We’ve lived in Japan for over a year now, and I’m happy to say that we’ve adjusted well.
But despite our “well-adjustment,” we don’t often get the chance to explore our own community. Because we live in a rural town but don’t have a car, a lot of sites and activities are more difficult to access. There are also things we just don’t know about because we don’t speak Japanese.
That’s where Maki comes in.
Maki is a student in our friend Colin’s Adult English Class, and through her work (don’t quote me, but I think she works with the Tamura City Tourism committee), recently invited us to join two different tours.
The purpose of both of these tours was to bring more awareness to the beauty of Fukushima Prefecture and bridge the gap between generations.
Today I’m going to share a little bit about each tour and how they impacted my view of Japan.
2- Day Green Tourism Tour:
Cost: 9000 yen/ person
This was the first tour that Maki invited us to join. It was a bit last minute, and we were lucky to be chosen because the tour was only offering three spots to English Teachers in our area. It was also free for us, which was a huge bonus, especially because the tour cost about 9000 yen (about 90 USD).
On the first day of the tour, we met up with a group from Tokyo, ate a traditional Japanese lunch, and then spent the rest of the afternoon planting rice, edamame, and sweet potatoes. Most of the people on the tour couldn’t speak English, but we found ways to connect with one another while our feet sunk into the wet rice paddy – mud up to our kneecaps.
We ended that first day with a special dinner – long tables overflowing with food and sweet passion fruit sake, live music from a local band, and the contented laughter of a group of people that had just spent the day working the earth together.
Day two was much the same – good people, good food, and a beautiful day. We planted over a thousand sunflowers and then celebrated with a barbeque. Huge grills were heated up, and we gorged ourselves on lamb, pork, vegetables, and eventually, yakisoba noodles.
The vegetables and rice that we planted should be ready next month, and we’re hoping that we’ll be able to go back with the tour to harvest them.
1-Day Kawauchi Village Tour:
Cost: 3550 yen/person + 500 yen to order fish
We were still on the high from the Green Tourism Tour when Maki invited our entire team to join the Kawauchi Village Tour. Through this tour, we were able to visit Kawauchi, a village that is trying to rebuild from the March 2011 Disaster. Kawauchi Village lies 18km from the Pacific Coastline, and is saturated with beautiful nature and lush greenery.
Our first stop on the tour was the Iwana-no-Sato Fish Farm, a farm that breeds Iwana, or River Char. At the farm, we met our Japanese translators, Jeremy – another ALT who lives in Kawauchi, and Tsunehide San – a Master Soba Chef.
For the next two hours, we followed Tsunehide San’s instructions to make our own soba noodles. We formed our dough, rolled it out, and then cut it into thin, long, noodles. After boiling them for a few seconds, we were able to eat them – along with some of the fish grown and cooked on the farm.
From the farm, we took a bus to Hebusu Pond, a national monument and breeding ground for Green Forest Tree Frogs (Mori-ao-gaeru). The frog is a kind of “mascot” for Kawauchi as the village’s slogan for the reconstruction is “Kaeru Kawauchi,” or “Return to Kawauchi.” This is a bit of word play because “Kaeru” also means “frog” in Japanese. We walked around the pond, but only saw a few egg sacks hanging above the water.
The third stop on this tour was to visit the museum and library of Shinpei Kusano. Shinpei was a Japanese poet famous for writing poetry about the frogs of Hebusu Pond.
After catching a few tiny frogs on the way up to the museum, and hearing a few translations of Shinpei’s poetry, we finished our day at Café Amazon, drinking iced lattes and hearing Jeremy’s perspective on living in Japan after the 3/11 Disaster.
Not being able to take advantage of what our prefecture has to offer can get frustrating at times. We came to Japan wanting to have cultural experiences and learn more about our city, but I don’t think we anticipated it being as difficult as it really is.
When we got the emails for these two separate tours, we jumped at the chance to join them. Learning how to plant rice and making soba alongside a master soba chef? Sign us up now!
Both of these tours gave us the chance to interact with other people from our community and from other parts of Japan, in a relaxed and casual atmosphere. We tried our best to communicate with one another; finding each other on social media and sharing our stories through pictures and broken phrases. We were no longer just the “American teachers,” but friends and comrades – members of groups that had bonded over rice and soba.
One thing I’ve learned is that traveling to interesting places and checking things off your bucket list seems rewarding, but nothing can compare to the feeling of genuine human connection.
Finding that thing that connects you to someone on the other side of the globe is rare these days, but when it happens, it feels like magic.
So the next time you visit a new country, go with an open mind. Be open to meeting new people, try speaking the language (no matter how stupid you might look), and look for opportunities to get off the beaten path. You never know where they might take you.