Interview Talking to Jake Finifrock of the Adventure Travel Trade Association Jake Finifrock | Special Advisor for Asia
Special Advisor for Asia / Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA)
Born in Alaska, USA, lives in Seattle. He has lived and worked on four continents, including ten years in Guizhou, China, and is fluent in Chinese. Since January 2018 he has worked to build sustainable partnerships by connecting the Asian region with ATTA's global partner network.
Q1 : ATTA has become a world leader in Adventure Travel through its active promotion and advocacy for the field. Can you tell us more about what ATTA does?
The ATTA is a unifying body in the world for Adventure travel companies and associated industries. By adventure travel, we mean travel that includes experiences with nature, that have various levels of physical activity (from strenuous to leisurely) and have some element of cross-cultural engagement. Our mission is to empower the global travel community to protect natural and cultural capital (resources) while creating economic value that benefits both trade members and destination communities. We have two major elements that set us apart. First, we are a community of people who love travel, love the earth, and love humanity. This community wants to preserve the natural wonders of the globe to provide access to enjoy nature for eternity. The second element is that we are experts in what we do, meaning that we have members and staff that know about the adventure travel industry and are still continuously learning and teaching our community. A big part of what we do is to host events where people can connect, learn, adventure, and do business. We also can help our members to learn to be better in skills and in business by providing excellent education and research. We see ourselves as leaders for the good of the travel industry, which means that we must hold ourselves to the highest of standards in order to have a positive influence in the world.
Q2 : What do you think makes Japan a good adventure destination?
Japan is a great adventure destination because there are vast adventure resources. I mentioned above the elements of nature, culture, and activity. Japan has them all in abundance. I must admit, before I came to Japan and saw for myself, I had an idea that it was one big metropolis. I was amazed to find abundant nature and opportunities to explore forests, mountains, rivers, and lakes. The rugged coastlines and wide variety of wildlife are astounding, and have been well cared for by the Japanese people all throughout history. And, speaking of people, culture is everywhere in every setting in Japan. The varieties of food and the abundance of art and music are two things that stand out to me. I love learning and having new experiences, so I think a place that has such variety, even in the cultural uniformity, is a wonderful place to explore.
Q3 : I understand that you have been to Japan many times. Can you tell me about your favorite or most memorable experiences in Japan?
Yes, it is true, I have been to Japan many times, but, I have to say that I am a relative novice when it comes to travel in this great country. I think I could dedicate myself to travel in Japan for decades and each day experience something unique. Many of my favorite adventure experiences in Japan involve activities that I undertake with other people. I remember once a thrilling experience practicing takigyo in a large cold waterfall in Nagano. Hiking to the sacred location and entering into the cold and forceful water with friends and companions was a fascinating experience. Drift-ice hiking in Hokkaido’s Shiretoko peninsula was also very memorable to do with others. The bleak seascape and the frigid temperatures were thrilling to my senses, but preparing and joining in with other friends in my small group was what made it so memorable. And then, there have been experiences where I pushed myself a bit to reach a goal like when I was trekking all day in the mountains of Nagano, or joining a team snow skills race in Hokkaido at Lake Akan. After strenuous activity in the elements, a good meal and a rest in the Onsen just make the memories that much richer.
Q4 : What activities would you recommend to a skilled, experienced adventurer visiting Japan?
Well, certainly there are very challenging treks in the mountains of Japan. For these, one needs stamina and skill to reach some of the more difficult yet rewarding places. Ice diving, or enjoying some of the expert ski areas are well worth the challenge as well. I have heard of some quite long cycling journeys through places like Shikoku that should be done only after having built endurance and are undertaken with careful planning. And, of course, anything extreme like paragliding, whitewater kayaking, or extreme rock climbing are activities that need a lot of skill to do well and safely.
Q5 : What activities would you recommend to a beginner or novice adventurer visiting Japan?
The opportunities for a beginner are limitless. Of course, just walking through nature can be very rewarding and even challenging. The Nakasendo trail, or other such trails, can provide both fantastic physical activity but also incredible cultural experiences. I would just suggest that beginners look to get off the beaten path. Go to places that are little known and walk or cycle on your own. Stop into small restaurants or explore shrines or parks. Take photographs of the foliage and architecture and get to know some friendly people. There are also so many day activities that can be good for beginners to try. A guided walk in the forest, or a kayak along the coast, a tour of a sake brewery, or a fat bike tire ride along the sandy beach are examples of shorter activities that just about anyone can experience.
Q6 : What is one thing you like to tell any adventurers visiting Japan?
Don’t be afraid to try something new! I have heard of people coming to Japan and only eating in American fast food restaurants. How awful! Japan is so full of life and art and variety that is expressed through food. It should be sampled and experienced with a learner’s attitude. But it is not limited to food. How about going to some place that isn’t a famous tourist attraction? How about a multi-day walking journey in Kyushu, or early morning bear viewing in Hokkaido? How about challenging yourself to learn to snowshoe in the mountains or go for a sea kayak excursion in Okinawa?
The other thing I would say is to not be nervous about language. So much good communication takes place through simple gestures of kindness and friendship. Many of these things are easy to pick up on and enjoy while in Japan. Though I would challenge everyone to learn more Japanese as a respectful posture, if you don’t know the language don’t limit yourself in what you can experience. I remember visiting the peace memorial in Okinawa and entering Abuchiragama Cave where students hid during WWII. I didn’t understand everything that the guide was saying in Japanese, but I had a very powerful human experience by being present in such a place. I was filled with somber thoughts and empathy for the young ladies that had lived there. I grew as a person that day and became even more passionate about peace and connecting with people. Adventure travel can do that if you are open to it.