Joy was one of the JET Programme trailblazers in the 90s and has been involved with local tourism in Japan since 1999! Frustrated by people overlooking Hiroshima as an amazing destination, she became one of the founders of GetHiroshima - an amazing resource for those wanting to get under the skin of the area. For years she worked as a university lecturer but in 2019 she started a new chapter in her life and created the 'Inbound Ambassador', a sustainability-focused business! At first she was training local guides but in 2020 she started her daily livestream show called Seeking Sustainability Live and it's a joy to listen to.
Discover Japan's most exciting sustainable initiatives and the travel plan ideas for a family road trip in the Chugoku area. Time to venture outside the Peace Park in Hiroshima and Miyajima, and undercover the other local treasures!
Hi, thanks for talking to us today. Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Sure, I grew up on Oahu, Hawaii and went to university in Southern California then came to Japan on the JET program in Kyushu for 3 years, travelled around Asia for 18 months and came back to work in Japan - this time Hiroshima in 1996. We started GetHiroshima in 1999 and I started InboundAmbassador in 2019 after stepping away from a 23 year teaching career at the university level.
How did you end up working and living in Japan and what was it like?
The JET program was a fantastic introductory job to a long career in Japan. I was familiar with Japanese food and culture from growing up in Hawaii, but learning the language and traveling around Japan to do triathlon races, training, hiking and sightseeing was a revelation.
What inspired you to start the GetHiroshima website with your husband?
We were frustrated by travel guidebooks that dismissed travel to Hiroshima longer than a quick stopover, we knew there was so much value to a longer stay and wanted to be a part of the content creating influence to develop more meaningful travel opportunities to our city. We initially aimed content at the international residents, encouraging them to venture beyond the gaijin favorite eateries to go to local events, backstreet bars, and mom and pop shops.
Your website is filled with fascinating recommendations. What do you consider your greatest discovery in Hiroshima?
I love discovering Hiroshima okonomiyaki shop stories of heritage. For example, those that link back to the start of the local dish in 1945. Some are still using the original teppan steel cookers salvaged from the retired WW2 warships, others were started on a streetcart- made simply of cabbage, flour and water, sold to workers rebuilding the city.
How did your sustainability focused business Inbound Ambassador come about? What exactly do you do?
As a university lecturer I was researching and talking about tourism and business, and once I finished my Masters in Sustainable Tourism, I decided to put my theories to the test in the real world working with destinations and businesses to develop a stronger brand using more sustainable concepts.
In 2019, I was training travel guides, doing guided tour workshops, holding events, and consulting with destinations. In 2020, I transitioned to hosting a daily livestream talkshow (and podcast) with guests from across Japan in order to share ideas and inspiration from Japan to a worldwide audience, called Seeking Sustainability Live which you can find on YouTube and in a Podcast Audio form.
SSL is more of a branding and networking tool, than a typical business product, but it has so much value as a way to network, collaborate and promote the good work of other entrepreneurs in Japan.
In 2021, the bi-monthly SSL Workshop series has also launched to teach hands-on skills to participants from vegan cooking to photography, art, farming, natural dyeing and more - it’s a very exciting new way to collaborate with local experts with creating value and inspiration for our stay-at-home audience.
What places or businesses in Japan would you recommend to visitors seeking sustainable travel? Have you come across any particularly impressive examples?
I’m so very impressed by the efforts of the travel entrepreneurs I’ve talked with in the SSL series.
In Chugoku-Shikoku, Axel Deroubaix Peko-Peko Box*, Sam Barclay of Hidden-Japan Travel, Norman White of Cycle-Shikoku, Akira and Azuma at the Zero-Waste Academy in Kamikatsu, and Alena Eckelmann in Wakayama are all providing stunning value sustainable tourism services. Even from outside of Japan, Tina McCarthy is doing great work from Melbourne Australia to promote Shimanami cycling trips.
Even the busiest hubs of Tokyo can still have great backstreet, more sustainable guided tours with Maction Planet’s Mac Salman, Haiku-poet Kit Naganuma, Yukiyo Matsuzaki of Kamakura Mind, Carey + Mareike at Tokyo Cheapo, and photo-walks with Alfie Goodrich.
What places would you recommend to people visiting the Chugoku area for the first time?
There are so many wonderful spots in this area for cycling, camping, hiking, walks and drives. I think spending a few days along the Shimanami-Kaido route cycling, walking, staying and exploring small towns is a great way to experience the area. It is set up to welcome visitors and it’s not hard to get away from crowds and interact with locals.
If you start in Onomichi, Hiroshima and plan easy cycling days to explore towns along the way to end your trip a few days later in Ehime, it would be an amazing introduction to real Japan.
Can you give us any travel tips for exploring the Chugoku area to experience an authentic Japan trip with your family?
My family loves coastal trips, so I would recommend hiring a car in Hiroshima and enjoy driving around to key spots in the region. Start the day in Peace park and finish your day on Miyajima island.
Start the next day with a drive to Kintaikyo bridge, including a stopover to the quaint Goldfish lantern town of Yanai, and end the day at the beachtown of Hikari, or across the mountains at the pottery town of Hagi in Yamaguchi.
Then take your time driving along the stunning coast stopping to enjoy a swim at the beach in Hamada, Shimane along the way aiming to arrive by late afternoon at the anime themed town of Sakaiminato, Tottori.
Spend the next morning at the Tottori sand dunes and head back over the mountains to Okayama to enjoy jeans street Kojima and the classic charms of Bizen. Or choose to pop over to the art islands of Naoshima or Teshima. Finish your week-long tour of Chugoku back in the naval town of Kure for curry-rice and Sake, or exploring other sights, shopping and activities in Hiroshima city.
Where are you hoping to visit next?
Thanks to the SSL series, I have been introduced to the appeal of the Kumano trail and natural sights in Wakayama which I have yet to visit.
This month we’re focusing on the word ‘kuidaore’, meaning eating until you drop. Winter is the time of hibernation and great festive food after all. What Japanese food could you eat till you drop?
I am such a huge fan of Wagashi and there are so many wonderful destinations which excel at the naturally plant-based/vegan, often gluten-free, healthier than donuts or candy sweets. I found so many beautiful wagashi in Matsue city as well as the Gion district in Kyoto. There are great wagashi varieties even in convenience stores, but the absolutely divine versions are found in traditional shops and teahouses where they make it fresh each day.