Seeking greater balance in Japanese Tourism

By Karl Kay, Founder of the Tokyo Way


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In high school I was a bit out of the mainstream social scene, introverted and trying to think and feel my way to an understanding of why I am here, why are we all here. That led me to Asian philosophy, and the book Zen and Japanese Culture by DT Suzuki. I became wildly hungry for more, reading anything I could find, which led me to frustrations with stilted translations. I decided I would need to learn an Asian language myself to really get it. I started studying Japanese at college (in USA) in 1974, and 45 years later I find myself a long-time resident of Japan offering travelers deep access to the culture that called out to me in my youth. 

I noticed that despite Japan’s culture grounded in centered, balanced mind-body experience, tourism in Japan remained in a rut of guides taking people by bus to crowded famous places and lecturing facts to them. None of the good stuff was being transmitted. Sitting in a meditation retreat at a 13th century Buddhist temple in Kamakura, (the temple where DT Suzuki had trained in the 1930’s), I suddenly realized how blessed I was to have come to this moment in this place. I felt a strong mission to make that kind of deeper experience available to anyone seeking to explore the richness of Japan while exploring inside themselves, in some way, at the same time.  

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On the outskirts of Tokyo is a modest studio where a father and son, third and fourth generation in the family lineage, craft beautiful daily objects (trays, baskets) and art sculptures from bamboo. Their work has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. In the small workshop, surrounded by their tools and materials, they tell their family story, describe how they source their bamboo, show how they prepare it, and demonstrate some of the intricate weaving techniques. They don’t speak English, so our guide acts as interpreter (when time allows, I do that myself, because I love being there). We pay them for their time, so there is no expectation that guests will buy something. But when you meet the people, and see their skill, and learn about the ecosystem of natural materials and the people who harvest it, and the tools and the tool-makers, and feel the humility and reverence in the room, it’s hard not to want to take home something that holds that story. It is this kind of sharing to which Tokyo Way aspires, one guest party, one day at a time. 

kelsey bumsted