Walking Through September

I am starting and ending this month with walking. At the beginning it was hiking through Colorado with a Japanese tour group; at the end walking through Japanese forests on a 10-day journey up the Nakasendo Way. Neither trip is new, yet I love each and continue to learn about myself as I journey. Both trips feel like stepping stones, essential experiences required to move on to bigger and better things.

Hiking up Mt. Elbert with my mom and the Japanese group

Hiking up Mt. Elbert with my mom and the Japanese group

I also did some running in the middle of the month, namely in the form of the Tournament of Champions pickleball tournament held in Brigham City, Utah. I was fortunate enough to win a singles and a men’s doubles title (and accompanying cash), although it wasn’t quite the accomplishment that my dad’s triple crown victory was. Thanks to my partners, the tournament organizers, friends, and everyone else who made the tournament stand out. Even last year, I never could have imagined I would be doing what I am doing today.

Looking ahead, October is going to be insane – but good. Finishing my current walking tour on the 3rd, I begin another one on the 7th in Kyoto. I end 10 days later, when I take a bullet train to meet my college roommate and his wife in Ueda, the town where I spent most of my childhood. We will do some hiking in the area, before I return to Tokyo to meet my parents and the participants of the first ever pickleball tour of Japan (with many more to come). I am so excited and thankful for this year’s participants for believing in us and being willing to spend the time and money to plant the sport in a new country. It makes a huge difference. On the second to last day of the tour, I return to Kyoto to begin a final Walk Japan tour, before flying back to Phoenix to play in the USAPA national pickleball tournament in Arizona.

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Rice Fields and Cosmos Flowers in the Kiso Valley

Let me say a final word and contemplate a bit on life where I am at the moment. It’s Autumn in Japan, my favorite season. The leaves in the mountains are just starting to show a hint of color. There is a coolness in the evening air and a dampness to the fallen leaves. Massive Fuji Apples are appearing in the grocery stores and every day as I walk, I secretly nab at least one ripe persimmon from trees weighed down by them. I hope no one minds. I love this seasonality. I’m sure living in the tropics (or Arizona for that matter) has its perks, but there is something about making it through the summer that makes you appreciate the coolness of the Fall so much more.

It makes me think that joy can’t be experienced fully without some pain and that perhaps life isn’t about avoiding the pain. Maybe it’s about taking in these short moments and deciding to find good in everything – because it’s there if you look for it. The last few years have not been without their difficulties. Even though I don’t show many things on the surface, I often had doubts about where I was going, didn’t have a great attitude and was angry that I wasn’t as successful or with it as other people my age. But with some wisdom that comes from making mistakes and the help of people around me, I am discovering that no matter what I’m doing, there is joy to be found and pride to be taken in doing something well. It helps that I am discovering what I love doing and have the resources to pursue it, something that very few people can say. That’s my philosophical thought of the month, some of the things I think about as I walk many hours through the Kiso Valley

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Pickleball Trip to Japan

DSC_5755AI try not to use my blog very often for personal endorsements or business purposes. However, rarely do you get to do what you’re interested in and passionate about as your job. For myself, taking a pickleball trip to Japan is just that. I am currently in the process of moving to Japan, where I want to help people have the vacation of a lifetime, experience the real Japan and have an adventure in the process.

Pickleball is also a great sport to be involved with. I think it’s starting to rally a generation of baby-boomers off their couches into a healthier, more active, and more social lifestyle. And younger generations are following.

With that, I want to my readers know about two exciting developments in my recent life. First, I am starting a company called Travel Nagano, see the facebook page here. The website is not quite there yet, but I have a blog, travelnagano.wordpress.com, which, like this blog I have been neglecting as of late.

Second, I am involved with a couple of the nation’s top pickleball players to bring a pickleball reconnaissance mission to Japan. We are looking for evangelical pickleball players who want to spread the sport, want to get better by learning from the best and are interested in learning about another culture with insight from tour guides who have lived in Japan for over a decade. You might also be asked by your fellow Americans to scout the future global competition…

10464351_10152551400018637_8169661294252424377_n 10.48.54 AMPlease let me know if you would be interested in something like this and I will send you more details.

Contact: pickleballdaniel@gmail.com

Dates: October 19-27, 2015 (This is time in Japan, excluding flights)

Price: $1950.00 (Does not include airfare)

There are a limited number of spaces available on this trip. The final number has not been decided but it will most likely be 15-20. Please let us know as soon as possible to ensure your place on this amazing trip!

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The Problem of the Gaijin

Coming back to Nagano after almost 10 years, one of the biggest differences I notice is the amount of Gaijin (foreigners) around. Seeing other white people where I grew up was quite an event. I always stared at them in fascination, wondering how they ended up in such a random place in rural Japan (only later recognizing the irony in that they were probably wondering the same thing).

Granted, I now live in tourism central with the Snow Monkey Park just minutes away, where upwards of 50,000 international tourists visit every year. Shiga Kogen, the largest ski resort in Asia, is 30 minutes up the mountain. Yet things have changed too. All of the sudden Japan is on the world’s travel map. People have realized that Japan does not equal Tokyo, it’s cheaper to travel to than America or Europe, it has amazing food, history and culture, and that it gets some of the best powder snow in the world. Even with the tsunami of 2011, inbound tourism to Japan has increased 30% per annum over the last several years.

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This presents a problem and an opportunity. In the age of cheaper Chinese manufacturing and depopulation (Japan has the lowest birth rate in the world) industries like tourism are necessary to the country’s long-term financial viability. I have wondered for years why Japan did such a poor job marketing themselves to the outside world. They have finally got the word out, but as a result of so much foreign influence, Japan (or the part of Japan that I know) will not stay the same. For Western cultures built on immigration and mingling, adding more people groups to the mix feels like a positive, diversifying influence. In Japan it makes me feel nostalgic, like part of their heritage will be lost forever (again, ironic because I am part of my own so-called problem).

Through the observation of international tourists, however, I have realized that there are constructive and infuriating people who come to this country. It’s well-known here that ski resorts like Hakuba and Niseko and are filled with more Gaijin than Japanese (these resorts are called little Australia). Two weeks ago, I went to something called a fire festival in Nozawa Onsen, where they burn that year’s New Years decorations and ornaments. I was excited to see a cultural event that dates back centuries, and to get some free sake. Instead, I found drunken foreigners (and Japanese for that matter) stumbling around yelling obscenities in the streets and getting into fights. It was unfortunate. I found it disappointing that in the one place that values respect above almost everything else, these people had none.

But I suppose that’s what travel is about. Once everyone has discovered a place it’s not exciting – at least for the genuine traveler. Hawaii is relaxing but I would not call someone who sips pina coladas on Waikiki Beach a very adventurous traveler. The most genuine cultural experiences happen when there isn’t anyone else who looks like you. And even if there is, it’s about wanting to know more about a place’s people, food, values etc. As a person who loves this place and loves travel, those are the types of travelers I appreciate the most – and welcome back.

“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.”

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