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  • Samantha Lees

How Tourism Supports and Empowers the Local Economy in Yatsugatake, Japan

Updated: Dec 22, 2022

Believing that tourism still has great potential to be a driver for positive change, we are dedicated to challenging the status quo, and crafting sustainable journeys that are better for people, for businesses, and for the planet.

Here at Tricolage, our destinations and itineraries are chosen and designed around six “sustainability themes”, to demonstrate how travel & tourism can be compatible with sustainable development, and to give ourselves a blueprint on ensuring our trips maximize positive benefits for the cultures, communities, ecosystems of the places we touch.

When done right, tourism can be a positive force in creating better places for people to live and people to visit. The key to realizing this is to ensure that money spent by tourists stays in the destination.

How Tourism Brings Local Socio-Economic Benefits, And Why It’s Important

By ensuring spent money stays locally, tourism is a powerful way to empower and support the local economy, contributing to livelihoods for locals and better destinations for visitors. When tourist dollars are spent on locally-owned businesses, resources stay local instead of going to large corporations abroad and are boosted by the local multiplier effect. This means locally-spent tourist dollars recirculate in the economy, which is essential for creating wider economic benefits through investing in essential infrastructure, education, and supporting small local businesses.

More specifically in Japan, tourism is an essential way to help revitalize rural communities and economies. Many rural regions in Japan are facing rapid depopulation, causing the decline and eventual disappearance of towns and villages, as well as the traditions, culture, and knowledge that had developed and existed within them over the centuries. A worrying statistic from the Japan Policy Council in 2014 revealed that if the current trend of people moving away from rural regions continues, the population of women in many rural areas will halve by 2040, putting these areas at risk of disappearance. Therefore revitalization of rural regions is important for keeping regional knowledge and culture alive, not to mention maintaining and improving the livelihoods of those who live there.

In our treasure trove of all the wonderful places to visit and things to do in Japan, we have a few favorites that we think speak for the benefits of sustainable tourism in different ways: from environmental conservation to bringing socio-economic value, preserving cultural heritage to empowering local communities.

In this article, we’ll give you a glimpse of one of the most fascinating places in Japan and discover how tourism can help bring socio-economic benefits to its communities.

Why We Are Taking You to Yatsugatake

Mount Yatsugatake is a volcanic mountain range stretching 25 kilometers famed for its stunning alpine landscapes. In its foothills, where the harvest is abundant and the water is famously delicious, fresh produce of all kinds thrive in the rich volcanic soil of the region; it’s a place where tradition meets modernity, and the local people take pride in protecting and sharing the bounties of nature and culture.

Yet, the region is still very unknown and under-visited by foreign travelers. While the number of foreign visitors traveling to Japan in 2019 reached a record high of 31.88 million, we learned from the Yatsugatake DMO (destination management organization) that only 50,000 of the hotel nights recorded were by foreign visitors.

Seemingly a world away from the frantic atmosphere of Japan's big cities, yet only two hours from central Tokyo, here’s where you can expect to get ​​a taste of life in rural Japan, get an up-close look at stunning places where time stood still, while supporting the communities that live off the blessings of the mountains.

Experiencing The Romance of “Lost Japan”, Keeping Traditions and Heritages Alive, and Supporting Local livelihoods

We are convinced that the most original and authentic way to experience Yatsugatake is also the most effective way to support local businesses and livelihoods, promote sustainable development, and keep precious cultural heritages alive. Here are just a few gems to show how that works:

Kitchen Ohana, vegan restaurant within a kominka (traditional Japanese house): the independently-run restaurant serves healthy yet satisfying dishes centered on carefully selected seasonal ingredients and a range of grains. The owners, a local family, take pride in offering fresh vegetables grown by local farmers, as well as their efforts in preserving the house’s traditional interiors to promote sustainable and healthy dining.

At the workshop of the last living artisan of the disappearing craft of Shinshu saws, the craftsman will personally explain the history and role of this craft in local traditions, and a demonstration of his techniques, concluding with a hands-on experience session.

Frozen Tofu Making Experience: Chino’s tradition of making “frozen tofu” started about 200 years ago in Yamaura, the rural area by the mountains, as a way for local farmers to create a source of income during the winter months. Through making tofu and tasting the different dishes that can come out of such seemingly simple ingredients, this exclusive workshop is an enlightening experience at a small family-run tofu shop that is perpetuating the centenary tradition.

Getting a taste of Japanese rural living by staying at a century-old farmhouse: hidden in a mountainous hamlet, the sturdy pillars and beams of the houses retain all the beauty of traditional architecture while offering all the modern comforts. The Yamaura Stay project is produced by Alex Kerr, an award-winning American writer and Japanologist, famed for his efforts to preserve Japan’s vanishing arts, culture, and traditional lifestyle. The unassuming yet beautiful mountainous villages that these farmhouses are situated in used to be quite a common sight in the past, but they are now extremely hard to find. This project offers an invaluable retreat experience while preserving some of Japan's most treasured assets.

Going on a guided tour of a nostalgic little mountain village that is brimming with life: As if on a treasure hunt, local guides take visitors through narrow winding alleys in search of curious stairs, traditional ‘street art’, small local shrines and delightful Japanese gardens. Some villagers might even invite visitors into their houses. It’s a wonderful chance to talk to locals and get a glimpse of everyday life and culture within a village that looks like something straight out of an old Japanese tale.

Cooking with local grannies: In Kanazawa-juku, an old post-town along the Koshu Kaido, visitors can learn about the history of the town and the auspicious food served on special occasions from local grannies, learn how to make and enjoy a few of those special dishes.

In many, if not all of these examples, the economic resources that tourism brings not only support the businesses and people that travelers visit, but also has much wider effects including environmental conservation, cultural preservation, and reducing burdens to over-visited destinations. Stay tuned for more articles with deep dives into how travel can be sustainable while discovering the slow secrets of Japan!

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