JQ Magazine: JQ&A with The Inaka Founder Chris Allison

“Japan’s inaka offers something completely different. In the inaka you can find nature restaurants, shops, and people that will do a much better job representing a different culture and a different experience—an experience you can only get in Japan.”

By Sarah Rogers-Tanner (Kyoto-fu, 2009-11) for JQ magazine. Sarah hails from Afton, Minnesota and learned a thing or two about the inaka in her small town of Ujitawara, located in the mountains outside of Kyoto City. While there, Sarah taught students ages 2-15 and is now pursuing her masters degree in elementary inclusive education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Chris Allison (Oita-ken, 2009-12) is a recent JET returnee who spent three years teaching at both an academic high school, as well as a rural, agricultural school. Originally from a small town in Indiana, Chris studied international business and Chinese at Bethel College and began studying Japanese while on JET. Though he is in the U.S. for the time being, Chris hopes to soon be back in Asia again, this time teaching English in Beijing.

Over the past few years, Chris noticed the need for a website that, as opposed to focusing on the prefecture as a whole, exhibits what each town in Japan has to offer. Chris founded The Inaka so that foreigners living in Japan can share pictures and information about their towns for future generations of ALTs and tourists alike. Chris hopes to bring tourism not only to the larger cities but also to the small towns that many of us JET alumni came to love.

Chris says that by increasing the tourism to these towns and cities, we also increase the breadth of knowledge that the world has about Japan, allowing us to give something back to our second home abroad. Now, The Inaka needs your help. The upload process is very easy, so take a look at your prefecture and see what you can contribute!

What made you fall in love with the inaka?

This is slightly off topic a bit, but I often get asked, “What is there to see in Japan?” Up until recently, I didn’t really know how to answer this question. For most countries it is a fairly simple question. For China, “Great Wall.” For France, “Eiffel Tower.” Japan doesn’t really have that one thing that makes it stand out. Sure you could say something like Tokyo or Kyoto, but those are cities and not single attractions.

There was never one thing that I could say that I felt gave a fair representation of Japan. Then it hit me. I could not think of one specific place or attraction, because the entire country is filled with them. No matter what town you go to, you will find heaps of history and sights that will amaze you. The inaka is what makes Japan stand out as a country; it is where you will find the history, nature and culture of what I have come to know as the real Japan. I think it makes the country worth traveling to.

That is why I love the inaka!

What are the kinds of experiences that tourists can find in the inaka that they can’t access in larger cities or more well-traveled areas of Japan?

This is a good question. I think before I answer, it is important for me to say that The Inaka wants uploads from cities as well as inaka towns. It is just that our focus is on inaka travel.

Cities are more or less the same wherever you go in the world. As we get more and more globalized, you will see the same restaurants and stores wherever you go. You will see a bunch of buildings and a lot of people. I don’t know about you, but if I wanted to see that, I would just go to the nearest city in America instead of going all the way to Japan.

Japan’s inaka offers something completely different. In the inaka you can find nature restaurants, shops, and people that will do a much better job representing a different culture and a different experience—an experience you can only get in Japan. Japan’s nature, history, and culture are what make it stand out as a country, and in my opinion what makes it worth traveling to. Yes, you can get a dose of it in the bigger cities, but it can be found in abundance in The Inaka.

What was the most awe-inspiring vacation you took in Japan?

As a vacation, nothing tops Yakushima (an island off the coast of Kagoshima) in my eyes. The primitive forests and towering mountains make for a truly stunning and picturesque scene. However, as a tourist spot, my favorite place to go in all of Japan was only about a 30-minute hike from my apartment.  Behind my old apartment there was a path that will take you through a thick bamboo forest, and when you come out of the forest you are at the steps of the town’s old castle ruins.  There is no standing castle, but the stone structures, beautiful nature, and complete lack of people makes for one truly awe-inspiring experience.

What was the most exciting animal encounter you had in the inaka?

While hiking through Yakushima, I came across a monkey. The monkey was picking bugs off of its baby’s head and was incredibly cute, but unfortunately, it was also blocking the path. I decided to take some pictures, and then backtrack and rest until the monkey moved on. Well, after I took the pictures and put the camera away, I turned around to notice a monkey a few feet behind me. As I spun around to find a different route, I realized that I was completely surrounded. Turned out fine. The monkeys soon moved on, but it was a fantastic up-close experience with some animals I don’t get to see back home in Indiana.

What is your favorite season for traveling in Japan?

When I first read this question, I instantly thought about fall. The temperature is perfect and the fall colors can transform Japan’s landscape, making for a completely new experience.  Then again, spring’s cherry blossoms and summer’s rice fields are spectacular as well.  Basically, any season that is not winter is perfect for traveling in Japan.

Are there any areas in Japan that require more attention on your website than others?

Currently, no. Every prefecture needs more. The Inaka has at least one upload in 32 of the 48 prefectures, and could certainly use a lot more uploads in each and every one of them.

Are there any particular types of trips or experiences that you would like to see more of on your website?

The website focuses on sights, restaurants, onsen and festivals, but we are mainly only getting uploads for sights. I would love to see more in the other three sections, but also need a lot more uploads to the sights as well.

Could you give us an example of an entry on your site that you found really intriguing and useful for tourists?

This is not really an entry, but rather a list of sights in the town of Taketa. I think one of the things that makes The Inaka stand out as a website is that you are able to see all of that town’s options on one page, instead of all of the prefecture’s town’s sights mixed all together on several pages. So when you go to the Oita page, there is a “must see” list for people who just want to see the best Oita has to offer, but the heart of the site comes when you click on a specific town you may be going to and are able to see all of the options in the town you are going to. Take a look at it here.

What advice do you have for someone who would like to contribute to your site?

I have had several people tell me that they want to contribute, but are worried their writing isn’t good enough or even that their photos were poorly taken. My advice to these people is simply not to worry about that. Any info you can give or any picture you can share will offer far more help than no information. Whatever you can offer will be incredibly helpful!

Visit The Inaka at www.theinaka.com.