Walking Through the Stages of Life

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.

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My first group in front of a traditional Japanese inn in Magome, Gifu

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.

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Goofy picture with the cherry blossoms

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.

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Hida Takayama

Over the last few days, I’ve been in Hida Takayama, in Japan’s Central Gifu Prefecture. Like many places in Japan, I had been as a little kid but as life got busier, my family rarely found the time to travel places outside of Tokyo or Nagano. It’s fun to return as an adult, especially as I begin my tour guiding job with Walk Japan. Takayama is also Denver’s Sister City (along with Nairobi interestingly enough). Last year I translated and tour guided for the delegation that came and this year I will get a chance to do the same. They always talk about how incredible the 4th of July Fireworks were at Coors Field.

We did all kinds of things there, but the most interesting was the Unesco World Heritage Site of Shirakawago. There, traditional thatched-roof huts are still lived in by rice farmers. The outsides look dilapidated, but get a peek inside and you see modern air-conditioning units and nice cars in garages. Japan is the ultimate mix of modern and traditional ways of life, and Shirakawago is probably one of the most visible demonstrations of that clash.

I’ve also been reading about the history of Japan, discovering all kinds of things I didn’t know as I tour places I’ve never been. It’s fascinating to live in a place, then read about the events, people and places that made things the way they are today.

I’ve been trying to add some pictures of my Takayam trip to this post, but for some reason WordPress is not letting me. Check out my instagram and facebook

West Coast Pickleball

After getting back from Japan on February 4th, I spent the last month driving around the Western US, playing pickleball, doing clinics and setting up Paddletek dealers. It’s been a fun time where I met a lot of interesting people. Lots and lots of driving though.

One of the most notable outcomes of this trip was that my business partner Mike Stahl and I have decided to put together a pickleball trip to Japan in October of 2015. We’re going to do sightseeing, have cultural experiences, feast on Japanese food, and of course play pickleball. The Fall is my favorite time of year in Japan with the leaves changing color, cool weather and fruits like apples, grapes and asian pears in season. Please get in contact with me at pickleballdaniel@gmail.com if this might be something that interests you.

Again, for the next few months I find myself going back to Japan again. In the past I’ve been nervous about going, not sure what my job would entail and whether it would be different going back as an adult. It was, but I liked it. When I return, I’m getting to do my dream job. I’ll be working for a company called Walk Japan, leading walking tours from Kyoto to Tokyo. We walk 10-15 miles a day, eat picnic lunches in rural settings and talk about the history, culture and life of Japan while walking along an ancient trade route. In April the cherry blossoms will be out in full force and looking at them will be my job.

In some ways I am ready to travel less. I get tired of always having to rely on other people for places to stay and feel bad how they go out of their way to make me dinner and breakfast. I want to be the one to make breakfast sometimes too. Then I think, maybe that’s the point. It’s humbling to know that staying with people gives them the opportunity to serve me. It’s harder than being the one who other people rely on. I’m the one that needs help. I’ve learned a great deal by staying with so many people and am truly thankful for their hospitality and generosity.

I say I want to travel less, and yet I keep getting jobs that make me travel more. I still love the travel business and believe that what I’m doing is important. I’m helping people create memories that will last a lifetime. With that, I’m off to Japan once again. My double life continues as I return to the US in July, this time to work as a Japanese speaking interpreter and guide to groups coming from Japan. Life is never boring :)