Our ILC Relay series interviews people in Iwate who support the ILC project, so our readers can see what Iwate as a whole is doing to bring about the project. This time we’d like to introduce Sam Slone, who works as a Coordinator of International Relations for Hiraizumi Town in southern Iwate.


Samuel Slone

Sam Slone is 29, and lives in Hiraizumi. Sam comes from Alaska, where he first began studying Japan and the Japanese language in high school, continuing in college. His work in Hiraizumi is mostly in translation and interpreting at the town hall, but he also holds English lessons, gives seminars on hospitality for foreign guests, helps out at special events, and provides foreign-language support at the tourist information office.

I grew up and lived in Alaska, between the mountains and the coast, before coming to Japan. Despite living in the city, I was lucky enough to grow accustomed to the scenic vistas and abundant greenery of the Last Frontier (a nickname for Alaska) in my daily life, and now I can hardly imagine life without the backdrop of nature. When I accepted this position in Japan, I admit I was apprehensive. I nervously conjured images of the concrete jungle of Tokyo and commuter trains so full the conductors have to jam you in with a stick.

On my arrival in Iwate, I was glad to see I needn’t have worried. The north of Japan is home to some the country’s most spectacular and scenic untapped wilderness. The air and the water is clean, and anytime I like there is ample opportunity for hiking, mountain climbing, nature walks, or just peering out the window and enjoying the trees, the fields, and the mountain views. I was of course, also relieved to see that all the modern conveniences and recreational opportunities of urban life are present as well: shopping, cinemas, dining and night life are all readily within reach, usually just a few short rail stops away.

The natural beauty of Hiraizumi

I was excited to find that living in Hiraizumi in particular afforded a lot of opportunities to explore the natural scenery, and all within walking distance. The history of Hiraizumi is a fascinating one, tied to the ideals of Japanese Buddhism, but suffice it to say that the Japanese reverence of the natural world was absorbed into Buddhist thought when it reached Japan’s shores, leading to temples and gardens incorporating the natural landscape in their principles of aesthetic design. Owing to the remarkable preservation efforts in Hiraizumi, you can still to this day stroll through the shadows of a forest of primordial redwoods, bamboo, and pines, enjoying the exotic sights and sounds of an ancient temple complex while the heady scent of incense drifts on the breeze.

What’s more, I was welcomed with open arms by the community and my new co-workers. It’s easy to feel at home even in unfamiliar climes when your neighbors are stopping by with garden fresh carrots, potatoes, cherries and strawberries, or inviting you to wave a torch (and raise a glass) together at the new year’s festival.

Carrying a taimatsu torch at a Hiraizumi festival (left)

Northern Japan suffered terrible setbacks in the wake of the 2011 tsunami, and some regions still feel the effects of a devastated economy and depopulated towns and villages today, but the community ties that brought people together in the recovery effort remain strong, and the people of Iwate readily extend the same friendship and generous hospitality to new faces and visitors to their corner of the world.

Making mochi in Hiraizumi

The historically remote nature of the region, both geographically and politically, has also given rise to unique cultural developments, and offers colorful festivals and traditions one can experience nowhere else in Japan. Not to mention, the regional delicacies! (hatto dumpling soup and toasted mochi rice cakes being personal favorites)

Good food, peaceful, friendly communities, and the gorgeous environment make Iwate a great place to lay your head. Knowing all the opportunities that the ILC project will bring to the region also makes me very excited for the future potential of Iwate and northern Japan, and I’m sure the developments that the ILC brings will create an even more vibrant cultural and economic center.