Hello hello! Can you hear me? This is Max calling out from Minamioguni, I’m still here, I’m still alive! Sorry for the long radio silence! If I were to give an excuse, I can only say that, as expected when living in Japan, I’ve been very busy at work! On that topic! I thought I should shed some further light on what I’m actually doing here in this remote rural town.
As I’ve mentioned before this town is most famous for its onsen, especially an area known as Kurokawa onsen. Kurokawa onsen attracts both tourists from around Japan and abroad. Which is great! But the problem is that most people who visit Minamioguni only get to see this one part of a wonderful town that has a lot more to offer. Furthermore, since the big earthquake in Kumamoto 2016, the number of tourists have dwindled drastically. Obviously, this impacts the town negatively, especially in a situation where many young people already leave the countryside for bigger cities. But the people of Minamioguni love their town and don’t give up easily.
That is why the tourism association of the town decided to put an effort into turning this negative trend around and started a company called SMO Minamioguni, https://minamioguni.jp (Japanese). SMO Minamioguni’s goal is to spread information, increase awareness, arrange events and overall promote tourism in the area. By doing so this lovely mountain village and its traditions can hopefully be preserved and protected for future generations. This is where I come into the picture. Since the Japanese countryside can be hard to approach if you don’t speak the language my role will be to introduce tourists, mainly from other countries, to the people of Minamioguni and try to give an insight into their lives. For a long time, living in the Japanese countryside has been a dream of mine, so I obviously jumped at the chance to be a part of this effort. But wait, “Introducing tourists to the people?” Maybe this doesn’t give that much of a clear image. So let me share some pictures from my participation in a similar private tour in Shiga prefecture (close to Kyoto) that I took part in last month.
Firstly, let me introduce you to my mentor, Mori Seita!
Mori-san, as I call him, have been doing private tours in Shiga for about 6 years. I was introduced to Mori-san by a colleague who lives in Shiga and Mori-san agreed to help me with my endeavors to start up a similar business in Minamioguni. Mori-san’s strong feelings towards Shiga and its inhabitants shines through the tours he conducts and the knowledge he possesses is truly inspiring. Mori-san conducts tours in smaller groups, in some cases only a single person, where he introduces people to different areas of Shiga and the locals who live there. As Mori-san describes it, he wants to conduct relaxed tours that convey the feeling of introducing friends to each other rather than a typical guided tour defined by one-way communication. I’ve gotten myself a great role model if I may say so myself!
So let’s get into the pictures!?!
(Of course I’ll share the picture I’m taking!)
As in the case above, a part of the tour can be as simple as ascending a small mountain to have home-made lunch at a local farmers house and enjoy the superb view. Calling it “simple” might not sound very flattering but I actually think that this simplicity is what makes the experience truly amazing. This isn’t some well-polished tourism attraction. This is solely about coming in contact with people living a different life and sharing real and true experiences through meaningful interaction. And come on, who can’t help but fall a little in love with this lovely lady!
Let’s keep going!
Another part of the experience can be visiting a lovely couple who does pottery and enjoy a cup of tea, some cuddle-time with a less than entertained cat and a lesson in the basics of pottery. Apparently, I’m a natural talent! Or at least that is what I have decided to tell myself…
During his tours, Mori-san brings you to places that are both interesting, beautiful and unique which of course makes them both fun and stimulating. But more than anything the encounters with local people constantly feel like the center of the experience. This is something I admire deeply and I truly hope to be able to accomplish something similar here in Minamioguni. That is why I now spend as much time as possible trying to get to know Minamioguni and its people more and more. By doing that, I can hopefully make friends that want to be a part of this project and can allow me to bring visitors who are curious and want to learn about their lives here in rural Japan.
And for the record! It feels like I make new friends every day thanks to the people of Minamioguni who are so warm and loving. For example, the picture above is from the other day when I was invited to a small event at the lovely Shigeko-san’s house for some harvest work in the fields, an intense battle with a non-compliant fireplace and some lessons on edible weed. Oh, and of course a stellar dinner! Shigeko-san is an amazing lady and when I have time I want to write an article only about her!
Well, before I unintentionally start writing that article here out of pure excitement I’ll end this post for now. I hope this has given slightly more of an idea about what I’m actually doing here in Minamioguni. And I want to give a big thanks to Mori-san for all his help and three fantastic days in Shiga.
Oh, and one last word! I’m truly sorry about the long silence! I will try to get back on schedule with weekly updates from now on!
See you next week!!