★Travelers Hub★

“I Want to Meet You.” The Local Guide Who Shares Her Way of Life

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Huber’s Guest Becomes the Guide! It was during the middle of January of this year that I got this interesting news. It was quite surprising to hear that the overseas guests who enjoyed traveling at the end of last year, would become the guide for the upcoming trip this time. How on earth did this decision to be a guide happen? Now we will hear from the supposed individual who is behind this fascinating story, Saori. What kind of story is there behind the scenes of this event? What kind of person is Saori, the lead in this story? Let’s look into Saori’s charms and appeal.

About Saori

Saori lives in Kugenuma, near Enoshima. She moved there with her husband in March of 2018. As a Tomodachi Guide for Huber since November of 2017, while guiding tourists, Saori had the thought “I want to make my home a place where people from all over the world can connect.” With this thought, in December 2018, Saori opened “kurasu house,” a living experience that utilizes Huber’s Tomodachi Guide and Airbnb services (https://www.kurasuhouse.com). Currently, as a guide for Huber and as an Airbnb host, she conveys the attractive charms of the local lifestyle to her guests.

Huber. Tomodachi Guide Saori’s Page

 https://huber-japan.com/plan_templates/21963?fbclid=IwAR3Alm3IAiaXlQr3bjby461-XKXw0cfDEhqXN0Z9sxTwWOi90L0ByiVXYTc

Airbnb Saori’s Page

https://www.airbnb.jp/rooms/30310803?s=51&guests=1&adults=1

Meeting Kurasu House’s First Foreign Guest, ZEN

 

Not long after Saori opened kurasu house, she received a reservation to be a guide for Huber. The reservation was for a plan that allowed the guest to enjoy Kugenuma to the fullest and experience the area’s local lifestyle. While creating this plan, Saori thought “If this plan is chosen, I would be super happy!”. This plan is particularly special because it is a plan that shares Saori’s daily life in Kugenuma.

The guest who made the reservation, Zen, was from Vietnam and was studying abroad in Japan. After studying hospitality in Switzerland, Zen came to Japan to study Japanese. Before returning to Vietnam, Zen wanted to travel around Japan and make friends with Japanese people. It was this goal in mind, that led Zen to Huber.
The first message Saori received from Zen was “I want to be friends with Saori.” When Saori first read it, she was moved and extremely excited about the message.

 

Saori says

This is a plan that is just my everyday lifestyle and routine. I would not be able to be a guide for this plan if it were not for Huber. With a greeting “I want to be friends,” and choosing my plan, it was the ideal way to connect with the guest, almost like a dream.

On the day of the trip, Saori and Zen walked along the beach, while wearing kimonos that Saori received from her grandmother. They walked on the beach, picking up seashells and sea glass along the way. After walking a bit, they took a break at a stylish cafe in Enoshima. On the way back, they stopped over at the supermarket to shop for ingredients and invited Saori’s friends to her house for a nabe meal. Finishing the day together surrounding a hot pot, Saori and Zen were able to enjoy a day in the life of Saori.

Later, Zen wrote on her Facebook page, “I have to say I love your house so much hahaha I really didn’t want to go back that day. It’s so warm and cozy, not just the house but the feelings from the people being there that day too.”

For Saori, this guide experience was a particularly special memory.

She says

Even if I wanted to be a guide for Huber, it is hard to choose a draft, and I receive no response from guests. I thought that it would have been impossible to continue with Huber even if I wanted to. This is why it was a wonderful experience to be able to have Zen select my plan and for me to be her guide.

Rather than saying I did a guided trip, it was about walking in my shoes and going about my daily life. It felt more like a “local lifestyle experience.” It is this kind of experience that made us become true friends and made the day go by smoothly and naturally to become an experience where we can say, “let’s be guides for other visitors’ trips together!”

The popular tourist places that everyone knows such as Mt. Fuji and Tokyo are fine, but the richness of the people who live there, and their warmth cannot be conveyed in a tour map.
The conversations with the people in the area, eating warm meals on the table, and a cozy house. These things plus the joy that can be felt when being welcomed in a house as if it were your own home, will form a true bond that goes beyond one between guests and guides.

Before talking about the trip where Zen acted as the support guide, we will talk about the fateful encounter with the family that led Saori to open “kurasu house.”

Meeting the Misha’s Family for the First Time

When Saori had just moved to Kugenuma, a family from Malaysia requested for a guide. Saori received a heartwarming request from the family’s daughter, “My parents are celebrating their 33 year anniversary, and I would like to give them a trip to Japan as a present.” However, with finances being tight, finding accommodations was difficult.” It was at this time that Saori, who was unaware of the situation, said, “If you would like, why don’t you come and stay at my house?” This was the start of the homestay.

However, the planning during the two months leading to the trip was not easy.
There were a number of things that needed to be considered. The mother’s feet become sore and sensitive, making it difficult to walk normally. Therefore, careful planning and consideration were needed so that there would not be a lot of burden and discomfort for the mother. Another thing that needed to be considered was going to the onsen (hot springs), but the guests requested to be able to wear swimsuits. There were many things that needed to be considered and checked, but Saori wanted to answer all their requests and did her best to fulfill them.
Saori decided to ask the Tomodachi Guide community for their advice.

Soon after posting her inquiry, there were a number of responses on the community site, giving her suggestions for her questions. Suggestions such as, “You may be able to receive an Indian or Nepalese massage!” “If you are looking for a hot spring place, there is Enospa and Urayasu Mangekyo that have areas where you can wear swimsuits.”

Being able to share your experiences, ask for advice about concerns and troubles, and provide support for others while also receiving it in a community, are a part of the attractiveness and strengths of the Tomodachi Guide community.

Luckily and surprisingly, on the guests’ arrival, the mother’s feet were in surprisingly good condition and health. During the period that Saori and the guests were talking and planning the trip, a relationship of trust was formed and because of their communication and trust between one another, the words “We finally meet!” came completely natural for them.

 

33 Year Wedding Anniversary Surprise Party!

One of the items on the list of things that Misha’s family wanted to while in Japan was “to eat takoyaki and rice balls.”
At this point, Saori offered a suggestion “Instead of going to a restaurant, wouldn’t it be more fun to have a party at my house?” With this proposal, they decided to have a house party at Saori’s house.

The actual house party was a surprise party for the parents’ 33 year wedding anniversary!

Saori called upon her Tomodachi Guide friends and community, who all rushed to help her with this surprise party. Everyone helped with preparations such as, getting the cake and obtaining the food, including braised deer meat from a hunter and gathered at Saori’s house with the party supplies. Saori gave the parents homemade birthday hats! Just like their second wedding, Misha, Saori, and the other Tomodachi Guides all popped party crackers and blessed the parents.

Saori described the moment as:

Misha’s mother said, “Thank you so much. I’m so happy you called everyone to celebrate this event just for us.” as tears of happiness flowed down her cheeks. It was quite emotional, and I was touched by her words. The family got to know the rest of the Huber members and soon became friends with them. The time spent when everyone was eating rice balls and takoyaki together became unforgettable memories for the family, where I believe they were glad to have come to Japan and form such strong relationships and bonds with others.

During this time, the guests were not the only thing that Saori felt was important, but also the connection between the curry restaurant that was run by people from Nepal, the people, and the town. She felt all these were important during this trip and she cherished this relationship and bond.

Saori says

Having an opportunity like this, I am not the only friend in Japan for the family. If the family comes back to Japan, I won’t be the only one to greet them. There will be a group of friends who will say “Welcome back!” while giving the family a warm welcome. For this reason, I think that it would be more fun to be able to increase the number of these wonderful encounters and interactions such as this in the future.

 

Saori, who was able to find the attractiveness and charms of “Connecting people and communities and Life Experiences,” found that this experience led to opening the local lifestyle guide experience at “kurasu house.” Here, you can experience the daily lives of the local people.

Master of Happiness

Saori is a master of making people happy. This skill is something far greater than the delicacy of omotenashi (Japanese-style hospitality) and devoted behavior of hospitality. A right phrase to describe her having such a special ability would be “A creator of inspiring experiences with happiness and surprises.”

It makes one wonder what in her life made her become a creator. As the interview continued, reasons started to be found in her childhood.

Saori spent her childhood in Jakarta, Indonesia where her father worked. During this time, she spoke Indonesian and grew up freely with the help of Indonesian culture. Because her life in Indonesia had few distractions, she felt very cramped after coming back to Japan.

She defines her childhood self as “the type of child who challenges anything that interests me.”
She continued “Once, I pushed a button that says ‘push’ on a fire extinguisher even though I should not have. Another time, I was caught by my teacher going to the room next door through the hotel window during our school trip.” She had a personality of being carefree, and it sometimes made others feel thrilled as well.

On the other hand, she always made a bento lunchbox for herself since both of her parents were busy for work. When she came home from school, she and her younger sister creatively made snacks from ingredients they had at home and enjoyed it all the time.
Meanwhile, she felt lonely and wanted someone to care for her more.

Saori says

People get close to each other when they have meals at the same table. To sit around the same table and have meals together is one of the essences in my lifestyle. “Please eat breakfast if you would like,” is a phrase I always say to my guest, and I value the time to communicate with them. I don’t say “Will you eat or not?” but instead I use the phrase “if you would like.”

She says this “to let them comfortable.” A reason she always says “if you would like” comes from her hospitality to let them not feel pressured but comfortable.

The Guest Becomes a Guide! Zen’s Guide Debut!

After having a good time experiencing a local lifestyle in Kugenuma, Zen became a support guide of Saori in Kamakura. Actually, she had said “I want to become a Tomodachi Guide,” when she visited Kamakura with Tomodachi Guide, Saori, and her wish came true by becoming a support guide of Saori.

This time, the guests were two Indonesian travelers, Azaz and Septiya, who were on a business trip. They have been friends since high school.
They are in love with Japan and had visited four times already. This time, they came for a business meeting. Even though this was a business trip, they wanted to enjoy exploring Japan as well. Thus, they used Huber for the first time.

“We definitely want to see bamboo,” was their request, so their first destination was Hokokuji Temple. In Indonesia, it is believed that bamboo wards off bad luck, and it is even better if it is the beginning of the year.

Different Cultures, Different Values

Through guiding with Zen, Saori found meaning in the support guide role that Zen had played during a trip.
Zen is from Vietnam, and the guests were from Indonesia; they both don’t have roots in Japan and have different norms. Both the guests and Zen love Japan, and that was why they could have a deeper conversation about Japan by seeing it from different aspects.

Especially, a conversation about what makes them happy was remarkable to Saori.

Guests told her their impression of Japan. “Speaking of a high suicide rate, Japanese people don’t seem happy. People in Tokyo always seem to be busy, leaving no space to relax,” was their opinion.

Their point was that
In Indonesia, there are many children who are not able to go to school, but most Japanese people go to school. While most people are normally educated, many commit suicide. Japan is a well-developed country, but lives here don’t seem to be truly rich.

In Indonesia, because people who believe in words of Islam do not drink alcohol, there is instead a coffee drinking culture. If someone is trying to drink alcohol, they ask “what happened?” and offer them a cup of coffee instead.

Instead of Japan’s talking-over-drinks culture, a cup of coffee comes up as a first option, so coffee shops are culturally important places for Indonesian people to have communication. Unlike coffee shops in Japan, all the shops are designed to invite people to communicate. In other words, a coffee shop in Indonesia is a hub for people hoping to interact with others.

“Maybe, there should be more places where people can communicate with others. Then people will be rich in their everyday lives.” Their words were strong, not being able to answer this is frustrating.

One of their friends is a 70 years old Indonesian man, and he told them what happiness is.
He said “I feel happy when I wake up in the morning, see the sky, and drink a cup of coffee. That my happiness.”

Saori says
It was wonderful to talk about what truly makes people rich. Talking about such a topic with people from other cultural backgrounds is inspiring, and it could not have been possible without Zen seeing Japan through different lenses.

The Attractiveness of the Local Lifestyle

Saori realized an attraction of being a part of a local community when she was at kurasu house and talking to a guest family from Malaysia. She was surprised at how they saw Kugenuma from their point of view.

They liked Kugenuma town for being rich in nature and having a peaceful mood, and they liked Saori’s small, cozy house as well. They had been eating Japanese food all the time since they arrived, so she took them to a curry restaurant owned by a Nepalese. They were impressed by the warm welcome.

Moreover, since a new pet came to kurasu house, she unveiled many more attractions in her town.

Gu-chan is a little shy girl but is friendly to everyone once she gets to know. She looks happy when she runs around on the beach. Gu-chan’s cheerfulness became a reason to take walks to the beach constantly and eventually get to know more hidden gems in the town.

I could feel the real uniqueness of the town on many occasions. Conversations with other pet owners while walking with Gu-chan, food stands that come every Wednesday that she found by luck, and an organic cafe produced by a Japanese calligrapher, Soun Takeda, are all things that represent the town.
In particular, a movie-oriented bakery “Cinekoya” is a place where people who are in touch with the local trends and art gather.

Saori says

These kinds of people gathered at Cinekoya and eventually planned to start a local art festival together. The town doesn’t shape by itself, but when the locals gather and create a hub, it becomes a power to start to define what the town could become. People at the hub build new cultures in the town. I am glad to see one of the good examples of building new cultures, and it becomes a part of my joy to live here.

Later, Kugenuma Art Festival was actually held in the town. This festival provided an opportunity for the community to create connections between the locals. The town seemed to start to bloom again and became truly vibrant.

Saori cares about relationships with the community because she thinks it is important when she introduces her favorite places to travelers.
She said “I want to introduce places with confidence,” she visits places and writes about them on her blog. Then she asks the owner if it is okay to recommend the place to others. By telling them in advance that travelers might visit the place, there will not be any miscommunication, and they would be ready to welcome new faces. Her future goal of Kugenuma is to build a community that everyone says “welcome back” to travelers revisiting the town.

Today’s Travels Begin with “I want to meet you.”

Gathered around the table” and “saying welcome back” are phases that appear many times, and those phrases represent the philosophy of kurasu house.

Saori said “I want my guests to feel comfortable as if they are in a grandparents’ house,” and she always treats them as a member of her family.

She explains, “To make a connection between others, how much you can show ‘caring’ and ‘friendliness’ to the others is the key.”

Saori creates friendships with others regardless of age, country, and different values. As if her guests live in her town, they can naturally immerse themselves in the local cultures and philosophy. Values discovered by the locals transform into the theory of their lives. Sharing an everyday lifestyle could also mean sharing a way of living.

If you were a guest, what you remember most would be the fun time you had while gathered around the table. And that might remind you to think “I will visit Saori again.” She would then welcome you with a smile on her face saying “Welcome back.”

Story of individuals “Narrative” https://note.mu/nozomisuzuki

Text by Nozomi Suzuki
Photo by Saori Emori, Jin Tsuzuranuki

 

I'm Nozomi. I make stories of individuals “Narrative” https://note.mu/nozomisuzuki

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