Seacology Japan: Off the Beaten Path
Before Susan and I were called upon to give another speech -- this one organized by Takemi and Michie Sekiguchi -- the Sekiguchis took us to the Old Tokyo (Edo) Museum. We were very fortunate that this museum has English speaking volunteer docents, one of whom spent an hour with us explaining the terrific exhibits. Besides enjoying ourselves we learned a lot. I did not know Japan was one of the first nations in the world to have bookstores available to the general public and that hundreds of years ago the publishing industry there was more active than its counterparts in the west. After a quick sushi dinner it was off to make our second speech of the day. This time it was Susan who was surrounded by crying admirers.
Early the next morning we headed north to the small village of Tadami where
Seacology Prize recipient Koichi Kariya helped preserve an endangered ancient
beech tree forest. (At right, a photo of us with the sign to the new Seacology path.) Tadami is quite remote and not easy to access,
particularly in the winter as it receives more snow than any other village on
Japan's main island of Honshu.We left bright and early on the Shinkansen, or
bullet train, which travels at speeds of up to 185 mph. The ride is so smooth
you have no sense you are traveling that fast. To say the
shinkansen is efficient is an understatement. A few years ago, 160,000 Shinkansen
trips were surveyed and the average Shinkansen train arrived within 6 seconds
of the scheduled time!
Before we knew it we arrived at the station where Mr. Kariya picked us up. From there we had a two and a half hour drive to Tadami. The views of the snow capped mountains and rivers and lake below were spectacular (see photo below).
At Tadami we stayed at the Yurari Hotel. This is
a very traditional inn. Most rooms were Japanese style with very little
furniture, though the Yurari has a few western style rooms mostly for the
younger generation of Japanese travelers. Susan and I were told that we
were only the 9th and 10th westerners to stay there in the last
year. When in Rome do as the Romans do, and when in Tadami do as
the Tadamians do. And what the locals do here is take traditional
Japanese baths in the mineral rich hotsprings. Men and women bath
separately and do so au natural. Cleaning yourself off with a shower
nozzle while sitting on a low stool before entering the baths is
mandatory. After having visited the local hotsprings I can now see why
this is such a popular custom in Japan. These springs are where the
village members get together after a long day of work and not only relax in the
hot water but share stories and bring each other up to date on the goings and
comings in the village. I am sure tongues were wagging after my visit as
very few westerners have ever visited this particular onsen (Japanese spa.)
That night, wearing the same traditional robes we wore to the onsen, Susan and I were the guests of honor at a Japanese banquet (see photo below). I don't know how many courses were served but I think I stopped counting at ten. The mayor of Tadami joined us and it was good to meet him and find out that he is a big supporter of Karyia san's work to protect the local forest. Akemi Chiba, the president and co founder of Seacology Japan, led the toasts and presented the mayor and us with gifts. Susan reciprocated on behalf of Seacology. After our remarkable dinner, the mayor invited us to join him in the adjacent karaoke bar. I have never sung karaoke before but it is impolite to say no in Japan. Since the mayor was asking, and we wanted to thank him for his support in saving the nearby forest, I took one for the team. Let's just say that my rendition of ABBA's Waterloo made up for in enthusiasm what it lacked in talent.
The next morning Karyiya-san led us on a four and a half hour hike of the
surrounding beech forest, much of which would have been logged if not for his
successful efforts to protect it. He is an inspiration to anyone who meets
him and a terrific illustration of how one person can indeed make a huge
difference. The hike was exhilirating and exquisite in its pristine beauty.
The highlight was seeing the forest path now officially called Seacology Road.
We were only in Japan for four nights but we accomplished much. We recruited many new Seacology supporters, rekindled the excitment of existing Seacology supporters, visited the beech forest and Seacology Road and spent time with Kariya-san strategizing how he might continue to protect the forests that are so dear to him and such a precious natural treasure of Japan. It is nothing short of amazing to see how much Seacology Japan has accomplished in its short existence.