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August 19, 2011

Obon Again

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I have once again survived another obon week here in Japan. When I lived in Tokyo this simply meant a long weekend in which Tomoe and I had vacation days and we could get away for a bike trip. Living in the countryside though, is a different matter. When Tokyo is a ghost town, small country villages double in population, if only for a day or two as people return home to visit the ancestors' graves.

Obon in the country is not a vacation. Obon in the countryside is possibly the busiest time of the year. The young men (I am considered young here) have to take off of night-work for two weeks in order to attend practice for the local drumming/dancing with a lion costume for the local festival. This year I attended a few practices just to show my face, but with a broken arm I really can't do much drumming. Plus there is the fact that the drummer is an important role, and the roles are usually passed down from father to son. My father doesn't live here so when the son of a local beef farmer moved back this year to take over the family biz, I was promptly out of a drumming job.

He is already set to be the next drummer, so I am worthless. And rightly so. If thy are going to spend time teaching someone to drum, it should be someone who has ties to the area. There is always the chance that we or I pack up and leave, so investing time in training a drummer who may not be here in a few years is kinda stupid.

So I skipped the festival this year. I also skipped out on the full day of walking from house to house playing and dancing for our dinner (actually playing and dancing for cash to fund night of drinking and debauchary with hostesses imported from the next village).

Though I actually like the actual event and walking from house to house, I am happy to have been able to skip some practices. Sometimes, having bum shoulder has its advantages.

While I had to go to the hospital the day of the parade, luckily we were here when the troup passed by and they played their song and danced their dance for us. (not really "lucky" because we had to pay $30) But according to them, now we have luck for the rest of the year. Yeah! No more hospitals and torn ligaments and earthquakes and lost business! God, I love the benefits of religion.

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August 14, 2011

August 1 in Tsukioka

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A big part of my original dream with One Life Japan was to get people interested in and help them to learn how to explore and learn about place, as opposed to simply being a passive tourist.

I am the first to admit that for the most part where we are now, four years on, is not really where we wanted to be on the educational spectrum, having become more of a tour biz than the educational social venture we envisioned.

While we have had many clients who have come specifically to learn about life in the countryside, and the issues faced by a small village in a Japan where rural areas have been changing dramatically over the past half-century, the majority of the foreign guests are here, understandably, to take nice bike rides through beautiful mountain village scenery.

There are Just about everyone who contacts us tells us some version of "We want to get off the beaten path" or "We didn't want just a boring package tour." or "We want something where we can experience 'the real' Japan". And that is exactly what I want to give them.

Inevitably though, for some (not all) of the trips, visiting a place with few tourists, seems to make people believe that they are no longer a "tourist". Clients find it difficult to switch out of "tour" mode and into "interact" mode. They get all too comfortable simply following me and letting me do all the talking, instead of exploring on their own, asking questions and directions, and just trying to notice without being told "look there."

To remedy this, we often give simple tasks and games to help break them out of their shell and force them to approach the locals, or to notice features about the area that make it or the season unique. When people actually use these, they have a lot of fun.

These two photo collages today were photos I took the day before that fateful trip two weeks ago. While the clients never made it that far due to my crash, these were supposed to aid them as they spend an hour or two exploring my less-than-2km neighborhood marking on the map the location of as many of these scenes as possible. If they are paying attention to their surroundings, and activly getting out of their comfort zones by taking smaller side paths and maybe even asking a farmer if she recognizes any of the scenes, the hamlet becomes a completely different experience, and they should have been able to find them all.

Click the images for larger versions.

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August 12, 2011

One Bad Year

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Just taking some time to play with photo shop as I can't do anything else with my arm in a sling. The pain has subsided now, three days after the surgery, so I can type, but I can't move at the shoulder for another three weeks, and after that I will only be able to lift my arm as high as my shoulder for three more months after that.

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For those without the very exclusive membership to my facebook page, I tore three tendons in my shoulder a week or so ago, and just had surgery to fix it up a few days ago. All trips are off for the rest of the year - and just when people started coming back to Japan and making reservations for the summer/fall seasons after the earthquake and nuclear thing...

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