore muscles this time.

Put some pictures of Craig on your blog.

Put some pictures of Craig on your blog.

This post reminds me of a japanese drama "Ruri no Shima". The school situation is the same in the drama.

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