We joined our friend, Lee for another virtual visit to Japan. Lee works for a documentary company and has studied political science. During our journey we experienced a dragon’s eye view of the majestic country from drone footage he shot. In addition, we learned some dragon lore. However, the most interesting part of the journey was Lee’s new project which involves ecotourism in the Dragon Village 5 hours south of Kyoto. Natives have always taken Japanese gardens seriously, and strive to use them to bring harmony between themselves and their environment.
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Ecotourism & Dragon Lore: protectors of the earth
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Lee begins by giving us some history of dragon lore. Dragons are originally from India. Similarly, you will hear tell of them in China and Japan. Often when we think of dragons we conjure images of fire breathing destructive creatures. However, people originally thought dragons to be protective water creatures. People in Tibet believe dragons protect the cosmos.
Dragons can range from being very large creatures to being small enough to fit in your hand. In 1998 Disney’s Mulan caused some controversy in China because of the size of Mushu the dragon. They felt it was an insult because the dragon was so tiny. However, Disney actually created Mushu from a small dragon from Chinese legends.
Japanese culture is deeply entwined in dragon lore. Japanese temples as far back as 1000-2000 years ago had dragons depicted on the ceilings. The Japanese made their temples from wood. They believed the dragons protected the temples from fire because they were from the sea and could put out fires. The Pokemon cult has also developed from dragon lore.
In the U.S. we often associate dragons with the destructive creature in the Godzilla movie. This movie was made 9 years after the bombing of Hiroshima. In it a dragon god goes horribly wrong. The message is that if we disrespect nature we will create our own disasters. This is one of the ideas that led Lee to his current project which he is working on with his friend Shu.
Lee met Shu several years ago at a tea festival. Shu has worked as a sushi chef in a major restaurant in Tokyo and travelled the world working for a whiskey company. After the earthquake in 2011 Shu returned to the small village of his childhood to look after his aged mother. He found that his village was very different from when he was a child. There were no bees and hardly any birds, whereas when he was a child the birds would fly to you if you just held out your hand.
Shu attributes these changes to several things. An earthquake caused a landslide which washed away many trees. This displaced many animals and changed the composition of the soil. Also global warming has changed the seasons in Japan. The flowers now bloom twice a year instead of once. This confuses the birds and bees. The climate change also causes the bees to have no food sometimes for weeks. This has led to the decline in population.
Tea is a tradition in Japan as it is in China. Spiritual awakening and tea meditation are important parts of historic tea tradition. Tea grows wild and on plantations. Shu picks the wild tea and dries it in the sun. Moreover, it takes 5 years for the tea to ferment which makes it very sweet. Traditionally the tea blooms in November. However, climate change has caused a heat wave leading to the plants blooming in April as well.
Lee and Shu joining together
These environmental issues led Lee and Shu to join together to try something new. They rented a farm house 5 hours south of Kyoto on a mountain 3300′ tall. The farmhouse is 90 years old with wooden beams stained a purple brown. The wood is thought to be antibacterial. Their goal is to return to natural methods of farming with no fertilizers or pesticides to try to reverse environmental damage or at least prevent further damage.
They chose this area because it is near a very sacred shrine. It is in a very dense forest, parts of which are not mapped. The shrine is on a path which takes a week to travel to by foot. Here the fabled three sided Tori Gates lead to the world of the gods and invite meditation. To clarify, people summon the gods here with four claps. Nearby is a waterfall with water at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Lee works up the courage to forest bathe in this water. Click here to book it yourself through Airbnb.
Lee and Shu begin by searching the mountain in order to learn from a man who is an expert on traditional farming. He taught them to plow once in the beginning of winter and then let the weeds grow. Once plowed they will make mud balls with 100s of different seeds to plant. In this way nature will take over and they will cultivate whatever grows. They will use the grass cut from the plowing as mulch. Most importantly, Lee and Shu plan to complete this before winter sets in.
Lee and Shu hope to refurbish this farm house for an ecotourism destination. They are creating a place where people can come and stay for free and contribute to the farm by helping install fences and planting. Currently there is no heat in the farmhouse so they are working to install a gas heater and insulation. Their goal is to improve the land through natural techniques as well as educate others as to these environmental issues.
You can follow Lee’s project on Instagram.
Donna Emperador is a travel and food blogger and copywriter. Donna believes in learning about different cultures while sharing good food and cocktails. She has lived in South Florida for over 20 years and enjoys spending time exploring the road to find unique places to share with readers. She can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.