Guests Become Family

(A Guided Tour Experience)

I’m Koki, a Tomodachi Guide in the San’in area!
“Tomodachi” means “friend”.
I love to show people from other countries around the area where I live, just like we were already good friends.
Today, I’d like to share with you an experience I had guiding an Egyptian family around this area in the fall of 2019.

We were scheduled to meet at Matsue Station at 11:00 AM.
I met up with one of my fellow guides, Kazue, 30 minutes before that.
By having two people as guides, there’s a better balance between guides and guests, and our guests can enjoy a more casual experience!
Kazue wore a traditional Japanese kimono, hoping our guests would like it.

No matter how many times I guide people around, I always get nervous before I first meet my guests.
Even if you have correspondence beforehand, you don’t really know what someone is like until you meet them face to face.
Not to worry, though.
Khalaf and Eman were a very kind couple, and their daughter Zuzu was really cute, too.

They were very friendly, so we opened up to each other right from the start.
After saying hello, I explained the day’s schedule.
This time, we would be going on a one-day tour around Matsue and Izumo.
Our guests had said, “You’re from here. So we’ll leave the day’s course up to you!”
So, after discussing things with Kazue, we decided to take them on a tour that focused on places local residents would enjoy.
So first, we headed to Matsue Castle.

There are about 200 castles throughout Japan that you can currently visit, but only 12 of those are ones that have remained standing since their initial construction.
Matsue Castle, built over 400 years ago, is one of those 12, and also boasts the second largest castle grounds among those 12 castles.
As guides, there are a lot of things we want to explain, but it’s important to focus on what our guests will find interesting, so we always work out a way to keep the explanations simple, yet engaging.

If you’re lucky, you can take your picture with a samurai at Matsue Castle!
Getting a photo with a samurai with a Japanese castle in the background makes our guests happy every time.
It’s a quintessentially Japanese experience.
Zuzu was a bit shy, and you can tell from her expression that she was a little nervous in this photo.

About a five-minute walk from the castle, you’ll find Jozan Inari Shrine.
The fox is said to be the divine messenger of the Inari god, and many people have offered up small fox statues here, making this a shrine that has extra special visual appeal.
It’s the same type of shrine as Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine, and it enshrines the god of prosperity in business.

About a five-minute walk from the castle, you’ll find Jozan Inari Shrine.
The fox is said to be the divine messenger of the Inari god, and many people have offered up small fox statues here, making this a shrine that has extra special visual appeal.
It’s the same type of shrine as Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine, and it enshrines the god of prosperity in business.

After taking our time walking around the castle, everyone was feeling hungry.
Looking at my watch, I saw that it was time for lunch.
So, holding hands with Zuzu, we headed to where we were going to have lunch.

There a lot you don’t really know about your guests until you meet them face to face, like what they need or their personalities, so we always try to keep things so that our guests can have the flexibility to choose the best plan for themselves. This may mean not deciding on where to eat or where to visit until the actual day of the guided trip.
Today’s guests didn’t eat pork, and they had a small child with them, so we chose a restaurant near Matsue Castle that serves some delicious vegetable dishes.
There’s a hammock in the restaurant, and Zuzu really enjoyed it.

We had a filling lunch, and then headed off to the next location on our tour.

After seeing the castle and a shrine, the next place to go was a temple!
So we went to Gakuenji Temple, a place that has gorgeous fall scenery.

It was just the right time to see the beautiful fall leaves, and our guests really enjoyed their time there!

Actually, this temple wasn’t part of our original plan.
The morning our guests arrived, Kazue recommended the temple, saying, “This time of year, Gakuenji would be amazing to visit.” So we made the decision there to add it to our tour.
To be honest, it was the first time for me to visit this temple, too.
I was a bit embarrassed about it, but when I told our guests, they cheerfully said, “Well then, we can enjoy it together!”
So now it became more than a relationship between guides and guests; we were on a journey together.
That’s the true pleasure of being a Tomodachi Guide!

Zuzu reminded us adults that, “It’s a temple, so you have to be quiet!”
She’d just been told the same thing, so she turned it around on us.
When I guide, I treat everything importantly, not just the sightseeing spots we visit, but the casual conversations and occurrences that happen along the way.
Those things often end up being the irreplaceable memories that you notice when you look back on a guided tour.

There was a food stand along the way, and our guests treated us to coffee and some sweets. That’s a really special memory for me.

Well, now we’re reaching the final stage of the tour.
The last stop was the Hinomisaki Lighthouse. It’s the largest lighthouse in Japan.
During the day, you can climb to the top of the lighthouse and look out on the Sea of Japan as it stretches out before you, but it was already nearing dusk by the time we got there, so we just looked at it from its base.
Even so, it was still a spectacular view, and the white lighthouse standing out sharply against the blue sky was truly photogenic.

Even if you can’t climb up Hinomisaki Lighthouse, you can still enjoy a walk along the path that follows the coastline.
I love the time spent watching the sun sink below the horizon as you listen to the waves crash against the rocks.
Our guests took lots of photos and seemed very satisfied.

Our tour was nearing its end.
Having read this far, I’m sure you’ve noticed, I haven’t showed up in any of the photos of this day’s tour.
I love taking photos, so I always have many photos of the people I’ve traveled with, but it always bothers me that I never have photos with any of the guests I have guided. So today, I brought along a tripod.
This photo is special to me, because it will always help me remember the fun memories of this day.

On our way back, the five of us talked about the day’s journey.
Our guests said, “We can’t believe that we just met today. You are both really our family.” I was deeply moved by what they said.
We now live in an age where you can easily go on a trip with just a smartphone in hand, but that’s why I feel that the connections that people make are what’s truly important.
This day was a day where I really felt that to be the case.

As we said our goodbyes, we promised to meet up again next spring.
They will come back to San’in again to celebrate Zuzu’s 4th birthday.
I’m really looking forward to seeing my special family again!

There are lots of Tomodachi Guides like Kazue and myself here in San’in.
Now that you’ve read this article, wouldn’t you like to join us on a local journey through the San’in area, and make some unforgettable memories?
Thanks for reading all the way to the end!

For more information about the place of this article.

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