Interview for the village blog (English version)
Blog: The KyōryokuTimes
Categories: 7-minute read

Back in June 2023, an interview with me was posted on the village blog in Japanese. Given Visit Kochi recently posted about me and the website is seeing some traffic, I thought it might be a good time to post a translation of the article here.

Moved from Scotland and preparing to set up a brewery! Working towards his long-time dream in Hidaka village.

Now, in his second year (as of July 2023) with the Hidaka Village Community Development Cooperation Volunteers in Kochi Prefecture. Jon is originally from Scotland. He is married Sakino, from Hidaka Village, and they lived together in Scotland, but moved to Hidaka Village in June 2022 to raise her children in an environment rich in nature. He is working towards becoming a craft beer brewer.

Mash Out!

Q: How did you become interested in Japan, Jon?

A: It all started with a TV series I saw as a child called SHOGUN.

My interest in Japan was sparked by a TV series I saw when I was eight years old called SHOGUN.

It is the story of an Englishman who is shipwrecked on a voyage to China and washes ashore in early Edo period Japan, where he bonds with the warring feudal lords and lives in Japan. I still remember the interesting sensation of learning about the Edo period customs, Japanese culture and the Shogun along with the main character.

When I was 29, I decided I wanted to learn more about the Japanese language and culture, so I quit my job and enrolled in university. Then, when I was in my third year of university, I went to Okayama University to study Japanese culture in Japan. That’s when I met my now wife Sakino.

Q: What made you decide to move from Scotland to Hidaka Village?

A: When my first daughter was born, I wanted to raise my child in a place with a lot of nature.

When I came back to Hidaka Village, Sakino’s family home with my daughter, I thought, ‘I want to raise my child here’.

It is surrounded by mountains, with a beautiful river nearby and rice field paths where you can take relaxing and quiet walks. I had always wanted to raise my children in an environment where there is a connection with nature, away from a life dependent on technology, and the environment in Hidaka Village was ideal for me.

Family Time

I also thought I liked the way Christmas is spent in Japan. In Scotland, Christmas is a big event, the whole place is sparkling with lights and it is normal for children to receive many presents. Children even compete with each other to see how many presents they have received. Some parents even go into debt to buy presents so that their children aren’t ridiculed…

But the presents bought in this way soon become boring and aren’t played with, it is wasteful. I have always felt uncomfortable with Christmas being swallowed up by capitalism and deviating from the original purpose of Christmas.

In Hidaka Village, when you go for a walk at Christmas time, the whole village is not covered with Christmas decorations, and there is only one Christmas present for the children. Rather than being a stresfful event, we eat dinner as a family in a relaxed atmosphere. This way of spending Christmas suited me perfectly.

Family Walk

Q: Why did you decide to set up a craft beer brewery?

A: Since I was in my twenties, it was my dream to open a brewery.

I loved drinking alcohol so much that I actually dreamt of making my own since I was in my 20s. In Scotland, it’s not illegal to make alcohol at home, so I used to make beer at home with friends.

Beer Flight

Whilst I knew that I wanted to make beer one day, I had a busy and varied career that involved bartending, working in retail, banking and starting my own IT company, among other jobs. Working like that, I was inevitably too busy to actually make the move to open a brewery…

Once I decided to live in Hidaka Village with my family and I began to refocus on my dream of opening a brewery at the timing of this big change of environment.

Q: How did you end up training at Mukai Craft Brewing as a cooperative?

A: After a discussoin with a friend, I wrote to Mukai-san from Scotland to express my feelings and was accepted as a trainee.

When I started preparing to move to Hidaka Village, I was introduced to Masa-san (Masahiro Tsuzuki) by Sakino’s brother who lives in Hidaka Village. Masa-san has long experience abroad and is an English-speaking Regional Development Cooperation Volunteer.

When I told Masa-san that I wanted to set up a craft brewery in Hidaka Village, he introduced me to Mukai Craft Brewing and said that there was a Japanese-American in Kochi who was preparing to set up a brewery.

I sent a hand-written letter to Mr Mukai in 2020, once MUKAI CRAFT BREWING had opened. I wrote to congratulate him on opening his brewery but included a lot about myself, my hopes and dreams, and why I wanted to open a brewery in Kochi… I ended up writing 8 pages in that letter. It was almost like a love letter (laughs).

That was the start of a long-lasting contact with Mukai-san. After I was officially appointed as a member of the Hidaka Village Regional Development Cooperation Volunteers, it was a natural progression that I was given the opportunity to train at Mukai’s brewery.

Valve Check

Q: Please tell us about your activities since coming to Hidaka Village.

A: I am learning about brewing online and on site.

I go to Mukai Craft Brewing two days a week to learn how to make beer and about the brewery.

Mukai-san is a good teacher, having originally been a high school teacher of chemistry and physics. It is very interesting and instructive to learn how to make beer from a chemistry and physics perspective! Mr Mukai has become my mentor and friend.

Deep in Thought

I also put a lot of effort into finding the ideal place to build the brewery. We want our brewery to be a place where people can come to enjoy good craft beer in a relaxed atmosphere.

Every day we go around the village looking for a place, but it’s not easy…

Even if we find a good place, it may be difficult to trace the owner(s), or there may be no running water… On the other hand, even if we are allowed to use the land, it may not have a great view of nature that we hope to find.

For us customer experience is ultimately important, and we can’t compromise on wanting a place in the mountains or next to the Niyodo River with a good view and clean water, so We continue to search more so that we can find a place that is close to my ideal.

Q: How is life in Hidaka Village?

A: Various people talk to me and I’m gradually learning to understand the Tosa dialect (laughs).

When I go shopping at the nearby village market in Hidaka, I stand out somewhat as a foreigner, so the ladies who work there often talk to me which is fun and helps me learn some Tosa dialect!

There are still many things I don’t understand because it’s difficult, but I’m gradually starting to understand things like ‘kojanto’ (a lot) and ‘ame furi yu’ (it’s raining) (laughs).

Hidaka village has many interesting people, it is quiet but lively and a great place to raise children.

Fun Family Times

Q: What kind of activities do you want to carry out in the future?

A: I would like to collaborate with local people in order to make different styles of beer.

I want to collaborate with various people in the community to create distinctive, local beers.

For example, it might be interesting to make a beer that goes well with Masa’s tacos or a beer using tea from the Kiriyama Tea Farm. Or we could try using strawberries or foraged fruits, herbs and vegetables grown in or around the village…

Kochi is rich in ingredients, so I’m excited to come up with all sorts of ideas!

Photo credits: Aiko Kato, Hidaka Village Community Development Cooperation Volunteer

Interview by: Yuka Murakami, Hidaka Village Community Development Cooperation Volunteer

PS: The blog title The KyōryokuTimes is a play on kyōryokutai which is pronunciation of the final part of the programme name, the full name being chiikiokoshikyōryokutai or 地域おこし協力隊.  Hey, I like it, OK :P

Free Education

An eye-opening introduction to pre-schooling in Japan
Blog: The KyōryokuTimes
Categories: 6-minute read

Towards the end of May this year we visited the 保育園 (hoikuen - nursery school) that my daughter would be starting the following week and boy were we in for a few surprises!

Compared to the nursery schools in Scotland there are so many rules and such a big list of mandatory purchases!

Rule examples:

  • Long hair has to always be tied up.
  • No skirts or dresses to be worn, also no jeans.
  • Children have to have urine tests twice a year (at the nursery school).
  • Children have to physical checkups twice a year (at the nursery school).
  • She has to take a daily nap (she hadn’t done this for over two years).

When we mentioned to our dress loving aspirational princess that she could only wear trousers and t-shirts to nursery she was surprisingly OK with that, the following day when we mentioned about having to tie up her hair she was less than impressed.  Shortly afterwards she opted to have her hair cut into a bob.

We had to order a list of items (or rather pay for them, the nursery ordered them on our behalf) prior to the start of attendance, from a bento box for carrying crafting related items along with related paraphernalia through to PE kit, and received a further long list of items to buy before she started including a futon for naps, multiple towels, bags and changes of clothes as well as pajamas.  A not quite complete photo and list follows.