After getting back from our trip back to Seattle, I've been slammed with one meeting after another, as well as with putting on our town's Easter Egg Hunt. I've got so much homework stacking up, it's starting to come out my ears! The most urgent was to write a report on my activities for fiscal year 2009 with the ryokan association at the national level. I am part of a research group focusing on ways to get ryokans more involved with the local communities. For example, normally tourism people focus only on tourism, and agriculture people only on agriculture. And for us hotels, even though there are farms nearby, if we can save 1 yen and buy from the produce market instead, we will. As for the farmers, if they can sell to the market for 1 yen more than we will buy, they will. In other words, there is a huge gap between the hotels and the farms. My group's project is to find ways to bridge that gap -- to make both sides realize they are members of the same community. One example of a mutually beneficial relationship was from our group's leader, a ryokan owner in Niigata Prefecture. In his project, the inn proprietresses actually got into the fields with farmers and helped with planting, and then later with harvest. They bought the 2nd grade material that normally would have been thrown away and made caramel confectionary sweets with them. Not only did the inns get the produce at discount prices, but the growers got an outlet for their unusable product. And on top of that, the innkeepers and farmers got to know each other, and the whole project got much favorable press.
Using inspiration from that story, this past fall, our inn started a relationship with a local grape grower for the first time, with me personally going to the orchard and buying hail-damaged but delicious-tasting grapes to provide as dessert for our guests. It's a small step towards closing the gap between farmers and inns here in Kamiyamada, but one that I hope to build on in fiscal 2010!