Once Upon a Bike Ride
"Discover Japan" founder David Green shares how he found his passion for mentoring
When American David Green first moved to Japan with his wife in 1976, they only intended to stay one year. Now, 41 years later, David and his wife still live in Japan and are the proud founders of Discover Japan, "an organization that provides opportunities for adventure, education, discovery and fun in, and around, the countryside of Japan," according to the website. Their summer camp for elementary and middle school children, Nanbo Discovery Camp, lets children explore the outdoors in the Nanbo area. The camp has been introducing the beauty of rural Japan to children of all ages for a successful 19 years.
David's journey began when he was doing graduate work in Canada, where he met his Japanese wife, Yoshiko. When they moved to Japan in 1976, they worked as teachers in Kobe, then decided to stay longer than one year and moved to Tokyo. There, David taught elementary and middle school as well as coached basketball at Nishimachi International School. As time went on they began collecting more and more stuff: bicycles, a car, a mortgage, and children.
"One day you wake up and you realize, this is home," he said.
The former science teacher currently lives in Chikura and explained that not many people know about Minamiboso, despite its accessibility to Tokyo, magnificent beaches, and abundant nature.
"We're just lucky enough to have found this area and to have made it our home," he said.
The story of how David first found Minamiboso began in 1978 when he, his wife, and another couple decided to ride their bikes from Tokyo to southern Chiba. They took a ferry from Kawasaki to Kisarazu, then rode down to Shirahama. He liked it so much that he began taking his students down for trips every year. It's no exaggeration that this bike ride was the inspiration for current camps.
David began hosting bicycle trips to the area while living in Tokyo and also ski trips to Shiga Kogen in Nagano. Nanbo Discovery Camp was started in 1999 in Tateyama, and in 2005 he left his teaching job at Nishimachi to concentrate on his outdoor activities. It was at this time that Nanbo Kokusai Mura, the outdoor education lodge for Nanbo Discover Camp, was built in Chikura.
David said that one of Nanbo Kokusai Mura's purposes is to introduce the natural beauty of Japan to foreigners living in Japan and also to help those living in the city to discover the beauty of the countryside.
"The mission has been . . . to get people out of the city and into the countryside of Japan."
As the language of the camp is English, many of his campers are students from international schools, although many children from Japanese schools have joined as well. He has campers from all over the world, including Egypt, Thailand, Hong Kong, China, England, Switzerland, America, and more.
David said that the camp allows children to get used to becoming more independent and gives them a chance to learn about the outdoors. For this reason, campers do not have any need for electronics, music devices, or phones. Only cameras are allowed. While the children are reluctant to hand over their modern devices at first, after a day they don't even miss them. They're too busy exploring and having fun.
Many of the camp activities include going to the beach every day, collecting seashells, boogie boarding, learning about the world we live in, and much more. The focus is on the natural world and marine life.
"They don't even realize we are learning about science because we are outside almost all day exploring," he said.
According to David, the children ask a lot of questions and many are up at five in the morning playing in the Discovery Room - a room on the first floor of the camp filled with books, board games, fossils, seashells, rocks, minerals and sand collected from all over the world.
This summer there were 210 campers at Nanbo Discovery Camp during the seven camp sessions - about 30 children every week plus ten staff members. Including winter ski/board camps in Nagano and that number rises to over 350 children a year.
The camp counselors are upper high school and college students, many of whom used to attend the camp as children.
"By observing our experienced counselors and watching them interact with campers, the new staff members develop into caring role models as well," David said.
He compared it to the way teachers develop and grow by observing other teachers and learning how to become more effective in the classroom. David said he has also learned to be a better camp director over the years by watching his staff members at work.
"The bonds that form between our campers and counselors and between the campers are very special to the culture of the camp and are what former campers and counselors talk about years later," he said.
His passion is watching these children grow and develop, including his former elementary students, some of whose children have attended Nanbo Discovery Camp.
"My wife and I get to see our students grow into caring, responsible, mature young adults," he said.
David hopes to continue running his camps for as long as possible. He hopes that those who attend the camps are able to "discover more about the world we live in and in the process perhaps discover more about themselves."
WEB SITE "Discover Japan" http://discoverjapan.co.jp/"
Written by Abigail Crocker (Coordinator for International Relations of Minamiboso-city)