Diving into the Local Regions and Learning the Local Stories- Our Crowd Funding Campaign to Spread Local Charms of Rural Japan for Regional Revitalization
Hi everyone! This is Dennis, the founder of BOUNDLESS and Sosei Partners. Having lived in and traveled around Japan for the past 10 years, I finally learnt something. Rural Japan is where we find the traditional wisdom, rich culture and the real essence of Japanese culture. It is something that the locals take for granted, and so not many people outside Japan realize it.
As part of Sosei Partners' activities, we have been to Shimokawa (Hokkaido), Yame (Fukuoka), Tono (Iwate), Urahoro (Hokkaido) and Ishinomaki (Miyagi), interacted and worked with the locals.
Sosei Partners started from my imagination, but it is now supported by many people, and I believe we have finally reached our starting point.
A Spanish architect, Taiwanese designer, Nepalese photographer, Vietnamese student who started a student organization, a returnee who spent half her life abroad and now rediscovering the charms of Japan, a Mongolian college graduate now living in Ishinomaki and moving to Shimokawa next week, and a Japanese who moved to rural Hokkaido. We all have different backgrounds but moving towards the same direction.
The “charms” of rural Japan is something not to be told explicitly, but something to be felt. Unlike the urban cities or tourist attractions, rural Japan is not about exciting the visual senses, nor about shopping, but it is the emotions and sentiments that tug at your heartstrings. It is the invisible connections that arise from interacting with the people and learning about their stories.
Rural Japan should not be told using logic, but instead felt by emotions.
We are doing this crowd funding to gather funds to kickstart this media platform to spread these charms of rural Japan to the world. We are not creating a “tour guide book”, but a media platform that tells the stories of these rural towns and cities from different perspectives.
Our first steps are to revisit Ishinomaki and Shimokawa, gather information with the locals, and create literature that express the intricate allures of the culture and nature in these regions. It will not be a promotional campaign for a particular food or a mere descriptive of the beauty of the sceneries. We aim to produce profound literature that conveys the true essence of rural Japan, rather than explicit promotional materials for the region.
Please lend us your support!
It all started when I moved to Japan from my hometown Singapore in 2008. I loved Japan and I traveled to all 47 prefectures within my first four years. However, my initial travels were to the most popular "tourist spots". I would drop by Kiyomizu-dera temple when I was in Kyoto, and Ikutsushima Shrine when in Hiroshima. Well, these places were historic and beautiful, but I felt that something was missing.
In my fourth year in Japan, I realized what was missing. When visiting these tourist spots, everyone around me were tourists. That was not something that I was looking for. There was no human connection to the local community. It was all touristy, commercialized and fake.
Then the Great East Japan Earthquake struck in 2011. I volunteered to help out in the disaster relief areas 6 weeks later in Ishinomaki. Given the massive scale of the disaster, Ishinomaki was a mountain of debris. There was no beautiful scenery- well not even a comfortable place to sit, but there was something that pulled at heart strings. It was the little conversations with the locals, and the heartfelt "hospitality" from the locals. Perhaps that was what I was looking for.
I had the opportunity to stay in a local's house in Ishinomaki back then. The district was completely engulfed by the tsunami. There was no street lights, and empty houses were strewn all over the place.
He lived in a two-floor house. The first floor was swept away, with plastic sheets replacing the doors, and cardboards replacing the destroyed tatami. The toilets had no doors- only with a curtain. There were still glass pieces all over. The tsunami aftermath was real.
Fortunately, the second floor was intact, so we were given a room to sleep on the second floor. Despite the circumstances, the locals welcomed us warmly. We chatted over wine in paper cups, since the wine glasses were washed away. The next morning, they prepared a scrumptious breakfast on the cardboard-made temporary tables.
It was nowhere near a five-star hotel, but it was a heartwarming experience. This is real hospitality- nothing extravagant, but something from the heart.
These are some examples of the "charms" of rural Japan- hospitality, the spirit of Mottainai, and Satoyama culture. As Japan's rural regions decline rapidly, we are at a risk of losing these true essences of Japanese culture. In fact, these problems are not restricted to Japan, but something that is universal. We are not here to "save" Japan, but we are here to protect some universal values and cultures that we share even outside Japan. These values of "co-existing with nature" are something that we need to create a sustainable future.
As part of our Sosei Partners activities, we are here to work with the locals, make meaningful connections and be part of the revitalization movement. Our participants consist of 28 international members from 17 different countries.
In Shimokawa, we had international students from China, Singapore, UK and Thailand. We spent 10 days experiencing the local culture, learning the local challenges and interacted with the locals.
We chatted with farmers that grow fruits tomatoes and white asparagus, we met craftsman who utilize white birch and pine wood to make accessories and bowls, and we met government officials who told us their vision for the town of 3400 people.
We then came up with different solutions from various perspectives on how we can contribute to expanding the possibilities of Shimokawa.
The word "inaka" in Japanese means "rural regions", but it comes with very negative connotations of "backward" and "old-fashioned". However, from my 10-year experience so far, I realize that some "inakas" actually have very advanced solutions to create sustainable communities. Two examples are Ishinomaki and Shimokawa.
Ishinomaki was one of the worst-hit regions during the Great East Japan Earthquake. However, after the disaster, people came together to create a new Ishinomaki. They renovated old buildings and garages and made them into satellite offices and co-working spaces, a company came up with the idea of the world's first DIY furniture stores. They start thinking out of the box to create a new hometown for themselves. These are something we all can learn.
In this crowd funding campaign, we are gathering funds for our 8 international members to revisit Ishinomaki and Shimokawa, so that we can compile information and design them into a website, and also get two writers to create literature that tell their stories.
We believe that we as international residents in Japan can contribute to the revitalization movement by telling the stories of local regions, raise awareness on both the charms and challenges of these regions.
Our team consists of members from Japan, Singapore, Spain, Mongolia, Vietnam, Nepal and Taiwan. We will be staying in Ishinomaki and Shimokawa in February and March to create a foundation for this project, together with the locals.
Check out our website for more details: www.bound-less.org
Join and support us, and be part of Japan's revitalization movement!
Born in Singapore and moved to Japan at the age of 20. Graduated from School of International Liberal Studies at Waseda University and completed Master’s Degree from the University of Tokyo. Founded BOUNDLESS and Sosei Partners in 2017. Having travelled to all 47 prefectures of Japan during his first four years in Japan, Dennis has also worked with people from all walks of life- school teachers, children, artisans, politicians, celebrities, NGOs and so on. He believes the international community living in Japan plays an important role in the future of Japan, and he aims to build a network to empower them to contribute to the current revitalization movement in Japan.
Born and raised in Elche, in southeast Spain. Studied Architecture at the University of Alicante, specializing in Construction Technologies in Architecture and Urbanism. After the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, he began to study deeply about Japanese culture and language, and traveled to Osaka in 2014 to study about Japanese cities. In 2016 he completed his Master’s Degree Final Thesis about the Japanese Megapolis and the Metabolism Movement, and moved to Tokyo to study machizukuri (city and community building) processes. He later joined Sosei Partners fascinated by the local revitalization activities, participating in some projects in the Tohoku and Hokkaido areas.
Born and raised in Mongolia. Entered the School of International Liberal Studies of Waseda University in 2013. During his years in university he focused his studies on business and entrepreneurship. With an original intention of starting a business while in university and after a failed attempt at making an innovative video game, he was looking for ways to refresh his mind. It was during this period that he found out about Boundless and Sosei Partners. Sharing values with Dennis’s vision and believing that it will bring valuable fresh experiences, he joined Sosei Partners. He is now currently based in Ishinomaki City actively communicating and working together with various local organizations and people. After staying for a month in Ishinomaki City he will then go to Shimokawa town in Hokkaido for a month.
Born and raised in Nepal. Completed his university degree in electronics and communication engineering. Moved to Japan in 2014 as a research student in University of Tokyo for 1.5 years and later on completed Master’s Degree from Tokyo Institute of Technology majoring in renewable energy. Apart from academia, he is also actively involved in volunteering activities for children and cross cultural exchange programs between international students. Currently volunteering as an English teacher in an elementary school of Thailand. Major hobbies includes hiking, photography and cooking. He will be working as an engineering consultant in a Japanese company from April 2018.
Born in Osaka and grew up in the United States (2 years), South Korea (2 years) and Singapore (7 years). Graduated from Singapore American School and is currently studying at Keio University. Having spent half of her life outside Japan, she has had little chance to experience Japanese tradition and culture. However, she recently gained an interest in Japanese traditional industries and rural lifestyles as she joined Sosei Partners in 2017 summer, and rediscovered the charms of rural Japan. As rural Japan is slowly losing its culture and tradition due to ageing population, she plans to spread the charm of rural Japan to more people so as to attract more tourists and people to live in these areas.
Born and raised in Vietnam. Currently a student at Toyo University majoring in Global Innovation Studies. She is also the founder of Global Leadership Incubator, which is a platform for young talented leaders to gather and facilitate their ideas through intercultural dialogue and global leadership education. She is also a journalist in Hoa Hoc Tro magazine- the biggest quality national magazine for young people in Vietnam. With her academic knowledge in tourism and regional development, she participated in Sosei Partners projects in Tono and Urahoro in 2017.
Born and raised in the antique city of Tainan, Taiwan. Graduated from National Taiwan University of Art. Gold Prize winner at the 2017 Asian Student Package Design Competition. Currently a freelancer designer. Travel enthusiast and cats lover.
Born and raised in Hiroshima. After graduating from the School of Aerospace Studies in Kagoshima University, Naoki entered Nippon Densan but quit after six months. When he was at a loss about what to do in life, he came across a NPO that connects young people with agriculture. He started gaining an interest in agriculture and living in the countryside. One day he came across “Kamiyama Project” at the library, which he later participated as a member in Kamiyama of Tokushima Prefecture. He later joined Relation- the organizing company of Kamiyama Project. He moved to Urahoro, Hokkaido in June 2016 to help with local revitalization.