Letters from Japan – Spring 2021

Good afternoon,

We have been in this covid turmoil long enough that starting the emails/letters with reference to “these unprecedented times” already become a cliché. While the vaccine related developments indicate the light at the end of the tunnel, the tone of the news keeps changing everyday. One morning  I feel hopeful that I can visit home very soon whereas the next morning,  I consider giving up my plane ticket for Istanbul, which had already been re-ticketed three times since the start of the pandemic. But I am at the same time fully aware of the privilege of living in a country, which is relatively less impacted by the pandemic.

I recently used the excuse of “the case numbers are low in Japan” (as if there is still some level of accountability in terms of the case numbers in Japan, in my country or anywhere else in the World) to take a solo walking trip to one of the most untouched islands of Japan – Shikoku and decided to revive this newsletter, which has been dormant for some time. You can access the recent post and photos – Walking Shikoku here, with a short introductory excerpt provided below.

Back from Shikoku. What a wonderful two weeks it was and how I need these rural Japan breaks to better connect with this beautiful country that I now call home. It all started with mountains, two of the most atmospheric temples that I have been to in Japan, heavy rain and wind (a blessing and visual feast when you hike through forests). The road then took me down to surf beaches, many fisherman villages, intimidatingly beautiful capes and lighthouses and finally foggy rivers. I am now back in Tokyo and thinking how hard the transition would be each time I came back from exploring rural parts of Japan if I did not live in an almost rural part of Tokyo – one of the largest metropoles in the World.

I could have stayed longer in Shikoku. But I did not. I enjoyed my time in Tokushima and Kochi prefectures too much to extend the trip. I wanted to stop at the two-week mark, come back to Tokyo and have the opportunity to properly reflect on the experience rather than adding new experiences. By the time I reached Cape Ashizuri – the southernmost region of Shikoku Island – the wonderful forest hikes that I did on the second day of my trip in Northern Tokushima already started feeling like a distant memory and that is when I knew that it was time to end the trip. I wanted every hike, every place and every wonderful person whom I met on the road to stand out individually rather than becoming small parts of a long trip. For more.

The experience in Shikoku was meaningful in so many ways. Travel industry was one of the sectors, which took the biggest hit during the pandemic. The impact of covid on the travel industry was one of the issues that I addressed in my thesis, which was submitted this past January and explored the possibilities for and potential benefits of public-private partnerships for tourism infrastructure and analyzing whether long term contractual structures can lead to a more sustainable and policy oriented tourism development rather than relying on the generic tourism and environmental legislation. Despite the “unprecedentedly” terrible year that the whole travel industry had, it was very energizing and even surprising to see how accommodation owners in Shikoku approach the issue and see the opportunity for a more carefully planned tourism development in the post pandemic era – one of the rare silver linings in this crisis. I was also amazed with their creativity developing new services appealing to a closer community during a time when international travel is suspended – in a region greatly relying on internationally acclaimed 1000km long pilgrimage route for tourism revenues.

That is all for now and as always, I would like to hear back from you even if you have time for only one sentence.

Until next time,
Burcu

P.S: You can follow this link for more Letters from Japan.