Monday, October 14, 2013

A Trip to Nagano

Between school, my internship, and other responsibilities, I havent had any free time to compile a post in while.  Tonight I will get started on another one.

The valley located in the mountain range of Nagano where Nanori Farm is located.  Absolutely beautiful.

Two days ago I visited Nagano with the children from Fukushima Aiikuen and Doug Erber, president of the Japan America Society of Southern California. There, Doug and I were able to join the kids on their visit to a farm where they enjoyed two incredible days in the pristine countryside of Japan. In Nagano, the children from Fukushima Aiikuen were able to run around, hunt for bugs, harvest rice, roll around and tackle each other in the dirt, and do everything else that children their age would want to do. All of these things are activities that are extremely dangerous in their home at Fukushima Aiikuen due to lingering radiation contamination blanketing the region. For two days these children got to be themselves and have the time of their lives.

Doug and I both agreed, this trip was something that we will remember for the rest of our lives. 

I met Doug at Tokyo Station and we boarded our 9:20am train to Nagoya Station. 

As with my trip to Fukushima, Doug Erber invited me to join him on his travels here in Japan and Tina Tajima generously covered my bullet train expenses.  Both of these people have provided me with incredible opportunities during my stay in Japan.

Quite the change in scenery from Tokyo.

After arriving in Nagano Doug and I met with staff from Naori Farm, our destination in Nagano.

Nagano was a past host to the Winter Olympics, and supports the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

A one hour drive up into the mountains of Nagano to the village where Naori Farm is.

Stunning valleys like this were a common sight as we drove up the mountain roads.

There were also many small rice farms.  Here is harvested rice drying in the sun.

Here is the valley where Naori Farm is.  Absolutely stunning. 

As we arrived at the farm we were greeted by the children of Fukushima Aiikuen and the staff members of Naori Farm!

Our lodging that Naori Farm provided us during our stay.  

After greeting the children, Doug and I joined them for lunch.  (Again I cannot post pictures where these children's faces are clearly visible due to privacy reasons.)

A deck connected to the house where you could see an endless expanse of forest.

Offerings to spirits?

Boots for rice harvesting with the kids.

There were also some college students here to volunteer at the farm.  They are all students who intend to enter a career as teachers and work at the farm with kids to get experience with children.  (The guy with the camera is a reporter doing a story on the kids for the local paper.)

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The kids were so wild that they pretty much flew around like this girl.

A short walk to the rice paddies. 

The rice paddy was drained and ready for harvest!

I guess it was ok to give a bunch of kids these. 

There were many bugs hiding in the rice plants as we harvested.  These girls were not at all afraid of them. 

Not at all... 

Hiro and his wife.  A couple who moved from Tokyo to live a more relaxed life in the mountains of Nagano.

Some of the kids started having a mud fight. One boy walked up to a staff member of Fukushima Aiikuen and rubbed a mud ball into her hands.  

During our harvest we could see the Japanese Alps in the distance.
Lots of cats around.

For dinner, a BBQ hosted by Naori Farm and some of the neighbors in the village.

Freshly baked salmon caught hours ago.

The staff members of Fukushima Aiikuen aim to act as parental figures for the orphans.  In my time during my trip, I was very happy to see that they fulfill this role very well.

Eating dinner with everyone was amazing, the delegation from Fukushima Aiikuen was like a big family that Doug and I were able to be a part of. 

The neighbors in the village even sang songs and performed skits for the kids.

Doug and I were also asked to sing on the spot!

We (horribly) sang Old McDonald.

At night, every single star in the sky was visible.  

We woke up at 6 am to see a clear view of the Japanese Alps with the kids.

We then saw how somen is made and enjoyed a lunch of the finished product. 

After lunch we enjoyed an amazing taiko performance by Hiro and his wife!  The drum beats echoed through the valley and bounced back when they hit the forest behind us.  

After bidding farewell to the children and staff from Fukushima Aiikuen, Doug and I enjoyed tea and snacks with the college students, staff, and neighbors on a balcony overlooking the valley.

We then visited a forest where a temple was located.

Behind the temple there was a small pond with a shine that you walk out into to make a prayer.

The water may as well have been frozen.

When it was time for us to return to Tokyo, we were sent off with a very unusual farewell.
They sprinted after our us as we drove away shouting and waving us goodbye!

They do this to express what a pleasure our time together has been by sprinting until they are absolutely spent.  I was able to do this when we said goodbye to the kids from Fukushima Aiikuen, it is actually a lot of fun and a good way to overcome a sad goodbye.

My experiences in Nagano are something that I will remember for the rest of my life.   It was an honor.

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