Kii Monogatari is a project that aims to boost rural revitalization from within the region through encouraging slow tourism and transformational travel.
Hello, I am Alena. I fell in love with the Kii Peninsula, quit my life in Tokyo and moved out here in 2011. I have been promoting the Kii Peninsula through my guiding and travel writing for 10 years now, and Kii Monogatari is the next step.
Kii refers to Kii no Kuni (紀伊国), or Kii Province. This is the old area name for what is now Wakayama Prefecture and the south of Mie Prefecture.
Monogatari (物語) means story or tale in Japanese.
Kii Monogatari is the story of the Kii Peninsula intertwined with my own story living here. I live in the remote south of the peninsula, in Fushiogami Village near Hongu Town in the Kumano area, and I frequently travel to Koyasan and Yoshinoyama in the north of the peninsula.
I am witnessing the decline of the Satoyama (里山) communities and the abandonment of the traditional rural lifestyle. Young people leave the area to work and live in Japan’s big cities where there are jobs, opportunities and conveniences. They leave behind unoccupied houses, neglected rice fields, unmanaged forests and gradually forgotten traditions and costumes.
Sato (里) means village, and Yama (山) means mountain. Thus Satoyama are villages at the border of mountains and flat land that have developed over centuries. Villagers engage in small-scale farming, fishing and forestry. They work rice paddies, grow vegetables and fruit trees.
They harvest wild vegetables, mushrooms and nuts from the forest, use wood from the forest for construction and fire wood, use grasslands to feed their farm animals, get river fish from the streams to supplement their diet, and maintain ponds and water reservoirs.
One bright spot is the I-turn/U-turn/J-turn movement. I count myself as an early I-turn!
I- turn: city residents who relocate to rural areas other than their hometowns.
U – turn: city dwellers who return to their hometowns.
J – turn: city dwellers who relocate to rural areas near their hometowns.
We “new-comers” hope to create opportunities for us and for the communities we moved into, right here in the local area. We want to work together to provide accommodation, meals, transportation and local experiences for visitors and, in return, create jobs and generate income for locals.
Rural Revitalization has become a media buzz word in recent years, but 10 years ago, when I moved out here, it was not a topic yet. There was no Akiya Bank that listed empty properties for sale and there was no regional government support for newcomers. Worst of all, there was hardly any work.
When inbound tourism started to pick up, I took my chances and every opportunity that I was presented with. I embraced travel to sustain my livelihood in this remote place and I leveraged my foreignness to promote the region and its wonderful assets and to support visitors from abroad navigate the area.
Now is the time to take the next step:
Fostering longer encounters, more communication and deeper connection between locals, both old and new, and visitors, from near and far.
Contributing to co-existence with the land and a preservation of the natural world and engaging in co-creation with local people and the spirit world, and by doing so live and travel in a sustainable way, naturally.
The Kii Peninsula region is large but it is made up of many rural communities and people, including myself, who still live in these Satoyama.
How can we together revive the local wisdom of the past, preserve it now in the present, and make it universally available to future generations?