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  • Writer's pictureAkiko Murakami

New life for old towns through sustainable tourism: Alex Kerr at TEDxKyoto 2013

Alex Kerr is an American known as Japanologist.

Recently, he is well known as an official advisor for the Japanese government on sustainable tourism. He is an advocator to cast lights on abandoned housings in rural areas.

In his book "Lost Japan" (1993), he describes what he saw as the sorry modern state of the country in which he has spent more than 35 years of his life. It was originally written and published in Japanese as Utsukushiki Nihon no Zanzō (「美しき日本の残像」, Last Glimpse of Beautiful Japan).

He was the first foreigner to be awarded the Shincho Gakugei Literature Prize for the best work of non-fiction published in Japan in 1994 for this work. His later work Dogs and Demons (2002) addressed the same issues of degradation and loss of native culture in the wake of modernization and Westernization.

I found an interesting Youtube video to share what Alex in mind..

In this video, Alex shows us amazing examples of how old houses can remodeled into beautiful, attractive, comfortanble accomodations.

Old need not mean "the end" for countless aging Japanese towns especially in rural areas.

Today, about one out of 10 Japanese are living in Tokyo prefecture. This concentration of the population is too much and un-healthy, I think.

Tokyo is highly attractive city for tourism, and Olympic game is coming in 2020. But, is it sustainable as a city, mentally, spiritually?? I wonder...

Many believe countryside is difficult to find jobs. On the other hand, I see a small shift among the younger generations. More health, nature-oriented, open minded young couples are gradually find it attractive to move into rural villages (not their hometowns) as a farmar, cafe owner, musicians, digital workers, artists, guesthouse owners, etc. etc. Interesitngly, they tnend to enjoy raising many children close to nature, and in a community settings. (they can join seasonal traditinal festivals held in a shrines, eat locally grown rice and vegitables, etc. I am sure they grow an identity as a community member from their younger stages. ) As a matter of fact, I have seen several young couples with children happily moved into a small villages from cities, and more and more are thinking of they show positive results.

Their children tend to grow super open minded, active with strong curiosity to nature and people and, what more, to themselves! Children's endless sense of wonder, imagination, creative power inspire adults around them, too. And, by knowing the circle of life by closely related to nature with full 5 senses, they learn more what the text books cannot. At the same time, they come up with good questions....!! They learn to love and appreciate nature and learn their are part of the grand cicle of life, interconnected to each other. I take that as spiritually healthy. Of course, if parents need, they can take advantage of modern technology of Internet to find how to answer their questions with facts, too.

A "sustainable tourism" by rejuvenated buildings (old farm houses) is a smart way to attract tourists from overseas, too. I see an increasing needs and wish among the repeated visitors to be away from too touristy places, but to spend peaceful times in rural areas. In that sense, Nara prefecture, with its deep history, it is full of very precious lands... I hope more young people would come to live in this area and open farm houses for new "sustainable tourism" .

To see some of the images of renovated old farm hoses as accommodations:


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