Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Green Tourism

In an attempt to catch up with happenings here (and avoid weeding in the mud - the rainy season finally seems to have arrived about 2 weeks after it "officially" started) I will try to answer a question Vicky asked me a long time ago as well as introducing our latest guests. Vicky asked about me to explain a little more about what "Green Tourism" is and how we got involved. So... in brief: Green Tourism is an organisation which has been founded in many towns here to give city folk the opportunity to experience country life. It involves people making their homes available for city people to come and stay and become a part of their family. The idea is that they do what you do every day, eat what you eat every day - rather than it being a "hotel" kind of experience where they become the "guests" they simply become an extra member of your family. In order to do be part of this organisation you have to get a permit which involves visits from the fire department, the health department, pieces of paper from the agricultural union etc. etc. Not a simple or cheap process, but this is Japan... they don't try to make anything cheap or simple!
There are 3 main types of guests that we have - the main ones at this time of the year are junior high school students who come as part of a huge group (usually over 200) and are distributed amongst the different hosting families for one or two nights. At the start of each season we are given a list of the dates that are needed and we can decide how many students we want and when we are able to host (in theory....). The second kind of guests we have are ones that find us by themselves and contact us directly - through various homepages that we have/are featured on or by word of mouth. These are often the best groups as they are usually families etc. that we end up keeping in contact with and that come back each year.
The third kind of group are "study" groups from Korea or other Asian countries. They are usually only here once or twice a year, but that is usually enough! They come as a group of about 20 and come to study the different ways of doing agriculture here. Before they arrive we are given a name list, which basically tells us if they are male or female and very little else. Guessing their ages before they arrive is always an impossible task! They usually just come to stay the night and don't actually do any agriculture etc. with us. Anyway, the latest group was a group of 5 men and although they were very nice, they were very young and most of them were the oldest son in their families and therefore very "male" - if you get what I mean. My husband had a great time though - drinking with them till 1am. I made excuses to leave at about 10pm and didn't see them again till breakfast.
One of the main reasons I don't like hosting these groups very much is breakfast.... generally when people stay here we have homemade bread, muffins, yoghurt, fruit, muesli etc. for breakfast. I find it easy to make and best of all requires only one or two plates per person. When Asian male groups come they make it quite clear that they would prefer rice.... which means preparing lots of little plates of things to go with it... which means zillions of dishes afterwards... This time I was too tired to do much though so cheated by using packet miso soup (which they raved about....) and of course as we have lots of eggs now made them fried eggs etc. What I find frustrating is the inability to go without things from your home country for 2 days.... (my family don't need to comment here... chocolate and nurofen are in a different category!) they all brought special chili sauce tube things with them and smothered them on everything they ate. They brought their bags full of Korean sake. They questioned why we didn't have any kimchi and weren't willing to even try Japanese seaweed. For me going to a new country means trying the new food and as they were only here for 2 days it wasn't as if they had to put up with it for too long.... Anyway, they seemed more than happy when they left - after having second helpings of eggs etc. they claimed they were full. Of course they managed to spill most of their soup on the cushions etc. and didn't bother to let me know, let alone apologize (apparently spilling things is very acceptable in their culture) so that was another lovely surprise waiting for me to clean up once I had taken them to their bus. It was nice for my husband to become the main entertainer for a while, but I was pretty happy to see them go.
We are in a bit of a different situation than most people who are part of the Green Tourism organisation in that we have a "guest cottage" for people to stay in. The majority of people just use a room in their house that they no longer need. For us it means that we have some time in the mornings as a family without having to tiptoe around trying not to wake up the guests. My friend Katy (who kindly described me as: "running a shelter for pregnant women and mothers of small babies") asked me how long I thought it would take to pay off the cottage and I told her I thought we already had. Of course financially we will probably never actually pay off the cottage with the money we get from Green Tourism... but to be honest that is not why we built it. We built it for family and friends to come and stay in for free and so far I think it has been really succesful for that purpose. But of course we don't have family and friends here every day of the year so we use the cottage for paying guests as well. I think as soon as we tried to make it into a business we would fail - as to be successful you need to be willing to let people into your home and be a part of your life - not just show them how to plant veges etc. It is stressful on our family and therefore having guests every day of the week is not an option. However the benefits far outweigh the stresses - my children really show pride in our area now and are so excited when they can show people around and teach them new things. They have gained confidence, an ability to make friends and an ability to work out how others are feeling and think of ways to make everyone included. These are skills that can't be taught in a classroom. My husband likes that we get proper meals.... So despite the stresses I think we will continue for a while yet.
Of course friends and family always get preference over paying guests in the cottage so just let me know when you are arriving and I'll pick you up at Usa station!


  1. Wow, sounds like you have an ideal set-up going on there. We are doing something similar, although it is our main income and includes bike/hike touring, our favorite customers are those that just want to see what our life in the countryside is like.

    You mentioned that most people end up not doing much farming, but how difficult do you find it to have helpers? We have found that the biggest stress is having people come who want to help but are not "qualified". We have to set aside special fields that are OK to be done incorrectly, so that we don't ruin the fun for them by micormanaging, nor get too stressed because the rice rows are not straight. In the end, we find that it is (usually) much more work to have 5 people there helping, than it is to do it alone.

    The guest cottage is a great idea. While *most* of our guests love staying in our home and drinking and chatting with us, sometimes it is a bit awkward as they themselves don't know when it is OK for them to just "be alone". My wife and I try to go out and do fake little chores to give them some private time, but with a small house it is difficult to make everyone feel comfortable.

    On the other hand, regarding the people wanting rice or bringing their own food from home, we have given up on trying to please them. We give them more elaborate versions of what we eat, and if they don't like it they will not come back and we will all be happy. Luckily, most people enjoy the experience of homemade bread and homemade cheese cooked on a fire stove in the morning. (as long as there is coffee)

    Of course, you have the added advantage of having small children around. That ALWAYS makes the customers feel good. Maybe one day we will try that...

  2. Wow that sounds really cool! I knew nothing about it until you explained it but I think my German friend did something similar when she was here in Japan.

    She stayed on a pig farm in Kagoshima for 2 weeks and loved it!!!

    It must be great for your children as well to have others come and stay so that they can show them around and teach them things like you said.

  3. Wow, what you are doing is amazing!! I would love to do something like that.... even just hosting a exchange student would be fine with me :P I'm guessing it would have to be a student from a non-English speaking environment though because otherwise it would defeat the purpose of their home-stay!!

    As you said it is such a great experience for your children. I know that my nephew and niece have learnt so much from all the home-stay students my mother has had over the years!!

  4. Hehe- I love your comment that your husband loves the real meals. We have people stay quite a bit- just informally- and K says he always knows when they are here because he gets courses served on all the fiddly plates rather than salad and stew from communal ones. :)

    What a fabulous experience for your kids though, hey?

  5. When I stayed at Itohara families home, they would not accept Korean people any more because of their rude behavior. I think that Asian people are divided into two types, high-educated people with polite behavior and low-educated with very rude behavior. Generally, people who live in rural area are low-educated, I think.

    I am very looking forward to your blog. But, you are very busy. You are, at same time, mother, wife, farmer, teacher, a member of education board, activist for organic farming, blogger and YOME daughter-in-law(?).

    I hope our relationship on the Internet will continue. It is good idea to write a comment once a week.

  6. I think you guys having this cottage and having guests like this is very very cool actually. It must be really good for the kids, meeting so many new people.