The Nakasendo Way is an ancient journey through the heart of mountainous Japan, passing through 69 little post towns and 544 kilometers from Kyoto to Tokyo. Since March, I have been a tour leader on this path, learning the ins and outs of my profession by going on training trips with more experienced colleagues. I thought I would share some of my insight from these interesting experiences.
First, I have to note that Walk Japan is one of the top 200 adventure travel companies in the world and I am being trained by the best. It’s difficult, but it makes me want to be better. Being a tour leader requires me to be at times and in varying degrees a friend, a listener, a cheerleader, an expert on logistics and details, a historian, a good guesser, an accountant, a politician, a foodie and an eloquent storyteller. I have not by any means mastered all of these skills, but I do my best to improve each day. As my boss reminded me frequently on our last trip, in the end, tour guiding like anything is about people. My job is to help them enjoy their experience and create memories, which forms their entire impression of Japan. I am not simply their tour guide. I talk about historical information, but have to tell it in a way that is interesting, in a way that connects back to myself and to them. People are ultimately interested in people.
Although I am the one who is supposed to be “guiding” my customers, I have noticed that they often have much more to offer me. Most of our customers are in their 50s and 60s and from around the world. I have gotten in trouble for calling them “older people” so I will stick with calling them “older than myself”. I walk with these people who are older than myself all day every day – 10 days at a time. I learn about their kids, their work, their lives. They give me a new look at the world, one that I couldn’t even get by growing up in Japan or living in Kenya because each person’s experiences are unique. It would be a shame if I didn’t listen when those years of wisdom and knowledge told me something I needed to hear.
The other thing about this trip is that it is undoubtedly spiritual. It’s not church, it is the Grand Cathedral of nature. For millennia, the Japanese believed that the forests held kami (spirits). And they do, not in the sense that I believe trees or rivers are gods but in the sense that elements of God are in trees and rivers and all of nature. A cherry blossom in full bloom or layers of mist shrouding deep green forests are often more spiritual than sitting in a church.
Once again I am using Donald Miller because he says it like this:
I once listened to an Indian on television say that God was in the wind and the water, and I wondered at how beautiful that was because it meant you could swim in Him or have Him brush your face in a breeze
Taking people on this entire life experience/spiritual journey is what I now call work. I’m hoping it will be transformational for me and for them. Needless to say I am excited about this job and thankful for the opportunity to do it. This is a phase in the journey of my life, I hope to make the best of it and enjoy the ride.