TRAVELER PROFILE: KOJI FROM JAPAN
After a year of exchanging emails, I finally met Koji, my ‘cyber-friend’ and reader of The Conversationalist, in Tel Aviv. He’s been living and working in the Palestinian town of Tubas. But I’ll let him tell you all about that, as well as some of his travel tips and dreams.
Who are you?
My name is Koji Komatsu. I am 28 years old, and youngest in my family. I love watching movies, reading, and listening to music. But above all, I like talking to people. People say I am shy, and I admit that, but it is only the beginning. I am always looking for new experiences, new encounters so that I can broaden my view…
Where are you from?
I am from Kobe, which is in the west side of Japan. It is one of the largest cities and, I believe, the most beautiful city in Japan. Perhaps you’ve heard the name for Kobe beef. Besides that, it is also known as an international city because there is a big port with a long history of trading with countries from all over the world. It might be useful to remember that, in Kobe, the mountains are in the north and ocean is in the south, in case you do not have a good sense of direction!
What do you do?
Currently I live in a town called Tubas, which is in the north of West Bank in Palestine, and I am working for a Japanese NGO. I have been engaging in a project to support local olive farmers and a group of women for increasing their incomes.
Under the project, which started in 2007, 29 small olive farmers in Tubas established an agricultural cooperative, and with technical supports they have produced extra-virgin olive oil for the past 3 years. So far, we have sold all the amount of olive oil produced each year.
Now, we have been doing the similar process for 25 women from Tubas. In several months, they will form a cooperative to sell processed food like pickles and spicy sauce made from the vegetables grown in their own home gardens in organic way.
This project ends next year, but we will support them by giving training to make a sustainable system from production to marketing by the end of the project so that they can manage by themselves.
To where shall your compass lead you next?
Paris! Just for a week, but I will visit there during the Palestinian holidays in November. Living in a country like Palestine as a foreigner who is not Muslim, not Arab, I get a lot of attention from the locals all the time. So it is really relaxing to blend in the crowd of people in big cities. Also, this is my first visit to Paris, so I am very excited.
[Editorial Note: And I am excited for Koji! I love Paris!]
LET’S GO DEEPER
What’s the scariest situation you’ve experienced while traveling?
I was detained by Israeli officers at a check point between Israel and Palestine for 5 hours. That was one of the worst events in my life.
It happened last year when I was there with some olive farmers from Palestine to Israel for training of how to use a bottling machine. We had coordinated with Israeli government one month before that day to get permission for the Palestinians to enter Israel, so there was no problem for us to pass that check point. But the officers forced us to go through the X-ray machine repeatedly, and put us separately into a small cell without any explanation. At that point, all of my belongings were taken by the officers except my watch. After a few hours, I was allowed to get out of the cell, and they said that was just for “security reasons.”
Of course, we had to cancel the training and went back to Palestine. It was not scary as so much frustrating, since there was no justice for the treatment we had.
If I visit Japan, what are three things that I cannot miss doing/seeing?
To be honest, I haven’t traveled many places in Japan, so allow me to just mention about my hometown. Firstly, you must go up to the top of Mount Rokko and enjoy the beautiful night view. People call it “the night view of a million dollars.” You may even meet some wild boars.
Secondly, you can find any kind of cuisines and sweets in Kobe. As it has been welcoming foreigners since the port was opened to the other countries, you can enjoy variety of authentic cuisines such as Chinese, Indian, French, and etc.
Last and the most importantly, you must visit me! I will be happy to be your guide if I am in Japan.
You’ve spent nearly two years in Palestine. Is there hope for peace in this region of the world?
I want to believe there is hope for peace, but I don’t think it will come in near future as neither side is ready to compromise. It is impossible to get everything they want, so they must find the points that both of them are able to agree on.
Watching what politicians say on TV, it is not easy to have hope for peace, but if you look at things in smaller scale, there is hope. There are many people who believe in peace both in Israel and Palestine. I have lived in both countries, so I can say that from my own experience. Peace does not come from extremism. I think it will come from ordinary people who try to understand, who try to look at things from different angles.
What song inspires you to travel? Please explain.
Al Otro Lado del Rio by Jorge Drexler. This song was used in the movie, Motor Cycle Diaries, which is the story about young Che Guevara traveling South American countries. I watched the movie with my best friend when I was a university student. Both of us liked this movie a lot, and I bought a soundtrack of the movie at the theater.
“Let the world change you, and then you can change the world.” That was the phrase on the poster of this movie. After several years, I am working in Palestine, and my friend who watched the movie together is now working in South Sudan.
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Have you met Jodi from Legal Nomads yet? She’s the cutest thing since kittens.