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e-Magazine (For the Japanese version of this article)

Series: Growing Inbound Tourism (Part 2) Oka No Ue―A Wonderful Gate to the World! International exchange in a small village of 2,600 Sachiko Hattori Managing Director Oka No Ue Wakuwaku Company [Date of Issue: 30/September/2016 No.0261-1027]

Date of Issue: 30/November/2016

Series: Growing Inbound Tourism (Part 2)
Oka No Ue―A Wonderful Gate to the World!
International exchange in a small village of 2,600

Sachiko Hattori
Managing Director
Oka No Ue Wakuwaku Company

Heart’n Tree is a farm restaurant located in Tsurui Village in the eastern part of Hokkaido. Young people from all over the world come to volunteer at Heart’n Tree, which is now in its 18th year. Our exchange with more than 600 young people over that time has been a consistently wonderful experience!


Japanese cranes in the morning mist over Setsuri River

Japanese cranes in the morning mist over Setsuri River

Japanese cranes dancing elegantly on snowfields, dairy cows munching grass on spring hills, the mysterious untouched beauty of the Kushiro hot springs—a tiny village of 2,600 people located deep in eastern Hokkaido, Tsurui is rich in natural resources, including Japanese cranes, dairy farming, and wetlands.

Our family moved to this great northern land from Osaka 26 years ago. It was 18 years ago that we opened a small farm restaurant called Heart’n Tree on a small hill there with a view stretching from the Akan Mountain Range to the night lights of Kushiro City. These days, we and our staff serve organic food using local milk, run a cheese factory, a guest house, a cooking school and an herb garden, and work to build a safe and happy lifestyle.

At our cooking school too, we use local produce to create world dishes, aiming for a style of cooking that is simultaneously refined and soothing. I want to share spiritually rich ways of living from around the world through food and study different countries’ cuisines. In particular, I want to learn more about Western home cooking and herb-growing.

Back when we were starting out, we happened to hear about a great scheme for international exchange with people from a whole range of countries—WWOOF, which stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or Willing Workers on Organic Farms. As the name suggests, young people from around the world help out on organic farms while living under their host’s roof. I immediately signed up to be a host. Our first volunteer 18 years ago was a nice young man called Jim from the United Kingdom. Jim, who spoke fluent Japanese and had lovely manners, treated us like his own family. I still remember clearly the pie that his grandmother used to make, as well as hearing the names of various herbs and vegetables for the first time. That was the moment when our style of welcoming in foreigners as part of our family was born.

Since then, various young people from America, Europe, Oceania and Asia have shared our lives up on the hill. It has been an amazing experience, full of happenings and laughter. With the total number of volunteers who have lived under our roof reached 600 this year, it has become a wonderful lifework for our family and staff.

Many of our restaurant customers come from far afield because they have heard about the organic local produce which our kitchen uses, inspiring us 15 years ago to build a cottage-style guest house and start offering accommodation as well. This in turn led to the development of a long-stay style of tourism, giving visitors the time to truly relax and enjoy watching sunsets and sunrises, walking the hills, and sitting down for leisurely meals built around our milk-based dishes. Our international volunteers were a great help there, using smiles and gestures to create a style of interaction beyond words. Our customers were also astonished and delighted to be engaging with blue-eyed young people deep in the Japanese countryside. That was the beginning of our particular local brand of international exchange-based tourism.

Our volunteers inevitably become like our children, and now we have 600 ‘children’ throughout the world. It’s a very satisfying feeling. They are of course part of the Internet generation and know everything there is to know about the online world. It was our volunteer children who taught us how convenient and useful social networking services can be. They also put us on to Facebook, which now of course has become a universal business tool. They were also in constant communication in various languages with their friends back home, and we started to get more foreign guests who were friends of friends. Now around 20 percent of our guests come from oversea—a global version of word-of-mouth advertising! It’s a lovely gift from our loyal children.

My husband works in the Tsurui-mura Tourism Association secretariat, a job which has made him a passionate advocate of Tsurui’s local features as well as the need for long, European-style vacations! Watching our international guests and the young people from around the world who come to live under our roof, I am impressed at how they live at their own pace. They will stroll four kilometers into town even on a rainy day, or sit by the stove and read. Their behavior has also provided some valuable hints in terms of creating a unique local tourism style here. We believe that a long-stay style of tourism that allows visitors to move at their own pace is the best-suited to our area—in other words, a focus on the experience of living in a small village of 2,600 people.

We’re very satisfied that exploring firsthand the things that we love and admire—the food, herbs and gardens, lifestyles and customs of other countries—is also contributing in a small way to inbound tourism. We’re currently working on a plan to share our philosophy with other locals and spread the hospitality of Japan’s most beautiful villages out even further. (Tsurui is a member of The Most Beautiful Villages in Japan association.)

Garden party

Garden party

Local partnership will be vital in this. With the number of international visitors to Tsurui expected to increase in the years ahead, we are actively working with the village to develop a scheme to promote a uniquely Tsurui style of commerce and industry tourism. We are also working closely with the Tsurui-mura Tourism Association to develop and popularize a Japanese-style menu based on milk products so that we can offer a whole range of hospitality to visitors from around the world.

“Creating and promoting a new style of stay-based tourism in Kushiro hot springs that combines food education, the environment and exchange,” a scheme we launched this year to promote business activities using local industries, has also been well-received, with the Hokkaido Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry designating us a business that utilizes resources from local industries. It is very gratifying to have the results of our years of hard work based on the key word of “family” recognized like this, and I’m full of gratitude to my family, our staff, all the volunteers that have helped us along the way, and our wonderful customers from Japan and abroad.

These days, villagers spotting foreigners apparently often hail them and ask if they’re part of the “Hattori family.” Hearing about this kind of warm, natural support from the community always makes me smile.

The tiny door of a tiny restaurant on a hill which first opened 18 years ago has become a huge door connecting us to the world, with a warm and gentle breeze flowing by. I wonder who we’ll meet next from the big, wide world? I can hardly wait …

Fancy-dress contest

Fancy-dress contest

(original article : Japanese)
(For the Japanese version of this article)


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