I was given the opportunity to visit a rural mountain village in Japan called Tosayama. Tosayama is a small village tucked into a mountain of Japan with merely 900 citizens.
We started out the adventure with a hike with two citizens who migrated to the city 3 years ago. They were both city dwellers previously who came to the area in order to study and they simply fell in-love.
Our hike started with us going down a dirt path surrounded by trees, and suddenly our guide turned off and climbed up a ledge and said we were cutting through this way. She insisted it was a shortcut. I looked up nervously at the thick, and with no path markers ahead, I hiked up my pack, placed my foot on the root sticking out from the ledge, and pulled myself forward.
The climb was mostly vertical and I did not have appropriate hiking boots for the afternoon. Through scrapes, bruises, and sliding down leaves I eventually made it to the top. Although it was a little cloudy, the view was spectacularly laid out. The hills in the distance faded in and out with the clouds, the chalk mine was bright and visible in the distance, you could almost hear the dam to the west,and look down into the view of Kochi City below us.
Later, we pressed forward to the Plum festival. This was the 26th annual plum festival. Tosayama had been a declining city for quite some time, and the villagers were worried for their home. About 30 years ago a few of the members left the prefecture to study about agriculture. When they returned, Mr. Mori, a man who went on this study, opened the idea of planting Plum Blossoms. These are trees that look similar to cherry blossoms, or Sakura. Not only do they look beautiful in Spring, but they also give them a vast amount of plums for the village to sell. Once Mr. Mori planted 1200 trees with his village, waited for the trees to grow, he opened the plum festival.
The visit with these villagers was an enlightening experience. I was able to see the history of a small village on the brink of closure, raise above their odds of living in the mountains and create a festival that thousands of people visit every year.
Later in the day, we traveled to our guide’s home. As mentioned before, our guide was from Tokyo who migrated to Tosayama after studying in the area. Her name was Mika, she was a psychology major by study, but she worked on many projects environmental projects, such as this tour program and creating shelter homes for single mothers and young women who were raised in institutions. She was a well-traveled and versatile person and I was in awe of her personality and strengths.
Later that afternoon, she invited her friend from the area who was an organic farmer to cook us a Japanese vegetarian meal and she later showed us how to make Dango. Dango is a type of Japanese dessert made from sweet rice flour. We included blanched Japanese Mugwort, a pinch of Okinawan sea-salt, and organic raw brown sugar. The mugwort actually didn’t have a strong taste and it was a sweet-herbal flavor with a refreshing mountain herb scent.
This journey showed me a lot of this about small village life and the organic life of these villagers. Although two days later my legs are still aching from the hike, it will be one of the memories I will never forget from Japan.