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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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