Wednesday, May 8, 2013
But, no, I haven't abandoned this blog. It's just that sometimes I procrastinate too long... Anyway, it's about time I should re-start.
Overall, things haven't changed much in the past four months or so. I have been giving tours once in a while, attending many workshops, enjoying shooting photos of nature, making more and more friends at various events and through Facebook... and, of course, giving mom or dad (or both) rides to and from the hospital.
Nevertheless, I have to admit that I am not the same person as I was 4 months ago. And my hunch is that this spring and summer could be a turning point for me.
Honestly, I have a good feeling about that.
Photo: Japanese Cheesewood (Pittosporum tobira) and flower chafers.
Posted by obachan at 12:17 AM
Monday, January 28, 2013
In Japan, combining Buddhism and Shintoism, we have passed down many traditional customs and rituals in every community. For example, to celebrate New Year's Day, we use some special decorations to welcome the "God of New year." And a couple of weeks later, we burn the decoration items as a farewell. The bonfire to burn such items is considered sacred. And they say that if you roast rice cakes over the fire and eat them, you receive some of the god's power and stay healthy throughout the year.
Now, to hard core scientists, we may look like an uneducated, uncivilized public, believing in such unscientific nonsense. But in Japan, we ARE educated with modern science. Most of us do not literally believe that such rice cakes would gain magical nutrition that protects us from all diseases. But we have kept our traditions, perhaps just for the sake of keeping traditions. And that seems to have provided certain psychological benefits, as a result, especially for the elderly. At least, that is the way I see it.
Above all, this type of rituals require the community members to get together. Both the young and the elderly have roles to play in preparation and during the rituals.
Now, if you have worked at an elder care facility, you must know how crucial it is for the aged people to have a role to play, and, by fulfilling it, feel the sense of worth. And you must also know how difficult it is to find a role for them in a new environment they entered after they got old. It is not easy for them to acquire new knowledge and skills needed to play a certain role. Also, as a care providing staff, you must have tried hard so that they don't lose the sense of time and season, in order to fight against disorientation.
Now think about grandmas and grandpas observing traditional community rituals in their hometown. They have roles to play. All the knowledge about the ritual and the members involved is already part of them, because they have lived with it. Memories of in which season you need to do this and that are perhaps based on the deep-seated childhood memories. That truly helps them keep the sense of time and season in their old age. Fulfilling the roles being surrounded by familiar faces greatly nurtures their sense of worth.
For those who see "psychological benefits" as wishy-washy, I should mention another, more practical benefit of keeping traditional customs. In a place like my hometown, the community ties and the cooperative framework established through performing traditional religious customs have helped us in disaster response. Young and middle-aged members have accumulated experiences of allocating roles and working together. In addition, the sacred facilities such as shrines and temples on higher ground have functioned as evacuation shelters at times of earthquake and tsunami.
All these good points have been offered in observing community traditions. Perhaps our parents' generation kept traditional customs for the sake of keeping a tradition, just being obedient to the elderly. But our generation has learned that if you don't know the reason "why" you keep something or continue doing something, you can easily throw it away or quit doing it.
That is why we need to actually understand the importance of keeping traditions, and share the knowledge with children, so that the majority of the community members - if not all - can be fully convinced to keep it.
Posted by obachan at 10:35 PM
Saturday, January 12, 2013
THINGS I WANT TO DO IN 2013
RE: tour guiding
- Recall what I learned from the training for interpreters, both in Japan and Montana. Make a better use of it for my tours.
- Share my learning from those training workshops with other tour guides, including those in other geoparks, if desired. I wouldn't mind traveling to other places to share my learning as workshops or presentations (but of course, if my financial situation allows...)
- Cram for the test to be a nationally licensed English-speaking tour guide.
RE: New projects
1) to improve my and our tours:
- Make more props/games for the tour, esp. for kids
- Plan new tour courses
- Visit other geoparks with my tour guide friends (including those working in other geoparks)
- Do some informal research on traditions/folk tails in our community and relate it to the task for Geoparks and Intangible Cultural Heritage Working Group (GICHWG)
- Experiment on creating some geo-themed dishes or sweets
2) to make our tour guide association function in a variety of ways:
- Make/produce tour guides' original souvenirs and get extra income
- Run some fun and educational or ecology-conscious events on our own
3) to enhance the economy in our small, depopulating city thorough tourism:
- Explore the possibility of using dad's abandoned orange orchard for some kind of experience-based tour, collaborating with local restaurants, shops and guide associations, etc.
- Give surplus food (seafood and vegetables) to a local restaurant and experiment on geo-themed dishes and sweets together
RE: Our English conversation club:
- Try some nature games in English
- Use more games, dialogues, etc. to facilitate the members' participation
- Make a photo slideshow with English captions to introduce features of Muroto
In a nutshell, I believe that we need more variety in what we can offer at this geopark. And we do have wonderful resources. But as some marketing experts have advised, we shouldn't just lay down our resources as-is and say to the world, "Hey we have great resources. Only those who understand the value are welcomed." We need to make them easy to understand, attractive, enjoyable and memorable! And we - the locals here - need to convince some scientists that making such efforts do not downgrade them or this geopark!!
Posted by obachan at 9:13 AM
Sunday, December 30, 2012
So this is going to be my last post of 2012. Oh, what a year it has been!
I just read what I wrote in December, 2011 -- exactly one year ago. At that time, I was still in the hustle and bustle after the GGN accreditation of our Geopark. The memories of the workshop in Montana was still vivid then, and I was struggling to put my learning into practice. How many 'crash and burns' did I have then? How often was my mind in the state of Munch's "The Scream?" I was a newbie interpretive guide with stars in my eyes. I called us tour guides "the frontliners" and was proud to be one of them.
A year later, I can proudly say that we are still the frontliners. And we have made a progress. As for me, I have had less crash'n burns lately. I have less fear now and thus can pay more attention to visitors. Probably my knowledge per se. has not increased much. But what was better was that through one-year experience, the knowledge I had from before started making more sense to me. Now the knowledge is more "digested"and became part of me. And perhaps because of that, I can concentrate on how to deliver it in the way visitors understand AND enjoy. I'm still struggling and my performance is still far from perfection, but there has been a progress, I suppose.
In 2012, gradually we tour guides started joining various workshops. Our interest has expanded to outside of our Geopark. We realized that now we want to see our Geopark - our own hometown - from a broader perspective and in its relation with other areas.
We want context now.
Isn't this an important progress?
Roughly counted, I joined more than 10 workshops and 3 to 4 guide training tours in 2012. And the workshops included project planning, tour planning, nature game program planning and disaster mitigation (some included international participants). Really something, isn't it? This was much more than I had expected.
One workshop especially encouraged and empowered its participants, including myself. It was the one led by a specialist in the field of cultural properties preservation, and the workshop was about how to revitalize the community based on the Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings. This man is actually moving into the community to start a project WITH the locals, in line with the Geopark activities.
At the workshop, he showed us examples of good practices. We could tell that he clearly knew what he was doing and what he wanted to do. He was willing to share all the know-hows he had with anyone who really wanted to DO SOMETHING. "I won't let this community fade out without doing anything to stop it," he said, and we were touched by his enthusiasm and determination.
The bottom line is: to work for revitalizing a community, you've got to believe in the potential of the community people. You just can't do it without this belief, and you can't fake it. The locals will know.
Now, based on all these valuable experiences, my "To-Do" list for 2013 is taking shape. That will be my new year's resolution in the beginning of January.
I'm looking forward to sharing it with you.
To my friends all over the world,
I wish you the very best for 2013.
May your new year be filled with joy and good health!
Posted by obachan at 10:41 PM
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
About a week ago, I gave a tour to 11 African visitors. They were trainees in tourism development who came here through Shikoku JICA's program. The program seemed to be designed in the way that they can see what the tourism in Shikoku Island, Japan is like, give us feedback from their point of view and apply their learning to their home countries.
Usually oversea trainees who visit our Geopark are not specifically interested in Geopark per se. (Well, some of them might be, but not very many. ) But the trainees I met that day were totally different. They seemed to be interested in how the Geopark works and if it was a plausible idea for the tourism development in their own countries.
The tour on Cape Muroto itself wasn't anything great. It was terribly windy, and cold, too. An interpreter was with the group, but I couldn't hear what she was saying to the group at all. But when they came into the information center afterwards, the ball started to roll. There they directly asked me many questions about our evacuation points and evacuation plans for tourists, especially elder tourists. We talked about topics from the mechanism of sand liquefaction to the most advanced early warning system for earthquake and tsunami. And I was amazed - all their questions were right on target!
The enthusiasm remained the same throughout the post-tour meeting held at a different facility. There joined a specialist (with Ph.d.) from the geopark's promotion committee and three representatives of different guide associations in Muroto. The visitors asked more questions about our tour guide license system. I was amazed to find how much importance they put on tour guide service and the "national" certificate. Their training system for the national accreditation sounded somewhat similar to that of Malaysia. They also asked us if we had a "guided package tour" that included several or all geosites. That happened to be an idea recommended to us months ago by another geopark in Asia-Pacific region. And one visitor asked a question about the administrative body of our geopark, which was exactly the same as the question asked by the evaluators at our on-site evaluation in 2011.
So, to me, it looked like this: There IS such a thing as a global trend or something like that in tourism. It's not the matter of Western vs. non-Western, or Stable continental region vs. the Mobile Belt any more. There IS something almost becoming universal. As a member of a "global" network, we can't ignore it, must live with it, share the good aspect of it but shouldn't lose our uniqueness as a Japanese Geopark at the same time.
Another interesting part of our discussion (to me, at least) was about the theme that underlies our geotour here: Earthquake and Tsunami. Do tourists, especially those from abroad, feel scared if the theme like this is present or emphasized? That's our big question. Some Western tourists I had met before said No. According to them, people all over the world already know that Japan is prone to earthquake and tsunami anyway. Having prior information is important -- if we would give it properly to tourists from abroad, it would be seen as our conscientious attitude... That sounded encouraging, but I wasn't sure what people from other parts of the world would think and feel.
The overall response at this meeting seemed to be basically the same as what I had heard from those Westerners. There is a good chance that the tourists would feel more interested in the theme and the local life here, rather than being scared. One participant even suggested using photos of Muroto's landscape "before and after" the 1946 earthquake to have visitors better understand what this community went through. On the other hand, another participant said that if a negative image was associated with the country, it takes time to get rid of it.
So I think there is nothing wrong with having the natural disaster as our big theme. But it IS important NOT to make it "all negative." Well, we sort of knew that from before, but I felt so good to see our view being supported like this.
And above all, I was happy to hear what one participant said. She said that the most impressive part of her visit to Muroto was "feeling" the peacefulness of the landscape of Cape Muroto. She didn't say that it was "learning about" the mechanism of the land upheaval. I was happy that the tour provided an opportunity to stimulate their "feeling"part...
But me and my fellow tour guide were kind of upset in the car on our way back. At the meeting, we found out that those in our geopark's promotion committee did not know much about and did not try to see the reality that we locals (incl. tour guides) are facing. Well, that can't be helped, to some extent. But then why do they try to speak for us, make decisions for us instead of us?!
We are not just a bunch of people that can be categorized as "them."
We locals have faces and voices.
Posted by obachan at 10:52 AM
Sunday, October 14, 2012
So dad is going to be hospitalized on the 26th and undergo the surgery on the 29th of October. Oh, much, much better than waiting for another month!
This evening, some relatives came and talked with dad about the operation for a long time. Good thing that he is receiving support from several people, not just family members living under the same roof.
Posted by obachan at 7:28 PM
Saturday, October 13, 2012
It was mid August -- I repeat, -- IT WAS MID AUGUST when dad passed blood in his urine. And it took two weeks for the local doctor to refer him to the university hospital, two more weeks to actually make an appointment for him and two more days to get endoscopy. Then we were told that the operation room would not be available for good two weeks. That was September 28th.
And two weeks passed and today dad had MRI scan. The doctor said that the tumor in dad's bladder looks malignant but a formal diagnosis cannot be given until the biopsy result is known. To do biopsy, dad needs to be hospitalized and undergo endoscopic surgery. So we have to wait until both the operation room and a bed become available for him. And we were told that it might take another month from now. WHAT?!
We were also told that the tumor penetrated the bladder surface, meaning that an endoscopic surgery alone may not be enough to remove the problematic part -- dad may need another surgery to actually remove the bladder. But dad cannot have the two operations back to back -- he has to go home after the first surgery and might have to wait for another two weeks at home before the second one. W H A T ?!
It's almost like telling dad, "Hey we are almost sure that you have a cancer, but not treating it at all for weeks, or a month," isn't it?! This waiting period must be like hell for him!
... to be cont'd.
Posted by obachan at 1:00 AM
Friday, October 5, 2012
I feel that we tour guides have come a long way in the past year. At first, just finishing up the tours safely was all we could hope for. Then we started struggling to make our tours more and more interesting, because we were purely grateful for the visitors for choosing to come a long way to our city. And we started struggling more to have them want to come back again, because we didn't want this to be a short fad.
In the beginning, I tried to apply what I learned from the CIG workshop to my tours. After one year, I'm still trying to do the same, but probably in a more relaxed way. And in this time of bustle, we gradually started to attend various workshops and visit more places (including other geosites) to improve our guiding skills. The efforts definitely gave us different perspectives. Many things that we knew merely as "pieces of information" started to "make sense." It is our privilege as tour guides, I think. Not many people can experience something like this in their day-to-day living.
Now our guide association has a wider variety of members. Some of our members have background in nature-tour, camping or teaching. There are people (including myself) who can share a great deal about things like mechanism of learning, teaching, motivation, interpretation and risk management. I really think that we should take time to discuss what "geotour" is, TOGETHER WITH those members, to create "our geotours." And you can't truly motivate people with the attitude, "If you refuse to come to my training, you are of no interest to us geopark mainstream people."
Photo: View from the top of Middle terrace (M1) of Nishiyama Plateau. Sweet potato field here is "the safest evacuation point in time of earthquake" according to Dr. O of Kochi University. Very true.
Sunday, September 9, 2012
DIG (Disaster Imagination Game), which I didn't know until yesterday, is a Japanese invention. Wikipedia says that it is a type of "Risk communication." Now, what is Risk Communication? According to WHO, it is "an interactive process of exchange of information and opinion on risk among risk assessors, risk managers, and other interested parties." Of course, all residents of the communities in the areas along the Nankai Trough are interested parties.
DIG was developed in 1997 in Japan based on the CPX (Command Post Exercise) of Japanese Self Defense Force. They applied it to disaster prevention, adding some modifications. To play this game, a large blank map of the community needs to be laid on the table, with several layers of transparent plastic sheets laid over it. The four edges of the map and one edge of the sheets must be taped to the table so that they don't move. The participants are supposed to mark many features on the map, using markers and stickers. Through this activity, they find risks and problems that the community has in coping with disasters, and discuss them at the end of the workshop.
Then we laid another transparent sheet over the map and colored all rivers with blue and higher grounds with green.
The red area was "5-meter or more" inundation zone and the yellow area was "1-meter inundation zone." They said that the map was the old version and not updated with the latest prediction released at the end of August 2012.
Finally we flipped back the very first layer of the transparent sheet with houses and important facilities marked on. It was laid over all the work we had done. Now it was obvious that many evacuation shelters along the coastline were not safe at all. And the majority part of the main road near the seashore did not look safe, either.
At the end of the long work, we discussed our findings and realized the difficulties that this area had. This is a much more urban area compared to Muroto, located on a flat land around the mouth of a big river. Basically, the mountains are in the northern part of the city and the sea is to the south of it. But because of this wide flat area, evacuees would be confused about whether to run north to go into the mountains or to run in another direction, even towards the sea, to head for the closest hilltop. And though they have longer time before the arrival of tsunami, being far from mountains, many would be tempted to evacuate by cars...
If we did this DIG in my neighborhood, the marking part would be done real fast. There are no shop/supermarket, hospital, government offices or schools. LOL The geography is the simplest ever: the ocean, national road, and mountains, all close together. That's it. When standing facing the sea, the mountains/plateaus are right behind us (which IS our advantage in evacuation, if the mountains would not collapse). To be honest, for a DIG in our neighborhood, we want a map of landslide risk areas in addition to an inundation map...
And playing this game with non-Japanese people at a place with a different type of topographic features taught me something else, too. Doing this kind of activity using Yasashii Nihongo (Easy Japanese) with non-Japanese residents is a wonderful way to facilitate communication. I'm not just talking about evacuation-related communication. Some say that preparation for disaster-prevention/mitigation can bring people together and facilitate bonding. I totally agree. You know, it is the topic that everyone is concerned. BTW, this workshop was not held by the city government but by the international goodwill exchange association.
I wish our community was like this city... Yes, we did review our evacuation route together in Feb., but not many people showed up then. In addition, I heard that some people have been having
quarrels disagreements over the evacuation routes since that meeting... :(
I wish our community was like this city... Yes, we did review our evacuation route together in Feb., but not many people showed up then. In addition, I heard that some people have been having
Posted by obachan at 8:22 PM
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
What I really liked was that the program included interactions with local people. It was nice to actually see the faces of the kind local aunties who cooked tasty meals for us. And one of them told us her past experiences in the community, including her childhood memories. There was definitely a link between nature and people, which I believe to be crucial in nature experience programs.
I wish we could provide more opportunities like this in our Geopark, too. They don't have to be official programs rigidly set up by the geopark promotion committee or the youth outdoor learning center. At the international conference in Shimabara, a geopark friend from England gave me this idea of "bento box style tour." It means offering a variety of attractions and activities for visitors and letting them pick whatever they like in order to make their own original tour plans. Yes, just like picking your favorite food and packing it in your bento box. And summer vacation must be the best time for that type of tours.
For example, in summer vacation, a few families who are friends can book some rooms together at the youth outdoor learning center here for a few nights. They can plan their own tour based on the information obtained on the Internet, from pamphlets and at visitor/information centers. Or, if things work out, this geopark might have some special tour guides available in the future. Such tour guides would help with not only the planning part but accompany them and give tours at the geosites even where no official guided tours are given regularly.
If hired such a tour guide, the tour could offer far more variety in more flexible ways. The guide could contact local people beforehand and flexibly include opportunities to experience a little bit of community life, like cooking local cuisine, helping out at a farm, listening to former fisherman's past experience, and so on. Often smaller kids are too young for what other siblings and parents enjoy. In that case, if the guide knew some nature game activities, (s)he could make use of them at some point of the tour. That can give the family some memorable moments that ALL members fully enjoy something together.
In addition, we have a great advantage of being a geopark. It is accessibility to scientific world. If the visitors' curiosity is stimulated during the tour and they want to learn more, the guide can refer them to the specialists (via the Visitor Center) to have their questions answered. The visitors could even get advice for further studies, if desired. That's something that regular nature experience programs cannot offer.
See? Isn't our geopark a place of great potential? Isn't summer vacation the best time to try this and that to come up with new tour plans? It's a shame to keep saying, "Gosh, it's too hot. No one would want to come and walk on the coastal trail" and do nothing.